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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. Order. The National Assembly is in session.
 
1. Questions to the First Minister
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:30
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 1 is questions to the First Minister. Question 1, Jeff Cuthbert.
 
The South Wales Metro
 
13:30
Jeff CuthbertBiography
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the potential benefits of the south Wales metro? OAQ(4)2631(FM)
 
13:30
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. I provided Members with a full update on the potential benefits of the metro last week, after I had formally launched a campaign to raise public awareness of the project at Pontypridd station.
 
13:30
Jeff CuthbertBiography
Thank you for that response, First Minister. I have no doubt that the south Wales metro will be a great benefit to my constituents, not least because of the quicker and more regular services back and forth to Cardiff and other major centres of employment, west-east as well as north-south, and, together with electrification of the Rhymney valley line, it’ll improve the quality of journeys. However, First Minister, would you agree with me that another important aspect of a successful metro network will be to make house building on brownfield sites in the Heads of the Valleys region more attractive to private developers, thereby reducing the constant and ever-growing pressure to build new estates on greenfield sites in areas such as the Caerphilly basin?
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I do, because, in the latter stages of the metro project, there is scope for constructing light rail links into new estates, making them easier in terms of access to the rest of the network and in terms of access to jobs. It’s right to say that, where the infrastructure is right, then of course it becomes far more attractive to develop in areas that before that infrastructure is in place are seen as unattractive.
 
13:31
William GrahamBiography
Will the First Minister agree with me that not only will the metro scheme build on existing and future economic development for the area, but will also act as an important stimulus to social cohesion?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I do. As I’ve said before, this is not a question of putting in place a transport system that just brings people to Cardiff to work, but connects communities with the capital city so that investment can flow away from the capital city as well. I see it very much as a two-way process.
 
13:32
Julie MorganBiography
It’s very welcome, the support for the metro. How much does the further development of the metro concept depend on agreement being made about Cardiff and the capital city deal?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, obviously, it’s an important part of the city deal. We have made our commitment. Local government has made its commitment, and now, of course, we wait to see the progress of negotiations between local government, whose bid it is, and the UK Government.
 
13:32
Lindsay WhittleBiography
First Minister, what assurances can you give that the metro will be focused on greater improvement in connection with the Valleys and other cities within the region and not just on relieving congestion in Cardiff? I appreciate that this city is becoming more and more congested. One Coca-Cola lorry brought it to a halt last week. Well, if this is a regional strategy, we need to make sure that we better connect with other regional centres too.
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I can’t promise that, in the plans for the metro, that we have made provision for such unlikely events as a Coca-Cola lorry arriving on spec without any notice at all, but, unfortunately, there are many who would have been inconvenienced by it who may not have been positively influenced by the message it was carrying, if I can put it that way. As part of the metro project, of course, we are looking at cross-valley links as well, particularly, though not exclusively, through bus rapid transit, because we recognise that the metro system, in order for it to be cohesive, has to have cross-valley links as part of it, not simply links that come down to Cardiff.
 
13:33
Eluned ParrottBiography
First Minister, clearly, the metro is a key driver of change for that city deal and it’s vital that the two—the city deal and the metro—work together strategically if we’re going to derive the maximum benefits. But, will the Welsh Government in the long term retain control of the metro project or will it be handed over to the control of the local authorities within the city region as their own governance structures progress and city deal funding is discussed?
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No, the metro itself will be organised so that there is one organisation that runs the metro. It’s a Welsh Government project and, certainly, it’s our intention that we retain influence and control over that project. But we want to work with the local authority partners as well. In time, that model may change. What’s absolutely crucial is that there is one body in place that runs the metro as a network.
 
The Devolution of Business Rates
 
13:34
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the devolution of business rates? OAQ(4)2632(FM)[W]
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The devolution of business rates is an important opportunity to focus on developing the right regime for Wales.
 
13:34
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Thank you very much. The devolution of non-domestic rates is to be welcomed, of course, although, as far as I know, we don’t have the right to vary the way in which that tax is levied. But another concern, of course, is the methodology for altering the block grant, and the formula favoured by the Treasury will disadvantage Wales. What pressure has the Government placed on the Treasury to ensure fairness for Wales, and what meetings have taken place to discuss this?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Member is entirely correct on the change that has taken place. It’s not something that benefits Wales. The Minister has raised our concerns about this change to the Barnett formula with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and she will continue to make the Welsh Government’s case over the next few weeks.
 
13:35
Mike HedgesBiography
First Minister, what progress is being made to ensure that a no-detriment principle is followed on the devolution of national non-domestic rates, and that the formula does not produce a Barnett-type squeeze?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, building on the answer I gave to the Member for Arfon, we are concerned that the new approach is inconsistent with the principles that should be applied when considering the interaction between the block grant and devolved taxes. A recent paper from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the University of Stirling concluded that this type of approach that’s been adopted to block grant adjustments fails the principle that there should be no detriment from the decision to devolve the tax, and that is why we will keep on pressing the UK Government to realise that this is not an appropriate way to conduct affairs with regard to the formula itself.
 
13:36
Nick RamsayBiography
First Minister, the full devolution of business rates to the Welsh Government does indeed provide an opportunity to better develop a supporting regime for businesses within Wales. Welsh Conservatives have long called for business rates to be reduced, and for business rates up to £12,000 to be removed. Will you look again at our policy, and look at a way to develop the regime within Wales, so that businesses are better supported?
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The small business rate relief scheme, of course, has been successful. But, of course, what he must explain is how the loss of revenue will be made up in terms of the Welsh budget. We know that, where we look to reduce revenue, then there is a concomitant reduction in spending as well. We believe that the current scheme has been very successful, and, certainly, I’m sure all parties will be examining the opportunities that business rates offer in terms of their offers to the people of Wales in May.
 
13:37
Peter BlackBiography
First Minister, you know that, in England, there are a number of innovations being experimented on around business rates, such as tax increment financing, giving local authorities the power to keep some of the business rates that they might be able to gain, if they attracted additional investment into their area. Is the Welsh Government looking to do similar things in Wales and, if so, when?
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, this has to be approached with great caution, because it is possible for local authorities to lose out substantially if the balance is not right between what they raise, and their block grant. We know that if business rates were completely self-contained within local authorities, 17 local authorities in Wales would lose out as a result, and some would benefit handsomely. That much is true, but there would be an enormous change. We’re always keen to look at ways to incentivise local authorities to be able to attract business into their communities, but it is important to ensure that local authorities don’t lose out as a result of any changes.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:38
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I now call the party leaders to question the First Minister, starting this week with the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:38
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. First Minister, it’s budget day today. That gives us the opportunity to reflect on maybe some of the budget decisions you’ve made in this Assembly term, because, obviously, today is the last draft budget statement that this current Government will make. In the early years of this Assembly, obviously, the Government put forward budgets that had devastating cuts to the NHS budget, especially year 1 and year 2. In year 1, for example, £225 million was taken out of the NHS budget. Do you now regret those decisions that so savagely took away resources from the Welsh NHS?
 
13:39
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, let’s be absolutely clear: there’s a 0.6 per cent increase, in real terms, to the Welsh NHS budget, despite the fact there’s been a 10 per cent decrease in the Welsh budget. That shows the priority we give to the Welsh NHS, and we’re proud of the fact that, today, there will be a substantial increase, reflecting, of course, Wales’s position as being ahead of England in the amount we spend per head on health.
 
13:39
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
It’s quite remarkable that you’re not really defending the positions that you did take in the early part of this Assembly, because you clearly know they were so wrong for the NHS here in Wales. And, in particular, when you look at yesterday’s report from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, ‘The State of Surgery in Wales’, it shows that one in seven people are on a waiting list in Wales—450,000 people are on a waiting list in Wales. That’s nearly double the number, as a percentage, that are on a waiting list in England. We also know that the 26-week wait is up by 70 per cent since 2011. Wales has the lowest number of critical care beds across Europe—not the UK, but across Europe. When you look at that report, nearly all these indicators started to go the wrong way in 2013—the year after your first two budgets that delivered such devastating cuts to the Welsh NHS. How are you actually going to address some of these damning statistics over your management and your Government’s failure to address the shortfalls in the Welsh NHS?
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
He fails to recognise the inherent weakness in his argument. If he claims that there have been record cuts in the Welsh NHS, then the cuts in England must have been even worse under his party, under his Government. We have seen an increase in Welsh NHS spending over five years. We have seen a real-terms increase. We have done that despite the fact that we’ve seen a real-terms decrease of 10 per cent from his Government in London, and we are today putting more money into the Welsh NHS, while he wants to remove £250 million from the Welsh NHS through what he’s proposing for taxes. He has to show, if he wishes to remove money out of the Welsh budget, where he is going to make those cuts. Perhaps he could be honest with the people of Wales and tell us.
 
13:41
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
No apology, no remorse for what you’ve done to the NHS here in Wales in the early years of your tenure as First Minister in this Assembly. Those figures aren’t Conservative figures that I quoted to you in my second question; they are the figures put forward by the royal college of surgeons that paint a damning picture of what you have presided over in the Welsh NHS. And time and time again, you keep talking that there’s more money spent on patients in Wales than in England. That clearly is not the case. [Interruption.] If you take the Nuffield figures, we also know that, for the adjusted age and reflecting our increasingly ageing population, £50 per person less is spent on health in Wales per person. That is a fact, First Minister. You know that—
 
13:41
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Treasury’s wrong.
 
13:41
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
[Continues.]—and you know that, over the term of this Assembly, you have taken £1 billion out of the NHS here in Wales. Will you not show now some remorse for those devastating decisions that have led to such astronomical waiting times here in Wales?
 
13:42
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The figures that I’ve quoted are his Government’s figures from the Treasury.
 
13:42
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
No apology. No apology.
 
13:42
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
What he’s saying is that Treasury is misleading the people of Britain. The reality is that the public expenditure survey analyses figures the Treasury produce show that we spend more on health per head in Wales than England does. His party’s figures, not mine—or is the Treasury wrong? And, again, he doesn’t give us an answer, does he, in terms of the £250 million-cut that he wants to impose on the Welsh budget? He doesn’t say what he’s going to do about social care, because older people in England are being dumped by the UK Government. We see delayed transfers of care going through the roof in England, as people are stuck in hospital. We see that social care in England is being abandoned by the UK Government—we see it being thrown at local authorities. We in Wales will never be in a position where we leave our old people, our older people, vulnerable in the way that the Tories are doing in England. We will continue to spend more per head on health in Wales than in England. We will continue to spend far more on social care in Wales than the Tories do in England. It just goes to show that you can’t trust the Welsh NHS with the Tories. [Interruption.]
 
13:43
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. Let’s all calm down. Let it go.
 
Now the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:43
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch. I’d like to start by saying a big welcome to the pupils of my former primary school who are with us in the public gallery today—the children of Penygraig Junior School—and a big ‘well done’ to them on an excellent Estyn report as well.
 
First Minister, the UK Government’s statement of funding policy, published at the time of the comprehensive spending review, states that the direct Barnett consequential for Wales from the HS2 project is 0 per cent. The corresponding figure for Scotland and for Northern Ireland is 100 per cent Barnett consequential. Will you confirm that that is the case?
 
13:44
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The consequential from HS2 is £755 million for Wales.
 
13:44
Leanne WoodBiography
First Minister, you are now deliberately confusing two different figures. Wales will see an increased consequential, as a result of an overall increase in the UK Department for Transport’s budget. That’s an overall increase in the transport budget. But Wales is missing out on a much more significant increase, because, as the Treasury confirms, Wales will not receive a direct consequential from the HS2 project. First Minister, why are you taking the Tory line on this, and why are you content that Wales will miss out on millions of pounds again?
 
13:44
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Just to explain the way this was done: the HS2 funding was put into the departmental funding line—the DEL—of the Department for Transport, which is why we get a consequential. We would not have had a consequential if there’d been a separate DEL, as they tried to do with the Olympics. Because the funding is going to the Department for Transport budget, we then get a consequential. So, we have had a consequential, as a result of HS2, of £755 million.
 
