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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
 
1. Questions to the First Minister
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister. And question 1 is Kirsty Williams.
 
School Federation
 
13:31
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Happy new year, Presiding Officer, and happy new year to the First Minister.
 
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's policy on school federation in Brecon and Radnorshire? OAQ(4)2633(FM)
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The same to you.
 
We’re committed to school-to-school working, including federation, as part of a self-improving school system, which underpins our policy in ‘Qualified for Life’. But it is for schools and local authorities to determine whether federation is the best option for schools locally and will lead to improved outcomes.
 
13:31
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, your Government-stated policy is that federation can indeed be a very viable alternative to school closures, especially in rural areas, where school closures may mean young children travelling considerable distances to schools, and also recognising schools as an important social aspect of a wider successful and thriving community. What steps do you take to ensure that your policy intention in your documents is actually carried out by local authorities and they actually do give due consideration to federation as an option, rather than simply looking at closure, as they’re currently doing with the case of Nantmel and other small primary schools in Brecon and Radnor?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We would encourage any local authority, without speaking about a specific instance, to consider federation, and, indeed, schools have had the power to federate by choice since 2010. To encourage greater federation, in 2014 we introduced regulations that allow local authorities to federate schools, as well as schools themselves. It’s certainly an option that local authorities should be looking at wherever they face decisions over schools, and we would expect them to give full consideration to the regulations we put in place in 2014.
 
Extreme Winter Pressures
 
13:32
William GrahamBiography
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of extreme winter pressures on the NHS in South Wales East? OAQ(4)2646(FM)
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, the NHS always plans for this as the busiest time of year. Health boards and trusts have managed effectively through the holiday period into January. It is clear that there has been resilience despite some material increases in demand into January that have provided some peaks in pressure that have been managed locally.
 
13:33
William GrahamBiography
I’m grateful to the First Minister for his answer. We have had, as you recognise, unseasonal weather. It’s been particularly mild, with very little incidence of frost or snow resulting in breakages and fractures, which would normally mean A&E. We haven’t had a major flu outbreak, yet we still have extreme pressures on the health service in south-east Wales. Does this mean that the correct resources are not being allocated?
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No. We’ve seen an increase, for example, on some days in A&E of 25 per cent compared with the same period last year, and some days of significant pressure with higher ambulance calls and arrivals at emergency units. Nevertheless, the system has coped. What happens with A&E—. I think I’m right in saying that A&E attendances are actually higher often in the summer, but they tend to be cuts and grazes, sometimes fractures; they don’t involve a long stay at A&E. In the winter, especially when there’s damp weather, respiratory conditions are the issue. They, of course, especially amongst older people, require a longer stay for assessment in A&E, and often admission to hospital. And that’s why, of course, we see pressures building up in the winter, especially at this time of year. But, despite those pressures, we know that the ambulance service and, indeed, the local health boards, have managed, and we’re confident that the plans that they’ve put in place have been effective.
 
13:34
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Thank you very much and a happy new year, everyone.
 
First Minister, last year, your Government outlined how it planned to tackle increased winter pressures in our hospitals. Could you outline how well Government efforts to liaise with social services and primary care providers are working so far to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions this winter?
 
13:34
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
If you look at delayed transfers of care, they are reducing in Wales. I’m glad to see that they’re coming down. The Member will have seen the money we’ve put into the intermediate care fund, which will help in terms of people being able to remain at home and to come home. It’s not simply a question, as the Member will know, of dealing with pressures as they arise in the hospitals, but of also being able to make sure that people can go home as quickly as possible. And we’re seeing a downward trend in Wales in terms of delayed transfers of care
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:35
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party leaders, and, first this afternoon, we have the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:35
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Thank you, Presiding Officer, and a happy new year to you all.
 
A happy new year to you all.
 
First Minister, last night you participated in the first major public debate on the future for Wales within the European Union. You went head to head with the voice of the far right. Do you think your performance helped or hindered the Welsh campaign to remain in the EU?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I’ll leave that to others. What I can say is that this is a hugely important issue. It is the major constitutional issue that we will face this year, and I will never stop making the case for Wales’s membership of the EU—to protect the 200,000 jobs that rely on our membership of the European Union, to recognise the billions of pounds of funding that we’ve had, and, of course, the access to one of the world’s biggest single markets. And I will keep on making that case for the next few months.
 
13:36
Leanne WoodBiography
Well, First Minister, I guess it’s up to people to decide whether or not you helped or hindered that case. It’s my view that those who try to frighten people into voting a certain way run the risk of a backlash. People want to hear a positive case for Wales remaining in the European Union, rather than a new version of project fear. Now, you said last night that EU reform was not on the agenda. Have you given up building a better Europe, just as you’ve given up building a better Wales?
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It’s the Prime Minister who has set his face in favour of reform; it’s for him to deliver the reforms that he has suggested. I think there are some areas where the European Union needs to reform itself: it needs to be more transparent; the European Commission needs to be less powerful, and the Parliament more powerful; it could do with not moving around, between Brussels and Strasbourg, as it does. But she and I will both agree that there’s a lot wrong with the structure of the UK as well that needs reform. It’s a question not of walking away from the European Union, but securing reform that keeps Wales at the heart of Europe.
 
13:37
Leanne WoodBiography
First Minister, people want a positive vision. They are yearning for political change at all levels, and they are fed up with politicians telling them that this is as good as it gets. Now, a new Europe is possible, I believe, just as a new Wales is possible, but you failed to put that positive vision in that debate last night. We got an insight last night, I think, as to how you intend to approach the period leading up to the referendum, and I hope that you will reflect on last night’s debate and give serious consideration to changing tack.
 
Now, moving on from last night, can you outline to us what contingency planning your Government has undertaken, or is undertaking, for Wales’s removal from the European Union? Have you sought legal advice on the ramifications of Wales voting in but being taken out? And what action will the Welsh Government take in terms of its relationship with the European Union if we are no longer a part of it? In other words, First Minister, do you have a plan B?
 
13:38
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The leader of Plaid Cymru and I have had discussions—sensible discussions—where we have talked about how it might be possible to put in place a cross-party campaign in order to put the case for Wales’s membership of the European Union. Now, she fails to outline how she would have done anything different and what message she would put forward, and it seems to me she’s already given up, because what she’s talking about is, ‘What will we do if we leave?’ I haven’t given up yet. I will continue to make the case for Wales’s membership of the European Union, I will continue to make the case for Wales’s prosperity, for the need for Wales to be at the heart of Europe, and, certainly, it’s not our intention to give up at this stage, which seems to be the message that she puts across.
 
13:39
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:39
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, happy new year to you—I think it’s still politically correct, in the second week of January, to wish people a happy new year. A happy new year to everyone in the Chamber as well.
 
We all saw the terrible picture in north Wales around the flooding. There can be nothing more depressing, I would suggest, than walking into someone’s home and seeing their lifetime’s possessions thrown outside because of the flooding and the effects, and some of those possessions completely irreplaceable. Some of the issues I’m sure the Minister for Natural Resources will touch on in his statement. You have toured many of the villages and towns that were affected by the flooding. Now some time has passed—not for the victims of the flooding, because they’ll be living with it for many weeks and months ahead—many of the public bodies, such as local authorities, have had time to make an assessment. Have you had any requests from the local authorities for additional support over and above what the Government has made available from the consequential that the Westminster Government has given out on the flooding to date? Will you be furnishing that level of support and making it available in the quickest time possible?
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
At this stage, no, but we have put in place about £3.3 million into a fund that local authorities can bid into. It’s early days yet, in fairness, as far as that fund is concerned. Nevertheless, it is money that will be made available to them in order to help with smaller schemes to deal with flooding.
 
When I visited the north, I visited Llanrwst. The flood defences there, by and large, held. Speaking to local representatives, they were very happy with what had been done since I last visited Llanrwst some years ago, with the Member then at the time. There’d been a difficulty not just with the river overflowing its banks—the Conwy—but groundwater was coming up through people’s houses. That didn’t happen this time around.
 
On the A55 at Talybont, money was never an issue in terms of funding the scheme, but the scheme is in the design stage, and Gwynedd county council have been working with Natural Resources Wales and us in order to put such a scheme in place. There was never a question of the funding not being made available. I visited people there, and I was happy to see that that scheme can now move forward.
 
Bontnewydd, again, is a village where there is a flood defence in place, and, in fact, the flood defences weren’t overtopped; again, it was a problem with groundwater. What NRW were telling me there is that there is a need to look at the entire system—the entire catchment area—to stop the flow of water coming in through the river there at Bontnewydd via the streams. But the message for us is this: we enter an age where it’s becoming ever more difficult to predict where flooding might occur. We know that there are some areas of Wales historically that have suffered flooding. The Conwy valley is one such example, but NRW will need to examine very carefully, as will local authorities as the flood authorities, as to where new pressures may arise and then, of course, deal with them.
 
13:42
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Thank you, First Minister, for that answer, and I appreciate that many of these questions might well be addressed also by the natural resources Minister in his statement, but also there are some solutions that can be brought forward via the rural development fund, allowing farmers to use land as floodplains to hold water back. I do declare an interest as a farmer and with regard to the rural development plan. Also, in other parts of the United Kingdom, the rules and regulations around ditch clearance and allowing landowners to clear those ditches without hindrance to allow water capture on their land will be removed as of 1 April. Will the Welsh Government be taking forward some of these proposals? For many communities, it’s the big shiny projects that people look at that cost many millions of pounds, and I get that, but, equally, there are some very small steps that we can take, and I would suggest that the rural development plan and using some of the money that’s in that to help landowners play a more active part in flood prevention, and also adopting some of the measures taken by other parts of the United Kingdom to allow for ditch clearance for water containment, could be welcome additions to the arsenal to help communities stem this flooding problem.
 
13:43
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. It does depend, of course, on us being members of the European Union to access that money. It has been used, if I remember, for Rhydyfelin in terms of the flood scheme there. But he’s right to say—and I use the Conwy valley as an example—that you cannot simply guard against flooding by building a wall. The issue in the Conwy valley is that there were flood defences around the farm land, so the farm land was protected but the settlements were not. In order to control flooding in the Conwy valley, there are occasions, and I think it happened this time around, where the farm land must be allowed to flood. Farmers, of course, are part of that. There were discussions with them in advance of that project being put in place, but you can’t channel a body of water and try and build walls around it all the time. The water will come up as groundwater; it has to be allowed to flood into its natural floodplain from time to time in order to enable houses to be protected. The Conwy valley is a good example where farmers and the local community worked together in order to put in place an effective flood scheme.
 
13:44
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. The other issue that happened over the Christmas recess and as recently as yesterday morning was the road network, with the adverse weather that was predicted via weather forecasting, in north Wales, for example, with the icy conditions. There were 68 accidents yesterday in north Wales. The M4 in your own area between Pencoed and Sarn was shut at least half a dozen times, and around the Newport area an equal number to that as well because of the adverse weather. There is an issue in my mind about the way the trunk road agency in Wales manage these key routes. I’d be interested to know whether you will commission a study to see exactly how they are managing the maintenance of these roads to look into these adverse weather conditions that are causing, both for flooding and icy conditions, road closures. We can argue about the European Union, we can argue about the middle east, and we can argue about global politics, but, for most people, when they get outside their front door, they want one of three things: to get to work, get the kids to school or get to that appointment that is critical to their end day. Those in north Wales yesterday couldn’t do that and many people in south Wales over the festive period couldn’t do it either. For simple maintenance in many areas, these issues could be resolved, so will you undertake to have a review of the way the trunk road agency is engaging in this process so that we can be satisfied that all corners are covered off?
 
13:45
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, it’s not to do with maintenance. First of all, most of the accidents, I understand, were on local roads, local authority roads, although there were some instances on trunk roads. What I am informed by local authorities is that the weather was not predicted by the Met Office yesterday. As a result, of course, the roads hadn’t been gritted. But, in terms of what we saw between Christmas and new year, I saw the M4 flooded out between Pyle and Pencoed, something I’ve never seen, ever, in all the years I’ve been living there, such was the volume of the rain. We saw the same thing happen, of course, on the A55 and it goes to show that we do face challenges now of flooding in areas that were previously thought not to be at risk of flooding. That, now, is a challenge for Natural Resources Wales in order to carry out an assessment of where the pressures will come in the future.
 
13:46
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Now we move to the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:46
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Thank you. First Minister, when the literacy and numeracy framework was launched in 2012, you said it would transform standards of literacy and numeracy in Wales. Last year, your schools inspector, Estyn, said that the programme had had no impact in improving literacy levels. One year on, would you expect progress to have been made?
 
13:46
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, it didn’t say that, because the findings of the interim report present a positive picture of the early stages of implementation of the programme. Bear in mind, of course, that fieldwork was carried out between September 2013 and December 2014. That’s the period in which the programmes, such as the literacy and numeracy framework and testing, were first introduced to schools. So, this is an evaluation that’s taken place in the very first period of the testing programme. It shows, overall, a positive picture and we will continue with the national literacy and numeracy programmes.
 
13:47
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
What the evaluation does say, and I quote, is that they have found ‘no robust evidence’ to suggest that the literacy and numeracy framework has supported an improvement in pupil outcomes.
 
Now, it’s four years—four years—since the programme was launched. Four years—half the time a child will spend in primary school. That’s their one chance, First Minister, and it’s your responsibility. So, what is your expectation? When will your programme see real outcomes and real delivery for our school students?
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the leader of the Liberal Democrats is mistaken, because the evaluation took place between September 2013 and December 2014, as I’ve said. That was the period in which programmes such as the LNF and testing were first introduced to schools. It doesn’t go back further than that.
 
Whilst good progress has been made, we want to see further progress—that much is true. Speaking as a parent, I am delighted that I am able to see the progress that my children are making in school and many, many other parents take the same view. She asked when we will see improvement. We are seeing, of course, the best GCSE results ever in Wales—not as a result of this, that much is true, it is too early yet, but it does show that what we are putting in place is improving education and the frameworks themselves will show improvement over the course of the next few years.
 
13:48
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Well, I’m delighted, First Minister, that your children are making progress, but I’m interested in everybody’s child. Every child in this country deserves to go to a decent school—a school that’s not just been put into special measures, like one of the flagship schools in your own county borough has been. Every child in Wales should go to an outstanding school.
 
Now, the State of the Nation report last year said that the scale of progress required by Wales to ensure that its children—all our children—can compete academically with others is dramatic.
 
We need dramatic progress from your Government for our children. Now, you have had 16 years. That is the second longest-running Government in modern history. So, if it can’t be in the first 16 years, when are we going to see the dramatic progress that our country needs, and why should any parent or any pupil in Wales believe and have hope that your Government can deliver it for them?
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The leader of the Liberal Democrats wilfully misrepresented what I just said. Like all parents in Wales, myself included, I am delighted that I am able to see how my children are progressing, as I’m sure she is as well, and all parents are in Wales. She should just be careful what she says, because that’s not what I said, in terms of the way that she represented it. If you look at Wales, we have the best GCSE results ever. We see schools being built—no schools were built when her party was in power in Westminster. [Interruption.] No schools were built when her party was in power in Westminster. We see new comprehensive schools being built across Wales, we see new primary schools being built across Wales, and we are seeing delivery in education. When her party were in power in Westminster, the major pledge that they put forward to the people of Britain is that they would not increase tuition fees. That was broken immediately. [Interruption.] That was broken immediately. So, when it comes to keeping promises, we’re not going to be lectured by the Liberal Democrats.
 
13:50
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move back to questions on the paper, and question 3 is Angela Burns.
 
Floods in West Wales
 
13:50
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Good afternoon, First Minister.
 
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the recent floods in west Wales? OAQ(4)2645(FM)
 
13:50
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. Good afternoon. The Minister for Natural Resources will be making a statement later this afternoon on the flooding across the whole of Wales. Over the lifetime of this Government, we will invest over £33 million in flood and coastal risk management in west Wales to help build resilience to flooding.
 
13:51
Angela BurnsBiography
First Minister, when are you and your Government going to get to grips with planning policy? Because you have a policy that enables county councils to allow house builders to develop in areas of flood risk, as evidenced by the recent builds in my constituency that have been flooded in the last three months, let alone the last few years. However, that same planning policy is being used to stop a £100 million investment into south Carmarthenshire on the grounds that the company is building in an area of risk, yet, when you look at the topography, if that business were to flood, then we would have chunks of Swansea and a significant proportion of Llanelli underwater as well. So, it’s a ridiculous and conflicting situation. It’s a situation that’s been raised here before—this disparity in planning policy and the allowing of one thing, but not another thing, houses versus jobs versus lives versus risk. When, First Minister, will you and your Government finally get to grips with this and go one way or the other and make it coherent and consistent?
 
13:52
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
More rain fell in Capel Curig than anywhere else in the UK over the course of the last week of December, and yet we did not see flooding in the Conwy. We did see flooding in Cumbria. Why? Because of the failure of her party to invest in flood defences in England. Those are not my words; those are the words of others—the House of Commons committee. There was not enough investment put in, and so we cannot accept any kind of lecturing from the party opposite, because of their failure to invest in flood defences in England. [Interruption.] When it comes to technical advice note 15—
 
13:52
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order.
 
