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The Assembly met at 13:31 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:31
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
 
1. Questions to the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:31
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, and question 1 is Mohammad Asghar.
 
Growing the Welsh Economy
 
13:31
Mohammad AsgharBiography
1. What policies will the Welsh Government introduce to grow the Welsh economy before the next Assembly election? OAQ(4)0621(EST)
 
13:32
Edwina HartBiographyThe Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
Economic growth and sustainable jobs are at the heart of our programme for government. Through investments in business, skills and infrastructure, our actions to support the economy are making a difference.
 
13:32
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you for the reply, Minister. The UK Government has announced that it is to allow councils in England to keep the rates they collect from businesses. This will enable councils to cut business rates to boost growth and to create jobs. What plans does the Minister have to reform business rates to generate wealth in Wales?
 
13:32
Edwina HartBiography
I think the important thing to recognise about business rates is that there’s so much money that comes in and there’s only so much money that can be allocated. If you were to give, for instance, leeway to local authorities like Cardiff, what would happen to the rest of the pool? So, it’s a very complex area. It was an area that I discussed with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in the steel summit, when business rates was raised as an issue, and I think we all agreed that it was complex and we had to ensure a correct balance. If you give to one and you do certain things, you might not then be able to help others. But, it’s certainly a matter that needs to be considered in due course.
 
13:33
Mike HedgesBiography
Minister, following the success of Swansea Vale, with a mix of industrial, commercial and housing, and the success, which I hope is taking place, certainly the progress being made, at SA1, with the mix of an academic institution, commercial, residential, hotel and café developments, is the Minister considering other sites of such mixed development?
 
13:33
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. We are considering a mixed-use development currently on a 30-odd acre site that we own in Cardiff Bay, Porth Teigr, but there are currently no current proposals for mixed use anywhere else.
 
13:33
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
The general situation of the economy in several parts of Wales is very fragile, but there are successful and imaginative local initiatives. One such initiative is the Moelyci centre near Tregarth, Bethesda. It was established as a community initiative, with Government funding, and, under new management, there are very hopeful signs in terms of the shop, the garden and the centre. I invite you to come and meet some of the partners who are making a success of that initiative, when it would be convenient for you to do so.
 
13:34
Edwina HartBiography
Can I say that it’s always good to hear of successful community initiatives, because I think we’ve got to engage people in areas to take on projects like this, and I’d be more than happy when I’m visiting north Wales in the next few months, to pay a visit. It will certainly be a pleasure to see something that’s been so successfully operated.
 
13:34
David ReesBiography
Minister, this week, we’ve heard an announcement of a £2 billion-investment from companies that are being backed by the Chinese Government into biomass plants and eco parks—one in north Wales, in Anglesey, and one in Port Talbot, in my constituency. The Port Talbot site is the old Prenergy site, I believe, and there were many residents who had concerns over that. Have you had engagement with the companies—SinoFortone and the British Orthios Group—that are involved in this to discuss their proposals, and to reassure the residents of what they actually are proposing for the town?
 
13:35
Edwina HartBiography
Can I say, I’ve had limited engagement? Obviously, we are aware of the projects, and we’re also aware of the opposition there was when planning permission was given originally. Obviously, we welcome any developments and any funding that comes into Wales for jobs, but I will certainly ensure that I will arrange with officials to have a greater discussion with the companies so that I can advise you and your constituents about the benefits, and whether there are any issues, then, that you would wish me to raise with the company.
 
Commuter Journey Times
 
13:35
Nick RamsayBiography
2. Will the Minister provide an update on improving commuter journey times in south east Wales? OAQ(4)0629(EST)
 
13:35
Edwina HartBiography
The national transport finance plan sets out, by region, our policy for supporting transport links that will improve commuter journey times across Wales. I updated Members on the plan on 22 September.
 
13:35
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Minister. As I’m sure you are aware, today is Back to the Future Day. In the words of Dr Emmett Brown, ‘Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.’ Unfortunately, we still do. I recently attended one of the Welsh Government’s M4 black route exhibitions, and the proposals included the de-motorwaying of the existing M4, which could actually increase some journey times for commuters from my constituency. Will you review this de-motorwaying as a matter of urgency, and consider retaining the existing M4 as a fully fledged motorway?
 
13:36
Edwina HartBiography
As you are aware, these are proposals that we’re looking at. There will be no decisions made on the M4 on these matters until after the election, and that is the current position. It was those hoverboards, wasn’t it, that people were talking about that we would be going on, into the future—back into the future?
 
13:36
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, it’s a stated goal of transport policy to cut the amount of time it takes people to travel to and from work, and much more time is taken on the M4 issue, and rightly so. But, will you support allowing local authorities to run locally controlled and owned bus services, to improve those services in the Valleys, along the lines of the Cardiff Bus model?
 
13:37
Edwina HartBiography
Yes, but, of course, we have had the Cardiff Bus model, and, of course, we’ve had a dispute in Cardiff Bus with the model. We do have, of course, the Newport position as well, in terms of owning it. I think if there is expertise, and local authorities want to look at that issue, it’s something that’s up for discussion, but let’s also ensure that we can run things effectively and efficiently at that type of level as well.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:37
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party spokespeople, and first this afternoon, the Welsh Conservative spokesperson, William Graham.
 
13:37
William GrahamBiography
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. Good afternoon, Minister. What assessment have you made of Go ON UK’s digital exclusion heat map, which indicates that over a third of the population of Wales do not have the five basic digital skills outlined by this charity? They highlight that not having these basic digital skills hinders economic growth, productivity, and social mobility.
 
13:38
Edwina HartBiography
Well, obviously, this is an issue that I will be discussing with my colleague, Julie James, the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, because we will have to do some analysis on this. I think it’s important to recognise we need a lot of improvements in the basic education system to give people the skills, and I will be delighted to come back, because I’m sure Julie will be able to note on how we’re looking at this particular report and the points that it makes.
 
13:38
William GrahamBiography
I’m most grateful, Minister. Earlier this month, in response to my question, the First Minister outlined what the Welsh Government is doing regarding being further engaged in discussions with the organisers for the Velothon and relevant local authorities ahead of that final decision regarding next year’s event. We all want it to be an excellent event, but can you outline how you are going to direct the event organisers to adequately liaise—and in good time—with all those businesses and communities that could be adversely affected?
 
13:38
Edwina HartBiography
Can I say, I’ve been very taken with some of the discussions I’ve had with local authorities, particularly Monmouthshire, about the difficulties that have been encountered? Obviously, my deputy, Ken Skates, has done a review of it, and has had various discussions. But I, like you, remain concerned that the organisers don’t understand the seriousness of the engagement issue on this particular thing, and I will certainly take this matter forward and get you an update about where my officials are in terms of discussions.
 
13:39
William GrahamBiography
Thank you very much again, Minister. Could I ask you to outline your discussion with Network Rail on the arrangements for the preparatory work for the electrification of the railway between London and Swansea, particularly all those bridges that would have to be altered, particularly in my constituency?
 
13:39
Edwina HartBiography
I had my first meeting with the new chair of Network Rail recently, and one of the issues for discussion was, of course, the issue of the electrification. He’ll be, obviously, advising the Government on this particular issue, and he is cognisant of some of the issues that we’ve raised, particularly in terms of cost, what works will be required, and how that impacts on the rest of the network. I very much hope that we’ll have further information from him in the next few weeks, and from the UK Government. I will, of course, as soon as I have anything on this project, formally be updating Members in the Chamber.
 
13:40
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
 
13:40
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Later this afternoon, we’ll be discussing the M4. The reason, as you know, that I don’t support the black route option is because it, unnecessarily in my view, ties up money that could be used for a road strategy throughout Wales.
 
I welcome the recent announcement that the A55 roundabout at Llainfairfechan and Penmaenmawr are to be replaced by junctions by 2019. Could you tell us the cost of that scheme and what efforts will be made to minimise disruption during that necessary work and what further announcements we can expect on a Wales-wide road strategy?
 
13:40
Edwina HartBiography
Obviously, we do have the national transport finance plan, which I spoke to Plenary about on 22 September. In terms of the overall costs with the A55, I will check before I give a figure in detail to Members here, because, of course, there will be preparatory work to be undertaken before any road project, as, of course, is normal in all cases with particular road projects. Can I say that, in due course, I am looking at all the transport requirements across Wales in terms of the delivery of an appropriate road infrastructure?
 
13:41
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
You’ll be aware that, as part of your road strategy, the dualling of the A465—the Heads of the Valleys road from Dowlais to Hirwaun—is scheduled to be completed by 2020. I was concerned to hear that a recent report to Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council’s finance and performance committee suggested that the scheme wouldn’t receive European funding and that a new financial mechanism is needed. Can you confirm whether the 2020 completion date, which you inherited from the transport Minister in the previous Government, still stands?
 
13:41
Edwina HartBiography
I have not had any information to the contrary on this particular matter but, obviously, we are looking at all the issues regarding roads and delivery times, and it would be entirely appropriate, if there were changes in this, for me to alert Members to any slippages that may or may not occur. I think it’s important to recognise that there’s been significant improvement in the Heads of the Valleys with these stages that we’ve undertaken, and we want to carry on, particularly, with that scheme because it’s a very important artery, I have to say, for business up through Wales and, of course, into the midlands.
 
13:42
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
I’ll try to clarify as well. The Government’s 2011 prioritised national transport plan put the completion date for that vital section of the road at 2020. In September 2014, the Government’s website still stated the same completion date. I can say that the 2015 addition of the Wales infrastructure investment plan states a completion date of 2021 or 2022. There does appear to be slippage. For an all-Wales road strategy to succeed and for us to have confidence in that strategy, be it for the A55, the A40 or the A465, we need certainty on completion dates and to identify why and where delays happen. Of course, we don’t need the threat of the tying-up of spending powers on one scheme. You’ve inherited that 2020 completion date, but could you give assurances that we will see the completion of this dualling scheme and the achievement of a safe and resilient road artery across the Heads of the Valleys as part of a Wales-wide scheme.
 
