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The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Presiding Officer (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I call the National Assembly to order.
 
1. Questions to the First Minister
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
13:30
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister. The first question is from Jenny Rathbone.
 
The South Wales Metro
 
13:30
Jenny RathboneBiography
1. Will the First Minister provide an update on the funding needed for the South Wales Metro? OAQ(5)0222(FM)
 
13:30
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The metro phase 2 project has been estimated at £734 million and the final cost will be determined during procurement negotiations. Funding includes match funding from the European regional development fund that we expect the UK Government to guarantee.
 
13:30
Jenny RathboneBiography
Given that even Alun Cairns now seems to be an enthusiast for the south Wales metro, and has recognised the strategic importance of it for providing jobs and growth for the whole of the south-east Wales area, are you confident that the UK Government will give us the money that we need to ensure that we can deliver this project on time, and to the quality required?
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Given the Secretary of State for Wales’s enthusiasm for the metro, I would expect him to be able to demonstrate enough influence amongst his Westminster colleagues in order to deliver the £125 million worth of funding that we will lose as a result of the loss of European funding.
 
13:31
Neil McEvoyBiography
Enthusiasm is one thing, but if the full funding of the south Wales metro isn’t guaranteed, nailed-on guaranteed, what’s plan B?
 
13:31
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, quite simply, the metro won’t be able to proceed at the same pace, and with the same ambition as would otherwise be the case. There will still be a metro, but obviously, if there’s £125 million less money involved, then the reach of the metro, and the speed of its expansion will be less. But given the fact that we have heard from those who wish to leave the European Union that every single penny of European funding would be guaranteed, we expect that promise to be honoured.
 
13:31
Russell GeorgeBiography
First Minister, I wonder if you could outline what discussions you’ve had with the UK Government specifically, directly with them, in regards to the project going forward.
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
With regard to?
 
13:32
Russell GeorgeBiography
In regards to the project going forward.
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
As we’ve said many times to them, we expect the money to be there. If the money is lost through the loss of European funding, at official level, there’s very, very regular contact in terms of how we move forward, especially given the fact that so many of the levers that are required to deliver the metro are not devolved. So, there’s a great deal of official-to-official contact that takes place on a regular basis.
 
13:32
David J. RowlandsBiography
A simple question, First Minister: when will the construction phase actually begin?
 
13:32
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, of course, at the moment, we are going through the bidding process, and the less said about that, the better, given the fact that it has to go through a proper process. Once that bidding process is actually finalised, then we expect to see phase 2 begin. Much of it depends, of course, on the franchising in terms of the Wales and borders franchise, but as soon as possible after the bidding process has been completed.
 
The Legislative Programme for the Fifth Assembly
 
13:33
Angela BurnsBiography
2. Will the First Minister provide an update on the legislative programme for the fifth Assembly? OAQ(5)0215(FM)
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. I announced the first annual legislative programme of this fifth Assembly on 28 June.
 
13:33
Angela BurnsBiography
Thank you for that, First Minister. I wonder when you might expect to see the main policy thrusts of any new legislation that is passed during the fifth Assembly being implemented. How long would you expect it to take from Royal Assent to a policy, through statute, being implemented and being delivered on the ground? The background to this, of course, is the autism debate last week, when much was made of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which was passed with Royal Assent in April 2014, and yet we’re still waiting for policy outcomes from that. So, it’s a matter of curiosity. Thank you.
 
13:33
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Much of it depends on the legislation itself. What I can say to the Member is that the Minister has agreed that officials will meet with the National Autistic Society to discuss the society’s draft Bill. That meeting has been arranged for 14 November. I am confident, however, that we have the legislative and policy levers to continue to improve the lives of people with autism and their families and carers, of course. A refreshed autistic spectrum disorder action plan will be published next month. That will be accompanied by a delivery plan with measurable outcomes. And we have recently consulted on the draft action plan, which addresses priorities for stakeholders. So, yes, that legislation is still moving forward, but nevertheless, as was said last week, we will monitor the situation, we’ll work with the National Autistic Society, and we’ll keep the door open for legislation should it be required.
 
