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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Deputy Presiding Officer (David Melding) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order. The National Assembly is in session.
 
1. Questions to the Minister for Finance and Government Business
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:30
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Item 1 is questions to the Minister for Finance and Government Business. I’m going to group questions 1 and 8. Question 1 is Mohammad Asghar.
 
The Communities and Tackling Poverty Portfolio
 
13:30
Mohammad AsgharBiography
1. What priorities were considered by the Welsh Government when allocating funding to the communities and tackling poverty portfolio? OAQ(4)0640(FIN)
 
John GriffithsBiography
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the funding allocation to the communities and tackling poverty portfolio in the 2016-17 draft budget? OAQ(4)0648(FIN)
 
13:30
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
As set out in our draft budget, our commitment to social justice and protecting the delivery of front-line services underpins everything we do.
 
13:31
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Thank you, Minister. One of the key aims of your Government is to create a fair society, free from discrimination, harassment and victimisation, with cohesive and inclusive communities. Since your draft budget cuts the communities and tackling poverty budget by £3 million in cash terms, what consideration was given to meeting this aim, at a time of increasing hate crime and rising tension among the communities in Wales?
 
13:31
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course, if we had had your Welsh Conservative budget back in 2011, the cut to local government social justice would have been 12.5 per cent. But as we have had the settlement, which has produced our draft budget, of course, we then seek to deliver in terms of the quality objectives of the Welsh Government. And it is important that that does include the equality and inclusion grant, and the role that we can play in terms of protecting and safeguarding our community cohesion co-ordinators, which, of course, we are supporting and funding.
 
13:32
John GriffithsBiography
Minister, as part of the very welcome announcement by the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty last month of £2.8 million for the community facilities programme, the Underwood Baptist Church in my constituency will have a new extension, providing a kitchen and toilets, and allowing more groups and more activities to take place. Previously, the Hope Centre in Somerton—a Communities First area—had substantial funding. Will you ensure that Welsh Government continues to support this vital community fabric, which allows community activity and regeneration to take place across Wales?
 
13:32
Jane HuttBiography
I thank John Griffiths for that question, because our draft budget for 2016-17, ‘Fairer, Better Wales’, does set out plans for allocating over £230 million in new capital investment. But that is very targeted, and the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty did announce on 22 December £2.8 million funding for 10 projects through the community facilities programme. And, of course, not only is that supporting Underwood Baptist Church, it’s also supporting, for example, Llanfairfechan community library in Conwy, it’s supporting the Penparcau community forum in Ceredigion—that’s a former Communities First area—and also KPC Youth in Bridgend. And, of course, these are all communities where the funding will help tackle poverty.
 
13:33
Lindsay WhittleBiography
Minister, as far as funding is concerned, has the Communities First programme, which set out to create prosperous, healthier and learning communities, in your opinion, provided us with value for money?
 
13:34
Jane HuttBiography
Clearly, the Communities First programme has been developed, evaluated, and improved to deliver further outcomes. The focus, of course, particularly on delivering outcomes in terms of jobs and training, has been demonstrated, in terms of the latest reports. But, also, we recognise the importance of Communities First investing in our most deprived communities, to ensure that our commitment to tackling poverty and social justice is upheld.
 
13:34
Mick AntoniwBiography
Minister, you will have seen the Institute for Fiscal Studies data, which shows that, under the current Government, the number of children whose families are in work but who are living in poverty has increased from 54 per cent to 63 per cent. We are getting what we know always happens with a Tory Government in Westminster: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And we now have to face the challenge of universal credit, which will again do the same as the tax credit reforms that were proposed. What evaluation is the Welsh Government taking of the impact of universal credit changes to families within Wales and the impact on the increasing poverty that will inevitably result?
 
13:35
Jane HuttBiography
Well, Mick Antoniw is quite right: the evidence from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and also our own Bevan Foundation, which published its analysis of Wales’s uptake of benefits currently last November—. If we just look at the IFS evidence, it showed that the total impact of the UK Government’s tax and benefit changes, including universal credit, mean that lower income households lose out more than households around middle income distribution, and these changes will increase the number of households in Wales, as you say, below the poverty line in both absolute and relative terms. But, let’s also look at the Resolution Foundation. They estimate that up to a further 600,000 children in the UK will fall into poverty once all the summer budget policy measures on tax, pay and benefits have taken effect, and two thirds of this increase is among children in working households. And, also, finally, the IFS’ analysis shows that the UK Government’s u-turn on the main tax credit cut will only provide short-term protection because tax credits will be phased out by 2018 and the planned cuts to universal credit were not reversed. So, that means the long-term impact, when all policy changes have been fully rolled out, remains broadly the same.
 
13:36
Jeff CuthbertBiography
Minister, in terms of supporting Wales’s many diverse communities and helping to tackle poverty, would you agree with me about the importance of adequately funding to the best of our ability the voluntary sector, so that it is capable of playing a significant role in building and improving community cohesion? Furthermore, Minister, would you also agree with me that, in these times of heightened tensions created by the actions of extremist and far-right hate groups, we must support to the best of our ability those organisations that are seeking to help and work with our most vulnerable people and community groups?
 
13:37
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I completely agree with Jeff Cuthbert’s question and I think the short debate this afternoon, ‘A Nation of Sanctuary?’, will allow us to discuss many of these issues as an Assembly. We have, and I’ve already mentioned that we fund, eight regional community cohesion co-ordinators to work with local authorities to mainstream cohesion, tackle hate crime and make sure that there are systems in place for monitoring tensions. Also, the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty is working very closely with the third sector organisations that, Jeff Cuthbert, you mentioned, on how to implement fully our tackling hate crimes and incidents framework for action.
 
The Draft Budget (Priorities)
 
13:38
David ReesBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s priorities when setting the draft budget for 2016-17? OAQ(4)0650(FIN)
 
13:38
Jane HuttBiography
Our budget for a ‘Fairer, Better Wales—Investing for the Future’ addresses our main priorities of health and health services, growth and jobs, educational attainment, and supporting children, families and deprived communities.
 
13:38
David ReesBiography
I thank you for that answer, Minister, and I welcome the Government’s draft budget, which contains record levels of investment in our health services and increased spending on social services, ensuring that people here in Wales continue to receive higher per capita figures for health and social care than they do in England. But do you agree with me that this investment demonstrates confidence in our NHS and its workforce and that the NHS in Wales is safe in Labour’s hands?
 
13:38
Jane HuttBiography
Well, we have demonstrated our confidence in the Welsh NHS. We’re allocating an additional £293 million to the NHS, including £200 million to support core delivery and to support a sustainable NHS. But, also, you mentioned health and social services and the importance of the extra support for the intermediate care fund; an extra £30 million in funding available for older people mental health services; an extra £33 million for capital; and, of course, those all-important figures we got last November that, in Wales, we’re spending on health and social services 7 per cent more per head than in England.
 