13:43
Edwina HartBiography
I think we’ve actually been successful in developing the schemes on the Heads of the Valleys. The indication to me is that section 5 Dowlais and section 6 Hirwaun are scheduled for completion by 2020. I think it would possibly be the early part of 2021, but I will obviously clarify, because there are issues about purchasing land and what you need to do. There is all this work that needs to be undertaken. But I can assure you, Members, that my aim would be to keep it to those dates if it is humanly possible, and I would, as a matter of courtesy, advise Members if there were any changes in any of this so that you could be fully appraised of issues.
 
13:43
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Eluned Parrott.
 
13:43
Eluned ParrottBiography
Diolch, Lywydd. Minister, you’ve been undertaking, as I understand, throughout September, a marketing exercise—an informal consultation on the M4 around Newport—and your department has produced exhibition materials and this brochure to assist local people in assessing the project. Is the information in this brochure and exhibition a true, fair and accurate representation of the facts around the M4 relief road?
 
13:44
Edwina HartBiography
There are people who say that it is not and have probably lobbied you appropriately, but I’m assured by my officials that it is.
 
13:44
Eluned ParrottBiography
Thank you, Minister. Yes, there are queries about some of the details that you have given, so let’s have a look at some of that. For example, on road capacity, this infographic states that, in 2014, the road was 95 per cent full. That comes from your exhibition and yet, it wasn’t, was it? ‘Ninety-five per cent full’ relates to one junction in one direction at one time of the day. The road in question is seven junctions both directions, 24 hours a day. So, your assertion is only actually true for 7 per cent of the road, 4 per cent of the time. Wouldn’t you describe this as misleading?
 
13:45
Edwina HartBiography
Well, obviously, you can’t find it misleading because you’ve illustrated what you think it is all actually about. I think people are intelligent enough to make their own observations on the information that has been put in front of them. I have queries all the time on these issues, which I answer honestly and truthfully to the best of my ability. Actually, of course, the interesting thing is that the whole issue around showing the presentation to the public has actually been very good because they’ve actually enjoyed having the details and the information.
 
13:45
Eluned ParrottBiography
But, Minister, in a marketing exercise, the Advertising Standards Authority has standards that you must meet in terms of the accuracy and the fairness of the information that you present, and there are real questions about that accuracy and fairness. Let’s look at the cost. This infographic from your exhibition states that the cost of the road will be £1 billion, despite the fact that both you and the First Minister have consistently been very, very cagey on a precise figure in this Chamber. But, using your sources, quoted in your exhibition, it’s clear that that estimated cost of £998 million in 2013 has not been altered to take account of inflation, which, even if you start work immediately after the Assembly election, is likely to take the project to nearer £1.2 billion on that estimate. And there’s something else that you’ve failed to mention: you haven’t actually added the VAT. So, in fact, the best-case scenario for the cost to the Welsh taxpayer is one and a half times the estimate that you have given out to the public in your exhibition materials. But this is the tip of the iceberg, isn’t it? You’ve made claims about job creation that give only the best-case scenario and ignore the range of possibilities given in your source material, which makes it clear that the range could be as little as 12 per cent of the number that you have claimed in your exhibition materials. You’ve made claims about carbon dioxide emissions that experts suggest are based on insufficiently rigorous analysis. You’ve told me that this document—
 
13:46
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Are you coming to the question?
 
13:47
Eluned ParrottBiography
[Continues.]—is a fair and accurate representation of the facts. Do you genuinely believe that that is true?
 
13:47
Edwina HartBiography
We have put an exhibition on, and my officials have undertaken all the necessary work to give as much information as possible. It’s not a consultation exercise; it’s simply to show what it will be. I’ve made it absolutely clear that there are a lot of hurdles to go through, including environmental impact assessments, a public inquiry, and decisions will be taken at another time. All of us can go through various things that are presented to us and go through them like you have done, but, in the spirit of wanting to open up the dialogue on it, we’ve held these exhibitions. I am satisfied that the exhibitions have been held in good faith, with the information that was necessary.
 
13:47
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper. Question 3 is Angela Burns.
 
Developing Businesses
 
13:47
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Good afternoon, Minister.
 
3. What does the Minister consider to be the principal barriers for the development of businesses across Wales? OAQ(4)0625(EST)
 
13:47
Edwina HartBiography
Can I say that, obviously, the challenges do vary very much for certain businesses, but I think that access to finance is still a major issue, particularly for small businesses? Skills support is also an issue when they have to enhance and develop skills. And, of course, the issue about good infrastructure: a good infrastructure isn’t just a discussion about south-east Wales; it’s a discussion about the whole of Wales.
 
13:48
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you for that, Minister, because I’m seeking clarity as to the weight that should be given to economic development, social requirements, and environmental concerns. A significant number of projects in my constituency—projects that would lead to a substantial increase in the local economic spend, would lead to more jobs and a more positive future for quite marginalised communities—are held up because of unrealistic interpretations of all manner of guidance. I wonder, Minister, what you can do to ensure that there’s a reality check on some of the situations that we find ourselves faced with, and that the economic imperative to ensure that people have good jobs and can afford decent homes is not subsumed to other concerns all the time, because it has happened time after time after time.
 
13:49
Edwina HartBiography
Yes, I well understand your concerns regarding certain projects that you have within your constituency. It’s important to recognise that we have a balance, and the word is ‘balance’. It’s very important to recognise that we have obligations, obviously, in terms of the environment and issues like that, but we also have obligations to ensure that there’s economic activity in areas that aren’t in the main stream, really, to ensure that we can bring jobs and prosperity. I do try and ensure that we have dialogue across the Government in terms of what the balance should be, and with other organisations that advise us.
 
13:49
Peter BlackBiography
Minister, I recently carried out a survey of businesses on the Swansea West Business Park and more than half of them told me that the issue of access to that business park was a major issue and affecting their business. I know that you are aware of this, because you’ve actually met with businesses with me there, and thank you for that. Could you give an indication of what assistance might be available from the Welsh Government to Swansea council, if they required it, to actually address this problem?
 
13:50
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. We’ve asked, obviously, the city council, and all of them within the city region, to look at what areas they want to enhance in terms of economic development. That can be a discussion, of course, within the city region, or it could, of course, be a direct approach from the authority if they required any help and assistance. Obviously, I’d have to balance the budget on these matters, but our door is open if any representations are going to be made.
 
Manufacturing Businesses
 
13:50
Mark IsherwoodBiography
4. What support is available for manufacturing businesses in North Wales? OAQ(4)0622(EST)
 
13:50
Edwina HartBiography
North Wales is an absolutely major manufacturing location, really, in terms of the UK, with considerable strengths in the aerospace, automotive, food, paper, electronics and green energy sectors. So, our priority is to develop and maintain those businesses.
 
13:50
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Thank you for that. Of course, I applaud the manufacturing successes in the region. The Fit For Nuclear service helps manufacturing companies in England get ready to bid for work in the civil nuclear supply chain—particularly critical given the development over forthcoming years of the Wylfa Newydd project on Anglesey. When I wrote to you asking you what plans you have to develop a similar programme for companies in Wales, you stated that this is an industry-led programme open to all UK companies. However, F4N have confirmed that they are only set up to fund companies based in England, but they are working with you in developing a programme solely for companies based in Wales. I wonder if you could provide an update on where you’ve reached with that.
 
13:51
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. We are obviously very keen to support companies in the delivery, particularly of Wylfa, and, I have to say, in south Wales, in terms of Hinkley Point. We are working with companies in terms of the supply chain to help and assist them. And, of course, if companies require help with training, or might require help with the development of machinery and plant, we will also be available to help them there. In addition, we’ve also got to be quite clear that we very much hope that Wylfa will be the second decision in terms of what’s going to happen in terms of nuclear, and that nothing that’s happened elsewhere this week, in terms of Chinese investment, will impinge on the relationship that we have with Hitachi in north Wales.
 
13:52
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Of course, there is a referendum on Wales’s and the UK’s membership of the European Union that is likely to be held soon. Can I ask you what negotiations you’ve had with the manufacturing sector in north Wales on the implications of leaving the EU on the support available to them?
 
13:52
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. Can I say, obviously, we have extensive discussions with the Confederation of British Industry and, of course, major companies within the CBI wish to remain in Europe, and that includes major manufacturers within north Wales?
 
Transport Priorities (West Wales)
 
13:52
Keith DaviesBiography
5. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s transport priorities for west Wales? OAQ(4)0635(EST)[W]
 
13:52
Edwina HartBiography
I outlined in the national transport finance plan our regional priorities, on 22 September.
 
13:52
Keith DaviesBiography
Thank you, Minister. What are the Welsh Government’s priorities for improving the A40, which is so important to us in the west?
 
13:53
Edwina HartBiography
Well, I think the A40 is very important in terms of the delivery of the Llanddewi Brefi business scheme that we want to get dealt with. The current programme shows construction of this scheme starting at the end of 2017. In addition, we are bringing forward a package of measures to improve traffic conditions between St Clears and Haverfordwest, using the 2+1 layout. This was identified in our A40 study, published in June. I think it’s very important that we carry on with the improvements in the road network in west Wales.
 
13:53
Angela BurnsBiography
The A40 study was a very useful tool in helping to plan the decisions on the A40. Minister, I’m very grateful for the patches of the A477 that have been improved, namely the Red Roses bypass coming through Llanddowror, et cetera. But what I’d like to know is: has there ever actually been a comprehensive study of the entire A477 network? Because, of course, that also leads to a port, plus it leads to major infrastructure on the side of the Cleddau, plus the tourism industry that is so vital for south-west Wales.
 
13:54
Edwina HartBiography
I’m not sure that I can recall in my time as Minister a major look at the entirety of the A477, particularly the economic impact of these. When we looked at the A40 dualling, we knew, in terms of the long term, that it would have an excellent economic impact. I’ll certainly check with officials, and, if there has been any work done prior, I will sent it to you, but, if it requires updating, I will let you know.
 
The Promotion of Cycling
 
13:54
John GriffithsBiography
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the promotion of cycling? OAQ(4)0630(EST)
 
13:54
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. We promote cycling in a number of ways. Our free annual active travel conference is being held on 5 November, and that’s focusing on how we can make walking and cycling more inclusive for everyone.
 
13:54
John GriffithsBiography
Minister, learning to ride a bike is important for health, fitness, quality of life, as well as a means of transport. Would you agree with me that we would benefit as a country from a comprehensive provision of cycle training in all our schools to national standards to make every child a cyclist?
 