13:34
David ReesBiography
First Minister, on 28 June, the country had only just decided to leave the EU. As a consequence of that, there could well be possible legislative implications here in Wales. What analysis is the Welsh Government doing to actually look at the implications upon the legislative programme that you are putting forward, based upon the fact that we could see a lot more legislation coming from Brussels as a consequence of that exit?
 
13:35
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It’s very difficult at this stage, of course, to examine what the situation might actually be, given the fact we await the judgment of the Supreme Court, potentially, in terms of the use of the royal prerogative, and the effect that would have, potentially, on repealing statute law, which is not what the prerogative is designed to do. Until we see the outcome of that process, and the outcome of the process over the next two years, it’s difficult, at this stage, to know what effect there’ll be on individual items of legislation passed by the Assembly. Of course, what we expect will happen is that the opportunity will arise at some point to offer the Assembly the opportunity to decide whether it should be bound by EU law in the future, because, at the moment of course, we can’t pass any legislation that is in conflict or incompatible with European Union law. Clearly, that will change in the future.
 
13:36
Simon ThomasBiography
In launching your legislative programme, First Minister, you mentioned two pieces of legislation that were a matter of discussion between our two parties, namely the autism Bill that’s already been mentioned, and another Bill relating to the reasonable chastisement of children. Can you confirm that, during this Assembly term, you as First Minister are still going to bring forward legislation in those two areas?
 
13:36
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
In relation to the second item, that is something that we do want to proceed with on a cross-party basis, I have to say, and I have said that in the past. In terms of autism, may I tell him what the two parties agree back in June? I’ll say it in English because it was agreed in English:
 
agree we work together, through the liaison committee, to consider how best to deliver separate legislation on autism. In due course, to place the autism spectrum disorder strategic action plan on a statutory footing. This work will need to take into account the impact of the new all-age autism service, refreshed autistic spectrum disorder strategic action plan, and the implementation of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
 
Therefore, I can confirm what I said and confirm what’s been agreed between the two parties.
 
Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders
 
13:37
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I now call for questions from the party leaders and, first of all this week, the leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
 
13:37
Neil HamiltonBiographyLeader of the UKIP Wales Group
Diolch, Lywydd. As the First Minister will know, Wales has the lowest number of GPs per 1,000 patients of any part of the UK—the number being 0.6 GPs per 1,000 in 2014. He’ll know also that training places are currently not being filled, that increasing numbers of GPs are retiring early, and there’s a growing crisis in recruitment and retention. Can he tell the Assembly what plans the Government has, with a concrete timeline, to train a greater proportion of UK doctors in Wales?
 
13:38
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, it’s not realistic to think that we will be able to train every doctor that practises in Wales. Five per cent of our medical staff are made up of doctors who trained elsewhere in the EU; a substantial number are made up of doctors who trained elsewhere. That is true of every health service, everywhere in the developed world. That said, we want to make sure that we train more doctors—that much is true. I do not accept what he says, that there is a crisis in GP recruitment; there are challenges, that’s correct, but those challenges are not restricted to Wales. He asked what we’re doing about it. On 20 October, we will, of course, be launching our GP recruitment campaign in order to make sure that we attract more students and, indeed, practitioners to Wales.
 
13:38
Neil HamiltonBiography
Well, I thank the First Minister for his reply. As he will know, since 2004, the percentage of NHS funding in Wales that has been spent on GPs has gone down from over 10 per cent to just over 7.5 per cent. In the same time, consultation rates have increased by more than 20 per cent, so GPs are being more hard pressed in their daily work. Does he agree with me that the independent contractor model for GPs is the one that offers best value for money for the NHS overall? And does he realise that, for every half hour of patient contact that GPs do, they have another half hour in patient-centred work, and another half hour again on top of that in administration, and, if that were to be done as employed persons—employed by local health boards—we would likely get less bang for every buck that we spend?
 
