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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Dame Rosemary Butler) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Good afternoon. The National Assembly for Wales is now in session.
 
13:30
Statement by the Presiding Officer
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Before we start the agenda, it gives me great pleasure to announce, in accordance with Standing Order 26.75, that both the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill and the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Bill were given Royal Assent on 18 January.
 
1. Questions to the First Minister
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:31
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to first item on the agenda this afternoon, and that’s questions to the First Minister. Question 1, Llyr Gruffydd.
 
The Basic Payment Scheme
 
13:31
Llyr GruffyddBiography
1. What specific steps is the Welsh Government taking to support farmers who are waiting for payments under the basic payment scheme? OAQ(4)2657(FM)[W]
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Within a payment window commencing 1 December 2015 and ending 30 June 2016, we have paid 74 per cent of businesses and are promptly processing remaining claims. Farmers who have not received payment by the end of January will receive a letter updating them on progress and when they should expect payment.
 
13:31
Llyr GruffyddBiography
As you’ve said, a quarter of Welsh farmers are still waiting. I’m sure that many of us, as Assembly Members, will have received messages from some of those farmers who are facing a very dire financial situation as a result of awaiting this payment. May I therefore ask: in situations where people are facing hardship—and the Deputy Minister has asked us to refer cases to her, of course—and in cases, once the Deputy Minister has looked at those cases, where it’s clear that the payment will not arrive any time soon, would you as a Government be willing to consider developing some method of providing a part-payment, perhaps, at an earlier date in order to ensure that the welfare of those individuals and their livestock does not suffer?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Of course, we’re willing to look at any way of ensuring that they are paid. One of the problems with, for example, cross-border farms is that we haven’t yet received the details or the data from the body in England. We hope to receive that next month, and, of course, we must ensure that we continue to pay farmers. We are doing much than England, as only 67 per cent have been paid there. In Scotland, it is only 18 per cent, according to last month’s figures, that have been paid to date. So, we are working very hard in order to ensure that the payments are made as soon as possible.
 
13:33
Paul DaviesBiography
First Minister, you will be aware that, last year, the Deputy Minister wrote to me to state that your Government had the right to make payments under this scheme from the middle of October onwards, but that you as a Government had decided not to do that. Do you not accept that it would perhaps have been sensible to have started to make these payments at that time in order to ensure that your officials had more time to then concentrate on the most complex cases, and that, therefore, more farmers would have received their payments in full by now?
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No, I don’t accept that, bearing in mind that, in Wales, the percentage of farmers who have been paid is higher than the percentage in England, and far higher than in Scotland. So, I believe that the system that’s been adopted is one that is robust, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of Welsh farmers have been paid. There are some difficult and complex cases that are still outstanding, but we are very confident that the situation will improve yet again over the ensuing weeks.
 
13:34
William PowellBiography
Before proceeding to my question, I draw Members’ attention to my register of interests in terms of our own family farming partnership. First Minister, in last week’s written statement, your Deputy Minister for Farming and Food urged farmers, and I quote:
 
‘to resist the temptation to phone the Customer Contact Centre chasing payment’
 
and not to divert staff unnecessarily from the business of making the remaining payments. Now, whilst I understand fully that time and resources are limited, given the extreme stress that certain farm businesses in Wales are under, would you reiterate today that it is important that farmers can make contact with the advice centres if they are in a situation where they think there’s been some irregularity, or where they’ve got specific issues to raise, because of the potential stress that many of them are under, as we’ve heard in previous weeks?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I would urge farmers to track the progress of their claims using Rural Payments Wales Online. That service is available. That does explain whether there are any outstanding queries, and that will provide them with the information more quickly, I would argue, than by telephoning. I would also say, of course, that the farm liaison service is there in the livestock marts and via the phone to offer one-to-one support and advice to farmers on these matters as well.
 
Social Care
 
13:35
Altaf HussainBiography
2. What are the Welsh Government's plans for improving the provision of social care in Wales? OAQ(4)2661(FM)
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
In Wales, we regulate for success. Yesterday, I sealed the new legislation—the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016, as it is now—and we continue to support the provision of effective, citizen-centred social care. The new legislative landscape, alongside our decision to protect social care budgets, allows the sector to meet the challenges ahead.
 
13:36
Altaf HussainBiography
Thank you very much, First Minister. First Minister, while we welcome the additional money in the budget of social services, cuts in other areas are impacting on social care provision. Your Government has cut funding to many organisations in receipt of the sustainable social services grant and changed the way grants are awarded to care and repair agencies. The way your Government is now awarding grants is endangering the provision of social care and will have an impact on the NHS by increasing delayed transfers of care. Therefore, will you look again at the grant-awarding process and ensure that those organisations in receipt of grants, designed to help the most vulnerable in our society, are able to plan for the future?
 
13:37
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I can say that, in the draft budget on 8 December, an additional £21 million was included in that statement in recognition of the pressures on social services in Wales. In England, between 2012 and 2015, there was a cut of 11.5 per cent in the social services budget. We see, for example, in the latest figures published by the Treasury, that combined spending per head on health and social services was 7 per cent higher than in England. We’ve established the intermediate care fund of £50 million. Of course, that is helping to avoid unnecessary hospital and residential admissions, making sure there are no delays in hospital discharges, and that fund also promotes independent living. We have made our financial commitment to social services. We will not pass the blame on to local government, which is what is happening under the Government in England, and we will continue to fund social services in Wales in the way that our people would expect.
 
13:38
Lynne NeagleBiography
First Minister, as you’ve just said, despite the challenges caused by Tory funding cuts to Wales, things are much better here because of the steps this Government has taken to protect social services. Can I ask whether you’re aware of the recent survey in ‘The Guardian’ that found that the vast majority of social workers are happy in their roles in Wales—87 per cent compared to 69 per cent in the south-west of England—and would you agree with me that the consultation announced by the Minister this morning on ending zero-hours contracts and ensuring that the domiciliary workforce is well paid is a further step forward in ensuring that social care is a positive career in Wales?
 
13:39
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, I do, and I thank the Member for the question. It’s a sign of the recognition that the profession has shown in the investment that’s been made in the workforce in Wales. The survey showed that Wales is a place, a nation, where social work is recognised and valued. It was said that it’s a better place to be and social workers in Wales are the happiest in the UK. So, that research is very welcome, of course, and it shows that when you in invest in those who work in social care, their morale increases and, importantly, the service they provide to the public improves as well.
 
13:39
Elin JonesBiography
First Minister, four times in this Assembly your Government and the Labour block has voted against the chance to place in legislation a ban on zero-hours contracts in the care sector. Perhaps you would like to explain to the Assembly why you would prefer to vote against the introduction of this in this Assembly, and in your term of Government, and to postpone it until the next Assembly, by introducing only a consultation on this important issue during your time as First Minister.
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We didn’t have any kind of a problem as regards the principle of it—that’s fine on this side of the Chamber. We want to ensure that zero-hours contracts are a thing of the past too. But, what you wanted to do was to add to Bills that were going through the Assembly, and also, of course, there would be a greater risk that those Bills would then be referred to the Supreme Court. We want to ensure that there is a direct way of doing this. If so, and if the United Kingdom Government wants to refer any Bill to the courts, that would be a matter for them. That would mean that it wouldn’t endanger any major Bill, and that was our major concern.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:40
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to questions from the party leaders. The first this afternoon is the leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:41
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Opposition
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, we all witnessed the terrible news yesterday coming out of Port Talbot and other plants across Wales, and indeed the rest of the United Kingdom. One job loss is one too many; it’s devastating news for families and the individuals—highly skilled individuals in many cases who’ve given a lifetime of service to the steel industry. There have been UK summits, there have been Welsh summits. I think it was 5 November that the Minister here held a steel summit with the industry. Can you tell us what tangible efforts were made after that summit to offer support from the Welsh Government, particularly on business rates, to the steel industry here in Wales?
 
13:41
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, we know—I know that, obviously, the Minister will make a statement on this later on this afternoon—that this is very difficult news for Port Talbot and the surrounding area. Can I pay tribute to the unstinting efforts of David Rees, the Assembly Member, who I know has been very concerned, as somebody from the area and with great roots in the area, in terms of what the future holds? What Tata have said to us is that there is, as we all know, an issue with the oversupply of steel. That is a matter for the European Commission to resolve as far as Europe in concerned. The strong pound, Tata tell us, is not helpful in terms of exporting steel from the UK. We know that there are issues with regard to high-energy costs, which the UK Government has recognised in the statement that they made last month.
 
We accept that business rates were devolved to us in April last year. There is a review that is already in place. The Minister will indicate that that review will move ahead with urgency to see what we can do to help Tata with business rates. But business rates on their own are never going to be enough in terms of the kind of money that’s going to need to be made available. Energy costs need to be dealt with. They are a major factor for Tata. Above all else, Tata wanted to feel, and they have said this to us—they are content with the relationship that they have with us and the work that we have done for them—they need to feel that the UK Government really and truly believes that there is a future for steel in the UK.
 
13:43
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
First Minister, there is a future for steel in the UK—I passionately believe that. Any advanced economy has to retain its steel industry and I would stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone who wanted to argue the case to make sure that we do have a strong steel industry here in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. It is vital that we do stand shoulder to shoulder. There is a vital board meeting in Mumbai next month, where the Tata board will discuss whether actions taken to date do warrant further investment and further positive decisions in the Port Talbot steelworks, but also at other sites that they have across Wales and across the United Kingdom. But, it is a fact that the chief executive—and I do take your point that business rates on their own would not be the solution to this problem—. Obviously, imports and dumping and energy costs are important parts of the equation, but the chief executive of Tata Steel Europe did point to business rates as being one—one—of the blocks that they require to be addressed in the wall of support that they require. So, it is important that when we look at this Chamber and what this Government can do, that we look to what you will be announcing, maybe after tomorrow’s meeting or sooner, about business rates. I do put the question again to you: is there any respite available to steel producers here in Wales on business rates because, obviously, there is Celsa Steel here in Cardiff as well, and it couldn’t be offered to just one steel producer, as it would have to be offered to the industry as a whole?
 