13:45
Leanne WoodBiography
That does not explain why Scotland and Northern Ireland are in a different position. Now, the delivery body for HS2 is HS2 Limited, and not Network Rail. Unlike Network Rail, HS2 Limited is not devolved to either Scotland or to Northern Ireland. So, why is the UK Government singling out Wales for disadvantage, and why are you, as Wales’s First Minister, quite happy for that to happen? Now, First Minister, Plaid Cymru warned you a year ago on this. Did you listen to us? No, you did not. Did you act when we spoke out a year ago? No, you did not. Don’t the people of Wales deserve better than a passive First Minister?
 
13:46
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
What the people of Wales deserve is to be told things as they are. The reality is that, as a result of the representations we made to the UK Government, the HS2 funding was placed in the DEL of the Department for Transport and, as result, we’ve had a consequential. If there’d been a separate DEL, we’d have had nothing at all. And that is the point—we have had a consequential of £755 million over the course of five years because of the increased UK Department for Transport budget as a result of HS2. We have had a consequential because of HS2. [Interruption.]
 
13:46
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order. I’m sure we want to show the young people who are visiting us that, on all sides of the Chamber, we listen calmly to both the questions and the answers. Now the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:46
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. First Minister, this afternoon I eagerly anticipate budget proposals to increase the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ key schools policy of the pupil premium to £1,150 per pupil. Last week, your Government’s evaluation report confirmed that the policy has resulted in significant improvements in literacy, numeracy, behaviour, confidence and self-esteem for our most disadvantaged pupils. What additional improvements do you expect to see for pupils in Welsh schools as a result of the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ decision to prioritise school funding in budget negotiations?
 
13:47
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the pupil deprivation grant, of course, is what the Liberal Democrats brought to the table. Increasing school funding was a manifesto commitment made by my party. I’m not going to prejudge what the Minister’s about to say in her draft budget statement, but, of course, we’re aware of the agreement that was reached between the parties with regard to the budget.
 
13:47
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Having persuaded you of the merits of one of our policies, I invite you to consider another, First Minister. Parents want teachers to have the time to properly devote to their children. Evidence suggests, and Estyn has told us, that children learn better in smaller class sizes. Isn’t it time to adopt the Welsh Liberal Democrat policy to cap class sizes at 25 pupils?
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, that’s something I’m sure she can put forward in May. We have made sure that class sizes have been reducing over the years. We’ve improved standards in Welsh schools, and we’re seeing that—the best GCSE results that we’ve ever had. We’re building schools—that’s not happening in England. There are no schools being built in England, and nor are they being refurbished to the extent that they are in Wales. And we know that we spend 4 per cent per head more on education in Wales than the Tory Government does in England.
 
13:48
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
But the reality here in Wales is that the number of children being taught in classes of 30 and over is increasing. There has been a loss of 775 teachers since 2010. In five years, we’ve lost one teacher for every two pupils that have left the school system. What measures will your Government take to stem the loss of teachers and the increases in class sizes?
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, there is £106 million more in the education budget than there would have been if the pledge that we put in place in 2011 had not been carried through. That means that there are more teachers in Welsh schools, it means that that there are more schools being built, and it means we’re seeing standards increase. Ultimately, of course, it’s for local authorities and for schools to decide the numbers that they employ. Bear in mind, of course, if we’re talking about teacher numbers, that the Tory plans for cuts in tax would mean 5,000 fewer teachers in Welsh schools. That’s what it amounts to. It would mean 10,000 nurse salaries that wouldn’t be paid. Again, we have a situation where a gimmick is presented to the Welsh electorate and deep cuts in education being proposed by the Tories.
 
Residential Care Fee Levels
 
13:49
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of fee levels for residential care on the viability of the sector? OAQ(4)2622(FM)
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. Local authorities have responsibility for working with providers and negotiating fee levels to ensure the sustainable provision of residential care to meet the needs of people in their local area.
 
13:50
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, you will be aware that many people providing residential care are doing so on the margins of sustainable viability. The proposals by the Westminster Government to introduce a so-called living wage, and whilst nobody would argue that those working in the care sector deserve to be paid decently, without a corresponding rise in fee levels from local authorities who place residents in residential care sectors, some of those care beds could be lost. What is your Government doing to analyse the situation and to work with local authorities to ensure that the fee levels they’re paying to residential care are adequate?
 
13:50
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The leader of the Liberal Democrats is absolutely right because these are representations that are being made to me. The UK Government has introduced the national living wage, which she and I would both very much welcome, but the cost of it is being borne by businesses and ultimately, possibly, by the local authorities, but not by the UK Government. It’s another example—we saw it again in the CSR last week—where there’s an abdication of financial responsibility by the UK Government when it comes to social care, so that they can blame other people when things go wrong.
 
I can say that the national commissioning board is undertaking a detailed market analysis of the care home market across Wales. That analysis will encompass the fee levels paid by health boards and local authorities and will capture information on third-party payments. It will also provide information on the balance between demand and supply for services and that will help, of course, in terms of understanding the challenges that are being placed on the care sector by the UK Government.
 
13:51
Altaf HussainBiography
First Minister, the care sector is facing a number of challenges in the coming decades with an ageing population and budget constraints. Do you agree that we need to look for innovative solutions? Welsh Conservatives believe that part of the solution is to keep people in their own homes for longer, keeping capacity in residential care for those with complex care needs. What is your Government doing to support and enable older people to remain in their own homes?
 
13:52
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Member seems to suggest that we should have residential care for those who are the most infirm and nothing for anyone else—they should be at home. That clearly can’t be right with extra care facilities particularly, in terms of the facilities that they provide. What we will not do is do what his party have done in England and say, ‘If you want more social care, then put 2 per cent on the council tax’. What that means of course is that those authorities that have the lowest council tax base and probably the greatest demand will find themselves caught twice in a double trap. More affluent areas will be able to afford social care and poorer areas will not. That just sums up the attitude of the Tories in one sentence.
 
Supporting Entrepreneurs
 
13:52
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the initiatives that the Welsh Government has introduced to support entrepreneurs in Wales? OAQ(4)2623(FM)
 
13:52
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. As a Government we are committed to providing the best environment possible to support entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses in Wales.
 
13:53
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
Thank you for that answer. First Minister, the latest figures reveal that the number of business enterprises operating in Wales has grown by more than 10 per cent under the current Welsh Government. What can the Welsh Government do to build on this dynamic success?
 
13:53
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
As a Government, we have delivered wide-ranging actions to support job creation and to improve the business environment across Wales. We placed jobs, growth and tackling poverty at the heart of our programme for government, with a clear alignment between these. We can see that the latest data show that there are now 231,110 business in Wales compared to 207,740 in 2011. We’ve seen an increase in employment as well within those businesses.
 
13:53
Paul DaviesBiography
First Minister, one way of supporting entrepreneurs is to strengthen the skills foundation and to give young people the chance to develop the skills that are relevant to the local area. This would assist in keeping young entrepreneurs in areas such as Pembrokeshire. Many reports have suggested that more could be done in areas such as Pembrokeshire at the school and college level so that students can be encouraged to establish their own businesses in their home towns. Under these circumstances, what is the Welsh Government doing to encourage the education sector to promote and develop local entrepreneurship so that our young people don’t feel that they have to leave areas such as Pembrokeshire?
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I must say, of course, that the aim of his party is to cut the skills budget. They have said so. Of course, we are not going to do that. We have Business Wales, of course, and Business Wales has a one-stop-shop service that has helped so many people, especially young people. Yesterday, the Minister launched a new service to support young people to set up their own businesses over the next five years, and to assist them, of course, in ensuring that the good ideas that they have are turned into businesses that will employ people.
 
13:55
Christine ChapmanBiography
First Minister, Chwarae Teg tell me that, whilst men and women inquire about business start-up grants in approximately equal numbers, far fewer women actually proceed with applications. Now, this implies that we need to have awareness of the particular needs of potential female entrepreneurs. How could the Welsh Government build this into its application process?
 
13:55
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Forty-four per cent of individuals accessing the business start-up service are female, but we have the participation fund, which aims to help people overcome any barriers that may prevent individuals from taking advantage of support through Business Wales, including access to childcare. I know that business organisations provide direct support and services for women; they include Chwarae Teg, of course. Business Wales does actively hold events specifically for women, providing networking opportunities for women in business. So, whilst it’s right to say that the number of inquiries as between men and women is—well, it’s not equal, but the divergence is not that great. It’s the next step where support is needed and a number of actions have been taken in order to close that gap.
 
13:56
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Entrepreneurs need to know, of course, in considering establishing their own businesses in Wales, that the staff are available to help to develop those businesses, and that the resources are available to develop the skills of their staff. I spoke to one entrepreneur in terms of computer programming this week who told me that, once he had made enquiries, he found that there weren’t any specific apprenticeship schemes available in Wales for developing computer programmers. Now, does the First Minister agree with me that if that is the case, then that is unacceptable, and would he agree to look into the opportunities that do exist in order to develop apprenticeships in this crucial area?
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I will write to the Member, of course, regarding that specific point so that he can answer the question posed to him by the individual. But, of course, we have Jobs Growth Wales, for example, which has assisted people in terms of information technology, and that’s been a very successful scheme indeed. But, on the point that he has just raised, I’ll make sure that I write to him.
 
Improving People’s Wellbeing (North Wales)
 
13:57
Mark IsherwoodBiography
5. How is the Welsh Government helping to improve the wellbeing of people in North Wales? OAQ(4)2621(FM)
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Our investments support a prosperous and resilient economy in the north, developing important infrastructure and transport opportunities and ensuring the resilience of the natural environment.
 
13:57
Mark IsherwoodBiography
When speaking at the Carwyn Connect event in Mold, Theatr Clwyd Cymru, in October, a constituent told you that she was waiting months in pain for pain management treatment, whereas previously she received it in weeks at the Countess of Chester. You replied that you were surprised that she was allowed to go to the Countess, as a cross-border protocol was in place. How will you now respond to that constituent and others like her, who says, ‘After waiting so long in pain, I’m very pleased with my treatment. I went privately. I had to empty my savings account.’
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That wasn’t what she said. What she said was that she was being prevented from going to the Countess of Chester Hospital, if I remember rightly, and I expressed surprise at that, because we do—. That’s why I mentioned the cross-border protocols. So, that individual should have received a reply from me anyway, because all people who ask a question get a reply, but, to the best of my recollection, it was about not being able to access services at the Countess of Chester, which was the issue that I couldn’t understand, given the fact that we have those cross-border protocols in place.
 
13:58
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Given the review into maternity services in north Wales that is currently ongoing, I have a simple question for you. If you were an expectant parent, would you be content if you lived an hour and a half to two hours away from a consultant-led maternity unit?
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the situation no, of course, is that we know that a decision has been made. There will still be three maternity units in Wales because of what we did as a Government. We took Betsi Cadwaladr into special measures, and because of that, and the work done by Ministers, there are staff now who will ensure that that maternity unit will continue. Therefore, the situation will be the same as it used to be.
 
13:59
Aled RobertsBiography
First Minister, the maternity units will remain in place until the regional unit is opened in Glan Clwyd. The report submitted to the health board today, as they receive the business case for the regional centre, says that they accept a report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in January, and, after that, they will need to go out to further consultation on the situation post 2018. Therefore, in order for us to have some assurance in terms of the centres in Bangor and in Wrexham, do you expect the health board to consult further post January, and before the Assembly elections, on the ongoing situation post 2018?
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, not post 2018. I would expect them to consult before any changes, naturally, but I don’t see that as a reason for postponing the SuRNICC itself. That will go to Glan Clwyd. Members were supportive of that. The choice was between Glan Clwyd and Arrowe Park. Members didn’t wish to see the babies in greatest need going to Arrowe Park, and that is why, of course, the SuRNICC is going to Glan Clwyd. But we would expect, ultimately, any changes to be consulted upon.
 