13:52
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I mean, I know it’s uncomfortable for them, but there we are, that’s the truth. When it comes to TAN 15, I remember, as the Minister responsible for introducing it, the Conservative benches opposed it, because they thought it was too extreme. How many times did I hear Conservative Members saying, ‘We can’t have this policy where you’re not allowed to build in an area where there’s a one-in-1,000-year flood risk, it’s too extreme’? TAN 15 is perfectly clear, but it’s absolutely crucial that local authorities follow TAN 15, and, where that doesn’t happen, of course, there are remedies if they turn down planning permission in circumstances where they do not follow that planning guidance. But the planning guidance is absolutely crystal clear.
 
13:53
Simon ThomasBiography
Well, First Minister, no party of Government has taken climate change seriously enough, and that is very unfortunate indeed. But, turning to the impact of these floods in west Wales, a number of businesses and individual homes—. Rather than wide areas, I know that many individual homes have been affected in places such as Tenby, Saundersfoot and so on. We have seen in England that local authorities have been providing grants of £500 to assist those people to get back up on their feet. In Scotland, they have similarly provided a grant of £1,500, and we were pleased to see that the Community Foundation in Wales has launched a fund to restore things after the flooding today. Is it your intention as a Government to support such grants here in Wales to assist people and to assist businesses to get back on their feet, or to contribute to that national fund that I mentioned?
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That is something, of course, for us to consider. Most people, I expect, would have insurance of some kind—some, of course, would have to make partial payments towards any demand that they would make on the insurance on their homes or their businesses. This is something we are still considering, and I’m sure that the Minister will be able to answer these questions in detail during his statement.
 
13:55
William PowellBiography
A happy new year to you all.
 
First Minister, the RainScape sustainable drainage project in Llanelli has proved to be worth its weight in the recent flooding events, particularly at Queen Mary’s Walk in Llanelli. Dŵr Cymru, as I understand it, has got further plans to roll out similar schemes in other flood-risk zones across Wales between now and 2020, but what plans does the Welsh Government have to undertake a full evaluation of how that scheme has actually worked in practice so that we can build in as many learning points as possible to make other locations resilient against flooding in the future?
 
13:55
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It’s something that’s always under consideration. The Member is absolutely right to point out that controlling flooding is not just about building walls. It’s about stemming the flow of water by planting trees, quite often, in the upland areas. I’ve seen examples of that in Montgomeryshire where that has happened. With that, of course, the trees absorb the water and help to stem the speed of the water coming down the hillsides. There’s the issue of soakaways and the issue, of course, of not building driveways particularly that are impermeable to water. Part of the challenge that we face is that many of our road surfaces were built at a time when those standards were far lower. Water does not soak through the road; it comes off the road quite often—as I saw in Talybont—down the camber and into some people’s houses. Many of the roads—the A55 was one—were built to a far lower standard than we would build now, and, of course, what we try to do is to look at sections of the A55 in order to improve those sections and avoid the risk of flooding. But the Member’s quite right to point out that there are a number of ways to deal with flooding rather than simply building walls all the time.
 
Asset Transfers
 
13:56
Keith DaviesBiography
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on procedures for local authority asset transfers? OAQ(4)2648(FM)[W]
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, procedures for local authority asset transfers are a matter for individual local authorities, but of course I would expect them to consult in detail with the local communities.
 
13:57
Keith DaviesBiography
Thank you. There have been concerns among Carmarthenshire residents about proposals by the council to transfer parks to community councils or charities or private organisations, including Parc Howard in Llanelli, which engendered a petition signed by over 5,000 people to keep the park in public ownership, which will be presented to the council tomorrow. Do you agree that local authorities should hold a consultation with members of the public on any proposal to transfer assets, and conduct due diligence of any private organisation that wishes to take part in any such asset transfer?
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. Local authority assets are public assets and so councils should discuss and consult with their communities and also with their residents when they are considering the transfer of assets. Of course, they should also undertake a full analysis of the risks when they transfer public assets to any third party. Guidelines are available on this from Welsh Government, namely the guidelines on community asset transfer—that was published by us last year.
 
13:58
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
First Minister, following your recent Government’s assessment and consultation on protecting assets of community value, what consideration have you given to the 78 per cent of respondents who actually support the power to initiate asset transfer from public sector bodies? We are so far behind in Wales compared to how the UK Government are handling this. In the same consultation, 68 per cent actually reckoned that we should have greater opportunities for a first-refusal basis. How are you taking forward the community asset transfer and, you know, why are you not bringing forward solid proposals, like the community right to bid here in Wales, and allow them to actually make the decisions about how they retain their local assets?
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the reason, of course, why this is being carried on in England at a great rate is because of the massive cuts in funding that local authorities have received in England—cuts that I’m sure her party would like to replicate. We know that they want to cut local government funding by 12 per cent here in Wales. That seems unambitious compared to their colleagues elsewhere in England. Our view is that, where councils can no longer continue to support assets, we would encourage them to seek community solutions, making the disposal of assets a key decision, as the Minister, in fairness, proposes as part of the draft local government Bill, will facilitate asset transfer and make the whole process more transparent. But, fortunately, local authorities are not under the same pressure in Wales as they are in England, where the cuts are so large.
 
14:00
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Keith Davies described a situation that existed in Carmarthenshire 12 months ago, when the council, which was led by Labour at that time, threatened clubs and societies at a local level that, if they didn’t take responsibility for these assets, they would face an increase of 1,000 per cent in the rents that the council was charging them. Plaid Cymru’s opposition managed to overturn that decision. They continued to do that in leading the council. Will you congratulate Emlyn Dole in Carmarthenshire for holding discussions with local clubs and societies on the future of these assets, in a situation of huge cuts on local authority funding, and in a situation where they are facing very difficult decisions indeed?
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we can all see in this Chamber that Carmarthenshire council has changed its leadership. I see now that the Member is alluding to the council in a very different way to the way he talked about the council when the Labour party were in charge. I’m sure there’ll be more fun and games about that over the ensuing months. I would say to any county council, of course, that they should consult in great detail with the local people to ensure that their voices are heard.
 
Child Poverty
 
14:01
Lindsay WhittleBiography
5. What special measures is the Welsh Government taking in order to eradicate child poverty by the year 2020? OAQ(4)2641(FM)
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Our child poverty strategy, published last year, does set out our priorities for tackling child poverty. Specific actions in that strategy include the roll-out of the Healthy Child Wales programme, doubling the numbers accessing Flying Start, closing education attainment gaps and reducing the number of children living in workless households.
 
14:02
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Well, First Minister, we know that the UK Tory Government’s policies on tax credits and welfare reforms are not helping poorer children and families in Wales, to say the least. But, can you really explain why, after 16 years in office, this Welsh Government has still left Wales with the highest level of child poverty in the United Kingdom?
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are not helped, he’s quite right, by the policies of the UK Government. Bear in mind that his party were in Government for four years—something that they try to sweep under the carpet. They were part of the previous Government, which I think we should emphasise. But we have a child poverty strategy. It reaffirms our ambition to eradicate child poverty by 2020, and we will continue to move towards achieving that ambition.
 
14:02
Mike HedgesBiography
In Swansea East, Flying Start ensures that children start in nursery with a developmental age equal to their chronological age. Communities First gives support to children in education via an evening homework club and evening holiday support. Does the First Minister agree that it is important to continue these two schemes and also to ensure the maximum take-up of these opportunities for the benefit of our children?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Member is absolutely right to highlight schemes that this Government has introduced in order to help many families and many children. That is a commitment that we will never waver from. It is a commitment that we will always make to our poorest families. It is a commitment that is at the very heart of what we stand for as a party.
 
14:03
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Although the proportion of children living in poverty in low-income households in England is at its lowest since the 1980s, as we heard, Wales has the highest child poverty among the UK nations, and the second highest among the 12 UK regions, but persists in using a measure of child poverty that appears to show child poverty reducing when economies are shrinking and families are getting poorer. What consideration have you therefore given to looking at measures being applied in England to look at matters that lead to the underlying causes of poverty, such as educational attainment, drug and alcohol abuse, family breakdown and, of course, worklessness?
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, of course, if I remember rightly, the definition of poverty in England was changed in order to make it look better than it actually was. But he asks me to deal with what is the fundamental cause of poverty in the UK, and it is a Conservative Government—there is no question about that—with all the policies that you have introduced. One of the problems, of course, with people living in poverty is the fact that they are on low pay, and what his party proposes to do is to cut their pay even further. Even further. We used to say in this country: ‘If you get a job, then your financial circumstances will improve’. What the Conservatives will do from April onwards is to say to people: ‘Even if you get a job, you will actually not be any better off’. That is something that no Government since 1945 has ever said to its people, and it’s shameful that the Tories have done it in Britain.
 
14:05
Christine ChapmanBiography
The UK Government’s changes to the social security system will have serious repercussions on child poverty levels here, as the data contained in the Bevan Foundation’s recent report highlighting the numbers of children in Wales in households in receipt of some type of benefits show. We know that 284,000 children in Wales are in households receiving tax credits, and 86 per cent of these children are in a household where someone works. First Minister, how is the Welsh Government taking this into account in your strategies to tackle child poverty?
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Can I thank the Member for highlighting the heartlessness of the policies being pursued by the Conservative Government? The leader of the opposition laughs at that—he always does—the heartlessness of the policies being pursued, the vendetta that’s being pursued against those who are on low pay, and the help that’s being given to those who have the most amount of money. We shouldn’t be surprised at that. That is, after all, what his party stands for. We’re well aware of the disproportionate effect of the UK Government’s welfare reforms in Wales. We know that the impacts of those reforms are not spread equally. We know that those households that are already around the poverty line—families with children and disabled households—will be amongst the hardest hit. We will take account of that as part of our child poverty strategy. I cannot say, of course, that we’ll be able to deal with all the damage that the Conservative Government is doing, but we know that they continue in their vendetta against the lowest paid, the disabled and children.
 
Ardaloedd Gwella Busnes
 
14:06
Gwenda ThomasBiography
6. A wnaiff y Prif Weinidog ddatganiad am rôl ardaloedd gwella busnes yng Nghymru? OAQ(4)2636(FM)
 
14:06
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There’s been excellent progress across Wales with five areas last year voting to establish business improvement districts. This is a positive movement with business communities, of course. They work with a range of partners in these areas, and provide a significant programme of investment to support regeneration and economic development.
 
14:07
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Thank you for that, First Minister. Neath Inspired is the name of the new business improvement district in Neath town centre, formed with Welsh Government funding, as you say, after a successful balloting of local businesses. Neath town centre businesses have seen the advantage of commerce-set priorities for local investment, regeneration benefits and local partnerships. Going live on 1 April, Neath Inspired will run for five years and result in £500,000 additional funding. First Minister, can you outline what measures the Welsh Government is undertaking to promote the formation of more business improvement districts?
 
14:07
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, thank you. We’re pleased to see the new districts being established. We are expecting four further ballots in 2016. We want to see the conclusion of the whole programme before we’re in a position to reflect and consider how we take this forward in the future, but what is encouraging is that there is plenty of interest in towns around Wales in putting in BIDs in the future.
 
14:08
Suzy DaviesBiography
First Minister, my region, of course, is already fortunate to have a very formidable business improvement district in Swansea, and its success is due in no small part to businesses’ ability to work maturely in partnership with the local authority on its own priorities—often, of course, they have the same priorities as the council, but not always—rather than being dominated by the council. With the new BID in Neath, and of course the establishment of a BID steering group in Bridgend, would you agree that BIDs need to be led by local businesses and that any suggestion that a council’s own decisions on town improvement might be contingent upon a BID behaving in particular way would be inappropriate?
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No, these are bids from businesses. Clearly, those bids have to chime with the priorities of the local authority, but of course I’d expect businesses and local authorities to work together, as we’ve seen in other towns in Wales, in order to provide benefits for towns. In fairness to Members, they’ve already highlighted the Labour council in Swansea, and the work that they have done in working with businesses in order to provide improvements in that city.
 
14:09
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Of course, there is huge potential for business improvement districts to give an economic boost to those trading areas, and it’s entirely right to say that the consultation with businesses within those industries does set the foundation for those areas. But would the First Minister agree with me that it’s crucial also to consult with wider stakeholders within those areas, including residents within the community?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That’s right. It’s not just the local businesses that are interested in this, of course. Other organisations are interested in order to create the right trading environment in the area. It’s extremely important that bodies work in partnership—businesses, local authorities and other bodies—in order to ensure that the towns themselves are improved for everybody’s benefit.
 
14:10
Eluned ParrottBiography
First Minister, business improvement districts obviously have the potential for great economic benefits. But, for many smaller communities or individual high streets within larger cities that are not the city centres themselves, perhaps a full business improvement district is a step too far and there may be benefits to facilitating networking within those local communities that is perhaps short of a business improvement district. I’m wondering what support the Welsh Government can give to those local communities, for example, like the arcades in Cardiff or high streets such as the Canton high street area, to develop those networks and informal trading relationships.
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
BIDs, of course, are important for some town centres. We have ‘Vibrant and Viable Places’, which is of course the programme that also helps in terms of developing areas that are centres of particular importance. If we look at Cardiff, there’s Canton high street, which seems to be doing very well at the moment. There are other parts of Cardiff—Wellfield Road is another example of this—where there are districts that have been traditionally doing very, very well. But it’s important, of course, that when we look at a city the size of Cardiff—and indeed there are many other settlements that will be in the same category—we don’t just look at the centre, but understand that there are other retail areas in the city, outside the city centre, that are also important to those areas, Albany Road and Wellfield Road being examples in that area, and down towards Canton.
 
Floods in Llanddulas
 
14:11
Darren MillarBiography
7. What action is the Welsh Government taking to prevent the recurrence of floods in Llanddulas? OAQ(4)2644(FM)
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We know that Llanddulas experienced coastal flooding during the storms of 2013. We have put £544,000 in towards the construction of coastal flood defences. They have substantially lowered the flood risk in the village. That said, I do know that three houses were affected by flooding over the course of the last few weeks—awful, of course, for those people who are involved, and of course heartbreaking. We have made, as the Member has heard, £3.3 million of support available for local authorities and I would now expect Conwy council to investigate the sources of flooding and bring forward an appropriate solution with the relevant risk-management authorities.
 
14:12
Darren MillarBiography
Thank you for the detailed response, First Minister. Like you, I was very disappointed to note that flooding had reoccurred in Llanddulas. It faces not only flooding risks from the sea, but also from the River Dulas, which flows very closely to the properties that you have mentioned. But those households have faced flooding now five times since 2010, and even though investment has been put into the coastal defences, part of that flooding has been as a result of coastal problems—although it was fluvial flooding that affected them over the Christmas period. What discussions is the Welsh Government having with Conwy council to encourage them to bring forward a bid, particularly for Llanddulas, in conjunction with Welsh Water and Natural Resources Wales, so that they can get this problem sorted once and for all for those families, albeit small in number, who have been affected?
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It is right to say that the flooding was caused by surface water from the adjacent highway. The local authority were unable to deploy a pump, we understand, because that pump was already deployed at Trefriw, where, in their assessment, there were more properties at risk. But I’d repeat what I said earlier on; it’s for Conwy council to bring forward proposals for consideration and I would of course encourage them to do so in order to help those people who were affected in Llanddulas.
 
14:13
Llyr GruffyddBiography
There is a more general question arising as to where flood prevention work has taken place and, in the light of the increasing challenge of climate change, where sea levels are rising. What process is in place to assess whether the works that have been completed over the past few years are still appropriate as we move on to face the greater challenges of flooding in the future?
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That’s not what happened over Christmas. That’s not what happened in Bontnewydd and that’s not what happened in Talybont, nor in the Conwy valley. It wasn’t a matter of the water overtopping the walls. We’ve seen the problem previously in the Conwy valley when the water came into the River Crafnant and then into Trefriw. We had the same problem with the River Leri in the other Talybont in Ceredigion, and the same problem in St Asaph. But that wasn’t the case this time. Having said that, of course, Natural Resources Wales always assess how effective the embankments safeguarding communities are, bearing in mind the climate change that we are witnessing.
 
14:14
Aled RobertsBiography
First Minister, you refer to the fact that we need to look at the A55. You state perhaps that the quality that the road was built to initially is not acceptable, given all the rain that we have seen over the past few months. But, also, the A483, the Wrexham bypass, and the A5 also have either been closed temporarily or have had temporary speed restrictions on them, which create problems for travellers, too. So, will the trunk road agency look at all the roads in the areas affected to ensure that programmes looking at Government expenditure in the future are targeted at the right areas?
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The agency is responsible for the trunk roads, the major roads, not, of course, the local roads, which are the responsibility of the local authorities. As regards the A55, the A5 and the M4, for example, what happens again is that, although it’s a Government responsibility, it’s the local authorities that maintain the roads on behalf of the Government, and that’s true of the A55, too. But, of course, we would expect any agency to consider all the risks in every stretch of road that they’re responsible for, in order to ensure that those risks are assessed and, of course, to see whether, ultimately, those risks can be mitigated.
 
14:16
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, First Minister.
 
14:16
2. Business Statement and Announcement
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 2, which is the business statement, and I call on the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt.
 
14:16
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
Diolch, Lywydd. A happy new year to you all. There has been one change to the business statement for this week’s business. The Minister for Natural Resources will make a statement to provide an update on Welsh Government action on flooding in Wales. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement found among the agenda papers available to Members electronically.
 