13:44
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That is the issue and that, of course, makes it expensive as far as Government is concerned. But, what I can say is that the Minister is writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, asking him to designate Port Talbot as an enterprise zone. That will mean assistance in terms of capital allowances; that will mean that we will be able to target business rate relief, and we look forward to the Chancellor of the Exchequer agreeing that we should be able to do that here in Wales.
 
Yes, we recognise, of course, that we need to do work on business rates, but the UK Government also has to recognise that there are factors here that are outside of the control of the Welsh Government. There are two unique factors that affect the steel industry only in Britain and which don’t affect the steel industry elsewhere in Europe. One is the strength of currency, and that is something that Tata have flagged up very strongly with us. There is less that the UK Government—they are not powerless—but there is less that the UK Government can do about that. But, on energy costs, that is something that we have lobbying the UK Government about for four years. They recognised last month that this was an issue. We do need to see action on this now. We will work with the UK Government, because I think the last thing that those who see their jobs at risk want to see is a political battle taking place. But we have to understand that there are, of course, challenges for us as a Government, that there are major challenges for the UK Government and, indeed, that there are challenges for the European Commission.
 
13:46
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
I look forward to working with you and any other politicians who want to advance the cause of Port Talbot and other steelworks here in Wales, and I, too, will be joining in those discussions and correspondence with the Chancellor to see what help we can offer from the Welsh Conservatives, and, in particular, building on the five-point plan for steel that we’ve brought forward. I hope that other Members will be able to coalesce around that.
 
I do want to ask you a question, though, on another issue that’s in the news today, around the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, and in particular the pressure that accident and emergency departments in Wales are facing. We know that, across the United Kingdom, there are pressures on A&E departments, but I do not believe that there is a single country within the United Kingdom that is understaffed in every A&E unit, as the report identifies today. In the freedom of information request that we’ve had returned from the health boards across Wales, in June of last year, the full-time equivalent, or the staffing measure that was used for consultant-grade posts, was only being met by that 45 per cent. Can you answer the question, First Minister, as to exactly how the Government will respond to the report around A&E staffing levels and, importantly, the retention of consultants within those units?
 
13:47
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, the comment that was made today—. Yes, we heard what was said, but I think it’s worth saying that the doctor who made the comment also said this is a problem that is across the UK, not just in terms of Wales. It’s a problem for all of us, that much is true. He also said that we are able to fill our junior doctor training posts in Wales. We’ve done that over the last year to maximum numbers, and it was said that we could fill them again. It is true to say that it’s always a challenge to recruit A&E consultants. That much is true. We know that, at this time of year, there are pressures. We plan for those pressures. We are grateful for the hard work that so many of our medical staff put in during this time of year. And we will, of course, work, as was acknowledged by the royal college, with the royal college itself in order to ensure that we can attract even more doctors to Wales. I do have to point out that we have already increased the number of A&E consultants in Wales by over 50 per cent in the last five years, and we will, of course, continue to do more.
 
13:48
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams.
 
13:48
Kirsty WilliamsBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, the news from Tata Steel will be devastating to hundreds of families and it’s vital that the Welsh Government does all that it can to help those workers retrain to find other jobs and to maintain salaries. When the steelworks closed in Newport, a number of years ago now, the Welsh Government set up Newport Unlimited, a development company with a significant budget, to try and mitigate the job losses in steel and to try to build resilience within that community. Do you have any similar plans to establish such a scheme to address these significant job losses in the steel industry?
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, these are all issues that will be discussed at the meeting that will take place tomorrow of the taskforce chaired by the Minister. I’ve already mentioned, earlier on in questions, the request that we are making for the designation of an enterprise zone, which I believe will help. What we don’t know at the moment is what the split will be between voluntary and compulsory redundancies. We don’t know how many people will be in need of retraining and, indeed, further help. But we have a track record—we did this in Murco, and we did this, as the leader of the Liberal Democrats is correct to say, back in 2001, when there were more significant job losses at that time. So, tomorrow will be the start of a short process in order to develop an action plan to deal with these job losses.
 
13:50
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, I was dismayed to read comments yesterday from you that you felt that you had done everything that you could to help the steel industry, so I’m glad at least today to hear that there are more initiatives being pursued by the Government to try and ensure that there is a future.
 
Can I return to the issue of business rates? Your Government has had full control of business rates since last year. In November of this year, you told me that your Government would proactively look at the abolition of business rates on plant and machinery, and now, today, you tell us that the Minister has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. First Minister, problems in the steel industry have been around for very many months: Redcar and Scunthorpe were perhaps warning signals to us that our steelworkers would be next. Why did the Minister wait until the job losses had been announced before writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pursue the issue of an enterprise zone, and when will you be in a position to make a positive announcement around business rates for Tata?
 
13:51
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I have to say I’m surprised at the tone of the question from the leader of the Liberal Democrats—to say that she is dismayed that the Welsh Government did all that it could to help the steel industry.
 
13:51
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
You said it yesterday.
 
13:51
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, that’s an unfortunate phrase, and not in the spirit, I would argue, of what has been said today—indeed, by the leader of the opposition. I have to say to her that we were not aware of what the scale of the announcement would be until the end of last week, when I had a conversation with Tata. She is right to say that we knew that there were challenges for the steel industry, but, in terms of the scale of the job losses, we weren’t aware of that until the end of last week.
 
It is right to say that Tata have asked us to join with them in emphasising to the UK Government how important the issue of energy cost prices is to them, how important the issue of infrastructure projects is as well, because we know that the tidal lagoon is a huge project, with great opportunities for steel, HS2 is a great project, electrification—these are all infrastructure projects for steel, where there’s the opportunity to specify the quality of the steel, which would mean a level playing field for plants like Port Talbot. Those schemes have not gone ahead, and they do need to go ahead for the future. Tomorrow’s emphasis will be on helping people, on making sure that we understand what can be done to help those who are affected, and, of course, we will then, at the same time, look at how we can encourage the UK Government, and, indeed, I have to say, the European Commission in this regard, to make sure, firstly, that we see the establishment of a level playing field, where we don’t see below-cost imports coming into the EU, and, secondly, that the fundamental issues of, for example, energy costs, are dealt with quickly.
 
13:52
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
First Minister, of course it won’t be just the workers at Tata that will be fearful for their futures today, but also those working for people who work in the supply chain and in the businesses in these communities that will be affected who will be very concerned about what the knock-on effect will be to their businesses and their employment prospects. Figures published yesterday by the Federation of Small Businesses show that confidence amongst small businesses in Wales has fallen back into minus numbers for the first time in almost two years. Welsh small and medium-sized enterprises are losing confidence in our economy, and now a key player in the economy of south Wales says it can’t guarantee its long-term future for Port Talbot. Could you outline today what key policies you will be bringing forward to turn business confidence in the small business sector around so that they feel that they have the confidence that they can invest and look to a brighter future?
 
13:53
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Many small businesses, of course, depend on larger businesses for their existence. If we look at the plant at Port Talbot, it does sustain jobs for many, many contractors, that much is true. It goes without saying that the announcement yesterday was unwelcome. We have to balance that, of course, against the good job announcements that we’ve had in the course of the past year—we look at creative industries; there are many, many SMEs that are benefiting with the productions that are coming to Wales. But, of course, yesterday there was more difficult news. We, of course, work with our SMEs in terms of being able to help them, whether it’s through finance, whether it’s through advice, because we recognise how important they are to the Welsh economy. The leader of the Liberal Democrats is correct: the emphasis now has to be on ensuring a sustainable future for steel in Wales, which I believe is perfectly possible. We’re not talking here about an industry that has not had investment, that is antiquated, that somehow belongs in a past era—far from it. Port Talbot is one of the most sophisticated plants in Europe. It has had lots of investment, it has a fantastic workforce and it has the ability to produce high-quality steel. What it doesn’t have is a level playing field, and that is something that a number of levels of government have to address.
 
13:55
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Now we move to the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:55
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch, Lywydd. We’ll return to steel later in this session, First Minister. I’d like to go back to the question of health. It’s clear from your response to Dr Robin Roop’s concerns that you think that Welsh patients should just put up with the current state of the Welsh NHS. One point that Dr Roop made is, and I quote:
 
‘In Wales staff turnover in emergency medicine is getting worse. We have not been able to recruit new consultants at the same level here as in other countries.’
 
I wonder if you can tell us how many health boards are out recruiting now for emergency consultants. And, First Minister, I heard in your answer earlier on that you said that there’s been an increase in spending on A&E consultants and that, according to your own figures, that’s almost £1 billion. If you can’t show results from this, then doesn’t it call into question your management?
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, she’s misheard what I said. What I said was that the number of A&E consultants has increased by over 50 per cent in the last five years, from 40 to over 60, and we will continue to do more to recruit them. Health boards are actively recruiting to current vacancies, but there are shortages, not just in Wales but across the UK, in terms of those who are available for A&E consultant roles. It is, however, encouraging that we are able to fill the junior doctor training posts in Wales—we did it last year to maximum numbers and we can fill it again—because that means, of course, that where doctors train in Wales, they are more likely to stay in Wales. We’ve seen what’s happened with junior doctor strikes in England; it’s quite clear that junior doctors see Wales as an attractive place to begin their careers, and also, I believe, to develop their careers.
 
13:57
Leanne WoodBiography
But if you just look at A&E times alone, then people here in Wales wait longer for A&E than they do in either England or Scotland. Now, if the situation with regards to recruiting consultants is the same right throughout the UK, why are patients in Wales waiting longer than anywhere else?
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It’s comparing apples with pears. Let me give you an example: in England, A&E waiting times include their walk-in centres, which are not A&E departments, but they are included in the figures, and that helps, then, to present the figures in a different way. We use figures for A&E departments. We don’t use walk-in centres—we don’t have walk-in centres—as a way of making our figures appear better. What we do know is that the hospitals have coped with the winter pressures and the plans have held. We know that people have been—we haven’t seen what we saw in England last year in A&E. The pressures are there, that much is true, and those pressures will need to be addressed. But I do note that the comments of the royal college are positive in terms of the engagement that they have with the Welsh Government, positive in terms of recruitment of junior doctors, and, of course, recognise the fact that there are difficulties across the UK and beyond in terms of recruitment, and that it’s a challenge that all of us, in all levels of government, including Scotland, have to rise to.
 