Training for Disabled People
 
14:00
Gwenda ThomasBiography
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of training for disabled people? OAQ(4)2617(FM)
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Our key priority remains to progress young people and adults into employment at the earliest opportunity, and all programmes that support unemployed individuals through the Welsh Government are open to everyone, irrespective of their personal circumstances, to ensure equality of opportunity.
 
14:01
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Thank you for that, First Minister. Neath Port Talbot council’s pan-disability project, Bspoked Enterprises, held its first Christmas fair recently and sold various festive gifts made by the council’s training and employment project for people with disabilities and mental health issues. The project aims to give people the chance to diversify their skills and attain accredited qualifications, recognising their practical experiences. First Minister, do you agree with me that this excellent example of improving outcomes and lives is worthy of praise?
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes I do, and I very much congratulate the work the council has done. I think it can be an exemplar for the rest of Wales, and I thank the Member for raising it.
 
14:02
Mohammad AsgharBiography
First Minister, statistics suggest the employment rate for people with disabilities in general is 48 per cent, but around 7 per cent for people with learning difficulties and 15 per cent for people with autism. Learning Disability Wales has said that people with learning disabilities and people with autism spectrum disorder are not accessing the skills training provision offered through the Welsh Government. What plan does the Welsh Government have to review the effectiveness of its programmes to support people with learning disabilities and ASD into employment here in Wales?
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We look, of course, to ensure that people are aware of the support that’s available. I can say that all work-based learning providers delivering certain programmes can claim additional learning support funding to assist them with the cost of securing the support necessary to make provision accessible to learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, and that’s an important route to employment for many, many people.
 
14:03
Christine ChapmanBiography
First Minister, I recently met with a disabled constituent who told me about the difficulties he is experiencing in attempting to find suitable employment opportunities. We know that disabled people have an enormous contribution to make, so how is the Welsh Government engaging with employers to encourage and incentivise them to recruit disabled people?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are in the process of developing the replacement programme for Work Ready—Skills for Employment Wales. During the consultation phase, for example, we met with a number of representatives from several groups representing disabled people to understand the issues that they raised, in order to make sure that our work-based learning offer is as accessible as possible to the people that they represent. The new programme will aim to address the issues that they raised there, to make it easier.
 
Aberystwyth-Carmarthen Railway
 
14:04
Elin JonesBiography
7. Will the First Minister provide an update on the progress of the initial scoping study on the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen railway? OAQ(4)2620(FM)[W]
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have now received the scoping report, and we are considering the next steps.
 
14:04
Elin JonesBiography
Thank you, First Minister. I’m pleased that you’ve received that report. May I therefore ask you to publish that report?
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There’s no reason why that shouldn’t happen. The report will now be considered by the Government, but I can’t see any reason in principle why that scoping report cannot be made public.
 
14:04
Angela BurnsBiography
First Minister, in the scoping document, I wondered if the organisation that undertook it had the opportunity to first of all also look at all the other alternative transport routes, because I’m not sure if you’ll be aware that they’ve now stopped the bus services between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. So, the importance of that line is becoming more and more—. [Interruption.]
 
14:05
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. One person is asking the question. You need to finish. [Interruption.] [Laughter.]
 
14:05
Angela BurnsBiography
Let me clarify. They are stopping the bus services from my part of Carmarthen to get the ease of Aberystwyth. They are at very inconvenient times. They cannot get to them. That’s the first point.
 
The second point, First Minister, is that there are a lot of students who need to travel that route, and they are struggling to get to Aberystwyth. So, I wondered if, again, the scoping organisation had had the opportunity to talk to other—
 
14:05
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Quickly, please.
 
14:05
Angela BurnsBiography
[Continues.]—to the education Minister and other interested organisations. Sorry, I’ve made a mess of that.
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I’m not aware that there’s been a change to the TrawsCymru service that runs between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen in terms of between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. We know there are connections to Carmarthen and Aberystwyth railway stations. We know there are connections to the Bwcabus service at Lampeter, Pencader, Felinfach and Aberaeron as well. But, this scoping study looked particularly at whether the former railway line could be reopened. We do know from the scoping study that about 3 per cent of the track bed has been lost—either built on or where sections are no longer visible at all—and there would need to be, for example, ways that would have to be found around those obstacles were the track to be rebuilt. I think it’s fair to say in advance of the publication of the study that it’s clear that the reinstatement of the line will be a complex operation, and it will take some time to understand exactly what the cost might be. It’s possible to give a fairly global figure, but not a figure with any confidence at this stage, given the fact that more work needs to be done in terms of looking at the detail of the different sections as to how those sections could be reinstated.
 
Mobile Phone Coverage (Mid and West Wales)
 
14:07
William PowellBiography
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on mobile phone coverage in Mid and West Wales? OAQ(4)2625(FM)
 
14:07
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Telecommunications policy is not a devolved matter, of course, but we are working with the UK Government, the mobile industry and Ofcom to secure improvements in mobile coverage across Wales. I did note that the UK Government announced in 2014 that it had reached a legally binding agreement with the operators so that there would be 90 per cent geographical coverage for 2G, 3G and 4G by 2017.
 
14:07
William PowellBiography
I’m grateful to the First Minister for that comprehensive response. But, last week an RAC Foundation study revealed that, after the Highlands and Islands, three of the local authority areas within the UK that were least well served actually fall within Mid and West Wales, with hundreds of miles of Welsh roads not even having 2G coverage—an astonishing 437 miles in Powys, Gwynedd with 172 miles and Ceredigion with 156 miles. First Minister, in the context of the impact that that has on public safety, but also in terms of hampering business development, what more can the Welsh Government do to help to persuade the mobile phone industry to commit greater infrastructure investment to actually create a climate that is more positive for business, and which also enhances public safety?
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
As I said to the Member, coverage is meant to be 90 per cent of Wales by 2017. We will hold the UK Government to its agreement with the network operators. It’s also the case that 98 per cent of Wales will be covered by at least one operator. That is what they tell us will be happening by 2017, and, clearly, we want to see that actually happen.
 
14:08
Russell GeorgeBiography
First Minister, in recent months there has been some deterioration in mobile coverage in my Montgomeryshire constituency. In a recent meeting, I met with the four mobile operators and they said that one of the most significant barriers to investment in mobile infrastructure in Wales is restrictive planning policies. Now, they all suggested that changes to the planning framework are required to increase permitted development to a height of 25m, and to allow a 5m increase in mast height in non-protected areas. Is this something that you would be willing to discuss with colleagues and consider, and bring forward changes to the planning framework?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It’s certainly not an issue that’s been raised with me in terms of masts. I’ve certainly had experience of people objecting to masts being put in place, but I’m not aware of operators having problems with the general permitted development order and the placing of masts around Wales. If there’s evidence of that, of course, we’d be prepared to look at it.
 
14:09
Simon ThomasBiography
I understand, of course, that this isn’t devolved to you as a Government, but it is a cause of concern for me that there are whole villages in this region that have no mobile phone service at all, from any provider whatsoever. If you take Llanboidy, for example, which is a village of 2,000 people, if you stand in the middle of the square in Llanboidy, outside the market hall, there is no coverage at all, and there are many people there, in a viable community where the Welsh language is still important, for example. If we’re going to retain people in our communities, they have to have a mobile phone service. That’s a minimum that we should expect. So, what can you do to ensure that this 98 per cent actually reaches all of our communities?
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we are going to ensure, of course, that the United Kingdom Government delivers on this. Some parts of Wales—some urban areas—don’t have any kind of reception at all. We know, of course, about the situation on Anglesey where it’s relatively flat, but it’s very difficult to get any kind of signal in parts of that island. There is no reason for that—there is no geographical reason for that at all; it’s a question of investing in the network. So, we are continuing to put pressure on the UK Government to ensure that the mobile phone companies do attain the target in 2017.
 
Job Creation (South Wales Central)
 
14:11
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
9. What job creation proposals does the Welsh Government have for communities in South Wales Central? OAQ(4)2616(FM)
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we’re supporting the creation and retention of jobs across all parts of Wales by helping businesses to start and grow, whether it’s through the small business rate relief scheme, whether it’s through the growth of the metro, whether it’s Jobs Growth Wales, whether it’s the Skills for Employment Wales programme, or whether it’s the investment that’s been brought into Wales as a result of the hard work that’s been done abroad.
 
14:11
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Thank you, First Minister, for that answer. The enterprise zone in St Athan had very disappointing job-creation figures recently: only seven jobs created there. As someone who actually supports the concept of what’s going on at St Athan, this was deeply disappointing news. The Welsh Government, in fairness, have put considerable sums of money over a 10-year period into that area of the Vale of Glamorgan, but I hope you will share with me my disappointment in only seven jobs being created. What do you think were the specifics that led to such poor job-creation figures, and what hope can you offer that those figures will be better in the future?
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There is great potential for St Athan and a great deal of interest from investors. We have invested in the road, of course, in terms of straightening the road by the Aberthaw cement works. What would really help the enterprise zone in St Athan and Cardiff Airport would be the devolution of long-haul air passenger duty, which he has supported, in fairness to him, and he mentioned that, of course, when he gave evidence to the committee. We know that that would have an enormous effect on the economic development both of Rhoose and of St Athan. We know it would attract long-haul flights in and the maintenance of those flights with it. I’ve heard arguments put forward that we should accept greater fiscal responsibility as a Government. We know that will happen with the devolution or partial devolution of income tax; why on earth then does that not apply to long-haul air passenger duty? It’s something that would make an enormous difference to the enterprise zone.
 
The Restoration of Opencast Coal Mines
 
14:13
Bethan JenkinsBiography
10. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government concerning the restoration of opencast coal mines in Wales? OAQ(4)2618(FM)
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Welsh Government has had a robust dialogue with the UK Government concerning the restoration of opencast coal mines in Wales.
 
14:13
Bethan JenkinsBiography
First Minister, I’ve heard you and your ministerial colleagues argue that the UK Government should provide funding because of the 10-year restoration holiday allowed by the Coal Industry Act 1994, but isn’t it the case that Celtic Energy was restoring its site during that period right up until it was bought out by the Walters Group, and since then it has failed to restore a single site in its stewardship? And, isn’t it true that this unrealistic appeal for money from Westminster, which your Government has put very little effort behind despite your robust analysis—I’ve seen FOIs and it has come back saying something very different—what is this tough action that you’re taking in this regard? Can your Government take action as opposed to crying crocodile tears to Westminster?
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, hang on a second, is she saying that Welsh taxpayers should pay for a mess created by the UK Government in 1992? Because I’m not prepared to accept that, I’ll tell you that now. The reality is that much of the problem lies in the fact that the escrow accounts did not contain enough money in 1992 to pay for much of the restoration that’s needed now. I’m not prepared to let the UK Government get away with that. I am not prepared to accept, for example, that in the Wales Bill the licensing of opencast coal mines remains with the UK Government, and land restoration is left with us. As Welsh Government, I’m not prepared to accept that. The reality is that it was the privatisation of coal that left, literally, holes in the ground across Wales and I do not accept that the Welsh taxpayer should pay for the restoration of opencast mining when the problem was caused in Whitehall.
 
14:15
Lynne NeagleBiography
First Minister, I very much welcome the focused review of the MTAN that the Minister for Natural Resources has announced, but this is now a very urgent situation, particularly as there’s a new planning application in to opencast at Varteg Hill, which is identical, almost, to the previous one, which will mean opencast right on top of people’s homes and a local primary school. What further steps can you take to ensure that this review is taken forward with great urgency? And will you discuss this with the Minister for Natural Resources?
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I know that the Member has been a doughty campaigner on this issue in our area, and I know that the Minister is fully aware of her views and the views of the local community. I will write to her with further information on the timetable on an issue that I know is of exceptional importance to her.
 