14:16
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I declare an interest, being a farmer who operates under the common agricultural policy scheme rules. I’d be grateful if we could have a statement from the Deputy Minister in relation to the payment window that opened on 1 December for the basic payment scheme to farmers. I understand there’s a considerable amount of money still outstanding to be paid to farmers across Wales, and I’d be grateful if the Minister could make a statement available to give a progress update as to what progress has been made by the Government in getting this important money into the rural economy and into rural businesses.
 
Secondly, I’d also be grateful for a statement from the same Minister on the rules around the Glastir scheme. Given the atrocious weather that we’ve had, I’ve had numerous constituents approach me who are involved in the Glastir scheme around the capital works element of the Glastir scheme. Because of the inability to get onto the land and undertake the capital works, they might fall foul of the scheme rules. There is the opportunity for force majeure to be introduced, as I understand it, and I’d be grateful if the Minister could issue a statement to indicate whether any discussion within the department has been considered to introduce into the scheme rules force majeure since the weather is an act of God—it’s beyond anyone’s control—and this would allow farmers participating in Glastir to, obviously, fulfil their contractual requirements, rather than have penalties imposed on them.
 
14:18
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I would like to respond on behalf of the Deputy Minister this afternoon in relation to your first question, just to report that more than half of Welsh farm businesses that are eligible under the new basic payment scheme received their part payment—approximately 80 per cent of the individual farm business payment—during the first week of the payment window, and more than two thirds were paid by the end of December. This does meet our published target, and our payments will continue to be paid as soon as possible, and we remain on track to pay the vast majority of farmers early this year. In terms of more complex cases, the Minister and officials will be writing to those farmers who haven’t yet been paid by the end of January to update them on progress and advise them of when they will be likely to receive payment. I think, also, your second point, of course, is something that I will raise with the Minister in terms of clarity, particularly in relation to the recent weather events.
 
14:19
Julie MorganBiography
I wanted to raise two issues. First of all, I’m sure the Minister is aware of the very good news that came out in the recess, that Cardiff University’s School of Dentistry in the Heath in my constituency of Cardiff North has ranked as No. 1 in the UK in the recent ‘Good University Guide’, and it’s world-renowned research was placed highest in the research excellence framework. So, could we have a debate or a statement about dental training and dental work in Wales, in view of this great achievement?
 
The second point is not a devolved issue, but I wanted to raise the difficulties that my constituents from Bangladesh are experiencing in getting visas for themselves, their colleagues, their friends, their relatives to come to Wales because of the removal of the decision-making process on visa applications from Dhaka to New Delhi and I understand that this has led to delays in decision making and, it’s alleged, more unfavourable decisions, and there’s been a big petition by the British-Bangladeshi community. I don’t know whether you could suggest any way that the Welsh Government—any actions that could be taken in order to help our constituents from Bangladesh?
 
14:20
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Julie Morgan, the Member for Cardiff North, for both those questions to the business statement. I think, particularly, I welcome the fact that we can celebrate, I’m sure, across the Chamber today the achievements of the Cardiff School of Dentistry. In fact, if you look at the school’s courses, they were given a maximum of 100 out of 100 score in ‘The Guardian’ university guide, which ranked provision across 119 UK universities, and also there are high levels of student satisfaction and employability as a result of ongoing investment in the school from both Cardiff University and the Welsh Government. So, this is fantastic recognition that we will all, I’m sure, support today. The staff in the school and the hospital are working hard to ensure that students in Cardiff receive the highest standard of learning experience.
 
On your second point, of course I’m sure we would all also recognise and appreciate your concern on behalf of your constituents from Bangladesh and I’m sure that’s shared by other Members here today in terms of their constituents. Of course, it’s a non-devolved matter controlled by the UK Government, but I will make sure that colleagues bear this in mind when talking to relevant UK Ministers, as this does affect many families in Wales.
 
14:21
Simon ThomasBiography
I wonder, Minister, whether we could have two statements on developments that have taken place over recess. First of all, if I could turn to the issue of renewable energy, I understand that there is to be a statement today on local energy from the Minister, but I am talking about renewable energy still held by Westminster. You will recall that that Government rejected a number of planning applications for wind farms in mid Wales, but two of those applications related to Llanbryn-mair and Carnedd Wen have won a court case in the High Court and are now back with Amber Rudd for a decision—the two companies are RWE and Renewable Energy Systems Ltd. I’m very eager to ensure that these decisions aren’t overturned or rejected for political reasons, but should be decided specifically on renewable energy and planning grounds. Would it be possible, therefore, for us to have a statement from the appropriate Minister as to what the Welsh Government is doing to promote these applications, because they are in keeping with the Government’s national policies, and what the Welsh Government is doing to support and promote these projects with the Minister in Westminster? It’s extremely important that we don’t see what the Tories are starting to do in mid Wales, where Glyn Davies has threatened to reject these for political reasons, becoming a reality.
 
The second bid for a statement is a statement from the Minister for Education and Skills. This relates to the assessment and evaluation of the numeracy and literacy framework that Kirsty Williams mentioned to the First Minister a little earlier, but I note that the education Minister had issued a statement at the very end of last term before we had any opportunity to ask any questions of him on that evaluation. I also note that the evaluation itself states that the Government should consider whether further assistance is required for the implementation of the framework. I would therefore welcome the opportunity to hear a statement from the education Minister on these issues so that I, and Kirsty Williams no doubt, could question the Minister as to whether the necessary support is in place and whether this framework will be truly successful, as the First Minister claims it is.
 
14:24
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I thank Simon Thomas for his questions to the business statement. On your first point, renewable energy is clearly a key part of our approach to increasing prosperity in Wales and tackling climate change in response to the Paris agreement. There were announcements in December, as you say, during recess—UK Government announcements—which reflected changes to subsidies and which still could have an impact on the ability to deliver local energy generation, and we will be working with communities and developers across Wales to make sure that Wales benefits. Of course, the Minister is very well aware of these prospects and opportunities, as well as the challenges and threats that you so rightly raise today.
 
In terms of your second point on the literacy and numeracy framework, of course the findings of the interim evaluation report present a positive picture of the early stages of implementation of the national literacy and numeracy programmes. And, of course, it is important that the Minister, I’m sure, will have opportunities, as we enter into this new term, to respond to questions, but it is about investing and working with our partners in regional education consortia, particularly to ensure practitioners feel supported to deliver on literacy and numeracy.
 
14:25
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Minister, could I ask for two statements, and, firstly, a statement from the Minister for rural affairs and agriculture? The one third of farmers that have not been paid must all be living in Brecon and Radnorshire, it seems, because I have been inundated with farmers who have yet to receive payments. Now, some of those businesses can withstand that; others are in a very precarious position. And I’m particularly concerned about cases that are referred to me by the Farm Crisis Network. It takes a lot of guts for a farmer to go to that network to talk about the very difficult situations they find themselves in. I would be grateful to know what can be done for those cases where there is proven extreme hardship, and that those payments can be fast-tracked, because there are some businesses that cannot afford to wait, and I am always very concerned what that might mean for individuals and their families. And whilst updating us on the roll-out of BPS, would the Minister be able to give us an update on the implementation of the rural development plan, especially the sustainable production grant element of that programme, which is causing grave concerns at present?
 
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Secondly, Minister, this year sees the Welsh Government’s Year of Adventure being launched to develop and promote tourism in Wales. Therefore, it was of great concern to me to receive an e-mail from the organisers of the mountain biking enduro series, who were hoping, as part of that series, to have a number of races in Wales. They have not been given permission by Natural Resources Wales to have those races in the Merthyr area, in the Aberdare area and now in the Aberavon area. Therefore, there will be no south Wales mountain bike enduro races as part of this series because of Natural Resources Wales. Now, I’ve had difficulty with this in the past in my own area. Thanks to the intervention of the previous Minister, that has been sorted. I would now ask the current Minister to get a grip of Natural Resources Wales to actually work alongside Government colleagues to deliver the Year of Adventure, and not actually deprive communities of the opportunities that these events bring to them. And I’d be grateful for a statement from the Minister to that effect.
 
14:28
Jane HuttBiography
Thank you, Kirsty Williams, for your questions. If I perhaps could return to my earlier response to Andrew R.T. Davies about basic payment schemes, and I mentioned the more complex cases that, obviously, you were referring to, which would take longer. And there has been communication with those farmers who will not have been paid by the end of this month to update them on progress. They should be advised of when they’re going to receive payment. Final instalments of the part payments—that’s the 20 per cent—will be made in April, in line with our published target. But, clearly, those points have been aired now today in terms of that group of farmers.
 
On your second point on mountain biking races in the Year of Adventure, of course we would look to consider this issue, and the Minister will have heard the points you made.
 
14:29
Darren MillarBiography
Can I ask for a statement on winter resilience for the transport network, please, Minister, from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport? I’m very concerned about the news yesterday that there were 69 crashes in just six hours across north Wales as a result of icy conditions on the roads. A number of local authorities did grit their roads in advance of the icy conditions, but, unfortunately, a number of others didn’t. And it appears that there was different interpretation of the same data on the weather conditions in the north, and I wonder whether there might be an opportunity for the Minister to clarify the guidance that is given to local authorities on the gritting arrangements, and what should or should not trigger gritting taking place. I travelled on those roads yesterday. I saw the chaos that was being caused by some of those accidents that had taken place. The gritters were out by 8.30 a.m. and 9 o’clock on the roads when I was travelling, but, clearly, they hadn’t been the night before, and many of those accidents could have been prevented. Could we have an urgent statement on this matter please?
 
14:30
Jane HuttBiography
In terms of the guidance, of course this is the responsibility of local authorities, as you recognise, but in terms of clarifying the guidance, the Minister is happy to do that. This is something that local authorities should be working together on, and we do have an overarching response to winter pressures, which does involve fully local government in those discussions and preparations.
 
14:30
Christine ChapmanBiography
Minister, I’m sure, like me—and I will follow on from Darren Millar’s question—that you will have been appalled by the numerous fatal road traffic accidents on Welsh roads over the Christmas period, and subsequently. And I’m not just talking about times when we’ve had icy conditions. Obviously, you’ll be keen, like me, to express your sympathies to the families and communities who have been affected in this way. I would like a statement, Minister, from the Welsh Government, on what it’s doing to ensure that Welsh roads are as safe as they can possibly be. I’m particularly keen to know how the Welsh Government is engaging with partners such as emergency services, the police and crime commissioners and the trunk road agencies to achieve this.
 
14:31
Jane HuttBiography
Of course, Christine Chapman, I’m glad also that you’ve raised this very serious matter because I’m sure we would all have been appalled by those accidents that we read about too regularly over the Christmas weeks, and our heartfelt sympathies, as you say, go to those families on the loss of often very young lives. The Minister will report on the whole picture in terms of circumstances, but she does actually receive police reports, for example, on a regular basis, particularly in relation to the trunk road network and serious incidents, and meets regularly with the four chief constables.
 
14:32
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, I’ve been told by concerned mothers in Neath Port Talbot that the role of breastfeeding lead is soon to be scrapped in Public Health Wales, leaving breastfeeding with no representative in Public Health Wales or the Welsh Government. There is now a fear amongst those mothers who have come to me that there will be no proper promotion of breastfeeding, and that hospitals and health boards will no longer be incentivised to achieve baby-friendly initiative accreditation, and no funding for breastfeeding training for hospital staff as a result. I was wondering if we could have a statement from Welsh Government, from the Minister for Health and Social Services, to give some sort of sympathy to these mothers who are seeking help in this regard, at this time.
 
I also wanted to ask a question that has come to light in an e-mail to me in the last 10 minutes. I do quite a lot of work with opencast mining in Wales, and it’s been alleged that Miller Argent are to sell Ffos-y-fran in Merthyr. I wondered if we could have a statement from the environment Minister, because we want to try and understand whether they will be putting forward their restoration obligations in this regard, and that we won’t have another Margam on our hands, where we have a void in the ground.
 
My third request for a statement would be of the same Minister. I’m not picking on him in the new year. [Laughter.] [Interruption.] Yes. It is with regard to research carried out by Spinwatch with regard to fracking. Many insurance companies have said that they will not be giving insurance claims to householders who have fracking-related disturbances in their areas, and I was wondering if the Welsh Government had a view on this, especially given that there are applications in Pontrhydyfen in my area, in Llanharan, also in my area, and test running in Llangyfelach soon. Thank you.
 
14:34
Jane HuttBiography
Thank you, Bethan Jenkins. In terms of strong support for breastfeeding, we work closely as the Welsh Government with health boards to support them to improve breastfeeding rates across Wales. We recognise the strong links between breastfeeding and good health, and the role that breastfeeding can play in tackling child poverty. All maternity health visiting and neonatal services in Wales are working towards UNICEF UK baby-friendly accreditation, and the child health system in Wales has now been set up to enable more consistent collection of infant feeding data at birth, 10 days and six weeks from health boards, and progress is being made on improving collection rates. So, I hope that you will be able to report that back and assure your constituents of that positive response.
 
We will have to await any announcement, which you have just been made aware of, which, certainly, myself and the Minister are not, in terms of your second point in relation to opencast mining. And also, on your third point, of course you’re quite well aware of our moratorium in terms of fracking, and that has an important point, that this means that we are not progressing, even though there are those applications.
 
14:35
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, I’d like to ask for two statements, if I may. Firstly, I’d like to request a statement from the Minister for Natural Resources on the status in law of green wedges, as opposed to green belts. You will be aware that the Cardiff local development plan, as approved by the planning inspector, proposes a green wedge, as opposed to a belt. However, as I understand it, wedges are only protected for the lifetime of the plan, whereas green belts enjoy a much broader statutory protection. I’d welcome a statement from the Minister to discuss this, to lay out the differences between the two sets of protections, and also to identify whether or not the Welsh Government would be minded to change the rules here in Wales to allow green wedges to have a greater protection in law.
 
Secondly, a number of my constituents have been raising with me the issue of asbestos in schools in my region, in Rhondda Cynon Taf in particular. And I was surprised by the Minister for Education and Skills’ refusal to conduct an audit into where this might be a problem. I wonder whether I might ask, therefore, the Minister for Public Services to make a statement about the duties on local authorities when disposing of such properties that many contain asbestos. I am aware that there are two properties in Rhondda Cynon Taf that are currently on the market, but, obviously, may be empty for a period of time. Now, clearly, if there is asbestos—which, I am assured, is contained within those buildings—there is a danger, if those properties are left to become derelict, that that asbestos may not remain contained. I wonder whether we could have a statement urgently on the duties of public bodies to ensure that asbestos in buildings, under the process of transfer of ownership, remain protected, and that asbestos remains contained.
 
14:37
Jane HuttBiography
Well, Eluned Parrott, you raise issues relating to green wedges and greenfield sites, which, of course, are the responsibility in terms of Planning Policy Wales and the guidance of the Minister. Of course, there will be opportunities for you to follow up in questions to the Minister on those points. Of course, in terms of asbestos in schools, where local authorities have taken responsibility, and guidance has been given by the Welsh Government, these are key issues, which the Minister is aware of.
 
14:38
Mark IsherwoodBiography
I was also going to actually call for a statement on road safety in cold weather. You’ve already responded to Darren Millar on that, stating that the Minister will be happy to clarify the guidance. Could I, therefore, ask you to ensure that that is done—I would say, aggressively, but with vigour—and take note that Flintshire, Denbighshire and Anglesey had the vast majority of accidents, but had failed to grit the previous evening? Their council chiefs said that overnight freezing temperatures had not been forecast, and that they reacted when the temperatures dropped, even though Gwynedd and Conwy confirm that they had gritted on the previous routes. And I can confirm, as a resident of Flintshire, that I went out to my car at 9 p.m. the previous evening—the Sunday evening—and my car was already fully iced up, and my drive and the adjoining road were already very slippy to walk on.
 
14:38
Jane HuttBiography
I think, Mark Isherwood, it is important, again, to repeat what the First Minister said earlier on, which is very clear, and I’m sure that the Minister for Natural Resources will be saying that these weather events were unprecedented, and they weren’t forecast. And it’s very clear that, therefore, we need to look at the impact of climate change as a whole, and I’m sure that the Minister will be addressing that in his statement.
 
14:39
David ReesBiography
Minister, can I join Bethan Jenkins in asking on the issues about breastfeeding, because I’ve also received many receipts from constituents regarding the issue? It’s not public health boards, it’s Public Health Wales that has made the decision of, apparently, removing the breastfeeding lead and the programme. Therefore, can you ask whether the Minister can clarify the position on who will now lead the breastfeeding programme here in Wales?
 
And, second point, we’ve heard much since we last were in this Chamber on the future of the steel industry here in Wales, and, particularly in my constituency, the Port Talbot plant, where there is an anticipated statement to be made by Tata, with the possible consequence of the loss of many jobs within that area. Could the Government actually make a statement on the actions it is now taking and the discussions it’s having with Tata? I’ve met with the local unions, and they are very concerned over the future. It seems that the Welsh Government actually is the only Government in the UK that is determined to do something about steel. Can you therefore lead on this and make sure that we get a message clear to Tata on where we want to take steel and the work we can do to help the workers in the plant?
 