13:55
Edwina HartBiography
Well, I am actually funding the new three-year Active Journeys project, which builds on Bike It, and that will have levels of engagement with schools to suit their circumstances, but I’m more than happy to look at the issues that you’ve raised with me today.
 
13:55
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Minister, as a result of the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013, there’s been a lot of anticipation in my own constituency that we might see some cycle tracks that need extending doing just that. I have raised it with you before, that we have an active travel route to link Glan Conwy in the Conwy valley to national cycle route 5. This would allow walkers and cyclists much safer access to employment and leisure opportunities. There has been a feasibility study, proving it out, costing £68,000. Will you work with Conwy—. Two bids have been rejected now. I’m asking you now, Minister, if you’ll work with Conwy County Borough Council, and let’s get this extension put in, please.
 
13:56
Edwina HartBiography
At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of local authorities to put in bids that are viable and will pass the test. If I was to help every local authority, when I don’t like what comes in, in Wales, my officials would be engaged in an awful lot of activity. I think it’s up to the local authority to ensure that they get things right. They can discuss with my officials when they put bids in, et cetera, but we’ve got to have the right bids to spend the money on.
 
13:56
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, clearly, you’ve done a great deal of work with the Rhondda tunnel campaigners, and I’m given to understand that you went there this week to visit them. I’m also given to understand that the UK Government has powers over that specific tunnel and a number of other disused tunnels as well. I’ve written to you, and I did want to hear from you today whether it would be possible for you to request powers over that specific tunnel so that we in Wales can develop it—although I do understand that there are developments in the pipeline—so that we can take control of what happens with the tunnel to create greater opportunities in Afan and in Rhondda for this exciting concept.
 
13:57
Edwina HartBiography
Oh, it was absolutely delightful, I have to say, to meet the activists with my colleagues David Rees and Leighton Andrews, when we discussed all the relevant issues. Obviously, your correspondence has only just been received and I will consider it in due course.
 
13:57
David ReesBiography
Thank you for that, Minister, and I support Bethan Jenkins’s campaign for the Rhondda tunnel and the work. I must declare an interest, in that I’m a member of the Rhondda Tunnel Society, at this point. Part of the discussions we had about that are some of surveys that need to be undertaken to ensure that we engage fully with the proposals and that we do it stage by stage. One of those actually was the question of a bat survey to ensure that the tunnel is usable in the future. What can the Welsh Government do to help the Rhondda Tunnel Society in relation to the bat survey?
 
13:57
Edwina HartBiography
I’ve asked my officials, as a result of the work we’re doing with Sustrans, to look at feasibility, about whether they can look at the issues around the bat survey, because it will be necessary to make some financial decisions this year for the first part of the survey to be done in November. As long as I have sufficient information and can find the funding, I think we need to go ahead, because it’s important that those activists realise that we are behind them in what they want to, which will take quite a long period of time.
 
13:58
Jenny RathboneBiography
Minister, I wonder if I can draw your attention to the ‘Bike Life Cardiff 2015’ report that was published today, which has some extremely encouraging issues to report. One is that 45 per cent of all households in Cardiff have both a car and a bike, that half of households have a bike. I wondered if I could draw your attention to the fact that 14 per cent of households have neither a car nor a bike. While some of them will be the frail elderly, for others, this might be a way of ensuring that people who can’t afford a car can have access to jobs and social opportunities that may otherwise be lacking for them.
 
13:59
Edwina HartBiography
Yes, I am aware of the report that was published today that was based on the Copenhagen Bicycle Account, which helped make Denmark’s capital one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities. So, I think it’s important that we’ve got a lot to aim for in there, and I think it’s very important that local authorities and we take the needs of cyclists very seriously in terms of getting people out of their cars and cycling around city streets. The issue might be, of course, to ban traffic in some cities and just have cyclists and walkers.
 
Network Rail
 
13:59
Joyce WatsonBiography
7. Will the Minister provide an update on communications between the Welsh Government and Network Rail? OAQ(4)0636(EST)
 
13:59
Edwina HartBiography
As I indicated when I was responding to William Graham, we have a regular dialogue with Network Rail, both at ministerial and official level, and we’ve been clear that the performance of Network Rail infrastructure must improve to benefit the people of Wales.
 
13:59
Joyce WatsonBiography
Minister, I wonder if you’ll consider, when you next have discussions, whether you could discuss the Barmouth bridge? At the moment, Gwynedd Council is paying Network Rail £30,800 a year towards the maintenance of the Barmouth bridge walkway on what can only be described as a spectacular viaduct. The footpath is now under closure because the council’s looking to save money, and yet 30,000 people have so far signed a petition against that closure. Given the walkway’s strategic importance as a key link in both the coastal path and the national cycle network, which attracts thousands of visitors to the area, I wonder, Minister, if you could somehow use your good offices to get these two sides together, Gwynedd Council and Network Rail, to arrive at a solution that actually keeps that bridge open.
 
14:00
Edwina HartBiography
I think we all recognise the importance of the facility to communities and tourists alike. However, Gwynedd is including this in a list of possible cost savings that it is consulting on in the autumn, and I wouldn’t want to pre-empt the public consultation, but as soon as I am aware of the outcome, it might then be appropriate for me to approach Network Rail.
 
14:01
William GrahamBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. The Minister will be well aware that there are various public meetings coming up to discuss this. Could the Minister please emphasise to Network Rail that they really must get their information to the general public? There are some very curious stories about when bridges will be closed, how long they will be closed for, and whether they’ll be reinstated—wholly inaccurate, probably, but the information should be available to the general public.
 
14:01
Edwina HartBiography
Can I say, there are quite a few wry smiles around the Chamber when you raise the issue of Network Rail getting their information correct? I was particularly looking across at Aled Roberts, and thinking of the numerous discussions we’ve had about rail in north Wales. It is a problem, but of course, they’ve got a new person in Network Rail in Wales, so we’ll have the opportunity to meet and indicate to them: ‘Even if it’s not good news, can we have clarity on it, and can we know the reasons why, which we don’t necessarily have currently?’
 
14:02
Aled RobertsBiography
Minister, I’m about to give you another issue that you might want to raise with Network Rail, because in 2011 the then Transport Minister announced a scheme for £9.8 million between Shrewsbury and Gobowen, which was to increase line speeds to 90 mph—most of it is currently 60 mph—with the intention that travel times between Shrewsbury and Chester would be reduced from 55 minutes to 45 minutes. I understand that the Welsh Government has paid £9.8 million for the works, which included the replacement of 3.95 km of track, realignment of track, four automatic half-barrier level crossings, and repositioning of two signals, yet the line speeds remain at 60 mph. Can I ask, therefore, whether the Welsh Government is satisfied that it’s obtaining value for money from Network Rail given that Network Rail, in the last month, has announced that they will be seeking further funding from the Welsh Government in order to increase line speeds between Shrewsbury and Chester?
 
14:03
Edwina HartBiography
Well, I understand that there will be an increase in the line speeds, and it is anticipated that this will be done very shortly. However, I share the concerns that the Member has raised with me about value for money and what is required in the future to do this, because this is a very important route. I’ve also asked Network Rail to investigate options to run additional services from Wrexham to Chester and beyond, which I also need to clarify with them. I will definitely come back to Members as a result of my discussions with Network Rail with a full statement to the Chamber.
 
School Transport
 
14:03
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
8. Will the Minister make a statement on school transport provision? OAQ(4)0632(EST)
 
Llyr GruffyddBiography
9. Will the Minister make a statement on school transport? OAQ(4)0634(EST)[W]
 
14:03
Edwina HartBiography
I understand, Presiding Officer, that you have given your permission for questions 8 and 9 to be grouped.
 
I wrote to Members on 9 October on the matter of school transport. I am clear that the safety of learners on the home-to-school route is of paramount importance.
 
14:04
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Thank you for that statement, Minister. Are you aware that officials in some local authorities in Wales are suggesting that access to school transport is being prevented because of a directive that’s come from your office? Can you assure us this afternoon that nothing has been announced by your office that would mean that children who deserve it don’t receive school transport? Because there are situations in my constituency where younger pupils are being prevented from having transport when their older brothers and sisters have had access to school transport?
 
14:04
Edwina HartBiography
Local authorities have a legal duty to make a risk assessment of the walk to school. I’m getting increasingly concerned about the queries I’m having from parents and Members about what individuals have been told. I almost feel as if I’m going into the blue badge world on this issue as well, where we are finally having a report that I will be able to launch shortly. So, I am concerned by the issues that you raise, and I’m giving them further consideration, because I’m extremely irritated that seven local authorities have not even completed their risk assessment on walked routes.
 
14:05
Llyr GruffyddBiography
I fear, Minister, that I’m going to add to your concerns, because in the letter that you referred to, you said quite clearly that, when children do have to walk back and forth to collection points, then the routes have to be appropriate, safe, and shouldn’t take an unreasonably long time to walk. I have two young constituents who are in a situation where their families are going to have to drive them two and a half miles. But, at certain times of the year where they live, that won’t be possible because of weather conditions. They will then have to walk along a route where your Government has put a sign saying that three people have been killed at the site and 20 have suffered serious injuries over the past five years. I take it, Minister, therefore, that you would agree that it’s not right that young people should have to walk in such circumstances.
 
14:05
Edwina HartBiography
I’m very concerned as well, because I’ve also told local authorities they’ve got to consult the young people themselves. If they don’t think it’s fit for purpose to walk and they’re nervous, that is one of the issues that has to be looked at. This is about the safety of children. It’s not about allowing people to cut budgets or anything. This is about our children and their safe routes to school. I’d be delighted to have copies of the various letters that you’ve had from your young constituents on this, because this is not just a problem in your region, I can assure you. This is a problem that seems to be emerging across Wales. They hide behind guidelines and interpret guidelines as they see fit, not recognising that the whole purpose of the guidelines is to protect the child.
 
14:06
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Minister, as you know, alongside a number of other Members in this Chamber, I have campaigned for a very long time for linguistic equality between the Welsh and English languages. However, equality must work both ways. Even though it’s so important to ensure that pupils can have access to Welsh-medium education, it’s just as important that they can, if they wish, study through the medium of English. Minister, will you explain whether pupils who choose to attend English-medium secondary schools after studying in Welsh-medium primary schools should have their choice respected through school transport provision?
 