13:58
Leanne WoodBiography
First Minister, these sound like excuses, and they sound like weak excuses. These are not new problems, are they? They are problems that your Government has consistently failed to tackle, though. Plaid Cymru has set out our plans clearly to increase the capacity in the health service, to bring down waiting times and to counter your centralisation plans, which, of course, are making all of this worse. Our plans to train and recruit 1,000 extra doctors will improve outcomes for patients, and our proposals to fully integrate health and social care will deal with the bureaucratic nightmare that Dr Roop has highlighted.
 
Now, First Minister, we all know what you are against. You consistently rubbish new ideas that will improve outcomes for people, although, usually, a few years down the line, our proposals are accepted by yourselves—you come round. Is it not time now to come round to addressing the crisis in NHS recruitment, as well as the need to fully integrate health and social care?
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, let me deal with that issue and the issue of steel as well, because it’s relevant to what I’m going to say about health. This morning, I understand from your party’s press conference, the suggestion was that the Welsh Government should borrow up to £1 billion in order to take a stake in Tata. If you think that’s sensible—[Interruption.] If you think that’s sensible, then I say to you now—[Assembly Members: ‘Oh.’] Well, I say to you now: that is not the way to deal with the situation in the steel—
 
14:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order.
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
[Continues. ]—industry. Secondly—[Interruption.]
 
14:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order, order. First Minister.
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
[Continues.]—it was said—
 
14:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
First Minister, First Minister.
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
[Continues.]—that the money should not be used for the M4, but to buy a stake in Tata. That is money that has to be borrowed.
 
14:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Is my microphone on?
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Now, in the context of that, I turn to the issue of what you said about doctors. You say—[Interruption.] Well, either you want to listen—
 
14:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order. Will you let the—? I’m sorry, First Minister—. First Minister. First Minister.
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I’m sorry if you don’t like having your comments repeated back to you, but let me turn to the second point that—
 
14:00
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I’m sorry, First Minister. First Minister. First Minister. Your microphone has been turned off, First Minister. I’m trying to get some quiet so we can hear what you’re saying.
 
The Minister has not finished answering his question yet, so you can’t say that he’s not answering it.
 
14:01
Leanne WoodBiography
Well, he’s answering a question that he wasn’t asked.
 
14:01
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Well, you have to wait until he’s finished. First Minister.
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I will move on, having used that context, to deal with the point that she raises. There is an issue with the recruitment, she says, of A&E consultants. She is correct. There is an issue across the whole of the UK in that regard. A thousand doctors do not address the issue of A&E consultants, because what she is suggesting is we should train 1,000 doctors. It takes 10 years, at least, to train somebody to the level of a consultant. That will not help in recruiting consultants now to the Welsh NHS, and we will focus on recruiting consultants now, rather than saying, as she does, ‘It doesn’t matter, because everything will be fine in 10 years’ time’. That’s not good enough; we want to deliver things now.
 
14:02
Leanne WoodBiography
There’s no need for patronising, is there?
 
14:02
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
I would appreciate it if Members could let the Chair hear what’s happening this afternoon, so please can you stop shouting across the Chamber?
 
We now move back to questions on the paper. Question 3, Keith Davies.
 
Older People in Poverty
 
14:02
Keith DaviesBiography
3. Will the First Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government’s commitment to tackling poverty among older people in Wales? OAQ(4)2665(FM)[W]
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We are committed to tackling poverty for all, including older people. For example, so far in the current financial year, our Supporting People programme has helped over 43,000 older people to live independently. Funding allocated to Age Cymru enabled them to respond to over 17,000 requests for advice in the first half of this financial year.
 
14:03
Keith DaviesBiography
Thank you. Last week, we heard an announcement made by the Conservative Government in the UK about devolving the attendance allowance to Wales. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the UK Government on the devolution of these welfare benefits? Do you share my concern that the fund could be cut before it’s devolved, as happened with the devolution of council tax benefits two years ago?
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Thank you for the question. There are a number of issues here. First, we haven’t asked for the devolution of this allowance. There’s been no discussion on this. I don’t know what the United Kingdom Government’s plans are. What we do know is that, if we look at what happened with the council tax benefit, funding was taken out of the budget before it was allocated to Wales. So, there was a gap in the budget before it even arrived. We don’t know in which way the funding would be allocated. What we do know is that, as regards the Great Britain percentage, 7.1 per cent of the people who are in receipt of the allowance come from Wales. If we got some kind of Barnett allocation, we would have less funding. Therefore, this is not something that we are in favour of seeing devolved, bearing in mind that we don’t know how much funding will be available.
 
14:04
Darren MillarBiography
Thank you for that answer, First Minister, to that particular question. But will you join me in congratulating the UK Government on its introduction of a triple lock for pensioners in terms of the increase in the state pension? Do you not also want to reflect, when you talk about council tax, on the fact that they’ve had a council tax freeze in England, yet pensioners haven’t been able to enjoy such a freeze here in Wales? That has left pensioners hundreds of pounds worse off under your Government than under a Government in England that has frozen council tax.
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I mean, the idea that there has been a freeze in council tax in England is a myth, as we know. At least half of the councils have ignored the freeze. We know that.
 
14:05
Darren MillarBiography
But half have frozen.
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
[Continues.]—We know that, because they couldn’t afford to keep their budgets going under the financial settlement that his party delivered. So, you always want to talk about a council tax freeze, but when that leads to a destruction of social care for older people, which is what his party is leading in England, that is not something that we are willing to support. Council tax in Wales is, on average, 17 per cent lower than in England. That is the price of a Conservative Government in England—a 17 per cent increase in council tax. When it comes to attendance allowance, I’ll say this once again to him: we’ve had no discussions over this. If this is something that the UK Government wishes to devolve, then it must not do it on the same basis as council tax benefit, when it took a cut of the money before that money arrived in Wales. We have 7.1 per cent of the GB population that receives attendance allowance. If we get a Barnett share, we’ll be tens of millions of pounds out of pocket.
 
14:06
Lindsay WhittleBiography
First Minister, one of the main reasons why older people have to exist on low incomes is that they’re unaware of the financial help available. You mentioned in your previous answer about the financial assistance given to Age Cymru. Other charities are available as well. Could you tell us what efforts the Welsh Government is making to help older people gain access to financial help and, in particular, pension credits to which they are entitled, please?
 
14:06
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we do support a range of advice providers to deliver advice in outreach settings and in different ways, including face to face, over the phone and home visiting, so that we can try and reach the individuals and the families that are most in need of support. We need to ensure that there are a range of advice services available to suit the needs of everyone. We know, for example, that being able to access face-to-face advice is particularly important for older people; so, we’ll be looking to maintain this type of service where there is a local need for that service.
 
University Research Projects
 
14:07
William GrahamBiography
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the impact of the Welsh Government 2016-17 budget on university research projects? OAQ(4)2659(FM)
 
14:07
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Universities receive a range of funding to support research projects, including through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and European funding. To boost Wales’s research capacity and to ensure greater future competitive grant capture, Sêr Cymru and Sêr Cymru II are now both operational.
 
14:07
William GrahamBiography
Thank you, First Minister, for your answer. How do you account for the criticism, First Minister, that the £20 million reduction in the education budget for HEFCW will seriously curtail the amount of money to be spent on quality research, particularly part-time education and expensive subjects, including STEM?
 
14:07
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, overall income to the sector from private and public services is £1.3 billion. So, we maintain that this budget reduction is actually a relatively small one to the overall sector. In his remit letter to HEFCW the Minister for Education and Skills will provide a strong steer on how the budget should be applied. We will, of course, listen to representations from the sector in the meantime, but it’s ultimately for the council to decide the allocation of resources.
 
In terms of research, Sêr Cymru has already gained £27 million of grant income for a £10 million input. Sêr Cymru II has secured £17 million from COFUND, plus £39 million for its other fellowship schemes. So, the remaining other sources of income that are available to higher education, and the figures that are being talked about in terms of reduction, though difficult—I appreciate that—are to be set against the overall income that the sector has.
 
14:08
Simon ThomasBiography
Well, HEFCW is quite clear on this because David Blaney has e-mailed all Welsh universities on 15 January, saying the following:
 
It will probably make sense for you to start thinking about reductions of some 40 per cent in our funding for the next academic year.
 
You’re cutting HEFCW’s funding, which, in turn, will cut research funding from £80 million this year to something like £50 million or less next year. In your final year as First Minister, are you proud that you have withdrawn funding from research in universities? Does this not demonstrate that your university funding policy is an utter failure?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No, it does not, and I return to the figures that I alluded to earlier, namely the money that has gone into Sêr Cymru and Sêr Cymru II. That shows how committed we are, as a Government, to the sector and also in terms of research. We see, of course, the research that has increased and grown in Wales over the past few years due to the fact that these schemes have been established and, of course, the funding that they’ve drawn in from other sources.
 
14:10
Eluned ParrottBiography
I declare an interest: my husband works for Swansea University. Cardiff University, though, in my region, generates £6 in economic impact for every £1 spent on it. Therefore, if the assumed cuts, including the in-year cuts, for that one institution alone are correct, the cut proposed will take £120 million out of the local economy in my region. Cardiff University makes, of itself—in one single institution—a measurable impact on Wales’s GVA and Wales’s export figures. What assessment did the Welsh Government make of the impact of cuts in budgets in the education and skills department on the outputs it expects to see in the Welsh economy and the economy, science and transport budget?
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We understand that it’s difficult; it was difficult for the FE sector last year. We know that the cuts are even higher in England and in Scotland. We know that, put against the overall income for universities, the cuts are relatively small, although they will need to have to be managed. HEFCW, of course, has the job of ensuring that our universities are funded, but as I mentioned earlier on, the Minister will be providing a steer to HEFCW in terms of how the cuts to its budget should be applied.
 