13:39
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Obviously, in preparing your draft budget, finance Minister, you chose to give higher education a good kicking and, in particular, there is a danger that has been pointed out from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales over the risk to research and development in our universities should the draft budget become a reality. Compare that with what the Chancellor announced here in Cardiff last week about the Catapult semiconductor centre—£50 million-worth of investment. Given the representations you’ve had, are you minded now to change the terms of the draft budget in relation to higher education so research and development can prosper here in Wales rather than leave for other parts of the United Kingdom?
 
13:39
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course, higher education has been relatively protected from the impact of the UK Government’s cuts to our budget. Let’s just remember—an 8 per cent real-terms cut to our budget over the last five years, and another 4.5 per cent cut to revenue in the forthcoming years, compared to other parts. But, of course, the Minister for Education and Skills will provide a steer on Welsh Government priorities for higher education in his annual remit letter to the funding council shortly. And it will be for HEFCW to determine how it allocates its resources.
 
13:40
Christine ChapmanBiography
Minister, we know that very, very challenging decisions have to be made with the settlement we’ve had from the UK Government, but we know that part-time study plays a crucial role in widening the number of people who can access higher education, and it’s about empowering people to get work or progress in their careers. I am concerned, therefore, that any cuts in the money available to the higher education sector, resulting from the Welsh Government’s real-terms budget cuts, could disproportionately impact on part-time students. We know there’s a social justice issue here, a point made to me by the Open University. How is the Welsh Government taking this into account in determining its budget?
 
13:41
Jane HuttBiography
I think what is very important is that we had difficult decisions to make in terms of our priorities. It is very important to recognise that the further education budget for 2016-17 is protected from cuts, and I know that you will, and have, welcomed that, and, also, that we’ve provided an extra £5 million for apprenticeships and we’re providing a further £5 million to support an additional 2,500 apprenticeships next year. So, it is about ensuring that we can reach out to all sectors. And, of course, in terms of the opportunities for those people who perhaps want to go into part-time education and further progression in terms of education, further education often provides that route. But I do think it’s important also to recognise that we made the decision to put an additional £10 million in the budget for next year to ensure that no Welsh student faces tuition fees above the basic level, and we do continue that existing student support provision.
 
13:42
Elin JonesBiography
Minister, the books publishing industry is facing a 10 per cent cut in your draft budget, and this will have a direct impact on the Welsh Books Council, of course, but it will also have an impact on authors in Wales and on publishers and printers, such as Y Lolfa, Parthian, Golwg, Gomer and others in my constituency. We’ve seen huge progress over the past 10 to 15 years in the range and variety of books published in both Welsh and English in Wales, and that increase is put at risk with a cut of this unexpected scale. Prior to taking the decision to target a cut of 10 per cent in this particular sector, what assessment did you carry out of the economic impact of a cut of this scale on businesses?
 
13:43
Jane HuttBiography
Clearly, we do not wish, as Welsh Government, to be in the position of making these tough decisions in terms of cuts to very important parts of our sectors in terms of education and the book publishing industry, not just in terms of the opportunities for authors and writers, but also, for the businesses and the advice that they get. But, clearly, we have had a tough budget, and these decisions will have been considered in relation to impact assessments, which, of course, are afforded to all our budget decisions.
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
13:43
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
I now call the party spokespeople to question the Minister, starting this week with the Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Nick Ramsay.
 
13:43
Nick RamsayBiography
Diolch. Minister, what discussions have you had with the Minister for Public Services on mitigating the 2 per cent cut to the local government budget?
 
13:44
Jane HuttBiography
It is not only the Minister for Public Services. The settlement—which wasn’t 2 per cent; it was 1.4 per cent—has been widely welcomed. Everywhere I have been meeting with people over the past few weeks, it has been, within local government, a huge relief that we have been in the position where we made that decision to ensure that the cuts that were forecast and anticipated for local government did not take place.
 
13:44
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Minister, for that answer. That’s the first time I’ve heard local government welcoming a cut to their budget; you’re obviously speaking to different people to me. That cut is clearly going to cause serious hardship, but worst of all, as I’m sure you’re aware, that hardship is going to be unevenly spread, and will disproportionately affect rural authorities in Wales. I’ve got a breakdown of the settlements for the 22 authorities here: Ceredigion is down 3.4 per cent, my own authority of Monmouthshire is down 3.1 per cent and Powys is down a whacking 4.1 per cent—that’s a good bit of bargaining from the Liberal Democrats there. Why is your Government hellbent on penalising rural areas of Wales?
 
13:45
Jane HuttBiography
Can I just say that, in terms of the response from the Welsh Local Government Association on 9 December, councillor Bob Wellington said:
 
‘Times remain tough, but this settlement at least shows that Welsh Government Ministers are listening to local government leaders and working with us to protect local services from the worst impacts of austerity. Today's settlement offers a welcome slow-down in the daunting level of budget cuts…’
 
So, perhaps you’d like to also speak to your leader who, I’m sure, also would have welcomed the settlement in terms of the tough challenges that we had from the spending review from the Conservative UK Government.
 
Of course, in terms of looking at the situation, we are now in the period when we can consider the impact of the provisional local government settlement. I believe the Minister for Public Services also attended committee this morning, and now is the time to consider these issues. You know perfectly well that the formula is a formula that is agreed each year in partnership with local government, local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association, who are represented on the group that considers changes to the formula, including independent members as well. This is a provisional local government settlement; it’s currently being consulted upon and discussions will take place as part of that process.
 
13:46
Nick RamsayBiography
Thank you, Minister. I’m sure that Councillor Bob Wellington is pleased with the fact that Torfaen has only had a 1.7 per cent cut. However, councillor Peter Fox from Monmouthshire is far less pleased with his 3.1 per cent cut in Monmouthshire. You only have to look at the figures for urban areas to see the disparity from the so-called party of fairness. Cardiff is down 0.1 per cent, Newport is down 0.7 per cent and Merthyr Tydfil is down 0.9 per cent—coincidentally, all Labour local authorities. I think the people of Wales, Minister, deserve to know why this Welsh Government continues to allow rural authorities to be hardest hit. Isn’t it time for a new local government formula that recognises the costs associated with delivering services over larger rural areas? Sadly, isn’t the message that this budget, draft or not, is sending out to the people of Wales one that says ‘the Welsh Government doesn’t really give a toss about rural Wales, does it’?
 
13:47
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. I know things are getting very excitable as we approach the election, but language is important and elegance is important for proper political dialogue. So Members better watch it, including you, Mr Ramsay.
 
13:48
Jane HuttBiography
I would also like to quote directly from councillor Peter Fox, your leader and the Welsh Local Government Association Conservative group leader, because he also said in that response:
 
‘The announcement of the local government settlement shows that while the Welsh Government have listened on a number of key issues raised by local government, we clearly still need to fundamentally review the funding formula and take into account the needs of rural communities.’
 
He is recognising that he has a responsibility, as local government does, which I welcome. I also very much welcome Councillor Peter Fox’s—your leader’s—very full involvement in what is going to progress as a very important opportunity with the city deal for the region that your are part of.
 