14:15
William GrahamBiography
First Minister, in that review, it’s very important also that proper consideration is given to restoration of the sites. Would you favour some form of insurance guarantee that can keep pace with inflation?
 
14:16
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The difficulty is this: the money that’s set aside in, not every escrow account, but many escrow accounts, is nothing like enough to cover the restoration of the site. If the operator then folds or passes ownership on to an organisation registered elsewhere in the world, then, of course, there is literally nobody to enforce the restoration against. That’s the concern that we have. Now, the reason why that situation has arisen is because, in 1992, in order to make opencast mining attractive to privatisation, there were limits placed on the amount of money that should be set to one side. It’s true to say that, in the past, restoration has taken place and land has been used properly, but the great concern that I have—and I know many others share this concern—is that, as we see the price of coal dropping, as we see demand dropping, there is a danger that we will literally be left with holes in the ground and not enough money to restore them. I don’t think it’s fair that the Welsh Government and the Welsh taxpayer should have to pay for the restoration of those sites when it wasn’t the Welsh Government or the Welsh taxpayer that actually created the situation of there being not enough money to restore the sites in the first place.
 
14:17
David ReesBiography
First Minister, you’ve already pointed out that the 1994 Act has actually given the UK Government a let-off, effectively, on the costings of the restoration of land—of the land site in Parc Slip in particular. I know that the head of the coal liabilities unit recently attended a meeting, which residents in both your constituency and my constituency attended. Will you chase up the promises that were made in that meeting to the residents to actually come back to them with some answers? Will you also have discussions with Neath Port Talbot council to ensure that restoration, if it’s enforced, will take place and that the liabilities will be placed and that Celtic Energy don’t get themselves out of funding the restoration sites?
 
14:17
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
A complicated web has been woven around that site. I’m not here to give my view in terms of a constituency issue, but I know that most of it lies in his constituency, even though the threat, if I can put it that way, lies to those in my constituency. We do have a situation with Parc Slip where there is no apparent owner with assets against which to take action, and we know that there is roughly a quarter of the sum that’s needed to restore the site in the escrow account, and that is something that greatly concerns his constituents as it does mine. The reality is, in my view, that action needs to be taken, and it’s a matter for the council to consider what action they take. But, ultimately, the great concern that all have in the area is that there will simply be a substantial shortfall in terms of restoring the site if the current owners decide that they are not in a position or are unwilling to restore it.
 
14:18
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, First Minister.
 
Urgent Question: The Brecon Jazz Festival
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:18
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I have accepted an urgent question under Standing Order 12.66, and I call on Kirsty Williams to ask the urgent question.
 
14:18
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Will the Minister make a statement on the decision by the Orchard Media and Events Group to pull out of organising next year’s Brecon Jazz festival? EAQ(4)0654(EST)
 
14:19
Kenneth SkatesBiographyThe Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism
Yes. Orchard Media and Events Group is a successful organisation, and has taken the decision that it will no longer be involved in Brecon Jazz due to financial reasons.
 
14:19
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Thank you, Minister. As you can imagine, this news has come as a bitter blow to the town of Brecon. Orchard themselves recognise that the jazz festival brings in approximately £1 million-worth of expenditure in that community over the jazz weekend—£1 million that local businesses and organisations cannot afford to lose out on. Minister, what assurances can you give me that you, your officials, the arts council, Powys County Council, and, indeed, the people of Brecon, will work together to ensure that there will be a jazz festival in August 2016 and that there is a viable organisation put in place to run that event?
 
14:20
Kenneth SkatesBiography
I think the Member is right to identify the need for more people to work together in order to be able to construct what would need to be a sustainable future for the event. The Member may be aware that £112,000 in public money has been provided by the arts council and major events unit here in Welsh Government and the arts council has rightly said that, in the future, in order for the event to take place, more funding partners would need to be secured, for example, through the sponsors club, which has so far attracted 17 members, but certainly has scope for attracting many more.
 
14:20
Joyce WatsonBiography
One thing that has changed over the 30-plus years with the Brecon festival is that it has grown, and it has grown massively. And, as Kirsty has said, it does bring in £1 million into that local economy. It has grown from a small home-spun gathering to the largest event of its type in Europe, and I think that has significance here today. It also highlights very firmly Welsh culture within that calendar.
 
Minister, you’ve already alluded to the fact that people need to work together, and it will be, it is fairly obvious, the case that Orchard Media has benefitted enormously from that association with Brecon Jazz and vice versa, and there will be some lessons that will have been drawn out of that in the way that this festival can move forward. So, Minister, can I ask for a commitment from yourself that you will take some interest in that learning and help to promote it with partners, so that a permanent and lasting solution might be found in taking this forward in a more positive way in the future?
 
14:22
Kenneth SkatesBiography
Yes. Can I thank Joyce Watson for her question? I know that Joyce, and Kirsty, are huge fans and advocates of the Brecon Jazz festival. It is a huge event, particularly the fringe festival. The problem is that, whilst the fringe element was incredibly successful, not enough tickets were sold for the actual event. In fact, it was down 10 per cent this year. In addition, 97 per cent of ticket sales this year were from repeat visitors. What would have to happen in the future is an increase in ticket sales and an increase in new visitors, which would, of course, be part of any discussions. I can say to Members from mid and west Wales, though, that, for 2016, in the very least, as part of the Year of Adventure, more than £0.25 million of additional money is being provided by Welsh Government for new activities right across the length and breadth of Powys.
 
14:23
Suzy DaviesBiography
Thank you very much for what you’ve already said on this, because I concur with other Members on the importance of Brecon Jazz festival. It’s with a great deal of affection I remember 1984 pulling pints in The Sarah Siddons, when I was there in my wellies and everybody else was there in their silly high heels. So, just personally, I implore you to consider what you can do for this festival.
 
Orchard Media, of course, says that they’ve effectively been subsidising the festival for the last two years, because of the difficulty of finding commercial partners, finding sponsorship. And you’ve alluded to the fact that major events, of course, is a major plank of Visit Wales’s tourism strategy. If Orchard is right in their claim that it brings £1 million, roughly, to the Brecon area economy, but that music more generally brings £95 million to the Welsh economy, what steps are you taking to ensure that commercial partners can be found to work with Orchard Media or whoever their successors are? Because, without that sponsorship, I think you’re right, the sustainability is a problem. But, of course, the dividends are excellent. So, why aren’t we getting across the message that not only is this a great idea commercially, but it has massive potential in terms of sustainable tourism as well?
 
14:24
Kenneth SkatesBiography
Indeed. It’s a very competitive marketplace as well, though, festivals, but a crucial element to the success of a festival is that the right sponsors, the right partners, are found. But, at the end of the day, you have to generate enough tickets to justify being able to hold an event. This year, as I mentioned, we saw a 10 per cent fall in ticket sales. So, what has to happen is that the success of the fringe actually translates into successful ticket selling. Thus far, it’s not happened on a large enough scale for it to become sustainable. If more tickets can be sold to people attending the fringe, but not necessarily buying tickets at present, then it could be a sustainable model.
 
14:25
Bethan JenkinsBiography
The Arts Council of Wales is saying that other partners need to be found to provide the level of investment required by the festival to operate. They call this ‘a big challenge’. Meanwhile, the director of Orchard Media claims his company has, effectively, subsidised the event since taking it over from 2012, as Suzy Davies has alluded to already. Can we try and understand just how long the arts council has been warning that further funding needs to be found and, if so, what have the Welsh Government and the arts council, in conjunction, been doing about it? Have you facilitated meetings with potential backers? Have you weighed up the loss of such an event to the area’s economy, and do Ministers know what the absolute baseline is for such an event to operate successfully? Tomorrow, we have a debate on the future of music; I would like to see investment in music as opposed to it being taken away from Wales, to try and inspire our young people to see it as a viable profession here in Wales.
 
14:26
Kenneth SkatesBiography
Well, actually, since 2012, Orchard have been aware of the need to increase ticket sales, the need to develop new and existing venues across the town, and to explore means of extending the local accommodation offer during the festival. They’ve been aware of the need to build sponsorship support and encourage local financial support. Now, in some areas, there has been success—certainly in terms of accommodation. In other areas, there has been activity, but having only secured 17 business sponsors so far as part of the sponsors club, I believe, is insufficient. I know that Orchard have been in regular contact as well with the arts council, who are able to give advice on sponsorship and fundraising. But, as we stand here today, the fact of the matter is that insufficient tickets were sold this year and in previous years to justify the expenditure by Orchard, as it stands.
 
14:26
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
14:26
2. Business Statement and Announcement
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 2 is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt.
 
14:27
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
There has been one change to the business statement for this week’s business. The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will make a statement on rail electrification. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement, which can be found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
 
14:27
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Leader of the house, is it possible to have two statements, please, the first from the transport Minister—it was alluded to in First Minister’s questions—around what I would call the Coca-Cola display that was at the Asda store in Coryton? Whilst these are part and parcel of promotional activities, it literally caused transport chaos at the end of last week. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say it’s most probably the most important interchange in Wales for road network. The A470 comes into that road network, and the M4 is running east-west, as well as some major roads out of Cardiff. It was interesting, if not disturbing, to hear that, when people put these types of events on, they’re under no obligation to inform either the police or the road network operators—in this case, the Wales trunk road agency, whose headquarters is located just by the Coryton interchange. It does seem a remarkable loophole, I would suggest, that no central planning and co-ordination can be put in place to alleviate the traffic blight that many, many people faced at the end of last week. So, it would be good to hear what the transport Minister, in particular, is going to take forward from the lessons learnt exercise so that these promotions can be undertaken, but don’t cause devastation to people’s working day and the traffic chaos that ensued.
 
The second statement, if possible, please, is from the health Minister in relation to the neonatal unit that has shut for a second time at University Hospital of Wales today. I appreciate the day-to-day operation of the neonatal unit is the responsibility of Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board, but, ultimately, this is the second time this has happened now within four months. This is a key unit within the university hospital. One to two babies a day use that unit and, obviously, it is an emergency unit, and the loss of its provision is a huge hole in the services that can be provided when people are at their wits’ end and that emergency intervention is required. So, some indication of the supporting role that Welsh Government would be offering the university health board to address the shortcomings in the neonatal unit would be greatly appreciated, and an understanding and assurance that, whilst this is the second one, we will not be having a third one in the coming weeks and months—closures in the coming weeks and months.
 
14:29
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Andrew R.T. Davies for those questions. I think we would all wholly concur about the chaos that was caused by the unplanned—with no forewarning, as far as I understand, to transport authorities of the Coca-Cola lorry that was promoting, obviously, its—and attracting a large number of people. We have made our views known as a Government and, indeed, I understand we have had an apology for the chaos that occurred. Of course, this is something, again, which is a very strong message, I think, from the Chamber today, which I’m sure we would all share.
 
On the second point, as you say this is a matter for the Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board in terms of the neonatal unit and, obviously, that has to be monitored very carefully.
 
14:30
Mike HedgesBiography
I also have two requests. My first one is: I’d like to request a Government statement on the Swansea tidal lagoon. I know that the strike price will have to be agreed with the Westminster Government but I do not believe it is possible to overestimate the importance of the tidal lagoon to the Swansea economy and how let down the people of Swansea will feel if it does not go ahead.
 
My second request is that I would like to request an oral statement from the Minister for education on what is being done to educate children on the dangers of so-called legal highs. Whilst I welcome the new law being brought in at Westminster, I also know that making them illegal will not stop their use, although it will stop them being sold on the high street. It is important that children are educated on the dangers of these substances.
 
14:31
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Mike Hedges for these questions. I think, again, there’d be strong support for your request for a statement in terms of the Swansea tidal lagoon. Of course, Wales is the current leading location for tidal range project development and tidal lagoon power projects will assist us in meeting our ambition to create a low-carbon future for Wales. But we are working very closely, I can assure the Member and Members in this Chamber, with Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd to ensure Welsh businesses and the local economy gain maximum benefit from the project, working hard to secure, for example, the turbine assembly facilities for Wales. Officials are regularly engaging with both the UK Government and the Crown Estate to ensure we have maximum benefit to Wales from the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project.
 