Trade Union Bill
 
14:11
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the constitutionality of the UK Government imposing the Trade Union Bill on Wales without the consent of this Assembly? OAQ(4)2656(FM)
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we will debate a legislative consent motion on the Trade Union Bill next Tuesday. If consent is withheld, the UK Government should respect the will of the Assembly and revise the Bill accordingly.
 
14:11
Gwyn R. PriceBiography
Thank you for that answer. The Wales Trades Union Congress released legal advice from Hefin Rees QC that states that the
 
‘UK Government’s conclusion that the Bill’s provisions are not within the legislative competence of the Assembly is flawed’.
 
How potentially damaging is this imposition of the Trade Union Bill to labour relations in Wales?
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, hugely. Our view is that this falls within our devolved competence, which is why there is an LCM coming before the Assembly. I would hope that the UK Government respects the will of this Assembly, elected by the people of Wales. I believe that at least three of the parties—well, at least two of the parties in the Chamber—certainly would feel that this does come within devolved competence. We will do all that we can in order to press that point home with the UK Government, including, of course, taking steps to overturn and repeal those sections of the legislation, should the legislation become law, in those areas that we feel are within our competence.
 
14:12
Mohammad AsgharBiography
First Minister, one of the proposals in the Trade Union Bill is that union members will have to opt in to pay a political levy instead of opting out, as at present. Is it not the case, First Minister, that your concern and proposal are not in the true spirit of the constitution of the Trade Union Bill? You’re only protecting the money for your own Labour Party.
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The whole point of the Trade Union Bill is to undermine—undermine—the main opposition party in Britain, with a view to undermining democracy, in my view. That’s all this is about. I do not see equivalent provisions for businesses and companies. I do not see those provisions. I do not see how shareholders in individual companies are somehow asked their view as to whether there should be a political contribution to his party. One rule for them, and one rule for everyone else. It is our view that there are sections of the trade—. Well, we don’t support the Trade Union Bill as it is, but there are sections of the Trade Union Bill that fall within devolved competence. Let’s see if the party opposite agree with that, that this is a matter for the people of Wales, or will they simply do as they’re told from London?
 
14:13
Simon ThomasBiography
Plaid Cymru agrees with you, First Minister, that there are parts of this Bill that are within the responsibility of this Assembly and that, therefore, it’s appropriate that an LCM does come before the Assembly. Plaid Cymru will vote against giving that consent. But, if Westminster legislates anyway, because Sewel is a convention of course, rather than part of the constitution as such, you’ve just mentioned that you will look at legislating in this area to do away with those sections of the Bill that are devolved to Wales. This will happen in the next Assembly. It can’t happen in this Assembly. If that does happen, are you willing to fight that corner, whoever the First Minister is, in the Supreme Court?
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Of course. If you’re asking me what I believe will happen now, the Assembly will vote against the LCM, and the United Kingdom Government will proceed regardless and insist that the Bill itself should come into Wales, and also into the devolved public services that have been devolved. Then that will be a matter, of course, for the next Government, but I’m sure that a Bill would come before the Assembly in order to get rid of some of the sections of the Bill appertaining to devolved issues. The problem is, with the Wales Bill at the moment, if that goes through as it stands, then we would not be able to do that as an Assembly. So, the legal position at the moment gives the people of Wales the opportunity, through this Assembly, to overturn the sections of the Bill that have not been agreed by the Assembly, But there is a danger in relation to the new Bill, in relation to what that will do.
 
14:15
Mick AntoniwBiography
First Minister, if I might commend the Government for the stand it has taken in supporting democratic rights in the United Kingdom, can I just say that, leaving aside disagreements that may exist between different parties over the merits or demerits of the Bill itself, there’s a broader constitutional issue around which everyone in this Chamber can unite, and that is that the Sewel convention has to be upheld, and attempts to impose legislation on Wales in areas that are clearly reserved matters for this Assembly are constitutionally wrong, and what we should be expressing from this Chamber is unity on the constitutional position, which is that the Trade Union Bill should not be imposed on this Assembly without its consent?
 
14:16
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Absolutely. The judgment on the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill makes it pretty clear, to my mind, that this is an issue where the Assembly has devolved powers. We have made this point to the UK Government. They want to ignore that judgment, and that is something that they will have to explain. But, if it comes to the point where that Bill is passed and its provisions are applied to devolved public services, then we will seek to introduce a Bill in this Chamber to overturn the sections of the Bill that impact in devolved areas. It’s a matter for the UK Government as to whether they then wish to go to the Supreme Court in order to frustrate the will of this democratically elected Assembly.
 
14:17
Urgent Question: Accident and Emergency Departments
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We move now to the next item on the agenda. I have accepted an urgent question under Standing Order 12.66. I call on Andrew R.T. Davies to ask the urgent question of the Minister.
 
14:17
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Will the Minister make a statement on claims by the head of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Wales that no A&E department in Wales had enough consultants to meet minimum RCEM staffing levels last year? EAQ(4)0676(HSS)
 
14:17
Mark DrakefordBiographyThe Minister for Health and Social Services
Staff numbers and the skills mix in accident and emergency departments are set by local health boards. While there is a UK-wide shortage of emergency medicine consultants, as the First Minister explained earlier this afternoon, the number of A&E consultants in Wales has increased by more than 50 per cent over the most recent five-year period, and increased in every one of those five years.
 
14:18
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Thank you, Minister, for that answer. Obviously, in the report today it talked of A&E departments in Wales being on the edge. I do accept that there are pressures across the whole of the United Kingdom, Minister, when it comes to accident and emergency provision, but, from a freedom of information request that we’ve had back from the health boards, if you take the baseline measurement that the Royal College of Emergency Medicine uses to measure staffing levels for consultants in A&E units across Wales, it shows that, in June of last year, only 45 per cent of consultants were in place to meet their baseline requirements. That’s the health board’s own figure, Minister.
 
The key question for you as the Government of the day is: how are you going to be working with local health boards to address not just the recruitment, but, importantly, the retention, of key personnel within accident and emergency departments across Wales, and in particular consultants, so that that baseline figure can be met, and ultimately you can finally get on top of the chronic waiting times that many patients are experiencing in A&E departments across Wales?
 
14:19
Mark DrakefordBiography
Llywydd, it’s very important to be clear that this so-called baseline figure is a figure of the royal college. It’s not a figure of the health boards, and it’s not a figure that any health department in the United Kingdom recognises as its own. You ask a group of consultants how many consultants they think there should be and they produce a figure. Now, we have increased the number of consultants in A&E departments in Wales. There is definitely more to do. I absolutely accept that, and it is a matter of recruitment and of retention. There will be a statement later this afternoon, Llywydd, by the Deputy Minister on the emergency medical retrieval and transfer service, which is showing how that by itself has helped us with recruitment and to retain some very skilled and experienced staff within the Welsh A&E departments. We work with our local health boards. We provide our consultants, we think, with a combination of factors that makes the job attractive to them. And, in Wales, we work with our consultant body, as the individual doctor who made the statement earlier today agreed, in order to try and resolve the difficulties that we face.
 
14:20
Elin JonesBiography
Minister, the comments of the royal college on the vulnerability of our A&E departments are very serious indeed. There’s only one hospital in Wales that sees over 90 per cent of its patients within four hours in an A&E department, and that is Bronglais hospital. I do take pride in the performance of that hospital, but that, of course, only reflects on the fact that other hospitals are failing to meet that kind of figure.
 
Now, we’ve discussed the number of consultants and staffing deficiencies in emergency units on a number of occasions, but another issue raised specifically by the Royal College is the need to improve patient flow through our hospitals. To do that, of course, we all know what the solution is. We’ve known these solutions for some five years, and that is that we need a better integration of health and social care services. Plaid Cymru has some exciting proposals to fully integrate social services and health services.
 
Now, to date, you haven’t succeeded in cracking this particular issue and in implementing the improvements in this integration, which is so necessary. So, what haven’t you done over the past five years to improve this integration that you intend to do in the two months you have remaining as Minister?
 
14:21
Mark DrakefordBiography
We are well aware of Plaid Cymru’s policies to throw the health and social care services in Wales into massive upheaval and reorganisation—absolutely calculated to make the position worse, not better. Delayed transfers of care in the Welsh system, which I think is the key test of whether the integration agenda is working, have fallen in the last two months. We are confident that, despite being in the depths of winter, they will go on falling and that is a result of the success we have had, and the success, let me acknowledge, helped by the intermediate care fund, as part of the way we do things to get health and social care working together. It’s not just a matter of integration, Llywydd, it’s also a matter of the nature of demand. The people who come in through our accident and emergency departments in recent years are older, are frailer and are more complex; they take longer for their problems to be addressed. Integration, which we are succeeding in doing, is helping us to address that. But, by itself, it doesn’t make a difference to the nature of demand.
 
14:23
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Can I say, Minister, I’m surprised to hear you dismiss the views of the royal college regarding the baseline number in the way you have, because often your Government uses royal college guidance as an excuse to close services and to reconfigure services?
 
You are quite right to say—[Interruption.] You’re quite right to say what you have said about demand. Would you agree with me that one of the areas in which we could take pressure off our A&E departments and provide a better service for patients and their relatives is those people at the end of their lives who find themselves being blue-lighted into an A&E, when, in reality, there is very little can be done to prolong their lives? Those individuals should be able to spend their last hours in a more conducive and pleasant setting. What are you doing to work with primary care and the social care sector to ensure that people at the end of their lives do not have to spend that time in a very busy, stressful, noisy environment in an A&E department?
 
14:24
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank the Member for the question. Llywydd, let me be clear: I wasn’t dismissing the royal college’s figures; I was simply pointing out to the leader of the opposition that it was not the health board’s figures, as I think he was suggesting, and that those staffing levels are ones that the college itself have published.
 
Now, the point that the Member makes is a really important one. To be taken from a care home or from your own home when you are in the last hours of life to an emergency department is actually not the way at all that people would want to see their lives, or the lives of their relatives, come to an end.
 
In Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board we have a pilot going on where the board has worked with 11 different care homes in its area on exactly this topic. When the experiment began, over 20 per cent of people who died didn’t die in the care home, which was the place where they lived, but were taken into hospital and died very shortly thereafter. Six months after the start of the experiment, that figure is now down to 6 per cent. At the start of it, 43 per cent of residents in those 11 care homes had advance decision documents; today, 83 per cent of them have them. It’s an example of what the Member said, that, when work goes on to address that part of what will happen to all of us in a care home setting, we can make a real difference both to the quality of life and experience that people have, and in the process make sure that people are looked after in the right place—and that very often, certainly in those circumstances, is not likely to be an A&E department.
 
14:26
Darren MillarBiography
Minister, one of the other things that was cited this morning in the quote by Dr Robin Roop was the morale in the health service, particularly in those departments that are under pressure, being at rock bottom. What specific action are you taking to improve the retention of staff who are considering exiting emergency departments? [Interruption.] I can hear Government Ministers heckling me, Presiding Officer.
 
14:26
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Order.
 
14:26
Darren MillarBiography
I can hear Government Ministers heckling me, Presiding Officer, but I’m going to persist with my questions.
 
14:26
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Well, I can hear lots of people heckling. Can we just let the questioner ask the question in silence, and the Minister answer in silence as well? Darren Millar.
 
14:26
Darren MillarBiography
Can I ask what you are doing to improve the immediate retention of those staff and what you would say to those staff who are considering exiting the Welsh NHS because of the pressures that they’re under? Do you also accept that closing minor injuries units across Wales has added to the pressure in our emergency departments and therefore undermined that staff morale that I have just referred to? Will you explain to patients across Wales why you’re twice as likely to wait beyond four hours in an emergency department in Wales compared to over the border in England? I accept that there are pressures in England, we all understand that, but will you explain why people are twice as likely to wait beyond that four-hour target here than they are elsewhere?
 
14:27
Mark DrakefordBiography
There were a number of different questions there, Llywydd. The Conservative Party’s plans to open redundant MIUs across Wales is a recipe for making sure that people who need to get an accident and emergency response will find that more difficult, because staff will be taken away from those departments in order to reopen units for which there is no demand and no clinical support for their reopening, either.
 
As far as morale is concerned, the Member will be very well aware that the constant attacks by his party on the NHS in Wales are regularly reported to me as one of the things that affect people’s ability to do the job. As far as that is concerned, he’ll be well aware that clinicians in Wales look across the border, look at the strike that took place amongst junior doctors there, and ask themselves very clearly the question of where they would rather work, and they know the answer to that question, I can assure him.
 
As for his question on four-hour waits, let me explain—[Interruption.]
 
14:28
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Sorry. Please, let’s listen to the answer to the urgent question. Darren Millar is complaining that there’s calling from other benches; it’s happening from your benches as well, particularly from senior members of your party. Minister.
 
14:29
Mark DrakefordBiography
As far as the four-hour waits issue is concerned, Llywydd, in Wales we have a system in which we work in our emergency departments to try and make sure that people who do not need to be admitted to a hospital are worked with and returned home. In the English system, at three hours and fifty-nine minutes, we know that there is a rush to admit in order to beat the clock. That’s simply not in the interests of patients, and we will not run our system on the basis that it will produce figures that are convenient for politicians rather than services that are right for patients.
 
14:29
Eluned ParrottBiography
Minister, some constituents of mine turned up to the Heath hospital in Cardiff on 14 December and waited overnight without seeing a doctor. According to the staff, there were no doctors available at all in Cardiff’s A&E clinic outside of the resuscitation bays. Now, I’ve had a response from the health board; they accept that and they know that their staffing is not adequate, in their words, and that they are conducting a full workforce review. However, it says that whilst they are opening more resus bays, and I quote,
 
‘further investment will be required to open all the available bays’.
 
Will you be making that investment available to them?
 
14:30
Mark DrakefordBiography
If the Member would like to share that correspondence with me, I’m quite happy to review it.
 
14:30
2. Business Statement and Announcement
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister. We now move to item 2, which is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Minister for Finance and Government Business, Jane Hutt.
 
14:30
Jane HuttBiographyThe Minister for Finance and Government Business
There have been three changes to the business statement for this week’s business. The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport will be making a statement on Tata Steel, and to allow sufficient time for this important issue to be debated, the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport wishes to withdraw her oral statement on recommendations on the future of the blue badge scheme in Wales, which will be issued as a written statement. As there have only been four questions tabled to the Counsel General, the time made available on Wednesday has been reduced to 15 minutes, and business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement that can be found among agenda papers available to Members electronically.
 
14:31
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Minister, could we have a statement from the Deputy Minister in relation to the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014 that was put through and is now effective for local authorities to use? I think you’ll be familiar with the fact that, in the western part of the Vale, there is an increasing problem with fly-grazing showing its head again, and causing a huge amount of distress, I would say, in terms of the welfare of the animals, but also the trespass that these animals are inflicting on private property—very often, people’s own garden space, as well as verges of the road, which could prove really dangerous for traffic using the road as well. Could we have a statement from the Minister to update us on how effective this piece of legislation has been, and how many local authorities are implementing it to best effect, so that we don’t get repetition of some of the horrendous scenes that we saw some two to three years ago, that led to the calls for the introduction of this piece of legislation?
 
14:32
Jane HuttBiography
That is a very constructive question. I’m sure we will want to update and, indeed, monitor the legislation, which, of course, this Welsh Government put through.
 
14:32
Mike HedgesBiography
I have two requests. The first one is: I would like to ask for a statement on the Landore rail repair depot, which is planned to close. While this is not a devolved issue, the closure was related to electrification. With electrification being postponed, there is now good reason to postpone the closure. I wonder whether the business Minister can make a statement on what is happening with that depot.
 
The second one is that I would like to ask for a statement on progress with the Swansea bay city region. With the loss of jobs at Port Talbot and Trostre, plus the new-found lack of enthusiasm for the tidal lagoon by the Prime Minister, can the business Minister make a statement on proposed infrastructure improvements for the region and plans to grow the region’s economy?
 
14:33
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Mike Hedges for that question. The issue about the Landore rail depot is a matter for the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport. She has her questions tomorrow, and I know that she will want to respond. Also, it is important, in terms of your questions about the opportunities that lie ahead for the Swansea bay city region, for you to be aware that I met with the leader last week, Councillor Rob Stewart, of Swansea city council, in order to look at the opportunities in terms of a city deal, which is something that the Swansea bay city region is very interested in promoting.
 
14:33
Kirsty WilliamsBiography
Minister, I wonder whether time may be made available by the Government to discuss figures released last week by the Great Britain day visits survey, which showed that day visits to Wales fell by some 19 per cent last year. Tourism is a vital part of the Welsh economy, and it would be useful to hear from the Government what steps it’s going to take to respond to those figures and ensure that the number of people making day trips to Wales increases, not decreases.
 
Secondly, can we have a statement by the transport Minister? When tourists get here, they need to have great infrastructure. Now, we’re always very pleased to welcome people to the Brecon Beacons national park, but you will be aware, on Saturday, of the traffic chaos that was caused on the A470 at Storey Arms, with many people coming to the Storey Arms area to enjoy the snow, but it actually caused incredible difficulties because of the way in which those vehicles were parked. Over 100 motorists were booked by Dyfed-Powys Police on Saturday, hardly the kind of impression we want to give people visiting the area. But something needs to be done for the infrastructure in that area, to make sure that there are proper facilities for those people wanting to visit that beautiful part of the world.
 
14:35
Jane HuttBiography
In response to those questions, Kirsty Williams, I think on the first question about day visits, this isn’t unique to Wales in terms of the fall in day visits; in fact, there was a fall in tourism day visits across the UK during 2015. I think it’s important to see that, actually, although there might have been a fall in the number of trips, the spend is only down by 1 per cent compared to a record-breaking year in 2014. But then, you want to look at domestic overnight figures and it looks as though people are staying longer, perhaps, than just having day visits. The first nine months of 2015 show an increase of 2 per cent in the number of trips and 12 per cent in expenditure. People are staying in Wales for longer periods of time and spending more, which I know you’ll agree is excellent news for the Welsh economy.
 
On your second point, the only snow event, probably, at the Storey Arms in the Brecon Beacons so far this winter will have attracted a great many people. Of course, this is very difficult to predict or forecast in terms of traffic management. But of course, I know that those points have been noted.
 
14:36
Lynne NeagleBiography
Minister, you’ll have heard the First Minister express concerns about the risks involved with devolving attendance allowance, and I share those concerns, particularly as we know that we’re going to have increasing numbers of older people, particularly those with dementia. I’m also concerned that it’s another attempt to undermine the universal welfare state in the UK, and to pass the responsibility for funding social care to Wales and to already-underfunded social services departments in England. Will you ensure that, before the UK Government is able to do that, Assembly Members here are able to have the opportunity to discuss this proposal fully?
 
I would also like to ask for a statement from the Minister for Public Services on the UK Government’s proposed changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme (Management and Investment of Funds) Regulations 2009. These are currently being taken through and would see local authorities’ rights to divest from trade and investments that they consider to be unethical curbed. I believe that is an attack on local democracy, and will have big ramifications for us here in Wales, and I would like to ask for a statement from the Minister on that.
 
14:37
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Lynne Neagle for those questions. I think on the first question, the First Minister made the point himself that there’s been absolutely no discussion with the Welsh Government about the possible transfer of attendance allowance—no forewarning. It doesn’t appear in the draft Wales Bill. Actually, I think one of the most important points about the response last week was from the charities, who themselves raised questions—Carers Wales very prominently—and other major charity figures on behalf of those they serve and represent, let alone the issue that the First Minister raised about concerns about cuts that I’m sure would come our way. So, thank you again for raising that question this afternoon.
 
Certainly, the Minister for Public Services will take note of your question about the local government pension regulations 2009.
 