13:48
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Now Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Alun Ffred Jones.
 
13:48
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Following recent floods and the £3.5 million that’s been pledged to Welsh councils, where is that funding coming from? Is it coming from departmental budgets or from reserves?
 
13:49
Jane HuttBiography
That money is allocated as a result of decisions by the Minister for Natural Resources in terms of his budget flexibilities.
 
13:49
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
I assume, therefore, that the £3.5 million is funding already delegated within the budget. The First Minister has pledged, and I think there was confirmation of this yesterday, that the Talybont and nearby A55 flood prevention scheme will be fully funded. I would like confirmation of that. Is that funding coming from the budgets of the transport and environment departments?
 
13:49
Jane HuttBiography
We have made decisions, particularly in responding to the very difficult adverse flooding that took place after Christmas. As you know, it’s not just the £2.3 million; we’ve already also announced £1 million for local authorities for immediate repairs and maintenance for homes and properties. And, of course, the Minister responded in full yesterday in terms of the flood events and the allocation of funding that we’re making available.
 
I think what is very important is that we recognise that the flood allocation also includes funding from the European Union. That, of course, is very important in terms of the improvements to the A55 and recognising the issues there in terms of flooding and funding needs.
 
13:50
Alun Ffred JonesBiography
Thank you for that response, although it wasn’t an answer to the question that I asked. You’ve confirmed that the £3.5 million that has been set aside for local authorities is going to come from funding already allocated to the environment department. Can you tell me whether the funding for the scheme at Talybont and the nearby A55 is coming from that £3.5 million, or is it additional to that sum of money?
 
13:51
Jane HuttBiography
Well, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport has written to all Assembly Members advising them of the work that’s ongoing between officials and Gwynedd Council on that scheme. It is a scheme to alleviate the effects of floodwater on Talybont and the adjacent A55. Gwynedd Council have been provided with the funding to progress on a detailed design of that scheme. And, of course, in being able to again respond to your questions, the Welsh Government has provided nearly £47 million to carry out improvements to the A55, £42 million to fund ongoing improvements to the tunnels, and previously £4.6 million for work on the Britannia bridge, safe havens and also emergency cross-overs. So, I think, just back to the EU funding contribution, which I know you would welcome, together with Welsh Government and EU funds, improvements to the A55 will be in the region of circa £50 million.
 
13:52
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Now the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
13:52
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, can you confirm that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs remains your preferred deliverer of the new Welsh tax powers that will be coming to us in 2018?
 
13:52
Jane HuttBiography
I think it’s still early days in terms of the final decision, which, of course, will be a final decision made by the Welsh revenue authority. Of course, you know that we have said that HMRC is, for us, at this stage in time, a preferred provider, but a great deal has to be done and a final decision will be made by the next Government.
 
13:53
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that, Minister. I hope the next Government is able to take into account the service standards that HMRC are currently delivering. A recent survey by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales of all their members found that HMRC’s service standards remain below an acceptable level. Do you accept that there is a concern that the level of service that HMRC provides for those using its services is below par and that this may impact upon the successful roll-out of the new tax powers when they come?
 
13:53
Jane HuttBiography
I do think the issues around service standards are very important. In terms of service standards—and I said the final decision would have to be made by the next Government—it will very much depend on HMRC’s ability to meet those required customer service standards, and of course, the associated costs as well. I think it’s very important that we look at the series of options that we’ve got to ensure that Welsh devolved tax payers do receive the appropriate level of service on both land transaction tax and landfill disposals tax.
 
13:54
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. I wrote to HMRC following their proposal to reorganise all the offices in Wales, asking them a series of questions about how that service will now be delivered once it’s all centralised in Cardiff. I was particularly concerned in terms of the answer I had that, as yet, they hadn’t determined how they were to deliver their services through the medium of Welsh once that service is reorganised. That indicates to me that HMRC do not have a mindset whereby they consider a bilingual service, which is going to be crucial to the delivery of the new tax-collecting powers that we will have.
 
Can I ask you, or the next Government, to make it a priority, when you determine who will be collecting these taxes, that bilingual services are absolutely crucial to that and that we would expect whoever collects those taxes to be able to deal with customers through the medium of English or Welsh?
 
13:55
Jane HuttBiography
I’m very glad to have the opportunity to confirm, again, that the First Minister wrote in November to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to express his concerns about the impact of the HMRC closures, not just the impact it would have on rural communities in Wales in terms of jobs, but also on the Welsh language. HMRC obviously have existing Welsh language capacity. They have confirmed that they will work with us and the Welsh revenue authority to establish the requirements and costs for a Welsh-language service in relation to land transaction tax. They will, of course, have to consider the standards of the Welsh Language Commissioner in due course.
 
The Public Services Portfolio
 
13:56
Paul DaviesBiography
3. Will the Minister make a statement on the allocation of funding to the public services portfolio? OAQ(4)0641(FIN)
 
13:56
Jane HuttBiography
The allocation to the public services portfolio was included in the draft budget, ‘Fairer, Better Wales—Investing for the Future’, which I published on 8 December.
 
13:56
Paul DaviesBiography
I’m grateful to the Minister for that answer. The Welsh Local Government Association has made it clear that the proposed council mergers by your party could cost up to £268 million. In light of the WLGA’s figures, can you tell us what specific cost analysis and assessment you’ve made of the proposals for local government reorganisation in your role as finance Minister? Can you also tell us where exactly you are going to find this money, should these unwanted proposals go ahead?
 
13:56
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course, this is fully explained and accounted for in the regulatory impact assessment.
 
European Structural Fund Projects
 
13:57
David ReesBiography
4. Will the Minister provide details of recent European structural fund project approvals in South Wales West? OAQ(4)0649(FIN)
 
13:57
Jane HuttBiography
Recent EU investments benefiting South Wales West include Swansea University’s Materials and Manufacturing Academy and leading business growth projects, the marine sector WaveSub project, and a number of pan-Wales skills, employment and business support projects.
 
13:57
David ReesBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. There are many ESF projects in the South Wales West region that have benefited our areas and the economy of our areas. As you pointed out, last week, you visited Swansea University’s new bay campus to actually launch the Materials and Manufacturing Academy, an innovative project to nurture and develop future captains of our industry. Such projects will provide potential investors and entrepreneurs with the confidence that Wales has the ability and skills to strengthen the engineering and advanced materials sectors, which can create jobs and grow our economy. Do you agree that such projects demonstrate the importance of being in the EU and how partnerships between industry, Government and higher education can actually build upon the EU funds?
 
13:58
Jane HuttBiography
I do agree, David Rees, and, of course, the Swansea innovation campus, supported by EU and Welsh Government funds, would not be there—. It’s a world-class campus. It’s helping to generate around £3 billion of economic impact in the region—that’s what’s anticipated in the next 10 years. Quite clearly, it would not be there if we were not part of the European Union. But I think what’s important about the visit I made, when I announced that £8.6 million, is the discussions I had with businesses, including Tata Steel and Weartech International, for example, based in Port Talbot, which are now enabling the research projects to take place as a result of the funding. This is a successor to the very successful EU-funded project, STRIP—Steel Training Research and Innovation Partnership.
 