14:40
Jane HuttBiography
Can I thank David Rees, the Member for Aberavon, for taking the lead as a local Member in terms of defending and supporting the steel industry and Tata in his constituency? I believe that no-one has defended the steel industry more than the Welsh Government. It’s vital to the future of the Welsh economy, the public and private sector. We need to work together immediately to ensure that we have a viable future here in Wales, and we are pressing the UK Government—continuing to press them—for swift action on key issues, and we are determined to ensure there continues to be a sustainable steelmaking presence in Wales.
 
The Minister for economy is meeting with industry leaders across Wales to see again what she can do and what they can do to make them more competitive and to prevent more job losses. I think one of the important points last week, when I announced £8.6 million of European Union funding for engineering doctorates at the new Swansea campus, was that that event was attended by young graduates and indeed managers who had benefited from those doctorates that had been funded by the European Union, and they said how important for Tata this investment was.
 
14:41
William GrahamBiography
Business Minister, I wonder if I might ask you to request the health Minister to bring forth a statement regarding the pressures upon the ambulance service in South Wales East. On Sunday afternoon, a constituent of mine waited 50 minutes for an ambulance although living within a short distance of both the city centre and the local ambulance station. When the ambulance arrived, it came from the Bristol area. I’m given to understand that there were no local ambulances available after 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon. I expect that the Minister would like the opportunity to reassure potential patients within south-east Wales that the ambulance service remains robust.
 
14:42
Jane HuttBiography
I thank William Graham for that question today and also for the importance of recognising the difficult times that we have had over Christmas in terms of the pressures on ambulance services and through accident and emergency. I think you will be reassured that the latest published figures show that, in terms of ambulance response times, 70.8 per cent of the most immediately life-threatening calls to the Welsh ambulance service were receiving a response within eight minutes during November. It’s clearly important that we do address particular cases as the one you have, and I’m sure you will be raising that, but I think the fact that we are seeing the Welsh ambulance service achieving a new response time target and helping to deliver excellent patient outcomes as the pilot continues is important.
 
14:43
Nick RamsayBiography
Minister, two requests, if I may. Firstly, you’ve had a number of queries and requests today for action on the problems with road safety over the new year. Can I also echo those calls for action? There were a number of accidents on the A466 link road just outside Chepstow that need to be looked at. Last year, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport did pledge to hold a review of the trunk road network in Wales. I wonder if we could have an update on that and on decisions that have been taken in the wake of that review.
 
Secondly, over the Christmas period, the older people’s commissioner has praised Monmouthshire County Council for its new scheme for introducing flexible hours for carers. It seems to me that this scheme has a lot to commend itself. I wonder if you could look in more detail at this and at whether Welsh Government will bring forward proposals for rolling out this good practice with regard to looking out for carers in Wales across the rest of the country.
 
14:44
Jane HuttBiography
Thank you, Nick Ramsay. I want to assure all Members—and, of course, you’ve raised it again as a Member—about the serious concerns arising from road safety and road conditions, some of which were related to the weather and weather conditions. But, it is something that I’ve already said that the Minister is going to look at in the round in terms of road safety, and, of course, that would include trunk roads. I’ve already mentioned the fact that she is working very closely with the four chief constables as far as that’s concerned, so she will be returning with a response to that to the Assembly. And, of course, we welcome any examples of good practice that can be identified by the older people’s commissioner particularly, in her role—good practice particularly relating to carers and the support that can be given by Monmouthshire County Council. I know that we will be taking account of that and learning from good practice.
 
14:45
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
14:45
3. Statement: Local Energy Generation
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to item 3, which is a statement by the Minister for Natural Resources on local energy generation—Carl Sargeant.
 
14:45
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources
Thank you, Presiding Officer. This statement provides an update on the action I have taken to deliver on local energy since the publication of ‘Green Growth Wales: Local Energy’ in July last year. I’m pleased to say that all the actions proposed within the year are done or well under way.
 
I spent a very productive time in December at the climate change negotiations in Paris. We were a key part of the UK delegation, showing our clear commitment to becoming a globally responsible Wales. The impacts of climate change are becoming more visible. We were told to expect warmer, wetter winters, and more frequent extreme weather events. The recent effects of flooding have been impossible to ignore.
 
We need to act fast to reduce emissions and to preserve and transition economic activity in Wales. The UK climate change committee has highlighted the costs of delaying action and the importance of assessing fully the costs and wider benefits that can be realised by reducing emissions.
 
The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 is designed to improve the wellbeing of Wales through ensuring that all our actions provide social, economic, cultural, and environmental benefits. Energy underpins our whole way of life in today’s society. It is a fundamentally important thing for us to transform the energy system here in Wales. Delivering on local energy can provide multiple benefits to help achieve our seven wellbeing goals. The renewable energy sector has seen strong growth, and we now have over 51,000 renewable energy installations across Wales. The sector now needs our support for it to continue to flourish.
 
‘Green Growth Wales: Local Energy’ sets out our four areas of action. Firstly, leadership: the UK Government’s energy policy has created significant uncertainty. Recent feed-in tariff announcements provided more certainty but will reduce our ability to deliver local generation in Wales. The trajectory of support for renewables is clearly downward, and there is a difficult balance to strike between the affordability of energy and supporting sustainable economic growth. We are working, through our support services, to find ways to deliver projects without relying on subsidy for the long term.
 
Selling electricity directly at a sensible price is vital for new projects. Ofgem, the energy regulator, is consulting on principles-based regulation in the energy retail market. However, we must not delay if we are to enable Welsh energy companies to continue to thrive. We continue to work with the UK Government and Ofgem to secure the transformation in the market that we need for Wales.
 
Where we own the levers, we have been breaking new ground. The Environment (Wales) Bill will enable Wales’s resources to be managed in a more proactive, sustainable and joined-up way. The Bill introduces statutory climate change targets and carbon budgeting. Low-carbon energy generation and energy efficiency will be a key element of delivering these too.
 
The public sector has a significant leadership role to play in Wales, and I’m already providing support for public bodies in Wales to accelerate and de-risk energy generation and energy efficient projects. I am pleased to announce that I have been able to secure an additional £1.5 million from the European Investment Bank’s ELENA programme to improve the energy performance of public bodies here in Wales. We will now be working up an offer, which I anticipate will deliver around £30 million of low-risk investment in energy efficiency over the next three years.
 
We have also worked with local authorities to develop smart living demonstrators. One of the key projects is working with Bridgend, Energy Technologies Institute and Energy Systems Catapult to explore opportunities for smarter systems and heat generation.
 
My second priority area is overcoming barriers to delivering local energy. However, we must ensure that energy developments in Wales are appropriate and acceptable to the public. The forthcoming changes to the consenting regime promised through the UK energy and Wales Bills, as well as the implementation of the developments of national significance regime onshore mean that, in future, most renewable energy decisions will be taken in Wales for the benefit of the people of Wales.
 
We are also delivering on the third strand—supporting local action. For example, this year, we made £3.5 million available to support locally owned renewable energy projects.
 
I am currently consulting on proposals for the fourth strand, namely improving access to finance—‘Green Growth Wales: Investment Support’. I welcome views on the proposed suite of interventions to support and accelerate investment in resource efficiency, renewables and waste infrastructure.
 
The potential pipeline of energy efficiency, heat and renewable energy projects identified already by local authorities alone is approaching £400 million in capital value.
 
Our support will help the public sector meet its sustainable development duties and support private and third sector projects that continue to help with our wellbeing goals. I will continue to make it my priority to set the direction for Wales to deliver local energy and the long-term social, environmental and economic benefits it can bring for us all here in Wales. Thank you.
 
14:51
Janet HaworthBiography
Thank you, Minister, for this statement. Can I take this opportunity, too, to wish you a very happy new year? But your statement is at some odds with what the select committee has heard from those seeking to establish small-scale local community energy projects. It was clear that these localised projects often needed help with various processes involved in the application process. Will you be looking to make available skilled advisers to these projects at an early stage, either through your own offices or local authorities?
 
I’m also disappointed not to see any reference in your statement regarding initiatives to drive forward the effective retrofitting of older properties to ensure that these properties are more energy efficient. These projects have the potential to significantly reduce household bills and have the potential to make a major impact on carbon emissions.
 
14:52
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her contribution. The Member will be aware of future programmes and current programmes. The Ynni’r Fro scheme is a scheme where we have been helping many communities to enable themselves to create local energy schemes, with mixed success. But I do understand that it’s very difficult for some communities to start this programme, and what I’m trying to create, within my department and with external stakeholders, is a portal where people can access information to help them start to develop these community projects, and not reinventing the wheel again. If they’ve been through some difficult challenges, whether that be in planning or development, we should have a hub-type development to continue to support, and the Ynni’r Fro scheme is one of those portals that we use.
 
We have a very successful programme on energy efficiency with the Nest and Arbed schemes. Unlike England, where there is a significant reduction being made in energy efficiency, we will continue to make it one of our priorities here in Wales. It’s not about just creating clever technologies to create more energy; we have to make people’s homes and businesses much more energy efficient, too, to reduce our impact on the climate. That is something that we continue to do within this department.
 
14:53
Jenny RathboneBiography
Thank you very much, Minister. Obviously, local energy generation is hugely important, not least because energy generated locally stays in Wales, as opposed to companies coming in from the outside that then have the capacity to export the profits. I’ve had a quick look at the toolkit that you commissioned from the Energy Saving Trust, which looks very clear, so we aren’t reinventing the wheel, and local community groups can see exactly how you do it. You mentioned a figure of £30 million investment over three years. Are you minded to set some targets for local authorities, so all local authorities are thinking actively about this and realising that this is a key part of their future role in leading their local communities?
 
14:54
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her really important question and welcome her positive remarks around the toolkit. Can I say that many local authorities already have this on their agenda? They recognise the importance of their actions and the implications of investment that can make clever solutions for communities, including the public sector as a whole. I’ve got many examples. I made reference to Bridgend council earlier regarding the smart systems and district heating schemes. I know there’s a scheme being worked up in my friend Alun Davies’s constituency in Blaenau Gwent regarding a new local area energy model focused on local benefits. This is something, again, that many local authorities are starting to do. They will have to address this through the wellbeing of future generations Act too—their impact on the climate. I think we’ve got a suite of tools here that can help develop a much more cohesive approach to a Wales solution to local energy projects, but it is taking a little bit of time to get momentum behind that. I won’t be introducing targets for them at this point, but I do believe it’s something that we may want to consider in the future.
 
14:55
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. It’s a useful update on certain aspects of energy policy, but I have to say that when I saw in the business proposal that there was to be a statement on local energy generation, I thought to myself, ‘New year, new impetus from the Welsh Government, and new bold initiatives to make community energy the norm in Wales and maybe not the rarity that it currently is’. In that respect, Minister, I have to say this is very much an underwhelming statement from the Government today. Let’s be honest, the Welsh Government record on community energy is quite abysmal.
 
We have just 2 MW of installed community energy capacity here in Wales—2 MW. Compare that to Scotland: 508 MW of installed community energy capacity. I’d be interested in hearing from you, Minister, how successful you really think your Government’s approach to community energy has been in that light, or in light of those statistics. I was hoping, Minister, that you’d be announcing today a target for community energy generation here in Wales. It was certainly one of the recommendations of the environment committee’s report—over three years ago now—into energy policy and planning. The recommendation was that the Government sets a target for community renewable energy generation in Wales. It was a recommendation that your Government accepted, and yet we’re still waiting. I was hoping maybe that we’d hear something on that from you today.
 
Now, we also know, of course, that finance and funding is one of the main barriers for community energy projects in Wales. It was good to hear you talk about money coming for energy efficiency in your statement, but, of course, we know that in Scotland there’s a community renewable energy scheme that loans money to these projects—high-risk pre-planning support for these projects—and I was hoping, Minister, that we would be hearing from you today some of your ideas about how we could maybe emulate that, or indeed build on that, and what new financial support the Welsh Government would be looking to provide for community energy projects in Wales. You may want to take the opportunity to outline those ideas to us in reply to my comments.
 
The other barrier, of course, that we know about for community energy is the extortionate cost, very often, of linking into the grid of those projects. Access to the grid has killed off a number of community energy projects because of the extortionate fees that they’re facing.
 
Now, one thing that Plaid Cymru has called for—and I would ask you, Minister, whether you would be willing to support this call today—is for Wales to have a much stronger voice in Ofgem. There’s a head for Scotland, at director level. Wales needs a much stronger voice in that respect so that we can properly contribute to some of the discussions and some of the work that Ofgem is leading on, so that Wales can contribute as we would wish in terms of community energy and as the potential we have demands that we do contribute to the energy potential that we have on a community level here in Wales. Diolch.
 
14:59
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member, and a happy new year to him too. I don’t know how he sleeps at night, because he’s very grumpy in the new year. He didn’t welcome the £3.5 million available for support for locally owned renewable energy. He didn’t welcome the announcement of the additional £1.5 million from the European Investment Bank for the programme for energy performance on public bodies. All he was doing was being cheerled by his new coalition friend, Janet Finch-Saunders, by the sound of it, for every comment that he made. The fact of the matter is that we’re very proud of the fact that we continue to work with a green growth strategy, developing a new opportunity for renewables here in Wales. I speak to the renewable companies across Wales on a regular basis, and they are still happy to do business here in Wales because of the attitude of this Welsh Labour Government because we’re open for business.
 
In England, they’re closing the doors to renewables and are full of rhetoric in terms of what their green credentials are. We continue to work with our local authorities and our other partners to make sure we can deliver on schemes and, yes, the Member is right in part of the contribution he made, the Ynni’r Fro scheme has been a very difficult scheme to bring forward, but we are seeing delivery on that. We have projects in the pipeline, at different stages, for delivery. But we mustn’t turn our back on the opportunities that communities are trying to create in terms of the space for development. I have visited some very good schemes. In fact, I visited one recently in Gwynedd, where there was a great hydroelectricity scheme being supported by the local community and, indeed, my officials too. So, we do know that this can work, but we have to make sure we help people along that journey. We’ve got a very good record on local energy enablement, and we will continue to do so.
 
15:01
William PowellBiography
I am very grateful, indeed, to the Minister for this statement today, but I do accept the comments made by Llyr Gruffydd. There is something of a paucity of ambition underlying this statement. I think that has to be said. However, there are many welcome aspects. I particularly welcome the news of the £1.5 million ELENA contribution from the European Investment Bank. I think that will bring considerable benefit, and it would be churlish not to acknowledge that. Another issue that I’ve already highlighted previously in this Chamber is the importance of a much stronger role for Ofcom, and a distinct Welsh dimension, as has been already flagged up. Clearly, the current situation that applies is very much a hindrance to community energy’s capacity to fulfil its potential. When we do have an outcome from the current review into the marketplace, I would ask the Minister to give us reassurance that Welsh Government will look to help to implement that, in partnership with the Westminster Government, with some urgency.
 
A further important factor in the success of community energy projects is, crucially, buy-in and co-operation from local authorities. In this context, Minister, I would ask you to consider whether, as part of this new package of funding for community energy schemes in Wales, you would be prepared to consider working with the Minister for Public Services on setting a target for community energy generation in Wales at local authority level. What benefits do you think would accrue, and what assessment have you made of the situation that currently applies in Scotland? I understand that Scotland has a target to see 500 MW of community and locally owned renewables by 2020. Having spoken to some community energy groups, I understand that that is felt by many to have potential benefits. I also hope that the current chair of Community Energy Cymru, Chris Blake, when he takes up his role as a board member of NRW, will bring extra impetus in that regard. Minister, I would be pleased to hear your views on how we can better promote partnership between Welsh Government, on the one hand, and local authorities the length and breadth of Wales.
 
Improving access to finance is also crucial, as has already been said, and I am glad to hear that this is one strand that you will be consulting upon, as one of the main barriers faced by community energy groups, as we’ve already heard, is in relation to access to finance. And, finally, I know that you have written to Alun Ffred Jones, the current chair of the Environment and Sustainability Committee, on this topic, but I’d be very grateful for some clarity as to how you plan, at Welsh Government level, to implement recommendations coming forward from our smarter energy inquiry, which is currently preoccupying my committee.
 
15:04
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his comments, and the welcoming of the investment that we have announced today. I think the Member is right to say that a lot of this is developed around market confidence. Making sure that we have people who are ready to make investments alongside the Government and communities will give a better outcome in terms of what we are trying to achieve. But the levers that are not in our control, so the UK levers around feed-in tariffs, et cetera—that gives the market a lack of confidence and has a negative impact on service delivery. I’m not yet convinced, as I said to Jenny earlier on, around setting targets. We have a very diverse country, and making sure that we can align investment where communities want to see this type of investment made is something where we need to work with them, not tell them what they have to do. So, it’s something I’m quite keen to work with local authorities on, and, as I said, we’ve got many pipeline projects, particularly in the green growth area—up to around £400 million-worth of capital projects.
 
The issue I see Welsh Government taking a leading role in is in improving access to finance. We’re doing that. It is improving the process around planning and conditions. We are doing that with the new Planning (Wales) Act 2015. It’s a suite of tools that we are developing alongside Natural Resources Wales and the third sector organisations and the renewable networks. It’s something that we have to work harder on if we are to see renewables succeed in Wales, and particularly community programmes, based on the fact that the grid is much more difficult to access now, and the capacity around the grid. I do believe that we can have some clever, local solutions in the market, but we’ve got to work together to achieve that.
 