14:07
Edwina HartBiography
I think this is actually a very important issue that you’re raising on this. Primary pupils, obviously of compulsory school age, are entitled to the provision of free transport if they live two miles or further from the nearest suitable school, while secondary learners of compulsory school age are entitled to free transport if they live three miles or further from the nearest suitable school. It is a matter for the local authority to determine which is the nearest suitable school and this rule applies to all learners who meet the distance criteria, regardless of the type of school attended—whether denomination, Welsh or English medium. I don’t know whether Members think it would be helpful if I could clarify some of these points in a letter to all Members regarding these provisions.
 
14:08
Nick RamsayBiography
Minister, you’ve just hit the nail on the head by talking about what is not a suitable school. That does seem to be applied differently across the board. Like Rhodri Glyn Thomas and other Assembly Members, I’m aware of issues where school transport has been refused for one sibling whereas an older sibling is able to access that transport to a local school. Can you have these discussions with local authorities, remind them of what the guidelines actually say, and do what you can to make sure that we do have a proportionate and fair charging system that allows children to go to the school of their choice and their family’s choice?
 
14:08
Edwina HartBiography
Presiding Officer, as a result of the concerns raised across the parties today, I think I’m going to have to do some more work on this issue with my officials, and have engagement with the local authorities on it. This is clearly a matter that is weighing heavily on Members in the Chamber today.
 
14:09
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Minister, at the time of the passing of the Leaner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008, the then transport Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, refused to make post-16 transport a statutory service. Powys County Council are now proposing to start charging post-16 students for travel to high school. As you will be aware, the constituency is vast and children have to travel significant distances to access post-16 education. It’s a community that suffers from relatively low wages. What guidance is your Government providing to local authorities, where they do bring in charges for post-16 education, so that they can be affordable and they are not a disincentive for young people—especially in rural areas—not to continue their education after the age of 16?
 
14:10
Edwina HartBiography
I think the issues around free school transport for those up to age 16 I can definitely deal with, because I do have the legislation and the guidance on that. On the other matters you raised, I will undertake further discussions across Government and with my officials.
 
14:10
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
On the learner travel Measure that came through in the last Assembly, I sat on the committee that took evidence on the benefits of CCTV on school transport. In particular, some very powerful and emotional evidence was given by a young child who described the difference in his journey to school before CCTV came into use on the bus that he was going on, and the bullying he suffered, and the way it stopped when CCTV was there and the bullies knew that they were on tv. What assessment has been made across Wales of the use of CCTV and the compliance of contractors to meet their obligations to provide CCTV on the buses that provide school transport?
 
14:10
Edwina HartBiography
I’ll certainly ask officials to update me on that, because I’ve had no recent update on these particular issues, and I will write to Members accordingly. I think you make a valid point on the level of bullying that used to occur and how people have better journeys. Of course, disruptive children on buses can cause accidents for the driver. It’s very important that we look at all these wider safety issues.
 
Economic Priorities
 
14:11
Paul DaviesBiography
10. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s economic priorities for Pembrokeshire? OAQ(4)0620(EST)
 
14:11
Edwina HartBiography
Yes. We hope to make the most of our devolved powers to deliver wide-ranging actions that are supporting jobs, growth and improving the business environment.
 
14:11
Paul DaviesBiography
I’m grateful to the Minister for that answer. Minister, you’ll be aware that Pembrokeshire is fast developing a reputation as a backdrop for films and, once again, the film ‘Their Finest Hour and a Half’ is currently being filmed in the county. Given that filming in Pembrokeshire is an effective marketing tool for the local area, what is the Welsh Government doing to promote Pembrokeshire as a filming destination, and what investment has the Welsh Government made available to help Pembrokeshire capitalise on this growing reputation?
 
14:12
Edwina HartBiography
In terms of the creative industries, we are encouraging everyone to come to Wales to produce in terms of using the film studios and to use our backdrops, and we do a lot of work advertising locations in Wales. It is important to recognise that, when you have success with filming, others generally follow on. So, that is part of our wider delivery issue in terms of creative. I have encouraged the Swansea bay city region to look at what areas they want to develop, perhaps, in terms of creative, and how it links to tourism as well, as part of a package that they need to think about, going into the future.
 
14:12
Simon ThomasBiography
Well, talking of the filming of stars in Pembrokeshire, it was a delight to see a photograph of you in the local press the other day, Minister, with Cleddau bridge behind you, talking about the trunking of the road. Does this mean that, when the trunking takes place, as is outlined in your transport plan, it is the intention of the Welsh Government to get rid of the tolls?
 
14:12
Edwina HartBiography
Well, I think we’re going to have to have discussions about these particular issues on the Cleddau bridge. I will be absolutely frank with you: people are very concerned about what they have to pay, and when you look at some of the wage levels, et cetera, even though it doesn’t seem a lot in terms of the tolls, a lot of people are making that particular daily journey. So, I will be looking at some of these wider issues during the next few months.
 
Bus Services
 
14:13
Altaf HussainBiography
11. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve bus services in Wales? OAQ(4)0628(EST)
 
14:13
Edwina HartBiography
I’ve established a bus policy advisory group to advise me on maximising value for public money and securing the best possible provision of services. Bear in mind we do provide significant funding to support the network throughout Wales, but I don’t have all the levers of power in respect of buses in my hands.
 
14:13
Altaf HussainBiography
Thank you, Minister. Minister, local bus services depend on huge investment by private operators, but those operators often find that local authorities see them as a source of income. For example, First Cymru are being charged £30,000 to use Bridgend bus depot. In conjunction with the reductions in the concessionary fare subsidies, this means some routes operate at a loss, calling into question their future viability. What is your Government doing to ensure that private operators are not disadvantaged and to encourage future private investment?
 
14:14
Edwina HartBiography
I think we have to recognise that we are talking about the private sector and private bus operators who wish to make a profit. Local government find themselves, sometimes, in an extremely difficult position of weighing up the benefits of certain routes against the others in terms of what subsidies there are with the continual cuts, of course, we’re having from central Government to our budgets, which impact, of course, on all our transport policies. It’s interesting that the bus operators don’t seem to have raised this particular issue with me in any shape or form, but I’ll ask my officials in their regular meetings if they want to bring forward any examples of this for me to look at.
 
Rail Travel
 
14:15
Mike HedgesBiography
12. Will the Minister make a statement on rail travel in the Swansea city region? OAQ(4)0619(EST)
 
14:15
Edwina HartBiography
I recently published the national transport finance plan, and we look to the rail industry to modernise the rail network, including, of course, electrification of the Great Western main line.
 
14:15
Mike HedgesBiography
Thank you, Minister. Can I stress the importance of improving rail travel within the Swansea city region, and I’ve previously talked to you about Landore station and asked questions on that. But there are a lot of other stations within the area that could be reopened. Will the Minister consider commissioning a report into the provision of an improved rail network within the Swansea city region?
 
14:15
Edwina HartBiography
Yes, I’ve funded a number of enhancements, as you know, on the network within the Swansea area and further west. I’m waiting now, of course, for the outcome of the Hendy review and the delivery of the Great Western main line to the existing timetable. I think at that stage, then, we can consider what further commissioning of work we need to undertake.
 
The Economy of Wales
 
14:16
Christine ChapmanBiography
13. What are the Welsh Government’s priorities for improving the economy of Wales? OAQ(4)0626(EST)
 
14:16
Edwina HartBiography
Economic growth and sustainable jobs are at the heart of the programme for government, so we make the necessary investments in business skills and infrastructure to support the economy, and I do believe these are making a difference.
 
14:16
Christine ChapmanBiography
Thank you, Minister. At the last meeting of the cross-party group on women in the economy, Christine Atkinson told us about some of the findings from the Women Adding Value to the Economy programme, and we heard that whilst increasing numbers of women are moving into self-employment and entrepreneurship, men still outnumber women by around two to one, and self-employed women in Wales have lower incomes than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK. Minister, what lessons do you think the Welsh Government can draw from this research to enable it to support women in playing a full and active role in improving the Welsh economy?
 
14:16
Edwina HartBiography
I think it was last month that the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty actually wrote to me encouraging me to disseminate the work around that particular report, so that we could look at what lessons could be learnt and how we could develop policy, because I understand the findings from the report provide an understanding of the strategies to interrupt in the ways in which gender pay inequalities are consistently reproduced. I also think it’s very important now that we make efforts to get women involved in boards. We now need to see more women in management roles in companies, which will also make a significant difference.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
2. Questions to the Minister for Counsel General
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:17
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 2, which is questions to the Counsel General. Question 1 is from Simon Thomas.
 
Trade Union Bill
 
14:17
Simon ThomasBiography
1. What representations has the Counsel General made in relation to whether Trade Union Bill is within the Assembly’s legislative competence? OAQ(4)0083(CG)[W]
 
14:17
Theodore HuckleThe Counsel General
The Member will be aware—. Good afternoon, everyone; sorry. The Member will be aware of this Government’s position on the Trade Union Bill, but I am sure he will understand that it is not my intention to make any statement about whether I have made representations on the matter or not. This reflects the adoption of the established convention that neither law officers’ advice, nor whether their advice has been given or sought on a particular matter, should be disclosed other than in exceptional circumstances.
 
14:18
Simon ThomasBiography
I thank the Counsel General for the response that I had expected. But, having said that, I have read a statement from the First Minister on his Government’s view on this issue. I’ve also seen some evidence presented by Keith Ewing, a professor of public law at King’s College London, who told Members of Parliament in Westminster, and I quote:
 
‘Are we really saying that the Secretary of State for Scotland’—
 
he was talking about Scotland—
 
‘will bring a case against a major Scottish public authority to enforce those obligations? The Government are walking, almost blindfolded, into a major constitutional crisis’.
 
The point that Professor Ewing was making, of course, was that the Bill placed duties on public authorities in Wales, which are devolved, and that duty relates to a threshold for strike action. The question that arises is whether it would be possible to take action against a devolved public authority within such a context. Given that you’re unwilling to make a statement on any comments, what discussions can you refer to that are being conducted by Government now, with local authorities in Wales and with the Government in Westminster, to ensure that we avoid any constitutional crisis?
 