13:58
Suzy DaviesBiography
The Welsh Government website states that European structural funds are available for north and west Wales, the Valleys and east Wales. On the back of concerns raised by a forward-thinking firm in my region about the level of detail on the website, my office contacted WEFO, who were unable to say what ESF funding streams applied in my region at all, even though a considerable part of my region is clearly made up of valleys. The public sector may be familiar with WEFO, but if that’s the response to an AM’s office, Minister, how would a curious and ambitious private business in my region engage effectively with WEFO to find out whether they were eligible for inclusion in any ESF funding programme or priority?
 
13:59
Jane HuttBiography
Businesses are fully engaged with WEFO, and I’ve already given some examples of businesses that I met last week. I do urge you, Suzy Davies, to go and see the impact of this new announcement I made on European funding. But I only have to, for example, mention Swansea-based Marine Power Systems, benefiting from £2 million of EU funds to develop a new wave technology, WaveSub, that’s harnessing energy from ocean waves. The EU-funded BEACON project also benefits the Swansea-based Innoture Medical Technology Ltd, companies such as not only Tata but BASF Coatings Ltd and General Electric, and, further into Llanelli, AnalysisPro Ltd. The private sector wants to proclaim and engage with us in terms of opportunities, and also showing what EU funds have meant for them.
 
14:00
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Minister, New Sandfields Aberavon and Afan-Community Regeneration were awarded £231,000 last summer, aimed at increasing tourism on Aberavon seafront, something which, when I knock doors in the area, is something that they wanted to see developed, and rightly so. Can you say how many projects have been delivered in that time, and how that has translated, or is going to translate, into benefits for the community and the businesses along the seafront there?
 
14:01
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I’m grateful for that question because it gives me the opportunity to state that we’ve already announced EU investments worth over £440 million, driving a total investment of £965 million across Wales. But, of course, that drills down to the very local projects, which will make a difference in terms of Aberavon seafront. But the 25 per cent of our funds have already been approved in this new programme, and 57 projects. That does range from the kind of projects I’ve mentioned benefiting business and university to those projects that actually reach people, for example, people in South West Workways, which you will be very well aware of, which helps long-term unemployed and economically inactive people back into work.
 
Financial Reserves
 
14:01
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
5. What monitoring does the Minister’s department undertake on the financial reserves available to public bodies during a financial year? OAQ(4)0642(FIN)
 
14:02
Jane HuttBiography
The Welsh Government has a strong record of financial management and control. These controls include regular monitoring by my officials of expenditure against budgets scrutinised and approved by this Assembly.
 
14:02
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Minister, what allowance would the Government allow local authorities to use those reserves to help them stop higher-than-inflation council tax increases in particular? The Vale of Glamorgan Council, for example, in your constituency and in my electoral region, has a very generous allocation of reserves, and ratepayers, year on year for the last couple of years, have had excessive rate rises. Would the Welsh Government, under the guidance it gives, allow for those reserves in part to be used to mitigate some of the increase that ratepayers might face this year?
 
14:02
Jane HuttBiography
I think, in terms of local government, we recognise this is local government and taxpayers’ money. Authorities have the responsibility to make effective use of funding to deliver services that they’re responsible for, but also chief finance officers have a statutory duty to report as part of annual budget calculations that the authorities maintain the adequate reserves in terms of liabilities. It is clearly the responsibility of the local authority to consider these issues and how they not only spend their funding but also set their council tax, in line with, of course, the Minister for Public Services’s guidance on these matters.
 
The A55
 
14:03
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
6. What additional funding will the Minister allocate to the economy, science and transport portfolio to improve the A55? OAQ(4)0653(FIN)[W]
 
14:03
Jane HuttBiography
Since I published the Wales infrastructure investment plan, I have allocated £42 million for route resilience and safety improvements to the A55.
 
14:04
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Thank you. I am pleased that funding is to be available for flood prevention work on the A55 after the road had to be closed again in the Talybont area over the Christmas period, although it appears, from an earlier response, that this is not additional funding. It was entirely inappropriate, if I may say so, for the First Minister to try to put the blame on others for not having done that work earlier. He blamed the former Minister for transport, Ieuan Wyn Jones, claiming that he had cancelled the work when the project that Ieuan Wyn Jones was referring to in a decision taken some years ago related to a different part of the A55. People are not stupid. Now, does the finance Minister agree that Ieuan Wyn Jones deserves an apology in that regard and that the Government has to prove its commitment to the A55 and the people of north Wales by ensuring that processes take place far more swiftly to release funding and additional funding to deal with urgent issues such as flooding?
 
14:05
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I certainly want to be clear about our commitment to funding the A55, not just currently and in the future, but in the past. I have allocated £42 million over three years to accelerate an essential upgrade to the A55 Conwy tunnels improvements to ensure that that asset remains fit for purpose. Of course, in terms of the dreadful disruption for road users and people affected, as far as the A55 and flooding is concerned, we are working very closely, as the Minister said yesterday, with local authorities and partners, to find long-term solutions for some of the areas most prone to flooding. But I’ve already given information to Alun Ffred Jones in terms of the commitment we’ve made, including European funding, to address these issues, and I hope that is helpful in terms of the response in terms of our commitment to dealing with these issues.
 
14:06
Mark IsherwoodBiography
North Wales residents are well aware of chronic gridlock issues on the A55. Following rejection of disastrous proposals for the Deeside corridor after the findings of a public inquiry in 2007, to which I gave evidence, the Welsh Government held public exhibitions last autumn on two proposed plans for easing congestion on the A494, A5 and A548 Deeside corridor now, but stated that the selection of the preferred route is expected before the end of 2016. What assurances can you therefore provide that the process is on course and will be funded—and the Welsh Government used the figure of £200 million—and when do you envisage diggers in the ground, actually working on this vital upgrade?
 
14:06
Jane HuttBiography
Well, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport has advised and updated Assembly Members on the work that’s been undertaken, and also in terms of the timelines. And, of course, the Minister for Natural Resources yesterday was also able to respond to these issues. But I think it’s important that, in my recent budget, which I announced on 8 September, I included £3 million for progressing flood protection work in St Asaph and £3 million for the coastal risk management programme. That’s going to use innovative finance to fund £150 million of capital projects for coastal adaptation resilience to climate change.
 
14:07
Aled RobertsBiography
You state that you are collaborating with local authorities with regard to the arrangement for those areas impacted by floods along the A55, but of course the First Minister has admitted that the A55 by now hasn’t been built to contemporary standards. Therefore, bearing in mind that you say you are going to ensure that there will be a fair allocation between north and south, and other areas as regards expenditure on the M4 if that goes forward, have you as a Government commissioned work to ensure that all the schemes for the A55 meet these new standards that the First Minister alluded to yesterday.
 