15:06
Julie MorganBiography
Yesterday, I was very pleased to visit Radyr Weir hydro scheme, which lies on the River Taff between my constituency of Cardiff North and the health Minister’s constituency of Cardiff West. It was so exciting to see the amount of energy that would be generated from the force of the water in the Taff, with two turbines generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of 550 homes. This is a local authority project, but I’m sure the Minister will want to congratulate Cardiff council on its efforts to combat climate change and try to make Cardiff a One Planet city. The interesting point that came up during the visit was that they’d just managed to do the commissioning on 17 December, which was the day before the Westminster Government actually changed the tariffs. This was a four-year project, and the Westminster Government announced that there would be changes to the tariffs three months into the contract that had already been let by Cardiff council, and with only three months’ notice. So, it could have been disastrous, but, by enormous efforts, they managed to get this project finished by 17 December, and I’m sure we’d all want to congratulate them on that.
 
This is one of the biggest projects of its kind in Wales, but I do think it shows the potential for many more projects of this kind. You’ve just got to look at the rivers in Cardiff and the number of weirs. It would be possible, if there was more financial help available, to do many more schemes like that, and, if you even look at the Cardiff bay barrage, that could have some retrofitting in order for that to produce energy. So, I think there is a huge amount of potential here. I don’t know if the Minister would be able to comment on whether he thinks these changes in the tariff schemes that have happened—but, fortunately, Cardiff were able to get in just before—will be a disincentive for the development of these sorts of projects, or whether he thinks that can be overcome.
 
15:08
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her comments this afternoon. She’s right to raise the issue of the changes in the feed-in tariff. I have spoken to the Ministers in Westminster, saying that, while I accept the process which they used to make changes in policy, and I understand that, because that’s the democratic, electoral process, what I was very concerned about was how quickly they did that, so there wasn’t any transition time. I think the hydropower scheme that the Member talks about is very impressive, and there are many others across Wales, but I do fear that the issue of the uncertainty over the feed-in tariff created the market insecurity that has given people reason now to reconsider their investments here in Wales, which is of concern.
 
I would like to think that we can work long-term solutions for energy such as the hydropower scheme she talked about, where we have to reduce the scale of subsidy, but I think it’s doable—we just need to create a different environment for that to happen. The problem is that we haven’t had the timescale to do that. So, I do think that we’ve seen a negative effect in terms of community renewables schemes by the consequences of the UK Government’s decisions, but I don’t think we should now stop the work we’re doing—we should just think about new, clever innovation to help enable schemes like the one she talked about today to continue here in Wales.
 
15:10
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Although the Government’s objectives, which are made clear in this statement, are very laudable, the facts do tell a very different story. I would like some clarity from the Minister as to why he thinks only 2 MW of community energy is produced in Wales, as compared with the 500 MW in Scotland.
 
My main point, however, is on the inconsistency between Government statements in favour of community renewable energy and local renewable energy and the planning and licensing system, which is entirely inconsistent across Wales. I know of one community clean energy proposal that has received the support of the Carbon Trust, Ynni’r Fro, Welsh Government funding and Gwynedd Werdd, and then has been rejected by planners at a local level and at a national level. What’s the Minister going to do to create a planning and licensing policy that is consistent with the Government’s green objectives?
 
15:11
Carl SargeantBiography
I think the Member raises an important issue around how we create an enabling space for projects like this to continue. It is something I’m considering with the planning system, and around how that operates, and also the licensing regime with NRW and ourselves. What we have to do is make sure that we enable communities to develop. We are doing that with Ynni’r Fro and additional funding that’s being made available. We have to give the support to communities in order for them to go through these processes, but not, as I said earlier on, having to reinvent this process each time an application comes through. There needs to be a consistent message and a supportive message and leadership from the Government. I believe we’re taking that line and I will continue to push hard for planning authorities to understand that their role in developing community energy schemes should be considered a positive one. I’d be happy to discuss further with the Member regarding specific schemes—not planning related, but issues that are coming up that he feels are inconsistent policy that’s been demonstrated in some of the planning authorities he refers to.
 
15:12
Mike HedgesBiography
Firstly, can I welcome the Minister’s statement? I’m sure the statement would be welcome to all those in Wales who wish to promote community energy schemes that exploit renewable resources. I have believed for a long time that too much emphasis has been placed on large-scale energy production, such as Hinkley Point, and not enough on local energy generation.
 
For many organisations, combined heat and power offers the most significant single opportunity to reduce energy costs and to improve environmental performance, with existing users saving around 20 per cent of their energy costs. I’m sure that the Minister will agree with me that it would be much easier to develop sustainability of energy supply in Wales while maximising the benefits to the Welsh economy if we had the powers to determine tariffs and distribution arrangements devolved to the Welsh Government.
 
Finally, is the Minister aware that the City and County of Swansea is working on a city deal that would provide smart energy generation for the Swansea bay city region and which could be of national importance? It’s about ensuing that it’s done locally and renewably, rather than at a distance and expensively.
 
15:13
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his contribution. Of course, the Wales Bill and the electricity Bill will be the vehicle where we have the new powers, subject to agreement with the UK Government and the First Minister and the Government. I am aware of the Swansea bay city deal energy programme. As I said to Members earlier on, we’ve got some really innovative authorities working together to try to create a better environment, both in energy costs and energy efficiency—and they do go hand in hand—and the Labour authority in Swansea is one of the examples that you share with us today.
 
15:14
Alun DaviesBiography
Minister, I very much welcome the statement that you’ve made this afternoon and the answers to questions as well. I think it gives everybody here who’s concerned about these matters some very great reassurance. I wonder if I could ask you to make a fuller statement on the agreement reached in Paris, how that will affect us here in Wales, how the Welsh Government intends to respond to those agreements in Paris, and how that will affect the existing programmes and priorities of the Welsh Government. I think that would be very useful for all of us.
 
In terms of the statement that you’ve made this afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that we don’t anticipate or expect any positive support or help from the United Kingdom Government, either now or in the future. It’s one of the most profoundly disappointing aspects of the new UK Government that they’ve turned their backs completely on the renewable agenda and on support for renewable energy. It’s a fantastically short-sighted approach, but it’s one that appears, at the moment, to be set in stone. It would therefore appear to me that, in Wales, we have to create a new financial model if we are to sustain and support the development of renewable energy in this country. I wonder, Minister, if you could consider how that new financial model would fit with our existing priorities, which, of course, were set at a different time, when there was a different context with the United Kingdom Government, and also how a new financial model to support local energy generation fits into the wider policy objectives of the Welsh Government, particularly in terms of economic policy. The Minister is aware of the deep place study, which was focused on Tredegar in my constituency. That placed local energy generation at the centre of a new approach to community generation involving sustainable economic development and social policy. I would suggest to the Minister that that would create a very different and a very far-sighted approach to local energy generation for the future in Wales.
 
15:16
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his comments. He’s absolutely right: I think what we can do is, if not be the best, we can be one of the best in a global context regarding what Wales can do in terms of green growth and opportunity. It’s not just about creating the arena for cheaper energy, but actually we can provide the opportunity for transition, supply chains, jobs and economic growth, which all feature in the whole green growth agenda. I have a green growth event in March, later this year, where we hope to have the chief executive of the World Bank speaking, because the issues relating to this are global responsibilities, and it is around the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. But actually, we could have so many benefits from doing the right things on energy conservation and the creation of renewable energy sources, too. It is a place where I hope Wales can be one of the leading lights, not only in the UK context, but certainly in the global arena.
 
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) took the Chair.
 
15:17
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
15:17
4. Statement: Update on Welsh Government Action on Flooding in Wales
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 4 is the second statement by the Minister for Natural Resources, this one an update on Welsh Government action on flooding in Wales. I call the Minister—Carl Sargeant.
 
15:17
Carl SargeantBiographyThe Minister for Natural Resources
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’m grateful for the opportunity to provide an update on the flooding experienced across Wales over the last month, particularly on Boxing Day. I would like to start by expressing my sympathy to everybody who has seen their homes and businesses affected over what should have been a festive period, as well as those who experienced disruption to road or rail journeys.
 
I would like to offer my sincere thanks to those who were involved in the response to these floods, which includes community volunteers, the emergency services, Natural Resources Wales, trunk road agencies and local authority staff who have worked tirelessly over Christmas and continue to do so. I witnessed just a small part of this ongoing work when I visited teams in north Wales on 28 December. They have been out across Wales clearing debris, pumping floodwater, making roads safe and helping communities in wet and sometimes dangerous conditions. It is positive to see these organisations working together in the preparation, response and recovery to flooding and I’m extremely grateful for their collaborative work.
 
As well as flooding to properties, there was also disruption to roads and railways across the country. Whilst we have all heard the news reports about the flooding and closure of the A55 in north Wales, there were also a number of other major and minor roads flooded as well as the Conwy Valley railway line. You will have received a letter from the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport on the impacts on our road network and how they will be addressed. We will continue to work together on this, and our officials have been liaising since Boxing Day on helping to put these issues right.
 
I have also read reports on the flooding of properties in Llanwrst. My officials have asked NRW investigate events to fully understand what happened there. I will be writing to NRW to follow up the request that this be looked into urgently. Clearly, lessons will have to be learnt around the use of demountable defences to ensure that such an incident is not repeated.
 
Local authorities and NRW are continuing to work to assess the full extent of the damages and impacts; however, we are already aware of flooding in the local authorities of Gwynedd, the Isle of Anglesey, Caerphilly and Pembrokeshire. It is estimated that around 150 properties across Wales over the whole of December were affected with numerous near misses.
 
Met Office records show that we’ve experienced the wettest December since records began. Capel Curig in Conwy was the wettest place in the whole of the UK, with over a metre of rainfall during December. To put this in context: this is 66 per cent more than the previous recorded maximum. However, despite such rain and record river levels, we did not see the levels of devastation and property flooding that was witnessed across the border. Our sustained investment in flood-risk management, awareness raising and warning systems has had a positive impact. Overall, our flood defences performed well. For example, data show that recorded river levels in Dolgellau were higher than the height of the previous flood defences. So, we know that the recently completed scheme protected over 300 properties from flooding. The same is true for towns across the country including Porthmadog, St Asaph, Ystradgynlais and Tregaron, where defences prevented properties from flooding.
 
Whilst this has been an exceptional period of rainfall, we must acknowledge that, as our climate changes, weather events such as these will become more frequent. For this reason, we need to be prepared and plan for when events such as these occur by making our communities much more resilient. As a Government we are recognising the implications and risks posed by the changing climate and are prioritising actions to address this. This is why we are committed to building climate resilience and adaptation into the heart of decision making for our flood defence programme and coastal plans. It’s also why coastal risk management remains a key priority for this Government.
 
Our total investment in flood and coastal erosion, excluding ERDF, has increased by 18.3 per cent in real terms over the lifetime of this Government. We’ve invested over £240 million into flood-risk management, which was and has been supported by a further £47 million from Europe. This has allowed for significant investment across Wales including schemes at Beaumaris, Rhyl, Dolgellau, Swansea, Colwyn Bay, Cardiff and other places across Wales. This investment has already reduced flood and coastal erosion risk to over 12,000 properties to date, including over 10,700 homes. European funding has made a significant contribution to our programme and it’s important to highlight the success that this money has achieved. We have doubled our predicted target on the number of flood risk management schemes supported, and tripled the predicted number of properties that benefit. In total, over 8,960 properties, as well as businesses, infrastructure and major links have seen their risk reduced thanks to our effective use of European funding. With regard to coastal risk and adaptation, we are planning ahead and have already committed a further £150 million to coastal risk management from 2018. Reducing risk to homes and businesses remains our focus but the programme also seeks out additional economic, environmental and wellbeing benefits whilst people secure long term security in their homes.
 
Our river and sea defences remain vital in managing flood risk, but they are not our only option. Managing our natural resources effectively and using our improving knowledge of flooding to make better decisions in managing the land and directing new developments is also important. We promote natural flood-risk management where it can provide real benefits to a scheme, like in Swansea—a scheme I opened in 2014—where defences have been moved back to create a wider natural floodplain which will purposely flood and protect homes and businesses further downstream. Similar approaches are being used throughout Wales, with recent work at north Cardiff, Borth and Colwyn Bay all utilising natural processes rather than relying on hard defences. In addition, we will continue to build community resilience, both through raising awareness of flooding and preparing flood plans to reduce the impacts on lives and properties. We will never be able to stop completely all flooding. Communities themselves are playing an increasingly important role by being well-prepared to deal with and prevent the worst effects of floods as well as helping to deal with the after-effects.
 
In my written statement of 29 December, I committed £1 million for immediate repairs and maintenance work to river and drainage schemes. This was boosted by an announcement from the First Minister last week of an additional £2.3 million, meaning that we can now offer a package of £3.3 million. My officials have written to all local authorities with details of this additional funding. These schemes are to be completed by the end of March and make a real difference to recovery, restoring resilience to flooded communities and reducing flood risk for further communities across Wales.
 
As part of the draft budget in December, the Finance Minister announced £3 million for construction of the priority flood scheme at St Asaph, and £3 million extra to help local authorities across Wales design and develop their coastal schemes in preparation for the £150 million coastal risk management programme. Today, I am also pleased to announce an additional £4.2 million of funding for 2016-17 on important flood defence schemes at Boverton in the Vale of Glamorgan and Porthcawl. Both schemes will commence in 2016 and, together, they will reduce risk to around 300 homes and businesses, as well as providing amenity improvements to a popular and important area of tourism. Construction of the Boverton scheme will take place alongside, and complement, the works upstream at Llanmaes, reducing risk across the catchment.
 
This package of funding will complement the existing programme for next year and help to ensure that more communities remain resilient. As I started by saying, we cannot do this alone, though I would like to conclude by reiterating my thanks to those involved in the response to these flooding events, and who continue to work hard to assist in the recovery. Thank you.
 
15:26
Janet HaworthBiography
Thank you, Minister, for confirming the £3 million to be invested in the flood scheme at St Asaph. The current temporary measures, as you know, came dangerously close to being breached over Xmas. However, following the events over Christmas, will the Minister agree that there is still much to be done? We are only halfway through this winter, and there is urgent need to repair flood defences that failed. NRW will be required to report on these events. It is vital that these lessons are learnt.
 
Within north Wales, there have been reports of defences failing and communication difficulties. I’m not surprised by that—Superfast Cymru. Within north Wales, residential homes were affected by these recent floods. Businesses have suffered and at least two significant historical sites have been severely damaged. Would the Minister agree that the recent events point to an urgent need for a review of how we are managing flooding? This calls for a joined-up approach, starting with the run-off from our uplands, management of our rivers, coastal defences, urban drainage and the effectiveness of our emergency plans. When I was in Llanrwst when the river levels were falling, it was to visit homes that were at risk of being flooded by surface water contaminated by sewage, and this was due to the urban drainage system not being fit for purpose.
 
Also, our emergency plans. These need to be tested in October before we face the winter, and lessons learnt. In Llanrwst, as I referred to earlier, there were communication difficulties. They were relying on communicating with the St Asaph control centre, computer to computer, mobile phone to mobile phone, and it went down. There was no plan B. We could have gone back to VHF radio communications—that’s what mountain rescue used to use and still do in some areas. So, it is vital that first responders are able to use communications, and this failed in Llanrwst—that’s a real shortfall. So, I would ask the Minister to look particularly at that. Thank you.
 
15:29
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her contribution. One hundred and fifty homes across Wales were affected directly, which is tragic for those homeowners and it has a massive effect on them. But, as I said earlier on, I think the resilience of our services across Wales stood up well. There are lessons to be learnt, of course; as always, when events like this happen, we learn all the time. I have asked specifically for details from NRW around the Llanrwst incident which occurred over the critical period.
 
I will ask the Member to support the environment Bill, because the fact of the matter is that we are changing the way we operate in terms of management, area statements and catchment areas, looking holistically at services and water courses—a much broader base. An example that we’ve used is the catchment of water up on the uplands, through the carbon storage and peat bogs in the uplands, which prevents quick run-off to places like Conwy and Llanrwst. We know that’s keeping water up in the hills and the slow release has that effect. That’s not, therefore, about making concrete structures and building walls down in the lower areas; it’s actually about managing land better further afield. So, that’s contained within the environment Bill, and I hope that you’ll support that as that moves forward.
 
We do continue working with the emergency services, and they do continuously have emergency plans and update them, and have practice sessions; there was one not so long back at Bala lake, actually, where the emergency services were enacting events with regard to flooding. Technical advice note 15 secures our services around the planning system, which we believe are robust. But whatever political party is in power, the Minister may be impressive, but he can’t control the weather. The rain is the rain, and, unfortunately, we did have unprecedented rainfall in the month of December, but I do think, as a whole—it’s of little comfort to the 150 homes that were flooded, and I accept that absolutely—we have worked together with the agencies, with volunteers, to make sure—. At 7 o’clock on Boxing Day morning, I received a phone call from officials at NRW, operating in the Llanrwst area, and the St Asaph area, waiting for flooding that was predicted. Fortunately, in some areas, that didn’t happen, and I believe that’s because of the resilience of the services that we put in place and also the quick action of staff and services from other organisations, including my team here in Welsh Government.
 