14:38
Mark IsherwoodBiography
I call for a single oral statement on the blue badge scheme. I note that today’s order paper was amended to remove that because of pressure of business, and a written statement was produced eight minutes ago. But that statement does include matters that merit questions from Members, such as, for example, the role of GPs and clinicians in supporting applicants who may have complex medical conditions. There are further questions on something that I’ve been questioning the Minister positively for a number of years over, which is a blue badge for people with temporary conditions, the growing concern over some local authorities moving towards proposals for charging for blue badge parking and blue badge spaces, and, more broadly, the role of the independent advisory service as it’s developed in practice since introduction, so we can look at what’s working well but also what might be done differently in the future. I do feel strongly that these are important matters that many Members receive representations on, which do merit an opportunity for Members to question the Minister directly in the Chamber.
 
14:40
Jane HuttBiography
I know, Mark Isherwood, you will have welcomed—I’m sure you should welcome—the fact that the Welsh Government is giving important time this afternoon to the Tata Steel statement. I know you will welcome that, but, of course, the response and questions about the blue badge scheme are very important, and the Minister is offering briefing to all political groups on the outcome of the consultation.
 
14:40
Eluned ParrottBiography
I wonder if I might request a statement from the Minister for culture to explore the decision-making process around the decision not to list Old College Buildings in Splott. Correspondence released by the Welsh Government in May and June of last year suggested—and I quote the letter from the Minister—that he was ‘minded to list the building’. However, the decision in November was to not list the building and, as Members may be aware, a decision was taken, given the fact that the building was not listed, to approve demolition of this really important arts and crafts movement building in the Splott area of the city. I wonder if we could request a statement underlining the reasons for that change of heart and the release of the correspondence after June regarding that particular building.
 
14:41
Jane HuttBiography
Clearly, this is a matter where the Minister has received advice in terms of this particular building, and I know he is very happy to clarify the terms and basis of that advice.
 
14:41
Julie MorganBiography
I’m sure the Minister is aware of the very good news that broke yesterday that Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water is taking over the reservoirs of Llanishen and Lisvane in Cardiff North after a 15-year campaign by residents in that area. I’d like to thank the Minister for Natural Resources for the help that he’s given with this issue. It’s absolutely great news that the water will once again be used by people in Cardiff. Would it be possible to have a statement by the Minister for Natural Resources about how he believes this unique piece of green space can be used by the people of Cardiff for access and recreation? We hope that, eventually, when Dŵr Cymru has had time to assess the situation, fishing and sailing will be restored at the reservoir in due course. I think it’s important to remember that Hannah Mills, who I believe was a constituent of the Minister, is going for gold in Rio and won a silver medal in London in 2012, and she trained and sailed on Llanishen reservoir.
 
14:42
Jane HuttBiography
I thank Julie Morgan, Member for Cardiff North, for that question. I certainly want to congratulate the Member on 15 years, if not more, of campaigning that she has led, but led with the community, with the residents and with all of the interests, which has led to this very good news that Dŵr Cymru has announced that they’ve secured the 999-year lease for Lisvane and Llanishen reservoirs and surrounding land. I know the Minister for Natural Resources visited yesterday and met with all of those who took part in that campaign to secure this asset for the benefit of the local community. Of course, it is important to see that this is not just an opportunity in terms of safeguarding wildlife and the varied flora and fauna protected by this decision, but also an opportunity and benefit for the environment, economy and residents of Cardiff and surrounding areas.
 
14:43
William PowellBiography
I’d like to ask for two statements, please, Minister, the first from the Minister for Education and Skills with regard to what the Welsh Government is doing to safeguard adult community learning, particularly in the face of concerns expressed to me by the county branch of Unison in Carmarthenshire, which is particularly concerned about swingeing cuts proposed in that county in the adult learning sector that could potentially involve the centres at Ammanford, Carmarthen, Glanamman and Felinfoel, all with threats of closure.
 
The second, particularly picking up the point already raised earlier by our party leader Kirsty Williams with regard to the problems in the Brecon Beacons just last weekend, is that the national park authority is currently considering informally proposals to mothball part of the iconic visitor centre at Libanus. I would appreciate a statement by the Deputy Minister for culture and sport on the importance of that facility. It could further exacerbate the problems that Kirsty Williams was referring to if these plans go forward.
 
14:44
Jane HuttBiography
I thank William Powell for those questions. Of course, it’s a much more favourable provisional local government revenue settlement than was anticipated, and also in terms of the draft budget and, of course, safeguarding funding for further education, which all has a positive bearing, I believe, in terms of adult and continuing education.
 
Of course, your second question and point about the mountain centre is very relevant—you know, one of the key highlights in terms of our tourism industry and what has been provided by the mountain centre for many decades, I believe. And, of course, the Minister for tourism would want to reflect on that in terms of management and the local economy.
 
14:45
Joyce WatsonBiography
Minister, could we have a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services about working conditions in the care sector? The Welsh Government recently unveiled its proposals to improve the quality of social care by restricting the use of zero-hours contracts, and today we hear that that is going out for consultation. It will make sure that employers pay domiciliary care workers the national minimum wage. On top of that, research by ‘The Guardian’ newspaper published last month did show that social workers in Wales are happier in the jobs than their colleagues across the UK. Lower caseloads, more support from managers and better integration with health were quoted as the reasons for that greater satisfaction. So, I should be interested to hear from the Minister how these developments can help boost recruitment to a sector that will, inevitably, become an ever more important branch of the welfare sector that is clearly recognised here in Wales.
 
14:47
Jane HuttBiography
Well, I think the commitment by the Minister for Health and Social Services to have that all-important consultation that has now been launched to demonstrate that we want to ensure that staff are paid the minimum wage and paid for time spent travelling to clients, and, of course, it’s very important in terms of the links between employment conditions and quality of care delivered. It shows also that we value and care for our social care sector, and that was very clearly demonstrated in ‘The Guardian’ social care article, which was also brought to our attention in the First Minister’s questions by Lynne Neagle this afternoon.
 
I think the clear leadership and accountability of social services through the statutory role of directors of social services is crucial. But, very constructive relationships between Welsh Government, the British Association of Social Workers and Unison, since devolution, have resulted in a cohesive policy and practice development.
 
14:48
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you, Minister.
 
14:48
3. Statement: Tata Steel
Y Llywydd / The Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move to the next item, which is a statement by the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport on Tata Steel, and I call the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport to speak to the Chamber—Edwina Hart.
 
14:48
Edwina HartBiographyThe Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
 
I know that everyone in this Chamber will have been saddened by yesterday’s announcement of job losses at Tata Steel. Following such a significant announcement, many of you will want to make a contribution today. But before I go any further this afternoon, I want to say that our thoughts are very much with those affected by yesterday’s announcements.
 
Behind each of the job losses announced is an individual, and in many cases a family, whose life has been changed by that announcement. It is a deeply distressing time for those directly concerned, for their families and for the steel-making communities in which they are based, especially at Port Talbot where the majority of job losses will be felt.
 
The company has also indicated that other areas will be affected, including Trostre. We will work closely with the company to get the full details of the jobs under threat and tailor our response accordingly. Our immediate priority therefore is to support those affected by yesterday’s announcement and there is no time to lose. That is why we are taking action immediately. As the First Minister announced yesterday, we are setting up a high-level taskforce and I will chair the first meeting tomorrow. I have invited representatives from the company itself, the trade unions, and individuals to represent the local authorities, the business sector, education, health, Careers Wales and other bodies that provide careers and job advice. I have also extended an invitation to Lord Bourne, given his responsibilities at the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Wales Office, and his experience from the Murco taskforce.
 
The primary focus of the taskforce will be to do all it can to support the affected employees. However, the impacts are likely to be wider than just the workers being displaced. There are likely to be businesses affected in the main supply chains, as well as smaller businesses that provide local goods and services. So, the taskforce will also consider what can be done to support them as well. This work will be taken forward immediately and in parallel to our work to support displaced employees.
 
We’ll be working closely with the company throughout. We have a strong relationship with Tata, which we have developed over many years, and will continue to support them going forward. The announcement made yesterday will not have been an easy decision for the company, but they believe it is necessary to improve the competitiveness of their UK business in the face of extremely difficult market conditions. The company have indicated that a full consultation process with employee representatives will begin immediately.
 
In its statement yesterday, the company called on the European Commission to accelerate its response to unfairly traded imports and increase the robustness of its actions. Whilst it welcomed progress on UK energy costs, it reiterated that the Government must take urgent action to increase the competitiveness of the UK for the steel sector. Action has not come soon enough. We first raised concerns about the impact of energy prices on the most energy intensive of businesses in 2011. Now, in 2016, the industry is still awaiting the full package of support promised by the UK Government. Indeed, only today has the guidance on applying for compensation for certain elements of the scheme been published.
 
We have raised with the UK Government the concerns of Welsh steel producers about the volume and, in some cases, the quality of certain imported steel products. We support recent EU investigations into anti-dumping measures on certain steel products, including those from China. Where evidence is found, we expect swift action and outcomes to help prevent undue harm on our indigenous producers. We also welcome the European Union’s recognition that concrete actions are now required to ensure the long-term viability of a modern steel-making sector.
 
As a Government, we are urgently examining all the actions we can take, which range from research and development, skills and training, aid for environmental protection and, of course, business rates. On business rates, we are examining the options closely to support the industry in Wales through the business rates regime. The timetable for change is a high priority in our examination of the options. Consideration is being given to reducing the impact of plant and machinery on business rates bills. The assessment of plant and machinery is deeply embedded in the wider valuation approach and gives rise to considerable challenges in applying a blanket reduction to plant and machinery. We are also examining whether there are options to look again at the valuation approach and are in discussion with the valuation office on the technical issues involved.
 
Changes to plant and machinery are not the only steps that can be taken to support the sector through business rates. We are also discussing the overall approach to valuation with the valuation office, and it is important that the approach to valuation reflects rental values and the current circumstances faced by the industry. Procurement also has a key role to play. The Wales procurement policy statement published in 2012 is fully supportive of the principles of the British steel charter. Our progressive procurement policies, which are already in place, complement the aims of the charter. As an example, we are currently reviewing the model contract documents for the delivery of major transport projects to ensure the standard is considered.
 
The Welsh Government has worked closely with Tata Steel in Wales to provide significant assistance to the company over the years. We’ll continue to engage with Tata Steel to determine further potential support and investment in these areas.
 