On your second question, we do fully recognise the impact that new psychoactive substances can have on children and young people, and prevention is key. We encourage schools to plan and work with specialist providers and organisations, to make sure that children receive relevant learning experiences.
 
14:32
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, I was wondering if we could have a statement in Government time on the future of the Cefn Coed Colliery Museum in the Crynant area of my region. I’m asking because there are moves to transfer, potentially, to another organisation or to the friends, and I’m led to believe that it is Welsh Government land that the colliery is set upon. There are grade II listed buildings there and it’s one of the few former pits in the UK that still has twin winding gears. So, there is quite a lot of industrial heritage of importance there and I, for one, would not want to see it close. I wonder whether you can tell us what discussions you’ve had with the local authority and with the friends and whether you could relay that to us as Assembly Members so that we can fully understand before any changes are made what you are doing as a Government to protect that vitally important site.
 
14:33
Jane HuttBiography
I will ask the Minister to write to the Member on this matter.
 
14:33
Julie MorganBiography
Can I also call for a statement on the gridlock that was caused in Cardiff North by the Coca-Cola lorry with my constituents spending hours in their cars unable to move, including small children? I’ve had lots of reports of quite distressing situations. Asda, I understand, has given a written apology, but I really think we need to look at this in more depth via a statement.
 
The second issue I wanted to raise was—I’m sure the Minister is aware of the report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that only three out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales are fully ready and prepared to deal with honour-based crimes, which include forced marriage, honour killings and female genital mutilation, which we know are prevalent because in south Wales Bawso had 788 inquiries about female genital mutilation alone from Swansea, Newport and Cardiff between 2014 and 2015. So, would it be possible to have a debate to explore how the partners who work with the police, like health and social services, which are our responsibility, are working to try to prevent honour-based crimes and are fully aware of the signs to recognise and prevent these crimes?
 
14:34
Jane HuttBiography
I thank the Member for Cardiff North for adding her voice to the concerns that have been raised in the Chamber this afternoon, indeed raised with the First Minister, in terms of the chaos that caused—the gridlock—by Asda’s so-called ‘promotional activities’. Indeed, of course, this will be followed up and I’m sure a statement will be forthcoming and a response from the Minister.
 
I think your second point is important. Of course, policing is non-devolved. It’s very disappointing, though, that this report doesn’t help us in terms of how we can address this. But you’ve made some very good points, which we need to address, because of the ways our services can move forward, because we do need to make sure that those police forces in Wales are fully prepared to deal with these honour crimes.
 
14:35
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Minister, could I ask for two statements by your Cabinet colleagues? The first is on the latest thinking the Government has with regard to broadband roll-out and the wider role of telecommunications. We’ve heard in questions about frustrations about mobile coverage. Many areas, and many of my constituents, are constantly frustrated by very poor levels of service from BT. Individual households, indeed, whole communities, left without telephone services, often in areas where there is already no mobile coverage to make up for that. Their performance has been woeful, and it’s having a severe impact on many constituents and communities, and their businesses.
 
Secondly, can I ask for a statement by the Deputy Minister for rural affairs? I know her officials have been working very, very hard to maximise the number of single farm payments that have been made since the window has opened, but there are some cases of extreme hardship, as a result of inflexibility with the banks, and also poor commodity prices this summer. Is there a way in which the Minister could expedite payments to those who can demonstrate serious financial distress? I’ve been contacted by representatives of the rural stress network, who are in touch with a couple of families in my constituency, and they are genuinely worried about the safety of some of those individuals, because of the levels of stress that they are under. And any way in which we could have a way of expediting payments to those with specific needs—I would be very grateful to hear from the Minister how that might happen.
 
14:37
Jane HuttBiography
Thank you, Kirsty Williams. I think, on the first point, obviously, the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology has recently made a statement to update on the roll-out of broadband, and those wider telecommunications issues, which, of course, also she was very willing to hear of, in terms of constituency concerns and issues. So, of course, that is a point where we are delivering, across Wales, at a greater rate, in terms of delivery, than the rest of the UK. But, obviously, there are places where it is particularly challenging, and those, often, are in rural areas.
 
In terms of your second point, in terms of single farm payments, of course, farmers are starting to receive those basic payment scheme part payments from 1 December, and, of course, that’s the first date on which payments could be allowed to be made under the European Commission rules. Also, of course, final part payments and balance payments will be made by the end of April.
 
14:38
Joyce WatsonBiography
Minister, in September, and again in October, I did raise here, in this Chamber, my concerns about the fate of children who were swept up in the refugee crisis. There are now figures available, courtesy of ‘The Observer’ newspaper, which show that the number of children going missing after arriving in Britain as asylum seekers has doubled over the past year. Obviously, our worst fears will turn to trafficking, where those children could become victim to any sort of illegal activity. Could we, then, have a Government statement on what provisions are in place to make sure that our local authorities here in Wales are able to cope with this ongoing and evolving situation? And will you ask the UK Government whether they will now implement the 2013 independent report of the chief inspector of borders and immigration, which did ask for systematic monitoring of those children?
 
14:39
Jane HuttBiography
Joyce Watson raises a very important point, which I know the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty is aware of, and of course taking responsibility, in terms of raising the questions with the UK Government, in terms of their responsibilities.
 
14:39
Suzy DaviesBiography
I wonder whether I could request two statements as well. The first, actually, has been covered by Bethan Jenkins, regarding Cefn Coed Colliery Museum. But in view of your response to her about providing a simple letter, I wonder whether you would consider either changing that and arranging for a statement to be made, or at least allowing that letter to be an open letter so that all Assembly Members could read it.
 
The second point—Mike Hedges has asked for something similar, but mine is a little different. I’m raising once again the issue of the marine licence for the Swansea bay lagoon. I appreciate that you may want to answer by referring to the UK Government’s own difficulties on this, but at least we have some understanding of what the delay there is caused by. When it comes to the marine licence, I think Members are a little bit in the dark about what the delays are with Natural Resources Wales. So, perhaps I could request a statement explaining what the delay is about and perhaps letting us know when we might expect to hear on the date of the marine licence being issued or not, or better still, an announcement that a marine licence is about to be granted. Thank you.
 
14:40
Jane HuttBiography
I think, Suzy Davies, on your question about the Cefn Coed museum land and the response to it from the Welsh Government, we will write—the Minister will write to Members to update on this matter.
 
In terms of tidal lagoons and the progress, I think when it is appropriate, the Minister, obviously, will be able to respond in terms of the marine licence and those powers where we have responsibilities. But clearly, it is the UK Government that we wait for in terms of that all-important strike price.
 
14:41
Simon ThomasBiography
Can I bring the Government’s attention to, and therefore ask for a statement on, access to GP services in my region? I’ve been in receipt of several complaints from areas such as Pembroke, Pembroke Dock and Tenby over long periods of waiting—a fortnight and more—for access to GP services. When I enquired with the Hywel Dda board, I was referred to a report on Pembrokeshire health services that was discussed on 26 November, which states very clearly that
 
‘there are higher vacancy rates in General Practice and in GP training posts than elsewhere in Wales’.
 
Having intended to raise this with you today, quite spontaneously I received two e-mails from elsewhere in my region—one from a constituent in Tywyn today, who says that she can’t get a GP appointment until the end of January, and one from a constituent in Builth Wells who has been told to wait four weeks for a GP appointment. She tells me—her name is Judith Bywater, and she’s happy for me to quote her—that she used to be able to get an appointment after work, but now the last appointment is 5.10 p.m. Well, if you live outside Builth Wells, getting in there for 5.10 p.m. is quite a big ask when you’re engaged in work or any kind of caring responsibilities. There’s clearly an ongoing problem with GP recruitment, with filling posts, and with training posts in many parts of Wales, and particularly in my region. Can we please have a statement setting out what the Government intends to do about this, and how long-term workforce planning is in hand, or not?
 
14:43
Jane HuttBiography
Well, in response to Simon Thomas, we are working closely with the general practitioners committee Wales to identify ways in which we can improve access to GP services, particularly improving patient experience in accessing services in core hours and the first point of contact. In fact, there is a GP contract commitment for 2016-17 to consider making it a contractual requirement for GP practices to offer more online GP appointments, using My Health Online. But, in fact, the number of people affected by recent changes to practice contracts and some practice closures represents less than 2 per cent of the population. Of course, overall, GP numbers in Wales have increased by 10.5 per cent between 2004 and 2014. Clearly, we have to then ensure that we move forward to attract doctors and to make sure that GP practices can deliver, in partnership with GPC Wales, in terms of that accessibility.
 
14:44
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Further to the Cefn Coed colliery issues that have been raised this afternoon, Minister, will you co-ordinate any response with the Deputy Minister, who is already involved in correspondence on this matter, which is of the utmost importance to my consistency, of course?
 
14:44
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I’m grateful that Gwenda Thomas has also raised this in terms of queries and concerns from her constituents. The Deputy Minister will co-ordinate a response to all Members.
 
14:44
Eluned ParrottBiography
I also, Minister, wanted to raise the issue of the closure of the neonatal unit at the University Hospital of Wales today. I understand, having spoken to the health board after the previous closure, that one of the difficulties they experience is that the physical constraints of the unit there don’t allow for the optimal space to be left between cots in that unit. Clearly, providing a space between patients is a way in which infection control can be managed. I wonder if the Minister is minded to make a written statement, perhaps, and whether he could give us a progress report on the building work at the university hospital in terms of when we can expect the new unit to be ready; and secondly, whether the Welsh Government has made any assessment of whether similar problems are anticipated in other units in Wales with regard to the elderly facilities available.
 
The second issue I wanted to raise: if I might request a statement from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport regarding hardship provisions in business rates and their use in local authorities in Wales. I’ve had many cases raised over the last year or so, but one this week has really shocked me. The constituent took on a vandalised former school and renovated it to become Wales’s first Welsh-language eco-nursery, sourcing all of its produce from local suppliers, recycling every part of the disposable nappies that the parents are bringing, and trying to provide a service for them so that they can recycle the things that they’re using at home, too. They employ eight people already. After only a year, they’re already looking to expand. Of course, when they were working on their business case, they did approach the local authority for a valuation of what the restored property might be worth, and they were told it would be £2,400 per annum. They’ve just had their valuation for £24,500—more than ten times the council’s original estimate. Clearly, this is not something they could have anticipated within their business projections. But despite their obvious role in creating the issue, and the fact that it’s putting jobs at risk, and despite the fact that the local authority has a statutory duty to ensure childcare allowances, the council haven’t to date agreed to use their discretion in this case. I wonder therefore if the Minister might bring forward a statement on how local authorities are encouraged to use hardship provisions to keep local businesses viable.
 
14:47
Jane HuttBiography
Thank you to Eluned Parrott for those two questions. In answer to the first, as I said, this is, as you’ll appreciate, a matter for the Cardiff and Vale university health board. It is regrettable—the circumstances that have emerged—and, in terms of the possible impact of building work, it has to be a matter for the health board, but clearly we need to monitor this very carefully and, indeed, across the whole of Wales.
 
On your second point, of course, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport is attending the Enterprise and Business Committee tomorrow, and I’m sure that this will provide a full opportunity to raise questions about business rates.
 
14:47
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
14:47
3. Statement: Draft Budget 2016-17
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 3 is a statement by the Minister for Finance and Government Business on the draft budget for 2016-17. Before I call the Minister, I have a lot of speakers on this item, as we would expect. I will extend time if necessary, but please help me by keeping your contributions as focused and crisp as possible. I call the Minister, Jane Hutt.
 