14:19
Theodore Huckle
I think the point is that, for my purposes, I can only speak to legal aspects and not to questions of policy. It seems pretty obvious to me that whilst very important, the matters to which the question address are matters of policy and are matters of inter-government relations, which are, of course, primarily for the First Minister. And so, I’m afraid, I have to decline to make any comment of mine on matters that are very much those for the First Minister.
 
Devolved Legislation
 
14:20
Simon ThomasBiography
2. How will the Wales Bill impact on the accessibility of devolved legislation in Wales? OAQ(4)0084(CG)[W]
 
14:20
Theodore Huckle
The draft Wales Bill was published only yesterday and the Government will be considering this carefully. The final form of a future Wales Bill must not make our efforts to consolidate, codify or reform the law more difficult.
 
14:20
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you, Counsel General, for that response. I think that this question is certainly within your remit, because you have led on behalf of Government the move towards consultation on a separate legal jurisdiction and also on the issue of making the law more accessible to the public in Wales. I can’t see how the Wales Bill can achieve that, and Paul Silk has today expressed his disappointment in the Bill.
 
In looking at the Bill, which arrived late with Assembly Members last night, there are 32 pages of reservations. There are things there that I wouldn’t expect to see in a Wales Bill, such as Antarctica, space and so on, but there are also important issues to Wales that are reserved—teachers’ pay and conditions, and the civil service will remain as something that’s at a UK level, although you would have thought that the Government would want to have its own civil service. Thirty-two pages of reserved matters—that doesn’t make things accessible to the public, does it? Is this the reserved-powers model that the Government expected?
 
14:21
Theodore Huckle
I think the position of the Government has been made very clear by the First Minister in his statement today and on other occasions in advance, including in First Minister’s questions and in debate here in this Chamber. I don’t think it will add very much to the Government’s position for me to add any additional comments of my own. There is no doubt that the position the Government takes—it’s my understanding that it’s in common with the Assembly as a whole—is that the Wales Bill should strive for a settlement that has simplicity, clarity, accessibility and enhancement of the settlement, with no restriction of the current powers of this Assembly. The First Minister’s been very clear about that, and, again, it’s not difficult for me to say as much as I have, but Members will understand that, although the questioner is quite right to identify my role leading with the First Minister in relation to consultation on a separate jurisdiction—and that has an overlap with these questions of course, as, again, the First Minister’s made clear—and, secondly, that I lead for Government in relation to questions of the accessibility of the law that this Assembly makes, nevertheless, the questions here are ones of the constitutional settlement emanating from the Wales Bill and those are, again, very much in the domain of the First Minister, who leads the negotiation process in relation to that.
 
14:23
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Counsel General, does the draft Wales Bill published yesterday in any way facilitate the development of an appeals process that could deal with disputed points of law arising from the interpretation of regulations that implement Wales-only legislation—for example, a dispute over the interpretation of the children’s rights enshrined in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014—in a way that could avoid the necessity of judicial review?
 
14:23
Theodore Huckle
That is a very interesting and, if I may say so, complex question, which, it seems to me, involves a mixture of legal, justice, legal policy and straight policy issues. Whilst I’d be quite happy to deal with appropriate matters of legal policy in particular, I’m not able to do so on my feet in response to the supplementary question. So, might I be forgiven if I have a think about the question in a bit more detail and respond to the Member’s question in writing?
 
14:24
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you.
 
3. Questions to the Assembly Commission
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:24
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 3, which is questions to the Assembly Commission. This afternoon, they will be answered by Commissioner Sandy Mewies. Question 1 is from Mike Hedges.
 
Senedd@Swansea
 
14:24
Mike HedgesBiography
1. Will the Commission make a statement on the events held as part of Senedd@Swansea week? OAQ(4)0089(AC)
 
14:24
Sandy MewiesBiographyAssembly Commissioner
Can I thank the Member for Swansea East for that question? As you know, the week in Swansea followed the success of the inaugural Senedd Week, which was at Wrexham last March. Three Assembly committees met at the National Waterfront Museum. Thirty-three workshops were held with schools and community organisations to help them understand the work of the Assembly and provide opportunities for them to contribute to committee consultations. Sessions were staged within the university about the Assembly as a legislature, the Welsh constitution and Welsh law. Local Members took part in a lively question-time event for young people and a Women in Public Life networking event was also well attended. I’d like to thank the ‘South Wales Evening Post’, Swansea University, the National Waterfront Museum and Members for their support in making Senedd@Swansea a success. We fully intend to maintain and build on the extensive engagement programme that was delivered last week.
 
14:25
Mike HedgesBiography
Thank you for that answer. First, I’d like to compliment the Commission on how well the week was organised in Swansea. Of course, if Ron Davies had made a different decision on the siting of the Assembly, we would, of course, be meeting there every week [Laughter.] We’ve also had excellent coverage, as both you and the Presiding Officer have mentioned, and the Deputy Presiding Officer mentioned during one of the meetings in Swansea, from the ‘South Wales Evening Post’, and I think they show other newspapers just what sort of coverage the Assembly deserves when it’s meeting. My question is: will the Commission consider a return visit to Swansea during the fifth Assembly?
 
14:26
Sandy MewiesBiography
Can I say, I’m sure we’re all extremely pleased with the way that the week went? It was only the second event, and I can tell you that there will be other events and, certainly, in the fifth Assembly, this idea will be expanded upon. Whether Swansea will be one of those will not be part of my decision, as you know, as I won’t be here. However, I’m sure there will be full analysis of where we need to go and how we can go, and I’m sure, eventually, there will be huge efforts made to cover every part of Wales.
 
Congratulations on your excellent press there. I think that all of us here would say, perhaps, that we would all like to see the Assembly getting the media support that it truly deserves.
 
14:27
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you very much.
 
4. Welsh Conservatives Debate: International Connectivity
The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 5 and 6 in the name of Aled Roberts, and amendments 2 and 4 in the name of Elin Jones. Amendment 3 has been withdrawn. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected.
 
14:27
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move on to item 4, which is the Welsh Conservative debate on international connectivity and I call on William Graham to move the motion. William Graham.
 
Motion NDM5854 Paul Davies
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:
 
1. Notes the vital role international connectivity plays in underpinning economic growth through inward investment, trade and tourism;
 
2. Believes the Welsh Government should adopt a clear plan to enhance international connectivity in Wales;
 
3. Notes the opportunities to boost international connectivity in Wales by:
 
a) returning Cardiff Airport to private ownership; and
 
b) dividing proceeds from its sale between both infrastructure investment and returning original investment to Wales’s taxpayers.
 
4. Recognises the opportunities to boost international connectivity in Wales by supporting the important role Wales’s ports play in delivering growth and creating jobs;
 
5. Believes that to improve international connectivity in Wales, the Welsh Government must bring forward clear plans to improve the A40 to Fishguard and A55 to Holyhead; and
 
6. Further recognises the role the Heart of Wales Line can play as a transport corridor for Mid Wales, and its potential role in driving the connectivity of Wales.
 
Motion moved.
 
14:27
William GrahamBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
 
Strong infrastructure creates the backbone for a strong and vibrant economy. In our increasingly competitive and globalised world, it is vital that our people and products can move around Wales in an efficient and reliable manner, but also be able to connect to the rest of the United Kingdom, Europe and markets further afield.
 
A thriving international airport must be at the heart of a strategy for growth. Exploiting opportunities for increased social mobility, tourism, business and inward investment, a successful airport is a key economic driver. The Welsh Government should publish a strategy for growth for the airport that aims to wean it away from Government subsidy and return it to the private sector.
 
Since purchased in March 2013 at huge cost, Cardiff Airport has seen very little in terms of true development and expansion. With falling passenger numbers, a lack of route options and poor infrastructure, Cardiff Airport fails to compete with other airports and risks slowly slipping into decline. Low passenger numbers are not the only problem, but are a far from encouraging result of the airport’s current inadequacy. Their consistent decline is a strong indicator that Cardiff Airport is struggling to compete and is in need of a clear direction for growth.
 
The problem partly—
 
14:28
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Will you take an intervention?
 
14:28
William GrahamBiography
Yes.
 
14:28
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Are you arguing that the airport, under previous private ownership, was actually competing better than it is at the present time?
 
14:28
William GrahamBiography
No, we’re not arguing it. We recognise that there was no proper route development at that time and that’s why it should be part of the structure when it’s eventually privatised.
 
The problem partly lies with the lack of connectivity through major international hubs, which makes south Wales a less attractive location for international business. The Welsh Government repeatedly used passenger numbers as a measure of the airport’s success and, indeed, this summer was a particularly strong period for the airport from May to September, which is clearly a welcome turnaround following months of passenger decline. However, their very volatility is symptomatic of a lack of a clear direction for growth and more should be done to sustain passenger numbers throughout the year.
 
If the Welsh Government is to continue to pour taxpayer’s money into Cardiff Airport, we need to see flight—
 
14:29
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Could you move your papers away from the microphone?
 
14:29
William GrahamBiography
Sorry.
 
14:29
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
That’s all right. Thank you.
 
14:29
William GrahamBiography
If the Welsh Government is to continue to pour taxpayers’ money into Cardiff Airport, we need to see flight routes develop that will strengthen economic prosperity for Wales. Welsh Conservatives believe that these are commercial routes that could function well without vast sums of public money.
 
The transport links are not comparable to other regional airports. Access to the airport from the M4 is provided by a series of A roads, such as the recently reduced in width A4226 and Five Mile Lane. The M4 relief road would open up even further markets, from Monmouthshire, the Forest of Dean, and even Bristol. In 2008, in a Government consultation regarding access to the airport, numerous problems were identified with the airport’s accessibility, yet these needed improvements have been delayed. We will be committed to supporting and developing the airport and the infrastructure links beyond the point of privatisation. It’s essential that Government works with the private sector to deliver growth for Cardiff Airport.
 
A blueprint for Cardiff Airport sets out our long-term aim of regeneration of Cardiff Airport: to sell the airport to a private company for profit, and deliver the profit from the sale back to the Welsh taxpayer who contributed to the original purchase.
 
14:30
Joyce WatsonBiography
Thank you, William. Do you accept on those benches that if we hadn’t intervened when we did, you wouldn’t be having this discussion today because Cardiff Airport wouldn’t exist?
 