15:32
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Can I thank you for your statement, Minister, and join with you in thanking those individuals and organisations who responded quite heroically in many instances to the circumstances as they developed over Christmas and in recent weeks? I also welcome the financial commitments that you’ve announced today. I’m sure all of us will be very welcoming of that.
 
Now, you do say in your statement that you are committed to building climate resilience and adaptation into the heart of decision making for our flood programme and coastal plans, and I would agree with you there. It is, therefore, disappointing, Minister, that you rejected Plaid Cymru’s amendment to the environment Bill at Stage 2 for the Welsh Government to lay a climate change adaptation programme before the National Assembly for Wales. So, in light of your statement today, I would ask you to reconsider your opposition to that, and maybe you would tell us if you would be willing to consider supporting that proposal at Stage 3.
 
As I said, I welcome the additional investment, but, of course, that is happening with the backdrop of your department facing more cuts in budget—proportionally higher cuts in recent years than many other departments in Welsh Government, and, of course, as a national body responsible for flood-risk management, it’s crucial that somebody like Natural Resources Wales has sufficient resources in place to carry out its duty. So, it’s worrying, clearly, that the Welsh Government’s draft budget includes a 9.7 per cent cut to the ‘sponsor and manage delivery bodies’ action. Maybe you could tell us how much of this cut would be borne by Natural Resources Wales. There’s also been a 9.7 per cent cut in revenue to the ‘develop and implement flood and coastal risk, water and sewage policy and legislation’ line in the budget, and I’d be grateful if you could tell us what effect you think this will have on Wales’s ability to better protect our people, our properties and our businesses from the risks of flooding.
 
You also underline in your statement the importance of directing new development, with an eye, of course, on the risk of flooding. Now, two years ago, I brought to your attention the fact that 341 planning applications in the preceding 10 years for development on flood-risk areas have actually been approved by local authorities in Wales, against the advice of experts. Do you agree, therefore, that the Government should look again at TAN 15, and get to grips with something that’s, quite clearly, storing up problems, and storing up costs, for future generations?
 
And, finally, Minister, you tell us that utilising natural processes rather than relying purely on hard defences is important. Well, I couldn’t agree more. But I would say that Government progress on this has been rather slow to date, and I would ask you therefore: will you commit to moving on this more decisively, and with greater urgency, because we can mix as much concrete as we like—? The reality is that we have to work with nature, because, at the end of the day, nature will win.
 
15:35
Carl SargeantBiography
I find myself agreeing with some of the comments that the Member makes this afternoon, which is sometimes unusual, too. But, can I say, I’m not minded, still, to support your amendment, as laid, to the environment Bill? To suggest that, by not supporting your amendment, we don’t have a climate change adaptation programme would be incorrect, and we are working very carefully with our teams to ensure that that is part of the robustness of decisions that we make.
 
In terms of resources, I can’t defend the fact that we have had £1.8 billion less to the Welsh economy from the Conservative Government in the UK. That has an impact on public services, and the delivery of services. And that’s why we can’t continue to carry on working in the same guise as we used to before; we have to make clever investments, clever solutions to the issues that face us, and we have to try and mitigate to the best of our ability.
 
I am confident that NRW can continue the excellent work that they do in terms of flood-risk management, alongside the local authorities, which also do a considerable amount of work. But we have to, therefore, work on the principle of doing something different, and one of the examples I alluded to—and you did, too, in support—was making sure that we can take a more holistic view on the impacts on communities. And it may be making clever investments in another community to stop a neighbouring local authority flooding. But that’s the whole purpose of the area statements that NRW will be working through on the environment Bill, as I am sure the Member knows.
 
In terms of TAN 15, we do operate a very robust plan, in terms of consideration of applications, where there is consideration of building within a flood plain. TAN 15 is the toolkit used to complement the decision-making process. Where there are applications that are agreed to build in a flood-risk area, there has to be a mitigation process to ensure that the properties there are de-risked, in that principle. I can’t comment on specific applications, but I do expect—and very robustly—that all planning applications, and planning authorities, have to make sure that they consider TAN 15 on application, and, where they are minded to approve, I will certainly receive advice on that basis from my officials, too. We must continue to ensure that this is up to date and continues to be working effectively.
 
15:38
Ann JonesBiography
Minister, can I add my thanks to you and to officials for the outstanding work that they have done over the festive period, as well as the community activists and the flood wardens? But could I also just mention the emergency services and, in particular, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution flood rescue team from Rhyl lifeboat station, who went up to Cumbria on that very first weekend, and putting themselves at risk there? But they went up there, and then came back, and were on standby should things have happened across the north Wales coast. So, I’d like to mention them, and record my thanks to them for their dedication.
 
I welcome your investment, and so do the people of the lower part of St Asaph—and you’ve alluded to a couple of near misses there—and apart from you standing on the banks and telling the river to go back, I don’t know what else we can actually do, in view of that. [Laughter.] But at least the investment that you’ve put there now, and the fact that you’ve brought the capital programme forward, I think, is of great consequence there.
 
I wanted to talk to you about contour forestation. You may have heard me mention this to previous Ministers, and I think I have spoken to you about it. I wonder whether that is yet another tool in the box that we need to look at ways in which we can deal with the effects of climate change and the effects of the rivers there. All in all, this is to say that I appreciate the work of the Natural Resources Wales officials on Boxing Day. I too had a phone call very early. I apologise to the person who had to deal with my grandchild who thought she was Sheriff Callie at the same time. I apologise for that, but, nevertheless, we got the message, and I know that they did work hard. So, I want to state that. But would you look at contour forestation or plantation as a way forward and as another tool in the box to mitigate some of the problems that we’re having?
 
15:40
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her comments. I agree and concur with her on the issue around the great work that the emergency services and volunteers played in action not just locally but across the country where the needs were greater in some areas. I work very closely with the Minister for Public Services and, continuously over many years, we’ve made significant investments in the fire service too to help with flooding issues because they are becoming more prevalent—we recognise that. One of the areas the Member raises with this is about contour forestation. That is another good example of clever investment, where it meets the criteria of our tree-planting. So, it’s that clever solution of not just planting trees for the sake of planting trees, but planting them with a purpose. That’s an example I know the Member is keen to pursue, and we have made some impact in the St Asaph area on that proposal. That is just one part of another area where we need to think clever about the whole catchment of the area in order to stop the waters breaching in places like St Asaph. I did visit St Asaph with the Member, and I must say that there is an element of luck in this too. On Boxing Day particularly, we were very close to the banks breaching but they didn’t. We have advanced the capital investment, and I’m grateful for the Member’s comments on that. But we are facing unprecedented weather conditions and climate change, which we have to tackle head-on to ensure that we can address all of these issues where, continually, they keep surprising us with some of these odd events that happen in areas where we never expected flooding to happen before.
 
15:42
William PowellBiography
I’d like to thank the Minister very much for his statement today. I’d also like to associate myself with his remarks, and indeed those remarks of Ann Jones, with regard to the efforts made by emergency services, local authority workers, NRW staff, but also employees of the utility companies. I am aware in my own community of individual staff members from Western Power, who went up to Cumbria to help with the efforts there. As we all know very well, the recent floods affected some significant communities in parts of mid and west Wales and particularly north Wales and, of course, much of the north of England.
 
The emphasis in the Minister’s statement has very much been on a partnership approach and upon us not being alone. In that context, Minister, I wonder whether you agree with me that it is a bit baffling that the UK Conservative Government has set its face against making an application to the EU solidarity fund. There have been calls by Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder and by your own colleague Derek Vaughan MEP that we should, as the UK, be making an application. In recent years, up to €66 million have been claimed by Bulgaria, Italy and Romania in similar disastrous flooding events. These funds are set aside; they would be available, but it is crucial that there is a 12-week window for application. Given the pressure on resources that we’ve heard about today, surely it would be sensible to bring forward such an application.
 
The current trend towards the more frequent weather events that we’ve heard so much about and witnessed clearly indicates that we’re going to see more of this in the time to come. Minister, do you agree with me that this demonstrates that the current modelling of 100-year return events is no longer appropriate to use as a risk-management tool in respect of river flooding? Would you consider, perhaps, a more appropriate way of risk modelling, such as one based upon a known record level model, which would provide a more realistic benchmark for measuring and dealing with flood risk?
 
In addition, comment has also been made that there is currently no UK standard for flood protection work. Will you, in partnership with Ministers in other administrations within the UK, look at the potential for developing such a national UK standard?
 
Furthermore, given the extent to which homes, property and farmland have been damaged across areas of Wales, will you commit to exploring the making available of grants to householders and farmers in flood-risk areas who want to put in place improvements to their properties and also to build resilience within the wider communities?
 
I have spoken previously about the merits of tree planting and we’ve heard much of it this afternoon in this Chamber, particularly the rolling out, on a wider scale, of the Pontbren project in mid Wales that would have considerable merit, and I’d welcome the Minister’s thoughts on that. I also look forward to the Minister joining me on a forthcoming visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology where we can look in some more detail at some other climate change mitigation measures, and maybe lessons that can be learnt on a wider basis.
 
I’d also like to comment briefly on the NRW investigation that was announced last week into the flooding events in Llanwrst. I’m pleased to hear that the Minister has acknowledged that lessons need to be learnt and I look forward to a statement being brought forward.
 
Finally, I would endorse comments that were made today at business statement by Bethan Jenkins with regard to the issues around fracking. We have heard in the news recently that flood victims who live in some of the areas covered by the new fracking licences announced by the UK Government before Christmas could face difficulties in terms of their insurance status. In that context, Minister, will the Welsh Government put pressure on the UK Government to introduce a presumption against siting fracking zones in areas identified as falling within a flood-risk zone?
 
15:46
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his many comments. The EU solidarity fund, I’ve no idea why the UK Government hasn’t applied for that, but I would urge the Ministers in Westminster to stop playing politics on the back of the EU, and if it’s needed, then we should apply for those funds on the basis of need and release those funds to the appropriate communities across the UK.
 
The Member touched on the risk modelling assessment that we use for flood management. I would urge caution about moving to a different model based on known data. I visited the River Alyn in the constituency of Lesley Griffiths on the twenty-eighth, witnessing there the River Alyn, which was at the highest it has been for 26 years—the highest recorded rate. So, we just have to look at the data that are provided—the current data—and NRW are very good at this in terms of the risk assessments, but as I said, we have to consolidate the known-risk data versus the increased climate change and the impact that’s having on our communities, and we have to make sure we get that right.
 
In terms of the issue around fracking that the Member raised, and also Bethan Jenkins in an earlier contribution, we have no applications for fracking here in Wales. There are licences that have been granted for proposals from the UK Government, but we have no live applications for any fracking proposals here. We operate a precautionary approach on this and a moratorium has been issued to local planning authorities from the Welsh Government last year, and we will continue to act on that precautionary approach.
 
15:48
Joyce WatsonBiography
Minister, I want to add my name to acknowledging all the work that was done through the holidays by all those support staff from wherever they were. Whilst we were enjoying Christmas—the large majority of us—those people were out in the cold and the wet and in the most extremely challenging conditions trying to keep other people safe to ensure that they, equally, enjoyed what they could of the festive period.
 
I don’t want to go and reiterate all that has been said, Minister, but the one thing that seems obvious to me is that, when you’re trying to talk about the evidence of absence, it is a very slippery concept, but it is somehow obvious that the levels of flooding that happened in Wales against the levels of flooding that happened in England must have some common denominator. It seems to me that the common denominator in England is that they have reduced the budget, year on year, and absolutely failed to protect those areas that were flagged up, in a leaked document, to Ministers, which they clearly ignored. That is a fact, whether we have sighs from the other side, or whether we don’t. It is also the case, Minister, that some of those protections that we put in place held firm this time, and I think that alludes to the comments about—and I welcome them—putting in a reasonable assessment of work that is done, so there is a licence and an agreed recommendation of the quality of that work. I absolutely think that is essential.
 
The other thing that I really want to focus on here, Minister, is whether, when the Welsh Government or any other body is spending some funds, it seems very clear to me that a wise use of those funds might be a percentage of the total money being invested in environmental projects. I ask you today, Minister, whether you would consider a commitment by any body, whether it's a Government or any other agency, to setting aside money to spend, or a percentage of their funds, on environmental projects. The one thing that was obvious in England was the water cascading down their landscape, taking with it not only the water that might have been retained, had there been trees or anything else to stop it, but the soil and all that goes with that in terms of polluting the water course, which they will have to deal with in another way.
 
Also, when we are looking at development, Minister, and there’s been much talk here about building on floodplains and TAN 15, the other thing that I would like to see enforced by all agencies when they’re building is the creation of permeable surfaces. We really have to take this run-off very, very seriously now. It is one thing giving planning permission according to the expected run-off, but it’s another thing not building in the urban creep that would create another 20 per cent of hard standing.
 
15:52
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her comments this afternoon. Look, I am responsible for the safety infrastructure in Wales, and that’s all I can do. The Member is eloquent in the way she refers to what’s happening over the border in England, and I have no control over that, but what we have done here in Wales: our total investment in flood and coastal erosion, as I said, excluding the ERDF, has increased by 18.2 per cent in real terms over the lifetime of this Government. We will continue to press to invest in our communities to make them safer, but, as I said also in my statement, the resilience of services, because of changes in the climate, are making this increasingly more difficult.
 
The Member makes reference to hard standings, and I know, for many years, she’s campaigned in terms of trying to introduce into building regulations control around hard standings. It’s something that, maybe, Governments should take more seriously, with the events that we’ve seen over the recent happenings of the Christmas period. I think there are some good examples of this in terms of land and water management drainage systems—one in Llanelli, which I know the Member is aware of, and I think that Keith Davies raised that earlier in a question to the First Minister. These are good-quality examples of services that we should replicate in other parts of our community when we are making these investments.
 
I do work with other Ministers in terms of the resilience of their investments and making sure that we can check around climate change and making sure that, when we have infrastructure services being developed, we can sometimes use them on a win-win basis, so we can use them as flood defences too, as well as quality infrastructure programmes. Also, there is the tourism aspect, which we see in Darren Millar’s constituency, where we’ve created a flood defence scheme that also acts as a great community place to hold events too, in the right circumstances. The Member raised many issues that are very important to her, but also important to the Government too.
 
15:55
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
In thanking the emergency services, local authorities and NRW, I would like to place on record my particular tribute, actually, to the many community volunteers and householders who found themselves very alone on Boxing Day. I have to be honest, I want to place on record my disappointment to the Minister, who was fully aware of my concerns, because I literally had to take to social media, asking for support for my constituents.
 
You mentioned Llanrwst, and there’s been much mention about Llanrwst. Simple things there that I’ve been informed of: the key for the actual barrier was in Llandudno when it was needed in Llanrwst. That is one of the issues. That was for the flood barrier. So, we have flood alleviation schemes in place, but the lack of communication that’s been mentioned before was a big thing. But let’s talk about Trefriw; let’s talk about Llanfairfechan; let’s talk about Penmaenmawr, where we had people in streams going up to the quarry, filling plastic bags with their bare hands because sandbags were not available. Local authority—. I’ve had an e-mail today, begging for them. This was on 28 December: ‘Please accept my apologies for the delay in getting back to you. We do not generally supply sandbags in advance of any flood warnings. Where property owners anticipate that they are susceptible to flooding, they are encouraged to make their own arrangements to purchase sandbags from local builders merchants. We have a limited supply, where requests made during an emergency are considered on a case-by-case basis, prioritised by site layout or need.’ Well, we needed sandbags. We needed co-ordinated flood plans in place. We didn’t have them.
 
Now, I’m really grateful to you, Minister, for your statement today. The silence from you on Boxing Day—. You say that you were alerted at 7 o’clock in the morning. Well, all I know is that the Prime Minister did actually come out strongly when he knew that there were people over the border very anxious and feeling alone. You know, that is what true leadership is about. For you not to make a statement till three days later was, frankly, appalling. The First Minister came. He didn’t come to Aberconwy, sadly. I have many, many devastated—. He may say, ‘Oh, 150 properties’. That’s a lot of properties, and it’s a lot of devastation if you’re just one of those 150. But I have new businesses that have set up in north Wales, set up in Aberconwy, that are very successful. Their businesses were devastated on Boxing Day and they want to know now what you are going to do. So, for me, going forward in terms of representing the people of Aberconwy, I want to know why in the £4 million that you’ve announced today there’s no mention there for Conwy. I will actually meet with you again to discuss that.
 
But, I can tell you now, the A55: we had 100 people who stayed overnight in Llanfairfechan community centre because they were literally stranded. Yes, Boxing Day, stranded in north Wales when they needed—. They had families that they needed to get home to. Not good enough. The A55 is now frequently, on a daily basis, either affected by accidents, by frost or by flooding. You know, Minister, that the drains there have needed maintenance for quite some time. When are you going to sort those problems out?
 
15:58
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
[Inaudible.] The Minister to respond please.
 