14:08
Jane HuttBiography
Well, that’s absolutely clear: it is the responsibility of the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport to ensure that that is the case. I think it is very important as well that we recognise that, actually, with Welsh Government and EU funds, improvements to the A55 will be in the region of circa £50 million, as I’ve already said, and that has to be delivered to the highest standards.
 
EU Funding Discussions
 
14:08
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
7. What discussions has the Minister had with the UK Government in relation to EU funding in Wales? OAQ(4)0652(FIN)
 
14:08
Jane HuttBiography
I am in regular contact with UK Government Ministers, including through the Joint Ministerial Council Europe. Last month, I met with David Lidington MP, the UK Minister for Europe, to discuss EU reform, the forthcoming EU referendum, the future of cohesion policy and plans for the UK presidency in 2017.
 
14:09
Rhodri Glyn ThomasBiography
Minister, of course we are facing a referendum on our membership of the European Union. If the United Kingdom, as the member state, decides to withdraw from Europe, that would be a disastrous decision for Wales, and it would mean that we would be totally dependent on the Treasury to compensate us for all the European funding that we would lose as regards the common agricultural policy and the regional development policy. But, even if there was a renegotiation of our relationship with Europe, David Cameron has talked about taking that funding back into the Treasury, and even the leadership of the Labour Party is talking about that. What guarantee can you give us that, whatever happens with the referendum, Wales will not lose out financially as regards the funding that it receives from the European Union?
 
14:10
Jane HuttBiography
These are very important points that I’m able to raise as a Minister as a member of the joint ministerial council alongside colleagues from Scotland and Northern Ireland as well, particularly raising our concerns in terms of the prospects for Europe, and the prospects in terms of the opportunities and the threats that we have at the current time with the forthcoming referendum. I think it is very important that, at each opportunity—and the last meeting was in December—I emphasised the importance of structural investment funds continuing to be available, and also recognising the impact of those structural funds on our communities, regions, businesses and nation.
 
So, there are huge potential implications of the threat of exit from the European Union in terms of the referendum, and it is our duty now to ensure that Welsh interests and concerns must be given full consideration. Of course, I think, as the First Minister said yesterday, that’s what we’re focusing on at the moment—that the Treasury is very well and clearly aware of our concerns and the fact that we have to defend and protect those resources and those investments.
 
14:11
Julie MorganBiography
Does the Minister believe that the allocation of money by the Chancellor towards a compound semiconductor research and development centre in the Cardiff city region under Cardiff University will attract European funding, and could possibly lead to the establishment of the UK’s first semiconductor cluster?
 
14:12
Jane HuttBiography
I think this was very welcome. Also, I visited Cardiff University last year to see the development of the brain research imaging centre, which, of course, Julie Morgan will be very well aware of, and of course that was supported by Welsh Government and EU funds. But we’re also very engaged—officials in Welsh European Funding Office are very engaged—with Cardiff University about their institute for compound semiconductors, and that would support this emerging cluster. We’re also looking at ways in which we can see how the EU-funded SMART innovation could help support businesses in the cluster.
 
14:12
William GrahamBiography
Minister, I’m sure you’ll welcome the announcement in November from the United Kingdom Government that they will publish a report at least 10 weeks before any referendum detailing the obligations and rights under European law arising from the United Kingdom membership of the European Union, and this would help to dispel certain myths and misunderstandings.
 
14:13
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course we would. Not only is it welcome, it would have to be an obligation. But I think we have to ensure that we get the message over: what the impact of this could be as we move forward towards the referendum, because we’ve got to influence people before the referendum and make sure that they are fully aware of the impacts in terms of the referendum. It is vital that we do look at timescales and we also look at the significant operational implications in terms of potential UK exit and in terms of our European structural and investment funds.
 
Portffolio Gwasanaethau Cyhoeddus
 
14:13
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
9. Pa flaenoriaethau y rhoddodd y Gweinidog ystyriaeth iddynt wrth ddyrannu cyllid i’r portffolio gwasanaethau cyhoeddus? OAQ(4)0637(FIN)
 
14:13
Jane HuttBiography
The allocation for the public services portfolio was included in the draft budget ‘Fairer, Better Wales: Investing for the Future’, which I published on 8 December.
 
14:14
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Independent analysis carried out for the Welsh Government shows that, when delivering health services to a population that is older than average, that should be taken into consideration when making allocations to that health authority—a point that has been acted upon by the health Minister. Would you agree with me that if that is true for health services, it’s also true for social services? What analysis are you carrying out for ensuring that allocations to the social services budget, most of which comes through the local government budget, reflect the need to deliver services for populations that are above average age, such as those in Powys?
 
14:14
Jane HuttBiography
This is important. Of course, we’ve already discussed this afternoon the role, in the development of the formula for funding in terms of local government, for social services—between Welsh Government and local government. Clearly, I think those particular issues in terms of health funding have been recognised over time, particularly in terms of rural health needs.
 
The Natural Resources Portfolio
 
14:15
Jenny RathboneBiography
10. Will the Minister make a statement on next year’s budget allocation to the natural resources portfolio? OAQ(4)0646(FIN)
 
14:15
Jane HuttBiography
Taking revenue and capital together, the natural resources MEG in 2016-17 will be £367 million. We have cushioned the impact of revenue reductions with a capital increase of £26 million.
 
14:15
Jenny RathboneBiography
In Wales, we have an extremely rich environment for harnessing wind, solar and hydro energy, which could help local authorities save money and indeed generate money for their local communities at a time when the Welsh Government budget is having to make difficult decisions for local government. On that basis, might you be able to consider some sort of targeted funding for local authorities, so that they see the opportunities for developing community energy and energy generated by local authorities as a business opportunity rather than a burden that they choose not to engage with?
 
14:16
Jane HuttBiography
We have, as a Government, as Jenny Rathbone is aware, been very supportive of local energy generation. The Minister for Natural Resources responded to this in his statement yesterday and in questions of this kind. We’ve provided technical support and targeted project development funding to local authorities over the past 10 years to develop local energy schemes.
 
14:16
Llyr GruffyddBiography
As the body responsible for managing floods, it’s crucial that Natural Resources Wales get the resources that they need to carry out their functions effectively. But it does appear that NRW will face a cut of some 10 per cent in their revenue budget for next year. Can you tell us whether you believe that that is acceptable and what impact do you think that that will have on NRW’s ability to carry out its functions?
 
14:16
Jane HuttBiography
In the draft budget for next year, the MEG allocation for natural resources is £360 million, as I’ve said. This comprises £278 million revenue and £89 million capital. Taking that together, it will in fact be £9 million higher than the 2015-16 baseline of £357 million. We have cushioned, as I’ve said, the impact of revenue reductions with that capital increase of £26 million, which is very important to ensure that NRW is resilient and able to deliver on its objectives.
 
Sandy Mewies took the Chair.
 