14:48
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
Dirprwy Lywydd, I have today published the Welsh Government’s spending plans for 2016-17. This is a budget for a fairer, better Wales, investing for the future. As a result of the late timing of the UK Government’s spending review, and with a mere four months to go until the beginning of the financial year, we have had to work hard to deliver a responsible, sustainable budget for our partners so that we can continue to deliver services to the people of Wales we serve and represent. On 25 November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a further round of real-terms cuts to the Welsh budget.  Despite a slight lessening of the pace of cuts, the cumulative impact on us is pronounced. Today I am publishing the Government’s spending plans, which set out how the Welsh Government will respond to this latest round of real-terms cuts.
 
Our budget will be 3.6 per cent lower in real terms by 2019-20 than it is today; 11 per cent lower than it was in 2010-11. Despite some small increases to capital budgets, our capital budget will still be 30 per cent lower in 2020-21 than it was in 2009-10. I do not underestimate what that means for public services in Wales, or the impact that it will have on businesses, communities and individuals the length and breadth of Wales. We will continue to do what we can to lever in additional resources and innovate to mitigate the impact. However, I cannot pretend that the Government can mitigate the overall impact of the UK Government’s decisions and cuts.
 
In preparing for this difficult settlement, we have been guided by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. It goes without saying that we must protect against taking decisions now that will store up problems for the future. The national goals have provided us with a framework in which to understand the interconnected nature of public services and to help us understand fully the impact of potential decisions. The sustainable development principle has helped us to develop a coherent and evidence-based budget for 2016-17.
 
At the centre of our plans is a significant additional investment in health. Throughout this administration, and in the face of reductions to our budget, we have continued to invest in a sustainable national health service. Today, I am announcing nearly £300 million extra for the NHS in Wales. This builds on the additional £1.1 billion we have announced over the last two years and reflects the scenarios indicated by the Nuffield Trust.
 
We have always been clear that achieving our goal of a healthier Wales is about more than just the NHS. The NHS is important in improving the health of Wales, but it cannot achieve our goals in isolation. We understand the major role that social services play, and so we have increased this funding through the local government settlement by £21 million. We have also protected the Supporting People programme from any cash reductions and have increased the funding to the intermediate care fund to £50 million to support the integration of health and social services in the delivery of services for older people. With a focus on prevention and early intervention, we are also protecting funding for Flying Start, Supporting People and Communities First from reduction in 2016-17. This can be seen in our prudent healthcare agenda and in our social services spending decisions.
 
One of the most important things we can do is invest in our young people’s futures. This budget maintains levels of spending for Flying Start, helping some of the most vulnerable children to have the best possible start in life. We are also increasing our investment in schools, with almost £40 million extra for next year. This funding includes provision to continue the Schools Challenge Cymru scheme, which has shown early success in raising educational attainment.
 
The further education budget is protected from cuts, with a further £5 million to create an additional 2,500 apprenticeships. An extra £10 million will ensure that no Welsh student has to pay more for their degree than if they had been students in 2010-11. This investment in further education is in addition to the £5 million we have committed to apprenticeships this year as part of the budget agreement that we reached with the Liberal Democrats last year. The agreement is fully reflected, including increased investment in the pupil deprivation grant, funding for the childcare pilot in further education and the roll-out of the youth concessionary fares scheme.
 
Throughout our preparation for this budget, we’ve consulted widely to inform our priorities. I’ve listened carefully to what people and organisations across Wales have told me about what matters to them most. This dialogue has translated into additional funding for schools, for the NHS, for social services for joint working in health and social care, for supporting vulnerable people and for further education. The clear message is that, in a time of austerity, we simply can’t afford not to invest in these services.
 
We have listened to local government’s concerns. We understand how difficult a prolonged period of austerity is for them; we understand how important the local services they provide are. However, the settlement that we’ve received from the UK Government does not allow us to fund the full range of services on the basis that they are currently delivered. The increased investment in schools and social services is testament to the importance that we place on local public services that people rely on. Wherever possible, we have looked to put the additional resources in through the revenue support grant, rather than perpetuating a system of specific grants. This will help to give local authorities the flexibility that they need to respond to these challenges and will minimise the reductions that local authorities face. Once again, we are providing a greater degree of protection for local authorities in Wales than their counterparts in England. Full details of the provisional settlement will be announced tomorrow by the Minister for Public Services.
 
Dirprwy Lywydd, the late spending review has presented particular challenges for capital allocations. Since the publication of the Wales infrastructure investment plan, we’ve allocated capital to projects that deliver against our priorities. This will continue to be our approach, and I will be announcing additional capital allocations when I update the pipeline next year.
 
Today, however, I can confirm that we’re seamlessly entering into phase 2 of the all-Wales Help to Buy-Wales scheme, with an additional £26 million for the next financial year. A further announcement on this scheme will be made by the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty in due course.
 
Our initial assessment has highlighted the pressures that core capital budgets, which have not increased since 2010, are facing. I’m therefore allocating £150 million to departmental capital budgets, and this will be available for the essential routine maintenance necessary to sustain our roads and buildings across Wales. It will also help to mitigate the revenue reductions in the natural resources and economy, science and transport portfolios, which are more reliant on capital to deliver their objectives than others. The additional capital that I have announced today will support projects across Wales, including flood defence schemes, the Llangefni link road and the northern gateway highway to open up the site to commercial development. Taken together, I’m confident that the revenue and capital allocations proposed today will equip the Government and its partners to deliver our priorities. Based on our principles of social justice and seeking a balanced economic recovery now and in the future, these spending plans lay the foundations for a fairer, better Wales. We are investing in the future.
 
14:56
Nick RamsayBiography
Can I thank the Minister for her statement today and for the supporting pack that you issued before this Plenary session? I do appreciate that it has been a tighter timescale, Minister, than in previous years due to the Chancellor’s autumn statement and, yes, the Welsh Government is receiving a 3.6 per cent cut to its budget over five years as a result of the UK Government putting public finances back on a surer footing after years of Labour’s mismanagement.
 
As the Minister indicated, the cut is not as severe as the Welsh Government were expecting. However, I do accept that there are challenges in setting the budget here. I will focus on three areas, Deputy Presiding Officer: the NHS, local government and capital expenditure. You’ve said that you want a fairer, better Wales, Minister. Of course, a better Wales means a properly funded national health service here. I’m pleased that you are putting extra funding into the NHS at long last—not before time. The £260 million that you promised does not make up for the hundreds of millions of pounds that you’ve taken out of the health budget since 2011. Why are you still refusing to protect the budget in the same way that the NHS budget was protected across the border in England? That is what the people of Wales expect and that is what they deserve. Without protection, the amount of money that you’re putting into the budget will not be guaranteed in the longer term.
 
You need to be focusing the money that you are putting in. How are you ensuring that it will produce a real improvement in front-line services and not simply be absorbed into bureaucracy? There was some confusion last year when health boards weren’t sure whether they were required to make efficiency savings when you promised them a previous amount of money. How will you make sure that doesn’t happen again?
 
Turning to funding to local government, as you point out, local authorities across Wales are deeply concerned at the effects of poor settlements over a number of years. What discussions have you had with the Welsh Local Government Association prior to this statement about how they can best deal with the poor financial settlement that you are giving to them this year? Part of the solution must be better collaboration between authorities. Wouldn’t it have been better to have pursued the collaboration agenda from the start, rather than your Government’s ill-thought-out reorganisation plans for local government?
 
Can I welcome the additional £115 million to departmental capital budgets? As you say, these have not increased since 2010, with all the consequences for capital spend and for infrastructure. We welcome the UK Government’s commitment of £900 million to capital budgets, which has, of course, helped you to make an increase in capital funding here. You’ve suggested some of the schemes that you’re going to be funding, so could we have some more detail on the nature of the capital projects? You mentioned flood defence schemes and the Llangefni link road. Too often, north Wales in the past has felt left out when it comes to capital expenditure. So, I hope you’re going to make sure that they don’t feel left out this time round.
 
14:59
Jane HuttBiography
Nick Ramsay, I’m very glad you have welcomed my draft budget statement today, and I hope that you will be supporting it when it comes to our draft budget debate in the new year, because, clearly, you recognise the priorities that we have put into those services that mean the most to the people of Wales. I do remind you that our budget, under your Government and the previous Government, over the last five years, has resulted in a real-terms cut—11 per cent lower than it was in 2010-11, and our budget, of course, 3.6 per cent lower in real terms by 2019-20. So, we’ve had austerity for five years; we have five more years, as the IFS has said, of austerity.
 
Of course, it is important that you recognise that now, in terms of our record expenditure in health, and the latest inflation forecast published by the Office for Budget responsibility, health expenditure in Wales in 2016-17 will be higher in real terms than it was in 2010-11. Building on the recent Treasury PESA publications, taking that wide approach to public service delivery in Wales—health and health services at the centre of our plans—we’re allocating an additional £293 million to the NHS. Let me just say what that includes: that includes £200 million to support core delivery to support our NHS. It’s significantly increasing the funding for the intermediate care fund. You say you welcome the work to join health and social care—that’s what we’re delivering. An extra £30 million to increase funding available for older people and mental health services, an extra £33 million for capital and, of course, that all-important extra £21 million for social services.
 
Of course, the outcomes of that are very clear. In terms of local government, since 2010 we’ve provided cushioning to local authorities to reduce the impact of your UK Government’s reductions to our budget. Local authorities have consistently received more favourable settlements than councils in England. Let’s just look at this. As a result of our approach—spending on local services in England has decreased by around 9.8 per cent in cash terms over that period, while in Wales it’s increased by 2.5 per cent. We have focused on prevention, early intervention and enabling, of course, that all-important approach to protecting local services in terms of health and social care.
 
It is important that we look at the capital spend and the importance of that in terms of linking it to our Wales infrastructure investment plan. The full details of that will be announced in due course.
 
15:02
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Thank you very much. Thank you for the statement, although we will have to consider the details to see exactly what is happening. After all, it is good news what the Minister is announcing today, but I would also join with her in condemning the cruel strategy of the Conservative Government and George Osborne in particular.
 
On the face of it, the increase of £260 million in the health revenue budget is to be warmly welcomed. There is £30 million capital as part of that package, too, and that is in the face of increasing pressures from the opposition parties here. I do very much hope that this will enable waiting lists to be substantially reduced in light of the harsh criticism of the Royal College of Surgeons in their statement yesterday.
 
We in Plaid Cymru have stated that the £950 million Barnett consequential that will come as a result of the expenditure on health in England will be spent on the health service and social services here in Wales. I would like to ask the Minister whether the Welsh Government is going to deliver that same pledge.
 
We also partially welcome the additional funding allocated to social services. But, essentially, it is only £1 million for each council, and that, in reality, in the context of, for example, Gwynedd Council—which is no different to any other council—which is seeking cuts or savings of £50 million in their annual budget. So, you can see, if there is pressure on other services, then that £21 million isn’t going to go very far, although I am sure it will be welcomed.
 
We also welcome the fact that the intermediate care fund has increased back to the same level as it was when Plaid Cymru reached a deal with the Government some years ago, and we also welcome the protection for the Supporting People fund.
 
We are concerned about the cuts to the environment department and the economy department. Would you be willing to state today the scale of those cuts, and the implications of that in the face of the legislation that we have been passing recently on the environment and the additional costs that are bound to follow on from that? I would also ask you to tell us what the settlement is for the arts and sports in Wales.
 
I note from what I’ve been able to glean from the recently arrived draft budget that there is a 30 per cent cut to higher education. Could you explain that? Is it just the movement of figures from one column to another? It does seem to be a huge cut if it is true, so we would welcome an explanation of that. Some things that you didn’t mention in the budget are that support to mental health policies and legislation is frozen, support to education and training of the NHS workforce is cut, children’s social services are frozen, the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales is cut, Estyn is cut, homelessness prevention is cut, tackling poverty is cut and the culture budget has been hammered, employment and skills are cut and the Welsh language is cut. So, it’s not all good news, obviously. [Interruption.] No, it didn’t mention that, I don’t think.
 