15:58
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for her comments. While you were tweeting on Boxing Day, my teams were out on the ground delivering services for the people of Wales. When you were tweeting your comments, which were misplaced, ill-informed, my team, NRW’s team and volunteers across the whole of Wales were delivering for the people of Wales. It is £3.3 million of funding we’ve announced over the last week, myself and the First Minister. One hundred and fifty properties flooded. Don’t compare us to England. If you want to go down that road, comparing what’s happened in the UK Government and their flood defences, I’m more than happy to have that discussion with you. The reality is—. You said that you haven’t heard off Conwy council with regard to what money will be coming forward. We haven’t received a bid back from Conwy council, but I’m sure we will. Again, the teams from Conwy were working very hard to ensure that your communities were as safe as they could be. You’re incorrect, again, saying there were no flood plans in place. There are questions and answers that are required from NRW with regard to specific elements, particularly around Llanrwst, but don’t say that my teams haven’t been working particularly hard over the festive season. So, when you’re tweeting, we’re busy resolving the emergency services and the events that were unprecedented across Wales. I think it’s rather shallow of you to start criticising my staff and colleagues across all of Wales who were delivering for the resilience of many of the communities, and successfully, across Wales.
 
16:00
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
May I endorse the Minister’s comments in thanking neighbours, council workers and the other services, which worked so hard in responding to the floods? You, Minister, referred to the fact that 150 properties in Wales had suffered as a result of flooding. A third of those were in Gwynedd—in Talybont, Bontnewydd, Llanberis, Llanrug, y Felinheli and Caernarfon. Now, it wasn’t the Government’s fault that it rained without stopping for the last month, but people do expect their representatives to show concern and to take action where they can. Yesterday, I think, Sir Philip Dilley resigned for failing to return from Barbados in time. He, of course, was the chair of the Environment Agency in England. The truth was that he got back from Barbados more swiftly than any member of the Welsh Cabinet got to Arfon or Anglesey following the recent flooding. I would like to ask why that was the case.
 
In referring to the floods on the A55 near Talybont in my own constituency, there’s been no reference in your statement to the flood prevention scheme on the A55 near Talybont being funded. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will fund a flood prevention plan in full for Talybont, as a matter of urgency, so that people such as Jane Hughes, who is 83 years old, are not kept from their homes for the third time in just a few years? Thank you.
 
16:01
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his comments. Again, I thank the teams that worked very hard in Gwynedd, and I also have visited Gwynedd to look at some of the issues relating to, generally, surface water drainage schemes that caused trouble for local communities.
 
I did see the Member’s comments again in the newspaper and also on the BBC, I think, in regard to the A55. Let me remind the Member of the facts: in 2008, a scheme to upgrade the A55 between Aber and Tai’r Meibion and addressing the flood issues was set to be implemented by 2010. In December 2008, the then Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones—I think the Member knows him well—in line with the policy of prioritising north-south routes over east-west routes, removed this scheme from the plans for immediate work. The Member forgot to mention that. [Interruption.] The Member forgot to mention that in his contribution in the newspaper. [Interruption.]
 
16:03
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order. Order. You ask the questions. You must listen to the answers. And I don’t want heckling and noises off from those who’ve not participated so far. Minister.
 
16:03
Carl SargeantBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Given that that was the section of the A55 most prone to flooding, this decision effectively also shut the door on the schemes elsewhere, including the nearby Talybont section. The Member shouldn’t throw stones in glass houses. The Member should remove himself from the blame game. Actually, what we’re trying to do here is continue the work that we’ve already made. When I was the transport Minister, may I remind the Member, I also invested £600,000 in a scheme to develop drainage systems after the Deputy First Minister had stopped that scheme from moving forward. The A55 scheme that the Member talks about, funding is available for that scheme currently; it’s about a planning issue and a local authority development issue. There is funding available from the Welsh Government.
 
16:04
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Before I call the final speaker, who is from the Conservative group, I do take a dim view of the fact that your spokesperson has not been present for all of this statement, having been called first to question the Minister. Darren Millar.
 
16:04
Darren MillarBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I first of all welcome the investment that’s gone into my constituency in terms of flood defences in recent years? There have been schemes that have been completed in Abergele, in Ruthin, in Llanfair Talhaiarn, Colwyn Bay and Kinmel Bay in recent years, all with the support of the Welsh Government, and that’s been of huge benefit to many of my constituents who escaped flooding this winter because of that investment. So, I want to put on record my thanks, Minister, to you and the Welsh Government for that investment, and, indeed, to the hard-working officials and officers from Denbighshire council and Conwy council, in addition to NRW officials, who were working to support my communities in Clwyd West over the Christmas period.
 
But there are two areas that are of concern to me. One I raised during First Minister’s questions: in Llanddulas, where people have been flooded out of their homes on five occasions in the past five years, we know that it takes a long time for people to recover from a flood, and there are some simple solutions, I believe, that could be brought to bear for that community to resolve that issue once and for all. I will ask, Minister—I have a meeting that has been arranged with Conwy County Borough Council, Welsh Water and Natural Resources Wales, two weeks on Friday, and I would be very happy to see a Welsh Government official at that meeting, if one is available to attend, in order to drive that process forward and to access some of the resource that you’ve made available for the delivery of improvements before the end of the financial year. The other area of concern—and they are receiving a significant pounding again today as a result of high tides and stormy weather—is the flood defences in Old Colwyn. I’ve just seen some images on the ‘Daily Post’ website that show the water spilling over onto the promenade. Again, a natural extension of the work that has taken place elsewhere in Colwyn Bay on the waterfront is to complete that work right up along the Old Colwyn promenade as well, and I would ask, Minister: what are you doing, what are your officials doing, to drive the local authority to the table, Welsh Water to the table, Natural Resources Wales to the table, and everybody else who needs to be there, in order to sort that problem out? There’s vital transport infrastructure at stake that is protected by those flood defences in Old Colwyn. We have the A55 expressway, we have the north Wales railway line; they are critical parts of the transport infrastructure for the whole of north Wales, and I would ask you, Minister—I’ve lobbied on a number of occasions over the past few years—what action is your Government taking to show some leadership on that particular issue in Old Colwyn? I’d be grateful for some answers.
 
16:07
Carl SargeantBiography
I thank the Member for his comments. As he is aware, he made reference to the significant investment that we’ve made in his constituency. Indeed, it’s one of the largest investments that we’ve made in flood defence schemes in the whole of Wales, over £17 million invested into coastal defence schemes in Colwyn Bay, so I’m grateful for the Member to continue to support those schemes, but he also has to understand my predicament where I’ve got to spread the difficult financial settlement that we’ve received from the UK Government in terms of making the right strategic moves. I don’t take anything away from the Member’s position in terms of the need and the suggestion of his constituents. Of course, we’ve made the investment of £3.3 million for bids from authorities across Wales. I’m sure Conwy and Denbighshire may come up with a solution to that scheme with the help of the Member. I won’t be able to send a Government official to that meeting on the basis that we will be making decisions on these bids later, towards the end of the month, I think it is, in terms of how we will spend that £3.3 million. But I urge the Member to continue his work with the authorities to finalise the small bit of investment perhaps needed to complete the package along the north Wales coastline that he talked about.
 
16:08
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister. Item 5 is the education workforce council registration—
 
16:08
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Deputy Presiding Officer, can I raise a point of order?
 
16:08
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
You may.
 
16:08
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Thank you very much. I want to raise a point of order. I fear that the Minister misled the Assembly—not deliberately, I’m sure.
 
16:08
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. I’ll stop you there if you’re going to say he misled the Assembly. He did not mislead the Assembly. I do not allow that sort of language. I’ll give you another chance to raise your point of order, but be careful.
 
16:08
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Well, there is confusion. In terms of statements made to the Assembly, I assume that the statement is expected to be accurate. The fact is that there was a reference made to the Tai’r Meibion-Aber scheme on the A55, which is a specific scheme. That scheme has nothing whatever to do with flooding in Talybont, because that scheme was developed as a result of floods in 2012, and I would hope that the Minister could confirm that those schemes are very separate issues.
 
16:09
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
It’s not really a point of order, but you are right to say that all statements in this Chamber are expected to be accurate, and you can scrutinise on that basis. Do you want to add anything, Minister?
 
16:09
Carl SargeantBiography
I can confirm that the statement I made within this Chamber was accurate.
 
16:09
5. The Education Workforce Council (Registration Fees) (Wales) Regulations 2016
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 5 is the Education Workforce Council regulations 2016. I call on the Minister for Education and Skills to move the motion—Huw Lewis.
 
Motion NDM5910 Jane Hutt
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 27.5
 
Approves that the draft The Education Workforce Council (Registration Fees) (Wales) Regulations 2016 is made in accordance with the draft laid in the Table Office on 24 November 2015.
 
Motion moved.
 
16:09
Huw LewisBiographyThe Minister for Education and Skills
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the motion. Wales is at the forefront of ensuring greater coherence and recognising the contribution that the whole education workforce makes towards learners in Wales. I’m sure Members will agree that the registration of the wider educational workforce is good news as it provides reassurances that all teaching staff are deemed suitable for registration. The fees regulations we are debating this afternoon set out the fee structure from 1 April this year, when registration will be extended to learning support workers in both school and FE settings in Wales. A consultation in 2014 sought views on proposals for the registration fee model to be put in place for registration from this April. Under the preferred fee model, which was widely supported by respondents to the consultation, the proposal was to redistribute the element of funding that is currently provided to local authorities in Wales to subsidise schoolteachers’ registration fees, to help reduce the costs of registration for the wider workforce.
 
I wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills requesting that an Order be made removing paragraph 28—General Teaching Council for Wales’s fee allowance—from the schoolteachers’ pay and conditions document in its entirety. However, the £33 subsidy that teachers in Wales currently receive in their pay to subsidise the council’s registration fee has remained in the STPCD for the academic year 2015-16, as the Department for Education in Whitehall could not meet our timetable for the removal of the £33 subsidy in time to meet our deadline for laying these regulations.
 
However, we are still proposing to redistribute the element of funding that is currently provided to local authorities in Wales to subsidise schoolteachers’ registration fees to the council. Without the necessary amendment to the STPCD, this will be achieved through the actual fee that teachers pay, in order to offset against the greater subsidy of £33 that the schoolteachers will retain. This approach will help meet the costs of registration for the wider workforce. In practice, this means that the subsidy for the wider workforce will be routed through individual schoolteachers’ fees to the council, rather than through the Welsh Government as a block of funding, if the STCPD—which would have been the case, I beg your pardon, if the STCPD had been amended.
 
The actual fee contribution of schoolteachers from April 2016 will still be £45, the same as FE teachers, which would have been the same figure if the STPCD had been amended. The change to the STPCD would have streamlined the fee process for all those involved and would have made things perhaps a little more elegant, but the end result remains the same. I should also inform the Chamber that school and FE learning support workers will be paying £15. I move.
 
16:13
Simon ThomasBiography
I hope that the Assembly was listening carefully to what the Minister said and followed every stage of what he said. There’s some confusion at the moment, and the reason for that confusion is the fact that teachers’ pay and conditions are not devolved as was recommended in the Silk report—and they won’t be devolved either, according to the draft Wales Bill that is currently being discussed.
 
But whatever the confused background to these regulations may be, the fact is that the way in which the Minister has decided to act leads to an increase of 300 per cent in the cost borne by teachers to register with the new Education Workforce Council. I don’t oppose that as a point of principle. Paying less than £1 a week for support and professional training isn’t necessarily excessive. It’s not necessarily a penalty or a tax on education. But we must ask what this fee is going to be used for and whether the council, which was put in place by Government, is appropriate to be in receipt of this payment and appropriate to deal with the work that will follow on from those payments, because, since the workforce council came into being last year, the Government has added significantly to the council’s remit, placing responsibilities on it for teachers’ professional training under the new deal. I’m not against that in principle—indeed, I tried to amend the legislation before this Assembly in order to facilitate that process, an amendment that was rejected at that time by Government. Therefore, I’m not sure that the Education Workforce Council is at the moment in a position to actually undertake this task.
 
The second point that arises relates to the nature of the new Education Workforce Council and what that will be. The explanatory memorandum that accompanies these regulations refers to other similar professional organisations—such as those representing the health service. The difference between this body and those bodies is that those bodies are directly run by the profession itself. In the case of the Education Workforce Council, it is the Government that appoints the members of the council. It’s the Government that selects who the council’s members will be, and the profession therefore—and I’m talking of the profession in its wider sense, including teachers, classroom assistants and lecturers; all those people working in education—isn’t actually controlling the professional body that they are asked to pay for.
 
So, there are two specific weaknesses in this new body. First of all, it doesn’t have statutory duties that are broad enough, in my view, to undertake this work, and, secondly, it is not led by the profession and teachers themselves cannot directly elect the members of the council management board. That makes it weak and it leaves it deficient. That can be improved, and it could have been improved or amended via the Bill that went through this place and became an Act two years ago. Now these regulations come to the Assembly, requesting an increase in the membership fee for that body. For the reasons I have outlined—not because the cost is necessarily excessive or a tax, but because the body that staff have to contribute towards is an inappropriate body in terms of its structure and management to undertake this task—I and Plaid Cymru will be rejecting these regulations.
 
16:17
Aled RobertsBiography
We share some of the concerns, although we will be voting in favour, because I think that voting against would perhaps make some of the difficulties that Simon Thomas referred to even worse. However, I want to share those same concerns and refer to the situation in a slightly different way. I think that a question does arise about whether the council will be able to achieve all of the work that is expected of it at present.
 
I want to ask the Minister to explain something. The explanatory memorandum confirms that the Government believes that the cost in terms of running the council stands at around £3.5 million a year. What isn’t clear, however, is that, when all of the discussions in relation to this body took place in 2013-14, the exact same annual cost was estimated by the Government. As Simon Thomas has already said, additional responsibilities have been placed on the council since then. So, I don’t understand how this annual cost is exactly the same as it was before the additional responsibilities. Specifically, I want to ask whether any work has been done by civil servants to try to estimate the cost in terms of the new deal and the Qualified for Life programme introduced by the Government over the past year.
 
Also, I note that the Minister has said that it’s difficult to say exactly what the financial situation will be until after April, when the number registered is confirmed, but that he is eager to ensure that the funding is available to the council and is therefore prioritising payments to the council within his budget. Specifically, he has said that any deficiency in terms of funding for the council will be transferred from the expenditure line for teacher development and support over the next year. So, I would like to ask: because paragraph 7.13 of the regulations state that the funding is going to be transferred from that expenditure in the budget, is he in a position this afternoon to say what element of that expenditure will be cut from April onwards, in order to fund the shortfall that has been underlined in the regulations? Thank you.
 
16:20
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
And the Minister to reply.
 
16:20
Huw LewisBiographyThe Minister for Education and Skills
My thanks, Deputy Presiding Officer. Well, Simon Thomas might roll out what seems to be a very scary figure of a 300 per cent uplift but, of course, it’s 300 per cent of not very much at all. That is the reality of the situation. As far as I am aware, the teaching profession in Wales will be facing the lowest professional registration fees out of any profession by some considerable margin, even given this uplift, because, of course—and I suspect that many of the answers I’m about to give are already known to opposition spokespeople—we are at a particular stage of the evolution of the workforce council as a professional body. This stage involves expanding the reach, if you like, of the workforce council to include all professionals in contact with young people in terms of teaching and learning and we will then, as I have repeatedly stated—and this will be a matter for the next Welsh Government, which I very much hope they will take on board—be in the business of moving towards the quality control and delivery of professional development as being the next consideration about what this professional body then takes on. That is a complex and large-scale task and it’s a job that will require several years of evolution. But I’m disappointed that Plaid Cymru are set to reject these proposals here this afternoon because they’re essentially rejecting an essential next step on that journey.
 
In terms of Aled Roberts’ points, just to give him some figures and some reassurance, the council will need to raise an estimated £3.5 million every year in order to carry out these core functions as they stand at present, which equates to an annual registration fee of £49 per registrant. He’s quite right again to talk about the developments on the horizon that we will steer the workforce towards in terms of professional development and the oversight and delivery of the new deal. But that is some way in the future as yet and certainly beyond the next Assembly elections. I can guarantee, though, that if there were to be any shortfall, which I do not anticipate would be a problem—but if there were to be any shortfall, for instance, that there would be fewer teachers registering than was anticipated and so on, then the Welsh Government will undertake to make up that shortfall so that the workforce council does have that guarantee of £49 per registrant, which should be sufficient for it to undertake its duties. In short then, Deputy Presiding Officer, I commend the motion and hope that Members will support these regulations and the Order here this afternoon.
 
16:23
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore, I will defer all voting on this item until voting time.
 
Voting deferred until voting time.
 
16:23
6. Legislative Consent Motion on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill relating to Provisions/Amendments to the Bill about the Social Mobility Commission
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 6 is the legislative consent motion on the welfare reform Bill relation to the social mobility commission. I call on the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty to move the motion—Lesley Griffiths.
 
Motion NDM5908 Lesley Griffiths
 
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales, in accordance with Standing Order 29.6, agrees that provisions in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill relating to child poverty and social mobility in so far as they fall within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales, should be considered by the UK Parliament.
 
Motion moved.
 