14:31
William GrahamBiography
We don’t agree with that at all. In 2012, ports across Wales handled 11 per cent of the total freight exports from the UK and major ports by weight—some 14 million tonnes of freight. This is in addition to over 30 million tonnes of foreign freight coming into the UK, which are handled by Welsh ports every year. Ports generate £4.8 billion in direct income; £2 billion in indirect and induced activity; and contribute £1.5 billion of gross domestic product to the Welsh economy. The highest numbers of direct jobs are in Cardiff, followed by Pembrokeshire and Neath Port Talbot, reflecting the continued importance of manufacturing to the sector.
 
In 2011, nearly all the HGV traffic between Ireland and Europe passed through Wales. Statistics from that year also show that 2.8 million people travelled to Ireland from Welsh ports—2 million from Holyhead alone. Ports are hubs for the maritime economy and, as such, generate direct and indirect economic benefits. The Assembly committee’s report into international connectivity through Welsh ports and airports identified a number of areas where ports can facilitate economic development: coastal tourism; short sea shipping, such as costal seaborne trade and freight; passenger ferry services; port services, such as manufacturing, logistics, and cruise tourism; and renewable energy, such as offshore wind and ocean renewable energy, is a continuing investment. It is vital that resilient and efficient infrastructure is in place to keep these industries connected and our products moving freely.
 
Ports’ needs are consistent with broader economic requirements and their ability to function and grow will contribute to an accessible economy. Last week, the Enterprise and Business Committee heard evidence that the ports industry are finding it particularly difficult to operate in Wales. Ports have suggested that the planning and consenting process is a barrier to development. The Association of British Ports said:
 
‘A suitably resourced, responsive, efficient, streamlined and consistent land and marine planning process, which balances the need for development with that of the environment and local public interest, is vital to realising the potential benefit of the maritime economy in Wales. Providing a level playing field for planning when compared with other planning regimes is also crucial.’
 
The Minister’s recent paper refers to the maritime growth study, commissioned by the UK Government and published last month. This includes recommendations to both Government and industry on maintaining the UK’s position as a world-leading maritime centre, and exploiting opportunities to generate further growth in the sector. It recommends that action is taken in specific areas to provide leadership by both Government and industry, including a more commercial and responsive UK maritime administration within Government, and an industry-led promotional body, proactive on skills and effective marketing by industry and Government alike.
 
The joint transport plan for south-west Wales states that sea and air modes provide critical gateways into the region from the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond, and that there is considerable untapped capacity that could be used to improve access for both people and goods. Indeed, with further devolution of Welsh ports, the Welsh Government must produce a framework strategy to help maximise the economic role that ports can play in Wales’s future development. The Government have a significant influence on port functioning through decisions on investment in connecting infrastructure, through land planning and marine licensing systems.
 
It’s vital that we look to developing adequate rail and road links, particularly the east-west corridors in the north and south of Wales, and also, of vital importance, is ensuring connections west of Swansea to Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire and Fishguard. The Department for Transport indicate that likely rises in population and economic growth will cause a significant rise in demand for use of the United Kingdom’s road networks, estimating that by 2020 traffic growth across all roads could be over 40 per cent. In Wales, the roads carry the highest proportion of journeys to work by car, compared with other areas in the United Kingdom. If the Welsh Government do not work to address this overcapacity on Welsh key roads, this will have many negative effects on Wales’s connectivity.
 
The Enterprise and Business Committee’s report on the Welsh Government’s approach to the promotion of trade and inward investment shows that, when asked, only 2 per cent of existing and potential investors thought Wales was an attractive location to establish operations. This, sadly, sends out a clear message that more must be done to develop Welsh infrastructure and resources, by improving our rail and road links, and skilling our work base, to ensure that Wales can be better integrated into the wider United Kingdom economy. This can only be achieved by the Welsh Government committing to work collaboratively and constructively with the United Kingdom Government, and implementing long-term effective policies.
 
14:35
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I have selected five amendments to the motion. Now, amendment 3 has been withdrawn. If amendment 1 is agreed, amendment 2 will be deselected. So, I call on Eluned Parrott to move amendments 1, 5 and 6, tabled in the name of Aled Roberts.
 
Amendment 1—Aled Roberts
 
Delete point 3 and replace with:
 
Notes the Welsh Government’s stated intention of identifying a private sector operator for Cardiff Airport at the time of purchase and calls for a written update on progress in this regard.
 
Amendment 5—Aled Roberts
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Notes significant gaps in rail electrification projects in the Welsh Government’s National Transport Finance Plan and calls on the Welsh Government to include electrification of the Ebbw Vale, Barry Island, Vale of Glamorgan, Penarth and Maesteg lines.
 
Amendment 6—Aled Roberts
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Calls on the Welsh Government to provide funding for a feasibility study into re-instating rail links between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen to link up with the existing network.
 
Amendments 1, 5 and 6 moved.
 
14:36
Eluned ParrottBiography
I move amendments 1, 5 and 6, tabled in the name of Aled Roberts. I’d like to thank the Welsh Conservatives for bringing this debate today.
 
Clearly, infrastructure is a vital debate, and it’s one we have very frequently, but, as we see from the amendments that are tabled today, the danger of this debate is that this becomes a wish list and not a strategic plan for transport in the long term, to serve the needs that we have. The first question—the fundamental question—we have to ask ourselves is: what is it that we are trying to do? What are the strategic challenges that we are facing up to when we are talking about our infrastructure investments, and how will those investments then serve those challenges?
 
If we’re talking about gross domestic product growth as the fundamental measure of our success as an economy—and the motion implies that that is what they wish to do—then, yes, we’ll need to invest in infrastructure. But it has to be purposeful, it has to be strategically planned, and we have to think about this: if GDP growth is what we’re looking for, then what are the tools that we have at our disposal? Capitalism—and it may pain the Minister for me to describe it thus—is, of course, the use of capital, land and human resources to generate wealth; that is what it is. Infrastructure investment allows us then to unlock land, and move people to work, but only if we have an effective strategic framework for that. We talk about capital enough, I think, in this Chamber, and access to finance for businesses, but we don’t really talk about land, and how we plan and strategically manage that land, in this place.
 
With the Welsh spatial plan gathering dust, I think we lack that national strategic approach to land use, and, without it, all infrastructure investments can only be opportunistic or ad hoc in nature. We’re expecting to link together sites that we haven’t even identified yet, and I struggle to understand how we can possibly expect to do it. The local development plan process, of course, is useful, but it is local and it is a tactical response to immediate needs in the short term. It is not a replacement for a long-term spatial plan.
 
So, the LDPs of course identify sites in the short term, when, in reality, those major infrastructure projects take such a long time to deliver that, if we are going to use the LDP process as a basis for infrastructure planning, we’ll be two LDPs out of date before any large project is actually delivered on the ground. So, my plea would be for the Welsh Government to provide that long-term, 20-year spatial plan, to give us that context for future infrastructure planning, or we won’t get best value from these incredibly expensive investments.
 
Turning to the amendments today, in amendment 1, regarding the airport, clearly air connectivity is an important challenge, but air connectivity for Wales is not only about Cardiff, of course. It’s important in my region—it’s in the village I live in—but we have to recognise that air connectivity, from mid Wales through to Birmingham, and from north Wales into Liverpool and Manchester, is also a challenge, and, for that reason, we need to be thinking about the land transport that gets people to those links.
 
In amending out forcing the Welsh Government to sell the airport, the reason I’ve done that is that, frankly, it doesn’t really matter who owns it; it matters that it works. It matters that it delivers good value for money—I’m not saying that, in my judgment, it has; that is a longer term discussion to have—but it matters that it delivers that value for money for the taxpayers; it matters that it delivers the services that people need. I think it’s incredibly naïve to suggest that we should force the Government to sell at a particular time, because, clearly, that would reduce the cost of the purchase price, as we know. I find it extraordinary for a party that claims to know businesses well that they would think that that was a way to proceed.
 
But, I am interested in understanding why the Welsh Government has not apparently followed its own proposals to bring in private sector involvement—
 
14:40
Nick RamsayBiography
Will you give way?
 
14:40
Eluned ParrottBiography
Yes, of course.
 
14:40
Nick RamsayBiography
Thanks for giving way, Eluned. Just for clarification on that point, we are saying that we would aim to sell it because we don’t think that the value has been gained by the taxpayer, but we would do that at a point where value for money could be gained and returned to the taxpayer.
 
14:40
Eluned ParrottBiography
I take your point, but I still maintain that the priority for the people of Wales is not the ownership—it’s the use and whether or not it is working, and that is clearly, time and again, what people say to us. But I am interested in following through what the Welsh Government have themselves suggested, which is that they would bring in private sector involvement and that does not seem to have been the case to this point.
 
In terms of the electrification of the Valleys lines and my amendment on that, clearly I am extremely concerned that five Valleys lines are currently missing from the Valleys lines electrification proposal. The business case that the Welsh Government put forward to the UK Government clearly stated that the intention was to electrify the whole network, but 90 km are missing—33 per cent of the entire network is missing. We need to know why and we need to know where it has gone. Thank you.
 
14:41
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I call on Rhodri Glyn Thomas to move amendments 2 and 4, tabled in the name of Elin Jones. Rhodri Glyn Thomas.
 
Amendment 2—Elin Jones
 
Delete point 3 and replace with:
 
Notes the opportunities to boost international connectivity in Wales by:
 
a) supporting the growth of Cardiff Airport as an entry point to Wales
 
b) supporting connectivity between Wales and key hub airports such as London Heathrow and Manchester.
 
Amendment 4—Elin Jones
 
Delete point 6 and replace with:
 
Further recognises the role of Welsh rail lines in securing internal and external connectivity, and supports;
 
a) developing the Heart of Wales Line.
 
b) electrification of the North Wales Coast Line.
 
c) electrification of the Great Western Main Line and Valley Lines.
 
d) electrification of the Welsh Marches Line.
 
Amendments 2 and 4 moved.
 