14:17
Sandy MewiesBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
2. Questions to the Minister for Public Services
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:17
Sandy MewiesBiography
Item 2 is questions to the Minister for Public Services, Leighton Andrews. Question 1 from Angela Burns.
 
Public Service Delivery (West Wales)
 
14:17
Angela BurnsBiography
1. Will the Minister make a statement on public service delivery in west Wales? OAQ(4)0658(PS)
 
14:17
Leighton AndrewsBiographyThe Minister for Public Services
We set out our strategic reform agenda in ‘Devolution, Democracy and Delivery: Improving public services for people in Wales’.
 
14:17
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you, Minister. A number of my constituents have spoken to me about difficulties with waste collection and recycling. People, for example, use orange bags for recycling and black bags for general waste. Yet, it is extremely difficult to get hold of these orange bags, meaning that people cannot recycle as much as they’d like. Another example is that people wish to recycle by going to recycling plants, but they are often on a part-time basis, which means they have to travel further and use more of their fuel. In fact, it’s very difficult for those without cars who have to rely on public transport. Minister, I wonder what you could do to help solve this tension between the desire to promote constituents to be more sustainable and providing the means for them to practice this on a reliable basis.
 
14:18
Leighton AndrewsBiography
The responsibility for waste and recycling, of course, lies with my colleague the Minister for Natural Resources. I’m very pleased that Wales has been highly successful in meeting recycling targets. We are first in the UK for recycling and indeed fourth in Europe. But, really, these are matters for the local authority in the area represented by the Member, and she should take these matters up directly with the relevant local authority.
 
14:19
Elin JonesBiography
Minister, it is county councils that provide most public services in west Wales. There are 17 counties in Wales facing a cut of some 2 per cent or less in the local government settlement. There are three counties, all rural, facing a cut of 3 per cent or more and Ceredigion is one of those. What is the factor within the formula that you believe has led to such a dramatic difference in these cuts between the three counties that I mentioned and the others, and are you willing to look at the proposal made by the WLGA to introduce a rural stability grant that will militate against the effects of those cuts for those counties that are facing cuts of 3 per cent or more?
 
14:20
Leighton AndrewsBiography
The formula, of course, is agreed between Welsh Government and local government. Representatives of local government sit on the distribution sub-group. We review the formula on an annual basis. It is scrutinised by independent people on the basis of terms of reference agreed between local government and central Government. The factors within the formula that have a bearing on it are principally the issue of population numbers, sparsity and deprivation, of course, and those are the factors that bear most heavily on the formula.
 
I’ve not met a single local authority leader in Wales who believes the formula advantages their own authority. The reality is that some of the rural authorities, such as Powys, are funded per head on a much stronger basis than some of the urban authorities. So, I think, you know, the formula is complicated; we understand that. I think most in local government were expecting cuts of over 4 per cent, so the settlement that we came forward with, which is on average 1.4 per cent, has been generally well received by local government. We are currently out to consultation on the settlement, and we will look at the representations that come in during that consultation.
 
The Provisional Local Government Settlement for 2016-17
 
14:21
David ReesBiography
2. Will the Minister make a statement on the provisional local government settlement for 2016-17? OAQ(4)0657(PS)
 
14:21
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I announced the provisional local government settlement for 2016-17 on 9 December. The settlement is now out for consultation and I will consider all responses before making my final determination in March.
 
14:21
David ReesBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister, and I appreciate that the 1.4 per cent cut in the settlement for local government is a lot less than they were anticipating, and there are now going to be revisions to their proposals based upon the reduced cuts they now face. And Elin Jones has actually stolen my question in one sense, because I was going to ask the question: could you clarify that the settlement is based upon an agreed formula that seeks to address deprivation and inequality in our communities? And can you state what discussions took place with the WLGA on the formula prior to its use?
 
14:22
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Yes. I’m grateful to my colleague the Member for Aberavon. The funding formula certainly distributes the available funding on the basis of relative need, and it makes use of a wide range of indicators of the demographic, social, economic and physical characteristics of authorities, including measures of deprivation and sparsity. Local government is fully involved in this process. We review the formula on annual basis, in consultation with local government through the distribution sub-group, whose members include representatives of local authorities, the WLGA and independent experts.
 
14:23
Russell GeorgeBiography
Acting Presiding Officer, I declare an interest as a member of Powys County Council. Minister, I have been contacted by the leader of Powys County Council who has raised a very serious concern about the proposed 4.1 per cent cut in the allocation of funding to the local authority. Now, concern has been expressed, of course, that there is no floor to provide a safety net to those councils that are adversely affected by the formula that, as we know, disproportionately affects rural councils. Will you provide a floor is my question, and, secondly, will you meet with me and a delegation from Powys County Council to discuss these concerns?
 
14:23
Leighton AndrewsBiography
The leader of Powys County Council is perfectly able to make his representations clear through the consultation process that we are currently engaged in. I will repeat again that I made it clear at the time of the local government settlement that I did not intend to introduce a funding floor this year. The formula is agreed in consultation with local government. I’m not planning to review that. It seems to me that we’ve reached agreement with local government on the nature of the formula for this year.
 
14:24
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Minister, you have stated quite clearly that you do not see merit in introducing a floor, but the fact is that, over the years, a floor has had to be introduced in various local government settlements to protect a variety of local councils over the years, and now we have the proposals by the Welsh Local Government Association for a rural stabilisation grant. Does that not indicate to you that there are issues around the nature of the funding formula? What discussions have you had with the Welsh Local Government Association about their proposals for a rural stabilisation grant? What discussions have you had with the finance Minister to have additional resources for your portfolio, so that you could respond positively to the Welsh Local Government Association’s proposals?
 
14:25
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, I’ve had no conversations with the Welsh Local Government Association about their proposal. We are out to consultation on the provisional settlement at the present time. The reason there is no funding floor this year is because the funding settlement is better than many had feared. The overall cut is around 1.4 per cent across Wales. We’ve had funding floors in the past. We had a very severe reduction in local government spending last year. It was probably right to have a funding floor in place in that year. Can I remind the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire that Powys County Council is funded per head on a much stronger basis than most Valleys and urban authorities?
 
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople
 
14:25
Sandy MewiesBiography
I now call the party spokespeople to question the Minister, and first this week is the Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Simon Thomas. I wonder, after asking their question, if people could be quiet and listen to the answers.
 
14:25
Simon ThomasBiography
Thank you, acting Deputy Presiding Officer. Minister, when your Government reached a two-year budget deal with the Liberal Democrat group last year, did you expect it to include the local government settlement?
 
14:26
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, I wasn’t involved in the detailed discussions with the Liberal Democrats, but what I will say to you is that we have a draft budget, we’re currently out to consultation on the provisional settlement, and I will make my decisions in respect of the final settlement on the basis of the representations that are made.
 