With the agreement of the First Minister, I have today written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer setting out our proposal to create an additional enterprise zone in Wales—an enterprise zone that encompasses the Port Talbot site—which would not only send an important signal to the industry, it would also create a growth environment within which other businesses and industry could flourish. However, for maximum impact, such an enterprise zone would need the full package of policy levers, including enhanced capital allowances. As advanced capital allowances are a matter for the UK Government, I have asked for the Chancellor’s early response as to whether the UK Government would be agreeable to this.
 
The steel industry is a fundamental cornerstone of our manufacturing sector. It sustains thousands of jobs and provides above-average salaries, often in areas of below-average income. Steel making is part of our heritage, and we are committed to ensuring it is part of our future. And the industry does have a future. On Friday, I was at Tata Steel’s Shotton plant and saw for myself the production of innovative coated steel products. We have also seen other steel companies in Wales making significant investments. Liberty Group have recently purchased many of the Caparo businesses from administration and safeguarded many jobs, including some in Wales. We will continue to champion the cause of Welsh steel at the highest levels of government, both in the UK and Europe. With the right support, we can help ensure that steel has a sustainable future in Wales.
 
14:55
William GrahamBiography
I’ll just mention to the business Minister, if I may, with regret, that we didn’t receive the statement until the Minister started to speak. However, I’m thankful for your statement today, Minister, on a very important subject. Clearly, it’s a good thing that you’re going to chair the high-level taskforce. We are aware of your reputation in this matter, and you have our confidence in that matter.
 
In terms of your statement, on business rates, the Minister will know that it will be some time before the revaluation actually takes place. We’d ask for you to clarify that, particularly the assessment of plant and machinery and how that could be brought forward at the earliest possible opportunity. We would also welcome changing the terms of the procurement policy to make sure that Welsh steel of good quality can be used at every opportunity. I remind the Minister there that, on the Crossrail project in London, over 80 per cent of the steels used were of British manufacture, and that at Hinkley Point more recently, 60 per cent used were of British manufacture. In fact, those that were not used, were no longer made in this country.
 
We would support also the creation of the enterprise zone at Port Talbot, but would remind the Minister that just the creation of an enterprise zone is not a panacea in itself. For somebody who lives in a community that has suffered huge job losses over the years, Newport Unlimited was a very good example of that, and also that was extended, in part, to Ebbw Vale very necessarily. Certainly, as the Minister has touched on, our thoughts are with the families and communities affected by these losses.
 
But notwithstanding that, Minister, we must take a much more optimistic view of our production of steel in Wales. The European Competitiveness Council says that the use of European trade policy to ensure a global level playing field, which we’d all endorse, the use of revised state aid rules to support energy-intensive industries, and the reform of the emissions trading system, and using European investment funds to help modernise the sector—. Our five-point action plan would arise from the European Union’s to deal particularly with the dumping of Chinese steel. I point out here that Chinese steel has now increased from 1 per cent of the market to 10 per cent of the market, although the majority of steel imported into the United Kingdom actually comes from Germany. We support the continued action from the United Kingdom Government to deal with Labour’s legacy of high energy prices, and the business rate relief scheme, which the Minister is going to bring forward, by the Welsh Government. We also need minimum steel standards for public sector procurement and, as I mentioned before, a package of support for those staff set to lose their jobs.
 
Minister, I touched on optimism. You will know that the Port Talbot plant is one of the finest in Europe. It produces steel at a competitive price, however, not at the moment, when steel prices have dropped from some £600 a metric tonne to just over £200. If the plant’s losing £1 million a day, it’s clearly unsustainable. We hope—and I’m sure that everybody would endorse this—that the package of proposals put in at this moment will enable the owners of Tata Steel to recognise the huge contribution to their company, both in terms of the workforce and the efforts of the Welsh and United Kingdom Governments to ensure steel production in Port Talbot.
 
14:58
Edwina HartBiography
Can I apologise to the opposition spokespeople for the fact that they didn’t have my statement in advance? Obviously, they will have the opportunity, if they wish, to have private discussions on any matters with me that I can take up and that they might not have had the opportunity to raise in the Chamber today. Can I say, William, that I will start off with your optimism? Yesterday was a dreadful day, I think, for all those that lost their jobs. You almost felt, as a politician, that you could cry with the workforce, because they’ve given everything to that plant. Their families and their communities have given everything. We see the decision that Tata Steel took, but the decision that Tata didn’t take was to close the plant. I think we’ve got to recognise that that plant is still there. That plant is still functioning. People will still be working in it. If we can get enough measures around to help the steel industry in the UK, we can maintain steel production in Wales. We must keep that, even in these difficult times, as being foremost in our minds. Hence why I mentioned in my statement what I’d seen in Shotton, which was really encouraging in terms of the work they were doing there. You’ve only got to look at Llanwern and some of the things they’re doing on the automotive side on Llanwern. But I think, when we talk about steel in this Chamber, Presiding Officer, steel is in the blood of Wales, and a lot of people have had associations with the industry through family and everybody working there. I think we feel quite passionately about it.
 
Can I say, it is very important that we carry on with the work we’ve done on procurement policy? I think that William Graham is absolutely correct. The fact that the Finance Minister was alerted to these issues very early when we looked at procurement policy, and the importance of all the contracts that we have—that we can get the highest percentage of steel that is produced in the UK and Wales into projects—. When we look, hopefully, at when we see Wylfa coming online, across the way we have a producer of steel for the nuclear industry. So, it is very important that we ensure that procurement is done properly, and that there is opportunity for Welsh and British companies.
 
On his point about the enterprise zone, it is not a panacea for all ills. But I do think it is important that, when we look at all the other businesses that are connected to Tata’s supply chain—what further work they could find, what other companies could enhance what goes on in that area if we do establish an enterprise zone. I also think it sends out the right message to the company, in terms of Tata, that we are there to support the steel industry.
 
In terms of Newport Unlimited, I have no doubt that that has been successful, and I think that we would look at the report that Simon Gibson and others did as well, which has given a real kick-start in Newport. With the co-operation of the local authority, we’re definitely seeing change there. So, it will be important for us to look at how we can kick-start things, and I think that the enterprise zone may be that model within that area. But it’s also important to recognise what is going on globally. I think William makes the point about the dumping of Chinese steel. They are not the only people who dump steel within the UK. It’s very important that we do recognise that there is a responsibility in the European Union to look at how we protect our market in Europe, to some ways. You know, America will protect; others will protect. We need to look at some of these particular issues.
 
On business rates, William Graham has a great understanding of these issues. There have been a lot of moves to remove plant and machinery from business rates, but Tata is one of the 15 organisations that actually wrote to us on these measures and to the Chancellor, and now the Treasury has actually commissioned a very comprehensive review of business rates last year, and this proposal is in their terms of reference paper. Their report is due imminently, so it will be very interesting to see what is happening in terms of the Treasury’s proposals. In my view, the principle of incentivised capital investment is a sound one, and one that has been raised by other parties, including Rhun ap Iorwerth and Plaid Cymru, also within this Chamber. However, while it is devolved, we also have to look at some of the state aid issues around some of these issues in relation to steel. Therefore, the Treasury is looking at it in the context of all industry sectors, which I think is actually extremely helpful. There will be significant impacts for us in terms of yield from business rates if we do any relief, and how that affects the balances across—. Members are always saying, ‘Carry on with small business rate relief. Can you do any other business rate relief?’ Well, this will affect the whole pot. There is also a technical difference between plant and machinery that forms part of a property’s rateable value, and the wholly different approach in valuing specialist plants through the contractor’s method of valuation. Now, this is a very complex area. This is an area where the task group, and probably sub-groups, I think will have to concentrate on in terms of the advice that is coming.
 
If I may turn, finally, I think—. When we talk about the jobs issue here, I think we are all united: our job within the taskforce—our first priority—is to look at what jobs we can get for those individuals. In terms of the Murco taskforce, people will agree that, in many ways, it was very successful in ensuring that people went into further employment and set up their own businesses. We have to use that as an excellent model. I was delighted to ask Lord Bourne to participate because of his history there. I have indicated to Anna Soubry’s office today that, when the taskforce is up and running with regular dates, if she wanted to address them about the issues around the UK Government—not be there about the devil of the detail of what we’re doing, but to talk about things—I will be sending her the dates in due course.
 
15:04
David ReesBiography
Can I thank the Minister for her statement today and for the words with which she started off her statement? It’s very easy for us to forget that there are individuals who are facing difficult times ahead of them—unknown at this point, because it’s still not clear as to who will actually be losing their jobs. It’s important that we focus upon that aspect for those individuals, for their families and for their communities. Those in my constituency, in which the works exists, are very fearful at the moment across the board. Could I also thank the Minister and the First Minister for actually coming along yesterday to the plant and to the town to actually talk and speak to the unions and the management? I think it is important that the communities understand that the Welsh Government takes this matter seriously, and that it is looking to do what it can to help people and help the industry. I am optimistic for the future, but I also know that there are difficult and hard times ahead for many in our communities while we get there.
 
Minister, the record levels of production at blast furnace 4 when it came online show the works is up to standard. Actually, last month the hot mills produced record levels of rolled steel, again showing that the workforce is there and they are committed to this works. I think the previous investments by Tata also demonstrate the confidence they have in the workforce. So, I think they do believe there’s a future for the workforce themselves, but, clearly, we’ve got to help them get there, and cross this difficult bridge that we have.
 
In relation to the taskforce you identified, if I’m right, you are actually identifying two streams in the taskforce: one to look at the actions to take to support workers who may be losing their jobs, and the surrounding communities; and one to look at the future development of the environment in which that workforce and that work plant can actually sustain and become viable. On the first stream, can you clarify whether you’ll again be doing an aspect like ReAct, and schemes like that? Perhaps beyond that, will you go for training in different career paths, which sometimes takes a lot longer than a few weeks, so that people can actually redevelop and redirect their career pathways?
 