14:41
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I’m very pleased to move amendments 2 and 4, tabled in the name of Elin Jones. Amendment 2 relates specifically to the ownership of Wales’s airport. William Graham tried to argue somehow that it’s only in private ownership that an airport can operate effectively. May I direct him to Manchester Airport, which is in public hands and is extremely effective? What’s important, as we note in our amendment, is to ensure a better relationship with other airports, and we’re specifically referring to Heathrow and Manchester. Can I say in that context, that if there hadn’t been an improvement in terms of Cardiff Airport’s performance, I don’t think we would have seen the owners of Bristol Airport showing so much concern about what’s happening following the Welsh Government’s investment?
 
Eluned Parrott is entirely correct to say that it doesn’t matter who owns the airport. That’s not what’s important, but how effective it is. As someone who used Cardiff Airport yesterday morning and this morning, may I say that I’ve seen a significant improvement in the airport’s environment? Certainly it offers a much warmer welcome than it used to in the past.
 
But, we have ideology in this place, from the Conservative Party. They believe that it’s only in private hands that it’s possible for any business to succeed. May I refer you to the incredible success in the past few weeks in Cardiff, as Cardiff gave a home to international rugby games as part of the Rugby World Cup? We should acknowledge in this place the vision of Vernon Pugh from the Amman valley, who ensured that, when anybody from the United Kingdom’s nations gave a home to the world cup, games had to be held in Wales. As a result, those games were held here. The evidence that we received on the welcome that the supporters who were visiting Cardiff had shows very clearly that we’ve succeeded once again in this area.
 
14:43
Nick RamsayBiography
Will you give way?
 
14:43
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Let me come to the complaint and you can intervene after I’ve told you about the complaint that has come in time and time again, and that is, the problems that fans were facing was a problem with rail transport—and it’s the rail system that’s been privatised. It shows very clearly to the Welsh Conservatives that the ideology that you have, that it’s only in the hands of private businesses that business can succeed, has been disproved entirely by the mess that Great Western made, which meant hours of waits for supporters, and people having to use taxis to go as far as Swansea and Bristol, because the trains weren’t working effectively. That proves very clearly that business does not have to be in private hands to succeed. Indeed, very often when they’re in private hands, they fail entirely. Nick Ramsay.
 
14:44
Nick RamsayBiography
Thanks for giving way, Rhodri Glyn. Welsh Conservatives are not opposed to public ownership, but we do believe that that money—public money—would have been better spent on infrastructure to have supported Cardiff Airport, rather than the purchase. Surely, you would support public money being spent on infrastructure as well.
 
14:45
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Well, what we are saying in our amendment, if you look at it, is that what’s needed now is to ensure additional investment in Cardiff Airport, and we are prepared to see that investment being made privately, but what we want to see is collaboration, with the Welsh Government continuing to collaborate, to ensure that Cardiff does develop increasingly as an international airport that we can all take pride in.
 
May I refer to amendment 4 as well in the name of Elin Jones because, for some reason, the Conservatives in this place have referred to one railway alone? And may I note an interest in this? I am a vice-president of the Heart of Wales line and, because of that, I am very happy to promote its use. It’s an extremely beautiful line, and everyone should take advantage to travel through the heart of Wales and to see the beautiful views. But, there are other elements, as we note in our amendment, that have been ignored in their entirety in this motion from the Conservatives. It’s important, also, that we see the electrification of the North Wales Coast line and the electrification also of the Great Western main line and the Valleys lines. It’s also important that we see the electrification of the Welsh Marches line. It’s only by seeing that comprehensive picture that we can ensure the kind of international connectivity that the Conservatives are trying to promote in this motion.
 
14:46
Paul DaviesBiography
I’m pleased to take part in this debate this afternoon and to, firstly, highlight the strategic importance of the two ports in my constituency—Milford Haven and Fishguard—in terms of international connectivity. Now, the port of Milford Haven is, of course, the biggest port in Wales and the largest energy port in the United Kingdom. It has no lock restrictions, it has high-capacity gas and oil pipelines, as well as electricity connections, and, crucially, the port is in close proximity to Atlantic trade routes. In terms of its impact on the local economy, the port has succeeded in attracting over £3 billion-worth of new investment over the past five years, and the area now sustains 4,000 skilled jobs in Pembrokeshire.
 
Therefore, it’s disappointing that Milford Haven is not even referenced in the Welsh Government’s ‘Wales in the World’ international agenda document, despite its key role in terms of trade and investment opportunities. The Welsh Government must take steps to encourage and promote the port’s international activity, as well as investing in the safeguarding of existing jobs and the creation of new employment opportunities. Of course, the Haven Waterway enterprise zone has been established, which has certainly gone some way to recognising the strategic importance of the area. I give way to the Member for Blaenau Gwent.
 
14:48
Alun DaviesBiography
I don’t disagree with you about the importance of Milford Haven as a port, and Fishguard as well. I accept both those points. Would you join me in expressing grave disappointment that the UK Government has not pressed the case of both ports in terms of the trans-European networks—the TEN-T system?
 
14:48
Paul DaviesBiography
Well, of course, the Member for Blaenau Gwent will know that I’ve been pressing the Welsh Government with regard to dualling the A40 in Pembrokeshire, and I’m delighted that the Minister carried out a feasibility study this year. I hope very much that the Minister will take on board my calls to start dualling the A40 in due course.
 
Now, I have no doubts that one of the biggest challenges facing both of the ports in my constituency is Pembrokeshire’s transport infrastructure and, therefore, I’d like to reiterate my call, once again, as I mentioned earlier, to dual the A40 in Pembrokeshire, which would have a hugely beneficial impact on both of the ports in my constituency. Indeed, the port of Milford Haven has stressed this point in their written evidence to the Assembly’s Enterprise and Business Committee during its current inquiry into the potential of the maritime economy in Wales. In their written evidence, they state that, and I quote:
 
‘The Port is supportive of proposed enhancements to the A40, but we would also urge that the benefits of dualling the key route accessing the major industrial, tourism and employment centres of Pembrokeshire located around the Haven and the South Coast are fully investigated.’
 
They aren’t the only stakeholders that are calling for improvements to the A40. Stena Line has also called for upgrades to the A40, saying that an improvement to the A40 could be a catalyst to the Fishguard port development plan, which was submitted for outline planning along with a proposed marina development adjacent to the port.
 
Now, I appreciate that the Minister, as I mentioned earlier, has conducted a feasibility study into this specific matter and concluded that dualling the A40 could provide long-term benefits to the county. However, I have to say that this isn’t exactly news for the people of Pembrokeshire, who have been talking about this project since the 1950s. Given Pembrokeshire’s strategic importance to the UK energy sector, we need to see a transport network that is fit for the twenty-first century.
 
Now, Fishguard port is operated by Stena Line Ports Ltd, which is the statutory harbour authority. Fishguard port is located in the UK’s only coastal national park, and so there is huge potential to promote the port, the national park and, indeed, the whole of Pembrokeshire to overseas markets. In response to the Enterprise and Business Committee’s inquiry into international connectivity through Welsh ports and airports, Stena Line made it clear that,
 
‘Wales in our opinion is very…much an untapped cruise market destination and given the right level of reliable long term investment, promotional support and vision, could quite easily replicate the same level of success that Ireland has managed to achieve in the last 20 years.’
 
Given that it’s been over three years since the publication of that report, perhaps the Minister will tell us exactly what steps the Welsh Government has taken to support Fishguard’s cruise market potential. Cruise-based tourism can have an enormous impact on local economies, and both Fishguard and Milford Haven have enormous potential in this area.
 
Therefore, in closing, Presiding Officer, I’m sure that Members across all parties recognise the importance of international connectivity to the Welsh economy. I’m proud to represent a constituency that has so much potential in enhancing our international connectivity. The important thing now is for that potential to be recognised and developed by the Welsh Government. In order to boost the tourism and trade opportunities, the Welsh Government must tackle issues such as transport infrastructure and attracting inward investment to enhance Wales’s international connectivity. I hope that the Minister addresses these issues in her response, and I urge Members to support our motion this afternoon.
 
14:52
Mick AntoniwBiography
Part of this motion is, yet again, the Conservatives’ current obsession with the concept of privatisation of something that is actually succeeding. The Welsh Government rescued the airport, which had been set up by public money. It was then privatised, and we’ve had to rescue it again with public money because it is such a vital part of the Welsh economic cog.
 
14:52
Angela BurnsBiography
Will you take an intervention?
 
14:52
Mick AntoniwBiography
I certainly will.
 
14:52
Angela BurnsBiography
I just, at the outset, wanted to correct you because, of course, our motion does identify six key infrastructure areas. The airport is merely one of them. It is not—
 
14:52
Mick AntoniwBiography
Yes, but I think that, in your mind, the airport is clearly one of the most important aspects that you are obsessed with. Again, your motion and the presentation of that motion misled this Chamber because it suggested that the airport was failing and that passenger numbers were actually falling, whereas, in fact, that isn’t the case.
 
As to the airport statistics, if you want to actually know what they are, in June there was a 12 per cent increase in passenger numbers; in July there was an 8 per cent increase in passenger numbers; in August there was a 10 per cent increase in passenger numbers; in September there was a 21 per cent increase in passenger numbers; and, year on year, a 21 per cent increase. In March of this year, the airline Flybe announced new routes to Paris, Milan, Munich and others, creating a further 50 jobs. Vueling in 2016 will be creating 30,000 more seats available to passengers. The director of British Airways was in my constituency only the other day and announced the intention of BA to locate maintenance on the new Dreamliner aircraft at the Cardiff Airport site, precisely because we actually have an airport and because we salvaged that airport. In fact, the University of South Wales, based in Treforest in my constituency, has just announced a further £3.3 million of investment in aircraft maintenance training, creating jobs, apprenticeships and training. All that has happened, and what is the best that the Conservatives can offer? I have to say, if we were to take it seriously, you might want to refer their policy to the Electoral Commission—the £38.50 bribe to voters to sell off an airport.
 
Let’s look at the Conservatives—
 
Andrew R.T. Davies rose—
 
14:54
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Are you taking the intervention?
 
14:54
Mick AntoniwBiography
I will take the intervention.
 
14:54
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
I am grateful to the Member for taking the intervention. It is a fact that passenger numbers welcomingly started to increase from June after £13.5 million in route development grants were secured with the contract with Flybe. Do you not regret that that money was not available when Emirates wanted to come in 2008 and when Delta Air Lines wanted to come in 2010, when there was no support offered by the Welsh Government to the private operators?
 