14:26
Simon ThomasBiography
Well, Minister, I think that, when dealing with other parties, particularly the Liberal Democrats, you need to screw everything down. I think you should know that having been a member of the party. If you haven’t got agreement from the three opposition parties here, or one of the parties, about the local government settlement, I’m interested to know how you expect this draft settlement to be passed by the Assembly. It has serious implications for the rural authorities, as we’ve already heard, and for Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Powys in particular. It is important to note that the WLGA has commissioned Tony Travers already to re-look at the funding formula, but, in the meantime, precipitous cuts in funding are not conducive to a good budget and are not conducive to good service delivery. I’m sure you agree with that.
 
You’ll also be aware that, under the One Wales Government, when local government settlements were a little more generous, there was still a funding floor applied when they were inequitable. Now, you were Deputy Minister in that One Wales Government, you supported the funding floor at that stage when there were extremes of funding for some of the rural authorities. Why did you not introduce a floor this year, and did you not see it was necessary in order to gain support for your settlement?
 
14:27
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, let’s be clear: funding floors should not be a permanent feature of the local government settlement. They should be there on a transient basis, and there should not be an expectation there will be a funding floor every year. In respect of the work done by Tony Travers for the WLGA, he is chairing an independent commission into the future of local government funding that goes beyond the formula, of course, and looks at the overall structure of funding. I’ve met him once already; I look forward to meeting him again. I have also established a finance futures group on behalf of the Welsh Government to look at the future of local government funding, and that is a much broader question than simply the formula, because it obviously includes issues such as non-domestic rates and other means of funding that are open to local authorities.
 
We are well aware of the policy of his party. His party wants to change the formula to move more resources to rural areas. They said that in their manifesto. The consequence of that, of course, will be that Valley and urban authorities lose out.
 
14:28
Simon ThomasBiography
Well, it’s the Valley and urban authorities and the WLGA that are joining with the rural authorities to ask for rural stabilisation grants for this year. You’re absolutely right, Minister: the fact that we apply floors year in, year out does show that there’s something wrong with the funding formula, and that does need to be addressed, but there is a decision made and made urgently now. Local authorities have about three weeks before they start the statutory budget-making process. They cannot delay in that process waiting to see whether your Government will be able to smooth this deal through or not. Both the urban and rural authorities, together with the WLGA, have said, for this year—not addressing the whole formula issues, but for this year—that a rural stabilisation grant will smooth out those inequities in the process. Do you intend to accept that recommendation as part of the consultation process? And, if you do not, how do you expect to get this Assembly to agree your settlement?
 
14:29
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, I don’t intend to determine my views on a consultation that has not yet finished. I will look at the representations that come in in the course of the consultation on the settlement.
 
14:30
Sandy MewiesBiography
The Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Janet Finch-Saunders.
 
14:30
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you. Minister, Professor Colin Copus, director of the local governance research unit at De Montfort University, wrote recently that the larger local government becomes, the more the words ‘local’ and ‘government’ become redundant, as localism, community engagement and trust are lost, and larger bodies are often simply used as centralised public service delivery services. How do you respond to such criticism?
 
14:30
Leighton AndrewsBiography
We have published our plans for local government reorganisation. We are currently out to consultation on the draft Bill, which I published in November. That includes, of course, a detailed regulatory impact assessment. It includes also a consultation on the map that we have published.
 
14:30
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you, Minister. The auditor general here in Wales has also voiced his fears that your merger plans have, quote,
 
‘affected…the ability of some councils to think beyond four or five-year horizons’,
 
while senior local authority staff have referred to the uncertainty of reorganisation as a huge distraction and a large cost, and singularly unhelpful in making sustainable services difficult to plan. Furthermore, the reduction by almost £0.5 million to the supporting collaboration and reform action in the draft budget does, by your own admission, have potential negative effects on the ability of our local service boards. Minister, how are you working with local authorities to address concerns that service provision may now suffer as a result of such a focus by yourself on your proposed merger model?
 
14:31
Leighton AndrewsBiography
These are not my merger proposals—these are the Welsh Government’s proposals. Let’s be clear about that. The issue, I think, that we have to expect is that local government is always working in an atmosphere of uncertainty. And the key uncertainties facing local government at the present time are the uncertainties introduced by your Government’s austerity policies. They’ve set a climate within which they have to work that is very difficult. We have worked very closely with local government on the financial instability that is there at present. We held a joint seminar with the Welsh Local Government Association in November, which was well attended, and we looked at many different opportunities that were there for local government. We’ve published the KPMG study of the costs of administration in local government, which has found that local government, if operating to the standards of best practice across the whole of the UK, could be saving £151 million per year in terms of their administration costs. So, we work very closely with local government on the immediate and pressing priorities that they have.
 
14:32
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
Thank you, Minister. Now, as part of their 2016-17 settlement figures, local authorities in England have been given the opportunity to take up a four-year settlement to 2020, allowing funding stability and certainty to enable them to develop long-term, sustainable services and produce and support strategic collaboration with local partners. What consideration have you given to the calls of one of your leaders here in Wales—the leader of Wrexham council—only this week for the option of multi-year settlements here in Wales, and will you support that initiative?
 
14:33
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I would very much welcome the opportunity to give local government greater certainty, with better overview of its future funding. The problem I have—and the problem the Welsh Government has—is that we do not have that certainty ourselves from the UK Government. So, we can look at planning ahead with local government; I hope that local government leaders will look very acutely at the way in which they plan to use their reserves over future years. But the potential for longer-term planning is not there while our settlements are not long term themselves.
 
14:34
Sandy MewiesBiography
Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Peter Black.
 
14:34
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you, Chair. Minister, in terms of the local government settlement, I think we’ve established that, last year, there was a floor, and this year there isn’t. Do you accept that, despite the very generous, and much more generous, local government settlement this year compared to last, the removal of the floor has, effectively, exacerbated and exaggerated the impact on rural authorities, because they no longer have that protection? So, as well as the formula working against them, the removal of the floor has also worked against them as well.
 
14:34
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, as the Member knows, and as we discussed in committee this morning, if you have a floor in one year and you move to a year without the floor, then there is, effectively, through the formula, a catching-up exercise over two years in terms of the settlement that is then made, and that does produce a particular difficulty, I understand.
 
14:34
Peter BlackBiography
So, on that basis, could you explain why you didn’t consider, at the very least, a tapering mechanism to protect those rural authorities from that additional impact of removing the floor in addition to the formula?
 
14:35
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, the view I took was very simply that you cannot go on having a floor in place, otherwise it becomes essentially a bolt-on to the settlement and that doesn’t seem to me to make sense. We’ve got to make a decision: is the funding floor there as a temporary, transitional arrangement, or is it meant to be a permanent part of the settlement? I don’t think it can be a permanent part of the settlement.
 
14:35
Peter BlackBiography
I accept, Minister, that there are issues with the formula and I accept also that—you know, you’re right, you can’t keep a floor in place permanently, but the issue really is a structural one around the nature of local government finance, not just about the formula itself, and that is what needs to be fixed in the long term. But, while we’re trying to fix that and while we’re trying to get to a position whereby local authorities maybe raise more of their money themselves as opposed to relying on central government, do you not accept that it would be right that there would be some form of stabilisation grant put in place to ensure that, at least where there are changes in finance for local government, there is a levelling out across authorities about the nature of that change, rather than some authorities having very small reductions and other authorities having very large reductions, and that it is right that Government looks at that and tries to find mechanisms to ensure that is in place until those structural problems can be put right?
 