Can I also ask you to look at local businesses? You mentioned yourself in statements yesterday about the impact upon small businesses in the town. Port Talbot has already suffered in one sense, and you’ve helped it with business relief for businesses following junction 41, so can we have a similar scheme on the issues around that, so that businesses in the town who are going to have an impact upon them can be supported in that way? Of course, the local authority is important—its role and the whole way in which it supports communities is going to be vital. We are seeing local authorities struggle because of other reasons. They need that support as well.
 
Can I also talk about the European globalisation fund in your taskforce? I think there’s a role for the UK Government here to look at how we’re going to get money from Europe to actually invest in the communities that are losing jobs. Finally, the Swansea bay city region wasn’t mentioned in that aspect. Will you be including them in the consideration for support as well?
 
In relation to the way forward, I do believe there are three levels of government where that needs to take place. I believe it’s the UK, Welsh Government and, of course, the EU Commission as well. I think we have to work together to look at that. You mentioned business rates and I want to repeat that aspect. But have you any ideas on how you will work with the UK Government to achieve some of the points that they have responsibility for—also because they are the nation state, and they have to take the measure to the EU. I think the aspect of anti-dumping measures have to be taken up very importantly—urgently—and, in fact, I would want them over there today, not next week, doing that, because that has to be addressed now.
 
But also, as the First Minister pointed out earlier, I don’t believe Tata Steel have received a penny yet from the measures for energy relief. We have to get that up and running quickly. This decision’s been taken before those measures are in place, so if they’re not done quicker we might see even worse. In relation to capital allowances, you identified the area of a plant you’ve looked at, but, of course, Swansea University’s engineering campus is just down the road, and we may want to look at how we can incorporate possibilities for them moving in, because the skills in the workforce in Tata can work in advanced manufacturing and advanced production, which could lead to the research and development that comes from that centre at Swansea University.
 
The people in my constituency, my friends, families, neighbours, are facing difficult times and a situation where they don’t know, today, whether they’ll actually be in work next month. It’s important that we do everything we can to reassure those that there is a future for them—those who want to work. The age range we’re talking about is mixed. It’s young people who’ve just started out on their careers and older people who are coming to the end of their careers. But all will be in a situation where they will be losing, and we have to cater for all and make sure that what we put in place delivers for them.
 
15:08
Edwina HartBiography
Thank you for that. Obviously, we don’t know who’s going to lose what jobs, and that was the subject of discussion when I actually spoke, and Alan was the main convener down there in Port Talbot yesterday. They don’t know who, when or what. There was a gentleman being interviewed, and he was saying that his son was already a contractor and knew he wouldn’t be part of anything. He wasn’t sure about himself and he wasn’t sure about other things, because they just didn’t know. It’s that level of uncertainty as they go into discussions that is really getting to them.
 
In your contribution you alluded to the fact that there is a very skilled workforce, and it is, and that is also in itself a worry for the company, which will lose some elements of the skilled workforce who decide they do want to finish, they do want to go, and they will get another job, because of the skills issues. So, we’ve got to be very careful when we work through these issues. We recognise there is a highly skilled workforce there who might want to jump ship, which might not be helpful for the company in the future either. So, we will work as hard as we can, but I think you make a very good point about training. My colleague Julie James is already looking at that wide-ranging agenda as a result of what we knew was going on in the steel industry previously, and I think we’ve got very open minds about what we can develop in terms of training, career pathways and everything, and to do as much as we can and be as innovative as we can in this particular situation.
 
Can I say, you said about Tata—? I think Tata do have confidence in the plant. That plant would have gone if they didn’t have confidence. They’ve also made a lot of investment. Can you imagine any other company that would have made that level of investment? They’ve been really good in terms of the investment they’ve made into the plant. They do appreciate their workforce. They’ve worked with their workforce through very difficult times before, and I think we’ve got to recognise that commitment from Tata and hope that Tata will see, through these times that are bad in terms of European steel, to perhaps the future and continue their confidence.
 
In terms of the taskforce, there are two working streams. The first one, really, about training and looking for other jobs, is probably the easiest part, sometimes, of that scheme, even though it’s difficult for individuals. When we look forward into the future, we’ve got a lot of issues that we do need to look at. We need to know about how we enhance how we work with the UK Government. We haven’t had any difficulties from working with the UK Government on these matters. How they do more, in terms of how they shout louder in Europe about some of the issues about anti-dumping, and how they access money that’s available in Europe are also pretty important, I think, for the benefit of the steel industry. It’s very important as well that our voice is heard at the Commission level, through our Brussels office, through the representations that we are able to make, which I think are important.
 
Can I say to you as well that the point is that they haven’t had any money off their scheme yet? We’ve had agreement from the Commission. As I indicated in my statement, the rules are only just out. I think they are hoping they might have first payments in February. But, it would have been nice if that had been done an awful long time ago.
 
You also mentioned the importance of the wider community and involvement of the local authority. The chief executive of the local authority will be a member of the taskforce and, of course, he is also as well the secretary to the city bay region. Terry Matthews has already been in contact asking what possible things they can do. They will be discussing it on their next agenda, particularly. We, too, see this as integral to the development of the region.
 
But, also as well, in terms of local businesses, I have been very much taken—and I think it was the leader of the Liberal Democrats who raised it about businesses—with what more we’ll need to do in that area as we go forward in terms of support to keep them viable in order that they can perhaps recruit, so we can actually have more people in the workforce within the area. So, I don’t underestimate the task at hand for the taskforce, but there are people on there who are prepared to give up their time and who will probably set up specialist groups to work through. I will be regularly reporting back to the Assembly on the work of the taskforce.
 
Can I say, obviously, to Members, if they have any particular points they want raised, and I say particularly to opposition spokespeople—if they want any further briefing on the taskforce or want to input into any of its work, I’d be delighted to have it? Because I think it’s important we recognise that the steel industry is a passion for all of us in Wales and the jobs are important to all of us in Wales.
 
15:13
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
The industrial decline our country has witnessed in recent decades continued this week with the devastating announcement of further job losses at Tata Steel. Our thoughts today are with the workers at Port Talbot and Llanwern and Trostre and their families, who now face uncertainty over their futures.
 
The dire situation, though, of the industry was no secret. The First Minister said today that he hadn’t been aware of the scale of the problem until late last week, while, for fear of what was to come due to contacts within the steel industry of Wales, I called a week ago for the setting up of a taskforce at a high level to look at the way forward—okay, albeit the wrong side of the jobs announcement this week—and I do welcome, of course, that there is a taskforce now. It is absolutely right, of course, that the priority is to help those who are affected to find ways forward for employment—for those directly working at Tata and, as the Minister quite rightly said, within the supply chain.
 
But at stake here is not only the futures of those workers but the future of the steel industry in Wales. Would the Minister agree with me that we need to look at that future in its entirety and look for ways forward, and that either this taskforce or perhaps another taskforce at a high level should be looking at all the questions that need to be addressed now regarding ensuring that we have a future for steel in Wales? I have certainty that steel in Wales has a bright future if we can get through these particular problems that we now face.
 
Peter BlackBiography
The Government has stated, on more than one occasion, that the option of a joint venture, as proposed by Plaid Cymru, between Welsh Government and Tata—call it taking a stake in the future of Welsh steel, if you like—is out of the question, because the expense would be too great. It strikes me that one could only say that having considered the matter in detail, and it appears to me that the Government has been rather dismissive of that suggestion. Perhaps the Minister today could tell us what the Government has done to assess the practicality of Welsh Government entering into a joint venture, perhaps including the development of a new power plant, for example. All that we ask on that particular option is that Government engages fully with it. No stone should be left unturned. We’re not saying, ‘You must enter a joint venture. You must take a stake and renationalise’. That’s not what we’re saying; we’re saying that every option must be considered, including taking a stake, as I said, in the future of Welsh steel.
 
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
On the application for the establishment of a new enterprise zone, that may well be a way forward. The Minister herself said that it is no panacea. It is no guarantee of results, but we shall wait to see what happens on that front—especially with the possibility of allowing enhanced capital allowances. There has been a reluctance, of course, in other enterprise zones to take advantage of that particular tool that is available in enterprise zones. I wonder if the Minister has had any initial thoughts on how that enhanced capital allowance possibility could be used if the Chancellor does agree to that.
 
There are a number of issues. I can only emphasise the need for urgency in making representations at the right level, on ensuring that there is movement on tariffs on Chinese steel, on making sure that there is early movement on business rates. There are many issues that I could cover, but that bright future for steel in Wales, as I said, can only be achieved if we make it through these difficult few years. The steel industry is far too important to not consider every feasible and practical way forward.
 
15:17
Edwina HartBiography
Can I say, Presiding Officer, we’re not just talking about the future of steel making in Wales, we’re talking about the future of steel making in the UK? This is where we are in terms of what the plant is in Port Talbot. Steel making is important to us in Wales, and it’s important to the whole of the UK and manufacturing within the UK. So, we must do everything across Government, whether it’s the UK or us, or whether it’s the European Union, to ensure that we have a viable industry. I’m glad that you say that you think there could be a viable industry that we can get to, because that message of hope still has to be there. On days like this and days like yesterday, hope seems to disappear, and then you’ve sometimes got to pinch yourself and say, ‘We’re still there. There’s still a plant. Shall we get on and see what we can do about it?’
 
Can I say to you there will be no stone unturned in all of this? The issue about taking a stake in Tata is in two ways: we can do several ventures with Tata on the side, with individual bids, like we’ve done with specifics, and developments like that. But, of course, if we’re talking about taking a stake in Tata, you’re talking about a £1 billion European company. So, it’s not quite like paying £25 million to £30 million in an intervention. But, there are different stages in which we can do it. I think the point you made about the power plant is a discussion that is being held and has been held, because we’ve had extensive discussions about how that could help and assist.
 
We’re also looking at what more could be done in terms of the relationship with the port—what could be done in the broader agenda there. So, these discussions are there, and they have actually been going on. I’m not one to pooh-pooh any suggestion, because if I think a suggestion has got some legs and you can put some flesh on it, it’s always worth running with it, because we might find support out there and the levers to be able to do something for it. So, I very much welcome anything that you’ve got in terms of this agenda that you want to input to the discussions out there.