In terms of capital, can you explain how we will fund the £1 billion M4 vanity project across the Gwent levels in the face of a very tight capital budget that you have outlined yourselves? Obviously, the Llangefni link road will be hugely welcomed in Llangefni and the environs—[Laughter.]—but it’s difficult to see how exactly it fits into this statement on a draft budget. But, nevertheless, the people of Llangefni will be ecstatic tonight, no doubt. [Laughter.]
 
We cannot avoid the issue of HS2. I think transport spending in England, as we know, will increase from £6.1 billion in 2015-16 to over £12 billion in 2020-21. As a consequential, Wales will receive £740 million. This is not due to any action by the Welsh Government; it’s just the way the Barnett formula works. If 100 per cent comparability was given to Wales, then we would receive £71 million extra by 2020-21, but that’s small beer because, really, looking ahead at the huge spending that will occur afterwards on HS2, Wales stands to lose out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, and that is why we have raised this issue and why it’s important in the face of this very tight budget settlement. Diolch yn fawr.
 
15:08
Jane HuttBiography
Diolch yn fawr, Alun Ffred Jones. I’m glad, again, that you’re welcoming. There is a lot of consensus on my draft budget statement this afternoon—a warm welcome for the increase in health and social services and the intermediate care fund. I think it is important again to put on record the fact that we spend more per head than England on health—7 per cent more on health and social care combined; £172 more per person on health and social care combined. The NHS budget will be more in real terms—0.6 per cent higher in real terms in 2016-17 than in 2010-11. It is also important that we have not only trialled the intermediate care fund, which was a budget agreement between our Government, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats; indeed, we continued with it even though it was only for a one-year agreement. We’ve continued into this year because it has demonstrated benefits, and we are continuing it into the next year. Indeed, local government, when they made representations to us about the budget, said that, if we can invest in social services and in the intermediate care fund, because of their commitment, like ours—and I think we share that preventative approach—that would help relieve the pressure on services.
 
Of course, there will be plenty of time to go into the detail in terms of how we manage this difficult budget, where it has been about sticking to our priorities and our principles. I would say on one point that you’ve raised that we’ve actually allocated £3 million more for our inspectorates, so I just need to put the record straight on that. Of course, that is something that is very important in terms of the delivery of health and social care.
 
In terms of some of the other issues you raised, in higher education, yes, we have—. The most important thing, I think, as I said in my statement, is that we are ensuring that students don’t have to pay more than they did in 2009-10. But there have been some changes in the higher education budget expenditure limit, because obviously we’ve had to make sure that we can support the tuition fee grant, and there has had to be an impact on other priorities in terms of higher education.
 
If we look at the ways in which we have sought to make reductions that have not had a big impact in terms of priorities, for example, in terms of economy, science and transport, we have had a level of savings achieved through efficiencies—re-profiling and a detailed review of activities. Of course, it is capital, as I said, which is all important, particularly to the economy, science and transport portfolio and, indeed, to natural resources in terms of flood protection. I’ve mentioned that. Of course, we’ve only had days in which to respond to the comprehensive spending review, so we will have much more detail in terms of capital spend in the coming weeks, as we move into scrutiny, and, indeed, as we make our announcements.
 
15:11
Mike HedgesBiography
I obviously welcome the budget statement. The budget is being set against a background of austerity by the Westminster Government. The continuation of real-terms cuts in expenditure is having a serious effect. Difficult decisions are being made. I’m concerned about the effect on local authorities’ services. I know the Conservative candidate in Gower for the National Assembly has called for the removal of all education expenditure by the local authority, or as we know it, free school transport and educational improvement.
 
The Conservative spokesperson at the Assembly has consistently called for a freezing of council tax, which would lead to the wholesale closure of leisure facilities, parks and other discretionary services.
 
The simplistic view of the Conservatives that health is just about hospitals needs to be answered. Health is about lifestyle, housing, public health, social care, the effect of loneliness, plus GP and community services; it’s not just hospitals. All additional money for health is welcome. Health has now reached 47 per cent of the Welsh budget; at the current rate, it’ll pass 50 per cent well before the end of the next Assembly. Perhaps we need to look at how wisely it is being spent. Dr Keogh’s report in ‘The Observer’ said that 10 per cent of medical interventions in England do no good for the patient. Others have gone further and said 10 to 15 per cent of interventions in Wales either do no good or actually do harm.
 
The Nuffield report showed a substantial reduction in the crude productivity of doctors between 1999-2000 and 2012. What discussion has the finance Minister had with the health Minister regarding stopping interventions that either do harm or do no good and improving productivity to the previous level? Also, what discussions has the finance Minister had with the Public Services Minister regarding the effect that local government cuts will have on discretionary services provided by local authorities?
 
15:13
Jane HuttBiography
Thank you very much, Mike Hedges. Your comment about the Conservative candidate in Gower takes me back, and so it should, to the Welsh Conservatives’ budget in 2010, where, in fact—. What were they going to do? Cut education, children and lifelong learning by 12 per cent. Can you imagine where we would be here today if that budget had been accepted? Cut social justice and local government by 12.5 per cent; cut economy and transport by 30 per cent; cut environment, sustainability and housing by 25 per cent. I’m not going to let that go—that budget—as we move through the scrutiny of how difficult it has been when we have a 3.6 per cent real-terms cut. We’ve had an 8 per cent real-terms cut over the last five years. We now have a further 3.6 per cent cut. Yet, of course, the call is always for, ‘Spend here, spend there’, and I have to say, of course, we have a commitment to education.
 
I’m very pleased, Mike Hedges, to just give you some response on how we will spend the extra £200 million to support our hospitals and primary care. I will tell you, this is about productivity; it is about efficiency; it’s about more day cases for surgery; faster access to treatment; more care closer to home; services in your community; investing in primary care; more funding for GPs, practice nurses and paramedics; better and faster access to diagnostic services, often that’s a point that’s made in the Chamber, which will improve waiting times; and investing in new treatments. Those are the ways in which we would invest in new ways of supporting and improving the efficiency and delivery of our health services.
 
15:15
Peter BlackBiography
Can I thank the Minister for her statement and welcome the extra money that we’ve agreed with her through the Liberal Democrats’ budget agreement over two years with the Welsh Government? As a result of that agreement, of course, we have an increase in the pupil deprivation grant for next year, which means each school will receive £1,150 for every pupil eligible to receive free school meals, an extension of the pupil premium to £300 per pupil for the under-fives and, of course, a young person’s bus pass for 16 to 18-year-olds worth nearly £15 million.
 
The Minister has referred in her statement to the agreement we made about the funding for an extra 5,000 new apprenticeships and she also referred, of course, to the intermediate care fund that we helped negotiate a few budgets ago, and which I’m very pleased to see has now been increased back up to the £50 million that we agreed with the Government at that time. I’d be interested if the Minister could outline, in a bit more detail, exactly how that money will now be allocated to ensure that we are able to minimise the impact of any cuts in social services and get much better working between health and social care.
 
I also welcome the extra £21 million for social services, but I do take on board—and I think Alun Ffred Jones is right in saying—that although that is a doubling of the extra money that was put in last year, it’s a small amount of money compared with the deficits that some local authorities are running, particularly in adult and children’s social services. I think we need to look at how that works through. But, can I welcome the fact that, although local government is facing cuts again next year, the Government has managed to keep those cuts to less than 2 per cent, by my calculation, of the SPA? No doubt we will see, when the settlement is published tomorrow, exactly how that will work through. But, I do think that we do need to make sure that local government is protected as best as possible. I certainly welcome the fact that the sort of cuts that went through last year have not been repeated this year, and the Government has been able to restrict the cuts in that particular budget line.
 
Minister, in addition to outlining in a bit more detail how the intermediate care fund will be spent, I’d be grateful if, also, you could give us some detail in terms of the extra £260 million for health. There is a concern, of course, that that money is just going to be used to pay for deficits being met by local health boards. I’d be interested in whether or not you have insisted that some of that money is used for service improvement and investment in the health service, rather than just covering those deficits. I think we all expect the health boards to live within their means, difficult as that is, and I do think that any extra money for health needs to see service improvement attached to it. So, I’d be grateful if you could also say what additional work you’ve been doing with the local health boards to ensure that that is actually delivered. No doubt, Minister, we’ll be going through this in much greater detail when we come to scrutinise this and in subsequent debates. Thank you.
 
15:18
Jane HuttBiography
Thank you very much, Peter, and, again, I’m glad we are so much in accord with our budget priorities and principles. I do believe there is much that’s shared across this Chamber in terms of the way I’ve brought forward this draft budget in these difficult times, with the real-terms cuts that we face. I have, in terms of the prospects for the spend of our intermediate care fund, already said that because it was so successful in the first year, and as a result of the evidence, we’ve then funded it into this year, into the second year, at a lower level. But, now we are able to increase that to £50 million and, of course, we have examples across Wales as a result of that integrated working between local authorities and the health boards, which is providing the evidence that we’re driving down the unacceptable waits in terms of hospital discharges. We are also helping to avoid hospital admission. It’s facilitating vulnerable people to maintain their own independence and, of course, across Wales, I know all Assembly Members will have seen how the NHS and social services are working much more closely together.
 
I think one of the important points—I’ve already said in the answer to Mike Hedges the points about how we’re going to invest that £200 million in the health service, so I won’t repeat that. It’s not just about hospitals; it’s about primary care. It’s, as I said, care closer to home and services in the community, but also to make sure that we invest additional capital funding.
 
Capital has been raised this afternoon. We are going to invest an additional £33.5 million for capital, and that, of course, will help to update diagnostic equipment to make sure that we also build that on top of the £220 million capital programme. I think one of the points about our record in terms of delivering health and social care, and cushioning the local authorities against the impact of UK Government cuts to local council budgets, is that we have lower delayed transfers of care than in England and, of course, the cuts to local government are far less. But it is clear that we have to ensure that, in the way that we deliver on this budget, it has been about ensuring that we, as a Government, take responsibility for funding adult social care. The UK Government, of course, is now passing this on to local authorities, as the First Minister said earlier on, through the council tax precept. We are taking responsibility for delivering adult social care in the delivery of a health and social care service, which, of course, is vindicated in terms of the 7 per cent higher spend per person on health and social care in Wales.
 
15:21
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Right. I still have five Members who want to be called. I’m going to give you a minute to put a question. I really will cut you off after a minute. Lynne Neagle.
 
15:21
Lynne NeagleBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I give a warm welcome to this budget today, Minister, especially the extra funding that you’ve delivered for health, for social services, for education, and particularly the protection for further education? I do recognise that you’ve managed to do that having been dealt a very tough hand by the UK Government in Westminster.
 
I just wanted to ask two questions, specifically. I welcome the protection that you’ve referred to for local government. Will you join me today in recognising the hard work that councils across Wales have put in to protect local services in these difficult times; and can you say a bit more about what that protection will look like when the announcement is made tomorrow?
 
In terms of the intermediate care fund, as I say, that is in sharp contrast to what we’ve seen in England where social care is in a state of near collapse. I welcome what you’ve done to protect resources for social services, but can you say a bit more about the intermediate care fund? In particular, what assurances can you give that it’s not going to be too dominated by health and will also have input from social services?
 
15:22
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Lynne Neagle, the Member for Torfaen, for that warm welcome. I also think she’s the first person who has mentioned further education. It’s very important that we have made that decision, based on the evidence and the importance of investing in our young people and the result that that will mean in terms of progression and apprenticeships.
 
I think, in terms of local government, it is important to recognise that we’ve looked at ways in which we can increase funding flexibilities for local authorities. I mentioned in my statement moving funding out of specific grants and into unhypothecated funding. That’s something, of course, that local government has called for. Over £160 million of grants have been moved into the revenue support grant during the current Assembly term and, of course, we must remember that the Welsh Government has provided £244 million annual funding for the council tax reduction scheme, through the unhypothecated settlement, following the abolition of council tax benefit as part of welfare reform.
 