14:36
Leighton AndrewsBiography
In the abstract, I think the Member has a point. But I think there are some perverse incentives within the system. We have seen situations in the past, for example, where the existence of a floor has probably ensured that some local authorities have produced lower council tax increases than others simply because they knew they could rely on the floor to bring their financing up, and that itself is a penalty against those local authorities who do not have access to the funding floor. And that’s the trouble when you keep a floor in place for many years: you sometimes get a rather complacent attitude on the part of certain local council leaderships, where they avoid the necessary challenges they have in their authorities either to contain their spending or to look at what they’re expecting their local populations to contribute through the council tax. I am not prepared to allow that situation to continue.
 
Local Government Reorganisation
 
14:37
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
3. What public engagements has the Minister undertaken to explain the Welsh Government’s proposals for local government reorganisation? OAQ(4)0651(PS)
 
14:37
Leighton AndrewsBiography
We ran an extensive public awareness campaign last year on our proposals for local government reform, and are now consulting publicly on the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, which includes our proposals for local authority mergers, and I’ve held several public engagements with the Welsh Local Government Association.
 
14:37
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Thank you, Minister, for that answer. Very often you get invited by Members from this Chamber to come out and meet residents and constituents in their regions or constituencies. When I go around the Vale of Glamorgan, for example, I find many, many people opposed to the reorganisation of local government. In particular, many Labour councillors and the leader of the Labour group and leader of the council there, Neil Moore, are opposed to it. I’ve yet to find out what the constituency Member’s view is on this. Would you come along with me, Minister, and engage in a public meeting to take these views on board first hand in the Vale of Glamorgan so that you can appreciate the sentiment behind why people want to retain the Vale of Glamorgan as a separate entity, because they’re very proud of their local area?
 
14:38
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Can I say I’ve had many discussions with councillor Neil Moore, the leader of the Vale of Glamorgan council? I’m very pleased that we have a Labour administration in the Vale of Glamorgan and I know that if I was doing any public meetings on this subject in places like Barry I would be pointing out that the Conservatives want to take money away from places like Barry and move it to other parts of Wales.
 
14:39
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Will the Minister confirm that the Welsh Government has asked Welsh councils not to make new long-term commitments in terms of expenditure and so on that could have an impact on the reorganisation of local government according to Labour’s plans? Of course, it’s the next Government and the next Assembly that will decide what sort of reorganisation should take place, if any. But isn’t such a request now, which actually ties the hands of authorities such as Anglesey, proof of the danger that this Government’s reform agenda and time table is impairing authorities’ ability to carry out their main function, namely to provide the best possible services now and in the future for their citizens?
 
14:39
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Well, I don’t accept that, and let me explain to the Member why. The deadlines, the timetables, that we’ve published for our local government reform programme make it clear that we would not see the new authorities earlier than 2019, so people can plan with that basis of security. What we have done, of course, through the legislation put through this Assembly, is agree that we do not want to see local authorities embarking on long-term expenditure that would be nugatory or that would be inappropriate. And, of course, there are many local authorities already that are collaborating with others in order to provide a better service to their residents, and, indeed, to secure better value for money for their residents. And I would certainly encourage the leader of Anglesey to talk with the leader of Gwynedd and other authorities to see what can be done to provide better services for the people of Anglesey, and better value for money for the people of Anglesey.
 
Reorganise Welsh councils
 
14:40
Peter BlackBiography
4. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s plans to reorganise Welsh councils? OAQ(4)0648(PS)[R]
 
14:40
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Our plans to reform Welsh councils are set out in the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill and accompanying documents, which were published for consultation in November.
 
14:41
Peter BlackBiography
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Can I also refer you to the Welsh auditor general’s comments about reorganisation, where he says that reorganisation is a distraction from service provision and has affected the ability of some councils to think beyond four- or five-year horizons? And he says that they need to think more long term. Can I ask you, Minister, given the confused message that the Welsh Government is sending out in terms of both improvement, and in terms of reorganisation, how are you addressing that particular confusion on the part of local councils in regard to your agenda?
 
14:41
Leighton AndrewsBiography
I don’t think there’s any confusion about our local government programme, or about the need for service improvement. I think the auditor general is right to say that local authorities should not see local government reorganisation as a distraction from their duties to ensure service improvement at the present time.
 
14:41
Peter BlackBiography
Chair, can I also declare I’m a councillor—[Inaudible.]
 
14:41
Sandy MewiesBiography
Paul Davies.
 
14:41
Paul DaviesBiography
Diolch, Ddirprwy Lywydd dros dro. Minister, last year, you established a workshop to consider the costs and benefits that could arise from local government reorganisation, and it was noted that an equalisation of council tax rates and school funding formulas must be recognised. Should these unwanted proposals go ahead, can you reassure my constituents that an equalisation formula should be introduced to minimise the impact of increased council tax payments on Pembrokeshire residents, given that at the moment, of course, Pembrokeshire residents enjoy the lowest council tax rates in Wales?
 
14:42
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Can I say to the Member that we are consulting on the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill at the present time? We’ve published, alongside that, a very detailed regulatory impact assessment, which includes our overall costings. In all that documentation, he will find we’ve had a lot to say about a variety of things, including the issue of council tax harmonisation. I encourage him to read that and to make his representations through the consultation process.
 
The Serious Crime Act 2015
 
14:43
Gwenda ThomasBiography
5. Will the Minister make a statement on the effect of section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, which relates to domestic violence, on the provisions of the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015? OAQ(4)0652(PS)
 
14:43
Leighton AndrewsBiography
The Act complements the work we are already doing in Wales to improve the public service response to domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence and sexual violence. It brings a coherent approach to the devolved and non-devolved aspects of criminal justice.
 
14:43
Gwenda ThomasBiography
Thank you for that, Minister. What measures will you introduce to ensure that there is co-ordination by public bodies of their public response and awareness-raising of safeguarding provisions that are now law in Wales under the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, and the provisions included in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 that will be implemented on 1 April this year?
 
14:44
Leighton AndrewsBiography
Yes, it’s obviously very important that there is close co-ordination between the implementation teams in the Department for Health and Social Services, and with my officials in the violence against women policy team, to look at the areas that could include overlap. One of those might be, for example, training, and the provision of information to support that training. We’re working with the Care Council for Wales, in fact, to ensure that the training programmes linked to the implementation of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Violence against Women Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 reflect one another. This also includes development of the social care workforce development partnership advice to encourage cross-referencing and alignment across local implementation of training.
 
14:45
Mohammad AsgharBiography
Minister, the Serious Crime Act 2015 makes coercive or controlling domestic abuse a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, even if it stops short of physical violence. What plan d