14:55
Mick AntoniwBiography
Well, what I regret is the fact that, when it was in private hands, all the offers of Welsh Government support that were being made, including infrastructure support and airport development support, were actually rejected because the airport was so low down in the priorities of the owners and formed no role within the economic hub.
 
So, let’s look at this obsession with privatisation with the Tories. Of course, you privatised coal. That industry has gone and been destroyed. You privatised steel. That industry is currently being destroyed. You privatised the Royal Mail. That industry is currently being destroyed. You privatised water, gas and electricity. That industry is basically one that rips off the customer. You privatised rail, and you managed to turn that from what was a politically left-wing issue to an issue where everyone now agrees that the privatisation was a great mistake. You are privatising the NHS in England, and 35,000 doctors and nurses potentially face the axe now. You privatised hospital cleaning, and what do we get? An increase in infections and so on. There was actually a sum-up of Tory policy in a blog on this—
 
Nick Ramsay rose—
 
14:56
Mick AntoniwBiography
No, I’m going to take this. This summed up really what I think this Tory policy is actually about: Welsh Tories want to use taxpayers’ money to build up Cardiff Airport and then sell it off to their mates for a pittance. That is Tory policy. I have to say, you can see that all the way through: not interested in the economy; not interested in the airport as an integrated part of the metro, an integrated transport system for the whole of Wales—to create jobs and to create investment. What you are interested in is selling things off because your mates can make a few bob out of it. [Assembly Members: ‘Hear, hear.’]
 
14:56
Angela BurnsBiography
As the previous speaker seemed to be incapable or unwilling to talk about anything in Wales, Minister, I’m going to be making my contribution unashamedly partisan. I believe my constituency, and west Wales in general, is seen as the investment step-child when it comes to infrastructure development, and yet we have a huge number of companies bringing investment to Wales via the gateway of the west. Just to name a few—and I think Paul Davies has mentioned Milford Haven Port Authority—we’ve also got Pembroke Power Station, a £1 billion investment. We’ve got Fishguard itself. We’ve got Valero, Blackbridge, Waterston, the enterprise zone, and renewable companies that are world leaders, many successful engineering companies, and, of course, not forgetting the extraordinarily vibrant and dynamic tourism industry, with jewels such as Tenby, Saundersfoot, Narberth and Pembroke. All of that is here in west Wales, and we need the infrastructure to support that.
 
So, in my contribution, Minister, I would like to touch on three areas that, unfortunately, are slightly different, but I hope to somehow knit them together. The first is that, when it comes to our ports, whether it’s Milford Haven or Saundersfoot, I would like to ask you for an assurance that you will ensure that policy and legislation do not result in a loss of competitiveness with other UK national or international ports. Minister, I would like to request that you enable an exchange of information on growth opportunities for ports markets, especially the smaller ports—and there are many dotted all over Wales. Particularly, Minister, I would like to ask you to look at improving the infrastructure links to ports, because we have to recognise the key importance of connectivity for both freight and passenger movement.
 
This, I think, brings me to my second area that I’d like to discuss—I did touch upon it in my question—which was the A477. Anchor companies such as Valero, Main Port Engineering, Pembroke port—indeed, the whole enterprise zone—have sought a better road network for decades. I do not take away from some of the improvements that you have made along the length of the A477, and they have been very welcome. But we do need to keep our industry, and I think we have to recognise that some of the industries that we rely on in Pembrokeshire and in west Wales are frailer than others. Some operate in hugely competitive markets that are going through massive downturns at present, globally. Some face ever-ratcheting challenges, such as further environmental restrictions that are going to increase their costs. If I was sitting in the headquarters of some of those organisations, when I was to do my strengths and weaknesses of areas to keep my business operating, at the moment there would be times when I would put big question marks around areas of west Wales because I know that, in other countries, I can get better support. I fear that, sometimes, this will make us less attractive.
 
15:00
Joyce WatsonBiography
Will you take an intervention?
 
15:00
Angela BurnsBiography
Yes, certainly, of course, Joyce Watson.
 
15:00
Joyce WatsonBiography
Thank you. On the issue of support, Pembrokeshire has created 1,640 jobs as a direct consequence of EU funds. I’d just like to have your opinion, when we’re talking about investment and future investment. Where do you stand on us staying in or leaving the European Union, because that’s critical for people to know in Pembrokeshire? And have you actually had any conversations with the Treasury about the massive cuts to our budget here?
 
15:00
Angela BurnsBiography
That is such a red herring, Joyce.
 
15:00
Joyce WatsonBiography
No, it’s not.
 
15:00
Angela BurnsBiography
It’s not even worth bothering to answer. [An Assembly Member: ‘It was a serious question’.]
 
15:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Carry on.
 
15:00
Angela BurnsBiography
It is the most unserious question, because we are talking about Wales—something your previous speaker was unable to concentrate on—we are talking about west Wales, and we are talking about the need to improve the infrastructure. I do agree with the intervener that there have been jobs created, and they are really welcome, but we want to hang on to those jobs. We need to hang on to those jobs, because, if we lose any of those big anchor companies that we have in west Wales—and trust me, some of them are pretty frail at present—then that will damage our economy horrendously. We only have to look at what happened with Murco. And the business advantages that can tie—Minister, the business advantages that can tie—an organisation to an area or country are, in my view, twofold. There’s good infrastructure, with a fair planning and developing system, and a motivated and skilled workforce, which brings me to my third and final point.
 
Minister, I would like to understand very clearly how you think that you might be able to utilise the state-owned assets that we have to ensure that we can mobilise that to provide quality apprenticeships for a skilled and dedicated and motivated workforce. I wonder if you have a feeling for how many apprenticeships are on offer in any of our airports, our ports. And, when you are setting contracts for infrastructure delivery, can you tell us how you request and monitor the apprenticeship opportunities that may be available within those infrastructure projects? Thank you very much.
 
15:02
Alun DaviesBiography
A debate on connectivity always takes us into different places, quite literally sometimes, but, you know, whenever I’m considering these things, I’m reminded of one of the last contributions we had from a very much missed friend of this place, Professor Phil Williams. One of his last contributions to Wales was a pamphlet he wrote about the psychology of distance. Now, of course, in that pamphlet, he was talking about the differences between north and south Wales, which some people I know consider to be international matters, but perhaps is not one that I would consider to be so. But he spoke about not only connectivity in terms of the physical distance between places, but the perception of the distance between places. I think one of the things that we suffer from in all parts of Wales is that perception of distance and the psychology that distance is actually much further than it actually is, and that has created social and cultural problems for us sometimes, and it certainly creates issues in terms of economic development. I think it’s certainly true to say that people in Cardiff regard Ebbw Vale is being much further away than people in Ebbw Vale regard Cardiff, and that lack of understanding, that lack of agreement in the psychology of how distance affects us, is something that perhaps the Welsh Government and we as politicians need to address in perhaps a more fundamental way.
 
In terms of debating how we ensure that Wales is connected, both to each other and to the wider world, we need to be aware of the importance of interconnectivity, multimodal connectivity—not simply building a road here that might lead to a port a couple of miles down the road. Unless you have connectivity in the infrastructure on the surface, if it’s an airport, and on land if it’s a port, then that road itself, or that railway, will be entirely pointless, because you do not have the fundamental connectivity that you require to actually create an economic network, and that’s something I think we need to be very aware of.
 
I fully support the policy of the Welsh Government on Cardiff Airport. I think it’s one of the most imaginative and creative uses of public resources we’ve seen in many years in Wales. And I would like to see further support for Cardiff Airport in terms of the connectivity to the road and rail network, and I would like to ensure that Cardiff Airport has the surface facilities that can sustain it, both as a passenger and a freight airport, and I think we need to do that and to see that happening. I’m very much supportive of the work that the Government’s been doing in terms of route development. The North America, middle east, and China markets are clearly important, as is a service to Brussels, of course. Many of us who regard ourselves both as Welsh and British citizens, but also as European citizens, want to be connected to Brussels to ensure that Wales’s voice is easily heard there, and that we can ensure that Wales’s voice is a part of those wider debates and discussions.
 
But also I want to emphasise the importance of Heathrow Airport. All too often we think of international connectivity as things that happen here and take us to there, but Heathrow Airport is the most important hub airport for us in these islands, and when we are discussing and debating—[Interruption.] Yes, sure.
 
15:05
Darren MillarBiography
I’m very grateful for the Member raising the importance of connectivity to some of the major hub airports in England. As he will know, I’ve raised on a number of occasions the importance of connectivity to both Liverpool, and, in particular, Manchester, for residents and businesses in north Wales. Does he agree with me that there is a need to emphasise those links more in whatever strategy emerges from the Government?
 
15:06
Alun DaviesBiography
Yes, I don’t think you can rehearse the arguments of a border when you talk about international connectivity. I certainly do agree.
 
But, in terms of Heathrow, Heathrow is of fundamental importance. It’s a hub airport. It’s the only hub airport we have in the United Kingdom and the British isles, and, if we are going to see international connectivity for Wales as being something that goes beyond simply road and rail links within this country, we need to ensure that we have effective links to an expanded Heathrow Airport, and that means fast rail services from Cardiff and Swansea and Newport into Heathrow Airport itself. I would hope that the Welsh Government’s involved in discussions with the authorities in Heathrow Airport to ensure that happens.
 
But we also need to ensure that surface transport is available and provides fast links and fast interconnectivity with Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom and Europe. Links to the channel tunnel, direct links, are something that I think all of us would want to see. We need to ensure that the electrification of both the south Wales main line and the north Wales line and the Valleys lines actually happens according to the timetable. It’s been enormously frustrating, I think, for all of us here who’ve seen the UK Government prevaricating over the electrification process. We need to see that happening.
 
Can I finish my contribution on the importance of the trans-European networks? The United Kingdom Government—I’ve seen myself—has not supported ports like Milford Haven, Fishguard, or even Holyhead, to ensure that we do have the connectivity and the support of European mechanisms and facilities to enable us to invest in these different networks. I hope that the Welsh Government—. I know the Welsh Government has argued to ensure that Welsh routes are a part of the TEN-T networks, and we need to ensure that, when we’re planning our transport, the TEN-T network system is something that’s taken into account, and we must ensure that Wales’s voice is heard directly when those decisions are taken.