16:24
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. This LCM on the UK Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill concerns provisions and amendments relating to the UK Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. I’d like to thank the National Assembly’s Enterprise and Business Committee for its scrutiny of the LCM and for its report. Clause 5 of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill sets out proposals to fundamentally reform the UK Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, which will become the Social Mobility Commission. Given the UK Government’s move away from a focus on child poverty, I have requested a number of amendments to the Bill. Whilst the commission will continue to report annually on its views on the progress made towards improving social mobility in the UK, including Wales, the amendments will mean the report will no longer describe the measures taken by Welsh Ministers in accordance with our child poverty strategy. In addition, the appointment of the Welsh commissioner, who is a leading expert within the field of tackling child poverty, will come to an end when the Bill comes into force.
 
Going forwards, although no longer a member of the UK social mobility commission, Catriona Williams will remain engaged with my tackling poverty external advisory group through its policy sessions. Her views and opinions, as well as her extensive knowledge and expertise, are very much valued.
 
Our focus in Wales will remain on tackling and preventing child poverty. We will continue to invest in the early years, in educational attainment and supporting parents into employment. Only by tackling child poverty can we hope to address the issue of social mobility, a fact which I believe the UK Government has failed to recognise.
 
16:25
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Although the revised remit of the social mobility commission proposed by the UK Welfare Reform and Work Bill will be to promote social mobility in England only, and to advise the UK Government at its request on how to improve social mobility in England only, it must also publish an annual report setting out its views on the progress made towards improving social mobility in the United Kingdom as a whole, i.e. including Wales. A Welsh voice would therefore continue to be appropriate in this respect to ensure knowledge and understanding of Welsh law, of Welsh practice, of Welsh policy and Welsh circumstances.
 
I also note that the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, which this would replace, has previously found that Wales had the second highest child poverty rate and the second lowest working age employment rate amongst the UK regions; that almost three quarters of children eligible for free school meals in Wales were not achieving five good GCSEs, higher than any English region; that there were fewer professional jobs in Wales than anywhere but north-east England and Northern Ireland; and that Wales had higher rates of children living in workless households, a lower employment rate, a higher unemployment rate and a higher proportion of the working age population without any qualifications than England, and pay levels 8 per cent lower than the UK average.
 
Without Welsh representation on the new commission, there is therefore also the danger that unwelcome findings in future annual reports may not be given the credence they deserve, as I feel perhaps they might have been given in responding to previous reports under the chairmanship of Alan Milburn.
 
In your letter, Minister, to the Enterprise and Business Committee you say that the decision by the UK Government to move away from a focus on child poverty doesn’t fit with the priorities of the Welsh Government, and that you therefore requested that the term in office of the commissioner should come to an end when the Welfare Reform and Work Bill is passed, and changes to the commission take effect. So, it would appear that Iain Duncan Smith was acting at your request and those of your colleagues in Scotland when he put down this amendment. In fact, at a UK level, the UK Government is introducing a new and strengthened approach to tracking the life chances of the most disadvantaged children, with more effective measures focused on the real causes of poverty. The current child poverty measure—and apparently the one still favoured by yourself—appears to show a reduction in the number of children in child poverty, when actually an economy is contracting, when it’s in recession and when people are getting poorer. Instead, the UK Government for England is proposing to focus on measures which look at the numbers of children living in workless households, improvements in educational attainment, drug and alcohol addiction, family breakdown and so on. So, it’s not necessarily accurate to state that the UK Government is moving away from a focus on child poverty, although clearly it is accurate to acknowledge that they’re approaching a different measure in the future.
 
So, for all these reasons, we feel it’s still important that Wales still has a voice, knowing that Wales will still be monitored and reported upon by the new commission. We therefore have strong reservations about this legislative consent motion.
 
16:29
Peter BlackBiography
I have a lot of sympathy with some of what Mark Isherwood said. I think we’re in the position where the UK Government has effectively abolished and abandoned its programme of dealing with child poverty in preference to social mobility, and the Welsh Government is focusing on child poverty but neglecting social mobility. I think we are in a situation where, by all means, go along different routes, but I think it’s important that we actually deal with both issues, because I think as Mark Isherwood has said, improved social mobility can help to tackle poverty and can help to deal with child poverty particularly. I think, clearly, there are concerns therefore about this particular legislative consent motion. The fact that the UK Government agenda no longer fits along with the Welsh Government agenda is understood, and the commission will still report on progress on improving social mobility in Wales in its annual report, but, of course, it won’t report on measures taken by Welsh Ministers in accordance with the Welsh strategy, because the Welsh Government does not have a strategy on social mobility, even though that is devolved to us.
 
I’m concerned that this LCM weakens provisions around reporting on child poverty and social mobility in Wales. We now just have the Welsh Government undertaking its own analysis of its child poverty policies and programmes in line with the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010. I think a better approach would be to create a Welsh strategy on social mobility and to have the commission report on measures being taken by Welsh Ministers in accordance with this strategy in addition to the work that is going on in terms of child poverty. So, at least we would have belt and braces as well as an independent assessment of how successful that is. The fact that we have not got that and the fact that we are effectively severing links with the social mobility agenda through this LCM, I think, indicates that this is unsatisfactory, and I think the Welsh Liberal Democrats, as a result of that, will not be voting for this LCM.
 
16:31
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
The Minister to reply.
 
16:31
Lesley GriffithsBiographyThe Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty
Thank you very much. I’d like to thank Members for their contributions. I find it astounding that Mark Isherwood says that the UK Government is looking to focus on the real causes of child poverty. How can they do that when they’ve taken away the measure of the relative income for poverty? We remain absolutely committed to the ambition of eradicating child poverty by 2020. I fully acknowledge the challenges that we have in relation to that. It hasn’t been helped by the additional £12 billion of welfare cuts that have been announced by the UK Government in their autumn statement. That’s going to add to the losses already incurred from welfare cuts implemented by the UK Government over the last few years. And, of course, who will it hit? It will hit the low-income households right across Wales the most. And I know, as a Government, we’re not going to be able to make up every shortfall that comes from the UK Government, but, nonetheless, we are going to do everything we can with the levers that we have available.
 
I’m fully committed to working with partners to deliver on this agenda, and I will maintain an ongoing dialogue with the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. I certainly will use the state of the nation annual report that will come from the commission and use those findings to strengthen our approach to tackling child poverty and reducing inequalities.
 
Also, the decision to withdraw—and it was my decision, you’re quite right, Mark Isherwood—the Welsh commissioner was not taken lightly. I think Catriona Williams has done an outstanding job, and I mentioned in my opening remarks that we will continue to use her expertise. She’s the chief executive of Children in Wales and I think she will very much remain engaged with my tackling poverty external advisory group throughout the policy session. So, I do ask Members to support the motion.
 
16:33
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] I defer voting until voting time.
 
Voting deferred until voting time.
 
7. Debate on the Commissioner for Older People in Wales’s Impact and Reach Annual Report 2014-15
The following amendment has been selected: amendment 1 in the name of Paul Davies.
 
16:33
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 7 is the debate on the older people’s commissioner for Wales’s impact and reach annual report. I call on the Minister for Health and Social Services to move the motion—Mark Drakeford.
 
Motion NDM5909 Jane Hutt
 
To propose the National Assembly for Wales:
 
Notes the Impact and Reach Annual Report of the Commissioner for Older People in Wales for 2014-15, laid in Table Office on 9 December 2015.
 
Motion moved.
 
16:33
Mark DrakefordBiographyThe Minister for Health and Social Services
Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. It’s a pleasure to welcome this fourth annual report from Sarah Rochira, the current Commissioner for Older People in Wales. I want to take this opportunity to thank Sarah and the team for their work over the past year in assisting older people across Wales. The report being discussed this afternoon was published on 10 June 2015, and it looks at the period between April 2014 and March 2015. Although much has happened since that period, in opening this debate, I do want to ensure that there is plenty of time to concentrate on the important messages that are contained within the report before the Assembly this afternoon.
 
In reading the report, the first thing that strikes one is the significant amount of activity the commissioner and her office have undertaken in meeting with 216 groups in all parts of Wales, including over 5,700 older people.
 
Dirprwy Lywydd, it is not just the scale, but it’s also the scope of the report that will strike any reader. From Chinese elders to Men in Sheds, from the Swansea transgender festival to the Women’s Institute, the report demonstrates the enormous variety of concerns, interests, organisations and activities that are to be found amongst older people in Wales, and the ways in which the commissioner’s office has reached into these aspects of their lives.
 
Now, as well as about reach, the report is also about impact, and here, too, the landscape covered by the commissioner and her staff cannot fail to impress. There is no significant public body and very few in relevant parts of the third sector that do not feature in the pages of the report and whose activities have not been influenced by the older persons’ commissioner. Dirprwy Lywydd, in the time available to me, I want to focus on a number of areas where impact is clearly demonstrated in the report’s pages.
 
This was the year when the commissioner published her landmark inquiry into residential care homes in Wales. In welcoming the report, I was especially struck by its emphasis on those small things, which, when done properly, make such a difference to the lives of people in residential care. That is why, as a Government, we have since invested a £0.25 million from 2015-16 onwards for improved dental services in residential care and a similar sum to accelerate the rate of dementia diagnosis amongst older people in residential care settings. All of this takes place under the auspices of the care homes steering group, which is chaired by the Welsh Government director of social services and that provides the leadership necessary to make sure that action is taken to address the issues that arise from the commissioner’s review, and, indeed, from the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry into residential care in Wales.
 
In terms of impact, the report also shows the investment made by the commissioner in assisting this National Assembly in our key role as a legislature. The report reflects the commissioner’s support for campaigns by older people to improve the provision of public toilets, and that campaign is now reflected in the proposals contained in the public health Bill before the Assembly.
 
Given the period covered by the report, it’s unsurprising to see its focus on the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. The commissioner highlights the theme of integration, which lies at the heart of that piece of legislation. As we all know, older people use both health and social care services in order to help them go on living independent lives for as long as possible and over which they have both choice and control. As a Welsh Government, we have sought to broaden the integration agenda still further to embrace, for example, housing, the third sector and the independent sector, too. The way in which the intermediate care fund has developed shows, I believe, the influence that the commissioner has had in this area.
 
Dirprwy Lywydd, in noting the impact that the commissioner has had on legislation, I can indicate that the Government will support the one amendment placed to the motion this afternoon. There will be further action in the next Assembly to protect and promote the rights of older people, because the detailed legislation that flows from the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Bill will come before Members during that term. New legislative proposals beyond May of this year will, of course, fall to an incoming administration to determine.
 
Dirprwy Lywydd, I’d like to highlight for a moment the Ageing Well in Wales programme in which the commissioner has taken such a lead, and which places developments here in Wales on a European stage. In December, I visited Brussels to represent Wales at a major conference of the European innovation partnership on active and healthy ageing. Being a reference site for the partnership allows us to work closely with other European countries and regions on this shared agenda. It allows us to demonstrate as well the impact of some of the ideas and practical policies that are being taken forward in Wales. The commissioner herself had been in Brussels earlier in the week of that conference as part of the same effort, and I can certainly assure Members that, on that European stage, the fact that we have an older persons’ commissioner for Wales is well known and the actions taken by the current post holder have had an impact at that European level. The fact that we have an older persons’ commissioner’s office in Wales will be an important part of our effort in this year to achieve 4* reference status for innovation and partnership working for active, healthy ageing within Wales. If we do achieve that status, then all sorts of possibilities for research and practice within Wales will flow from it.
 
Dirprwy Lywydd, finally, in this very brief account of some of the major strands in this annual report, I’d like to highlight some of the work being taken forward in areas little explored or discussed in the lives of older people. I’d like to commend the commissioner for her work in producing a bilingual booklet that provides information for older people experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence here in Wales. At the point when it was published, 25,000 copies of the booklet had already been distributed across Wales to a wide range of relevant partners, helping to make them aware of the impact that such things can have on the lives of older people and where that impact is often not easily understood or recognised.
 
Dirprwy Lywydd, there’s much more that is covered in the pages of this report, to which I’m sure other Members will make reference during the debate. Whatever the topic, the account provided offers a vivid insight into the work of the commissioner and the balance that she must strike in attempting to represent the views of many, many thousands of people in widely differing circumstances and with an equally wide range of views, perspectives and priorities. Not everyone reading through the pages of the report will agree with every conclusion drawn in them, but no-one, I believe, could leave them without a clear sense of the commitment of the commissioner, the determination of her office to articulate issues of concern to older people in Wales and the difference that her work has made to the lives of many individuals and in the provision of our public services. I look forward to the contribution of Members during the rest of this debate.
 
16:42
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I have selected the amendment to the motion, and I call on Darren Millar to move amendment 1, tabled in the name of Paul Davies.
 
Gwelliant 1—Paul Davies
 
Add as new point at end of motion:
 
Notes references to the rights of older people in the impact and reach report and calls on the Welsh Government to work with the Older People's Commissioner to bring forward legislation to protect and promote the rights of older people.
 
Amendment 1 moved.
 
16:42
Darren MillarBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I move the amendment on the order paper. I want to thank the Minister for his indication that he will accept and support that amendment when we come to the vote today.
 
I think it is important that we have the opportunity, on an annual basis, to visit the impact and reach report that’s been published by the older people’s commissioner in Wales. Like the Minister, I’m always astounded at the level of activity that she is undertaking across the whole of Wales. I think it does note in the report that she’s visited every single local authority area. I don’t think that anyone can complain that she hasn’t been to their constituency in the Chamber this afternoon.
 
We all know that old age is something that we ought to be celebrating more as a nation. Many people see old age as something that is a burden to society. I think it’s actually something that we should be drawing on in terms of the knowledge and experience of our older people, and we should be celebrating the fact that Wales is increasingly becoming a nation of older people. I want to thank the older people’s commissioner for reminding us of that in her report. I think she does some fantastic work. She’s covered many thousands of miles, the report notes, and she’s had many thousands of meetings with many thousands of older people across Wales in the period to which this report relates. No-one can doubt that her outreach work has been exceptional.
 
I think, also, it’s important to draw attention to the fact that she engages with the third sector in a very practical way, working with them on a whole range of issues, and, indeed, she engages very much with Assembly Members in this Chamber of all political colours. It was a pleasure to be able to welcome the commissioner to Abergele in my own constituency just last week, where we visited Tŷ Cariad, a fantastic new dementia facility in the constituency there, which really is the sort of example that needs to be set for other dementia care facilities in Wales in the future.
 
I think the survey results that appear in this report allude to the fact that many older people across Wales attach a great deal of value to the older people’s commissioner post. We saw, in the survey results, which have been reported, that 75 per cent of people in Wales think that there’s a need for an older people’s commission. But I think what was slightly depressing is that, in spite of the activity and in spite of the work that’s been done, only a third actually know that we have an older people’s commissioner. So, clearly, we collectively, as Assembly Members, the Welsh Government and the older people’s commissioner’s office need to do even more to raise the profile of her important work.
 
Advocacy is a big part of the older people’s commissioner’s office workload and we know that many hundreds of people have been assisted, according to the report, by the older people’s commissioner over the 12-month period referred to. I know, because of much of the casework that I’m involved with, that that work continues to go on and it’s of an exceptionally high quality.
 
The report also refers to some of the interaction that there has been with a number of the different committees in the Assembly. Just as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, if I may, I want to put on record my thanks to the commissioner for her involvement in the NHS governance work that we have been doing as a committee. She’s had very clear thoughts on the future of governance in the NHS that are going to be very useful when we’re drawing our conclusions, I’m sure, on that piece of work. I know that the commissioner has monitored very carefully some of the issues that have arisen over the past couple of years in the Welsh NHS, particularly where there have been failings of care for older people. I know that she will continue to pursue those with some tenacity until her concerns are resolved.
 
Also, of course, she’s been influential in the shaping of some of our legislation here in Wales, not least the Public Health (Wales) Bill, which the Minister referred to in terms of the future arrangements for the planning of public conveniences in Wales, but also in terms of helping to shape some other pieces of legislation as well. If there’s one piece of legislation, in addition to the legislation on older people’s rights, that I would like to see, it’s an amendment to the regulations about the older people’s commissioner’s appointment. We know that, at the moment, the current arrangements are that there’s an appointment for a four-year term with an opportunity to apply for reappointment for a further four-year term. That’s not consistent with some of the other commissioner appointment arrangements in Wales. I would very much like to see the Welsh Government bringing forward some legislation to drive some consistency in that in the future.
 
If I may, very briefly, on the issue of older people’s rights, I’m very heartened to hear that there can be a cross-party consensus, certainly between my party and the Government, on the need for legislation on older people’s rights in the future. We know that we have recognition of the UN principles for older persons on our statute books already, and we need to emphasise that so that there’s an extension of the rights-based approach in Wales. So, I welcome the Minister’s announcement today.
 
16:48
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Well, what a magnificent start to 2016. If I had one serious question on this report, it would be: how many Sarah Rochiras are there in Wales? Because the woman is absolutely amazing, and I don’t think we realise how fortunate we are. I welcome this report and I would genuinely like to pay tribute to the dedication and the sheer energy shown by the commissioner in providing an essential voice for older people throughout Wales.
 
Now, she raises a number of points in the report that we in Plaid Cymru, of course, would fully endorse—and, I’m sure, most people in this room. First of all, her emphasis on the importance, as has been mentioned by the Minister, of advocacy as a means of securing the rights of older people. We did work hard to make sure that this featured very prominently in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, and the Minister recognised that. Secondly, the need to ensure as well that family carers too have rights to have their needs properly assessed and catered for.