We also have to remember that we are protecting schools’ funding by 1 per cent above changes to the Welsh budget overall, and putting the majority of the growth through the RSG—of course, the Minister for Public Services will be making his statement on the provisional RSG tomorrow—and the extra £21 million for social services. Again, I have to say, a much better overall settlement in Wales in 2016 than for local government in England, as it has been year on year, because of the right decisions taken, which were supported on this side of the Chamber five years ago.
 
15:24
Mark IsherwoodBiography
How much did you receive in consequence of the UK Government’s increased spending on health in England? How much did you receive in consequence of the UK Government’s announcement of the biggest house building programme by any government since the 1970s, for England? And how much of that additional money will you be allocating to new housing supply in Wales during 2016-17, after the devastating cuts imposed on housing since 1999 in Wales?
 
Finally, what consideration will you give to rescuing the key services being delivered by third sector bodies across Wales, which have been improving lives and saving millions for statutory services for decades, such as Disability Wales and many others, given that when I wrote to the community and housing Minister on behalf of third sector bodies regarding core funding for the Families First programme, the reply I received was that the late timing of the UK Government’s spending review posed challenges for budget planning?
 
15:25
Jane HuttBiography
Sometimes, Mark Isherwood, I do wonder whether you’re in the right party, because you’re always condemning cuts made by your UK Conservative Government, which of course then are passed down to us. The consequential that we received as a result of the spending review, the overall consequential for the whole of our budget was only £110 million. That was what we received and, as a result of my budget, I am making sure that we reprioritise our funding so that we allocate, in fact, around £400 million to portfolios where we believe our priorities are key.
 
Of course, in terms of capital investment, we are on track to deliver around £3.8 billion of new investment in Wales. But our capital budget, despite capital consequentials, is nearly a third lower—[Interruption.] This is not a debate. This is a statement, and I’m responding. It’s a third lower in real terms than its peak in 2010. Of course, you will see the ways in which we’re allocating over £230 million of new capital investment to support economic and social infrastructure, and that will include housing. I’ve already announced the Help to Buy funding—over £26 million—and the fact that we’re allocating to departmental budgets the use of £150 million to enable them to invest, just in terms of communities and tackling poverty. But I would say that there’s £21.7 million for the increase in supplying choice of affordable housing action—that’s going to go towards the social housing grant, and that’s gone in England. There is no funding for the social housing grant any more in England. In Wales, we believe it’s not just about home ownership; it’s about affordable social housing in Wales. I know that in this Chamber there is strong support for our priorities in terms of social housing.
 
15:27
Gwenda ThomasBiography
I very much welcome, Minister, that despite the cuts imposed by the Westminster Government, this draft budget includes further investment in social services and social care. Will you, Minister, give consideration to specifically funding the development of a national delivery strategy for dementia care, based on the principles of the successful integrated family support teams in children’s social services? Such a scheme could identify and develop the best practice from the integrated care fund, and could be implemented through the regulations on partnership agreements under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 recently passed by this House. Do you, Minister, agree with me that this would be a positive, statutory and financially efficient way to ensure the integration of health and social care with the involvement of the third and independent sectors, to improve the lives of dementia sufferers and their carers, and to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions and to facilitate discharge?
 
15:28
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I do welcome Gwenda Thomas’s questions, because she’s quite right. We have to look beyond the intermediate care fund for ways in which we’re investing in the integration of health and social care as a result of our £21 million into social services. But also, because we’ve got the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, which of course Gwenda Thomas pioneered, we actually have the means to have that integration. And I would say in terms of extra funding for older people’s health services and mental health services, an extra £30 million over and above the £200 million is going to that sector in terms of older people’s mental health services. So, the prospects for what you’ve described are very real.
 
15:29
Elin JonesBiography
Minister, you’re doing a very good job of focusing on those areas of your budget that you’ve been able to safeguard or increase, but could I ask you for one moment to focus on a department facing a substantial cut as far as I see, that is, a cut in the revenue line for higher education of £41 million? That is an in-year cut of 32 per cent, which appears to be very substantial indeed. Can I ask you to confirm that that is an accurate interpretation in terms of that fall in revenue for higher education, and can I ask you therefore why this sector has been designated very specifically to face a cut of this kind? How do you anticipate that any sector, and this sector in particular, can cope with a cut on that scale?
 
15:30
Jane HuttBiography
Clearly, we have had to make tough decisions. We have decided to invest and reprioritise in terms of this budget and many of the announcements I’ve made today I know have been welcomed by Members across the Chamber. But it has meant that we have had to look very carefully in terms of, particularly, unprotected areas, and look very carefully at how we can support them. And I think the issues around higher education—as I said, we have had to transfer funding for the tuition fee grant and we’ve had to look at cutting other education priorities. You, of course, will have a chance for scrutiny. But, you know, I would ask you, if you agree with many of the priorities that I’ve expressed today in my draft budget, where would you make the cuts, because cuts have had to be made? And you will have the opportunity in terms of looking carefully at this through scrutiny. But I am sure that you will agree that it has been important that we also prioritise further education and apprenticeships. Indeed, we had a budget agreement around apprenticeships, because we recognised that we should not just be investing in higher education, we should be investing in the progression that we want for our young people, particularly through vocational opportunities, into further education as well.
 
15:31
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
And finally, Alun Davies.
 
15:31
Alun DaviesBiography
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Like others this afternoon, Minister, I’d like to welcome the statement that you’ve made, particularly welcome the additional investment in health and social services. I think it’s important to note that the cuts that are being made by the United Kingdom Government today are not simply to repay debt but as a direct consequence of their poor management of the economy over the last few years. In making this budget statement today you’ve said that you want to see a balanced economic recovery, a fair Wales and that you want to invest in the future. Local government provides local services, local jobs and provides absolutely key services to people across Wales. Now, we know that we’ve protected local government here from the over 40 per cent of cuts in real terms that they’ve seen on the other side of Offa’s Dyke. But can you, finance Minister, look at how we can further protect and enhance the funding for local government over the next few years? As we move into a period of reorganisation, it is important that we do this whilst ensuring that local government is well funded to provide core services.
 
15:33
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Alun Davies and, quite clearly, I am having to present a budget, which I believe is a budget for a fairer, better Wales, investing for the future, as a result of a 3.6 per cent real-terms cut to our budget, and that’s a 4.5 per cent cut to our revenue budget, which, of course, is where the services that you are focusing on in terms of local government are most affected. But we have made the decision to reduce the impact of the cuts on local government. We’ve done that by enabling extra investment in social services and in schools, which will go into the revenue support grant. But I also believe that the other ways in which we can support some of our protected areas mean that we can continue with our capital programme in twenty-first century schools and also that we can target our investment at those protected groups who will be the most vulnerable groups who will be most adversely affected by cuts. So, if you look at our communities, we’ve invested in front-line education and social services delivery through the revenue support grant, used our levers on infrastructure and innovative finance, protected programmes aimed at equality, community regeneration, sustainability and climate change—we believe those are the key services that people value in Wales—as well as investing in our health and social care services.
 
Sandy Mewies took the Chair.
 
15:34
Sandy MewiesBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
15:34
4. Statement: Rail Electrification
Sandy MewiesBiography
Item 4 is the statement by the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport on rail electrification, and I call on the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, Edwina Hart.
 
15:34
Edwina HartBiographyThe Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
Thank you, acting Presiding Officer. I wanted to update Members today on rail electrification in south Wales, following the publication of the Hendy review of the planned five-year funding programme for Network Rail.
 
The Hendy review was published on 25 November, following the announcement of the comprehensive spending review. The principal implication for Wales is the confirmation that the timescales for electrifying the Great Western main line have slipped considerably. Electrification of the Great Western main line between London and Cardiff will now be completed in 2019, rather than 2017, as previously announced. There is no firm date given for the completion of the electrification of the line between Cardiff and Swansea. Instead, it’s stated that this is expected to be completed in control period 6, which runs from 2019 to 2024.
 
Following publication of the review, I wrote to Sir Peter Hendy, outlining our disappointment at the outcome, and seeking his assurance that Network Rail will work openly with the Welsh Government as we develop our plans. Electrification of the main line to Swansea is vital to supporting future passenger demand and economic growth across south Wales. It is of great importance to the Welsh economy, and I am concerned about the potential impact of the delay on west Wales, as well as the implications of delivering the project across two control periods.
 
I also wrote to Claire Perry MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, again outlining our disappointment and seeking clarification and assurances on the timing of the completion of electrification to Swansea within control period 6, and the introduction of services. Last week, I met the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP, when he visited south Wales. At that meeting, I reiterated that we expect Network Rail, and the UK Government, to clarify the timing of delivery of electrification to Swansea. I also raised the importance of delivering electrification in north Wales, and stressed its importance in driving economic growth in Wales.
 
Electrification of the main line will be a huge step forward in creating a modern train service that’s capable of meeting future demand and supporting economic growth across Wales. We’ll continue to press the UK Government for the timely delivery of electrification, and I’ve emphasised the importance of providing information in a timely manner to ensure we have the opportunity to consider it as part of our own franchise and infrastructure planning.
 
15:37
Sandy MewiesBiography
I call on William Graham, the Conservative spokesperson.
 
15:37
William GrahamBiography
Thank you, acting Deputy Presiding Officer. May I welcome the statement from the Minister this afternoon? Clearly, it is regrettable that this time slip has occurred. I look forward to the Minister indicating, perhaps in a later statement, when she is able to determine exactly what the eventual—or the likely eventual—cost of the electrification scheme will be. The Minister will know that the Secretary of State for Transport has suggested that the timescale, though slipping, will be met as early as possible within control period 6, with the extension to Swansea. Arising from the Barnett consequentials, which the First Minister mentioned this afternoon, of the HS2 project, an extra £750 million will be coming to Wales, which is clearly to be welcomed, together with the fact that the new intercity express programme trains will be immediately introduced for the Swansea service in 2018.
 
The Minister will also know that the consequences of HS2 will have significant improvement on the rail link for north Wales. And I note today that the Virgin network hopes to increase the frequency of trains between Shropshire and London—again, an important and useful addition to the travelling public in north Wales.
 
The Minister has shared, in her statement, some information, but we would welcome further information, as I say, on the cost increases. We’d welcome a full explanation of that in a further statement. It’s noted, of course, that the inquiry the Minister refers to was, in fact, commissioned by the Treasury, rather than the Department for Transport, so we hope, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to make available funds as soon as possible for this very important link that the United Kingdom Government has embarked upon, to be completed as soon as possible.
 
15:39
Edwina HartBiography
I thank William Graham for his comments. The transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, had said—I think when he was interviewed by the BBC—that he hoped the electrification of the Great Western rail line to Swansea can be completed by 2020 or 2021, and those are the inquiries that we are now currently making. Because I think I made the point quite forcibly that there will be no element of trust unless it was at the start of that control period, because, if it went to the end of the control period, there’d be a feeling that perhaps nothing would happen on these particular matters.
 
In terms of the cost agenda, the estimated costs of electrifying the line between London and Cardiff rose from £1.6 billion in 2014 to £2.8 billion in 2015. So, we do have to have greater certainty on the figures and the costs, and that brings very neatly into place the role of Network Rail here, in terms of their ability to deliver on cost, and, of course, on time. In terms of the new IEP trains, I’m hoping myself to see some of these trains and go on one, because they are currently there, because apparently they will be a very useful addition to the network.
 
I think you made an important point in regard to north Wales. We have to take the benefits of anything across our border that can improve travel in north Wales, but we mustn’t take our eye off the ball regarding the case for electrification in north Wales, which must be the goal of all of us across this Chamber in long-term discussions. I will, of course, when I have clarification both from Sir Peter Hendy and the Department for Transport, issue another statement, and, if it is during recess, I will probably issue a written statement so that Members are fully updated.