13:39
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, there are two points there. First of all, there are more GPs now than there were a decade ago—that’s worth emphasising. And, also, we should be wary of referring people constantly or pushing people in the direction constantly of GPs. Through our Choose Well campaign, we are looking to advise people that, for many conditions, they should go to a pharmacist first, a practice nurse first, rather than going straight to a GP, by default, and increasing that GP’s workload. It’s a matter for GPs as to the way they organise themselves. It is true, however, that more and more newly qualified GPs are not attracted by the independent contractor model. They must have the choice as to whether to be salaried GPs or independent contractors. It’s a matter for the profession how it organises itself, but I don’t hold to the view that the independent contractor model is necessarily the only model that can be adhered to in the future. The model will vary according to the preferences of those who deliver the service.
 
13:40
Neil HamiltonBiography
I agree with some of what the First Minister said, but I’d like to reiterate some of the points that have already been made by other questioners today in relation to the autism Bill. Does he understand the widespread anger and, indeed, incomprehension amongst the public at large that Labour AMs were whipped last week to vote against the motion for an autism Bill, which wasn’t actually a legislative proposal in itself but an expression of opinion of this Assembly on a matter that goes to the very heart of the suffering of tens and tens of thousands of people in Wales?
 
13:40
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
In Haverfordwest on Thursday I was asked this question by members of the public and I understood their position. I understand the great pressure that autism places on families. I’ve dealt with autism through casework over many, many years and seen some very difficult cases indeed. What I asked them though was what a law would deliver for them, and they were unclear on that. Perhaps, it was an unfair question to ask members of the public. What’s important is that we work with the National Autistic Society in order to identify with them what aspects of the draft Bill actually can be delivered in other ways. Why wait years for a Bill if there are better ways to deliver a better service now. From our perspective, a law is what is required when every other means of delivering a service has shown itself not to be effective. So, the Minister will work with the society in order to make sure that we can deliver what we can with what we have already and also examine whether there is a need for legislation in the future.
 
13:41
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
 
13:41
Leanne WoodBiographyThe Leader of Plaid Cymru
Diolch, Lywydd. Four bidders have expressed an interest in running the Wales and the borders franchise and the associated metro system. One area needing further scrutiny is the franchise map or the actual routes that will be operated. We know that the UK Government’s Department for Transport wanted to remove certain routes from the franchise and in particular those routes that serve destinations in England. Your Cabinet Secretary has indicated that the UK Government wants the map broadly unchanged. Do the four bidders know which routes they are bidding for and can you tell us when passengers across Wales will be given sight of the next franchise map?
 
13:42
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There are several issues that arise as a result of the franchise. First of all, at this moment in time the Welsh Government, unlike the Scottish Government, is prevented from running a franchise and having that franchise run by a public body or public agency for reasons that are not fathomable in logic, but that’s what the current Wales Bill actually says. We’ve made strong representations to the UK Government saying that if it’s right for Scotland, therefore it’s also right for Wales. As far as the franchise is concerned in terms of the destinations, our view is that the franchise map should stay as it is. Otherwise, of course, there will be no service between Merthyr Tydfil and the Conwy valley railway that is run by the Welsh Government or through the Welsh franchise. Every service along the north Wales main line will be run from England, except the Conwy valley line wouldn’t be. The central Wales line—the Heart of Wales line—and the Cambrian coast line will all be run outside of the Welsh franchise. That is frankly a ludicrous situation and something that we are continuing to tell the UK Government in those exact terms.
 
13:43
Leanne WoodBiography
The renewal of the franchise gives us an opportunity to address the issue of capacity, and there’s a significant issue with capacity on the Valleys lines. As you will be aware, every day commuters face issues of overcrowding and delays. Frequency is an issue as well. On the Treherbert line, for example—one that I’m particularly familiar with—there are only two passing points on that line and we need to go from a single line to a dual line. In the budget today, the Treherbert line is mentioned. Can you say more about that train line and, in particular, can you tell us when we can expect to see a plan for the re-dualling of the Treherbert train line please?
 
13:44
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
First of all, it’s absolutely right that we want to see better frequency by the services, a better quality of rolling stock on all the Valleys lines—none of those criteria are satisfied at the moment—and proper signalling, of course, on the lines to make sure that more trains can run on those lines and possibly more passing loops. The question as to whether the entire line should be re-dualled and whether that would actually add anything beyond improvements short of that is an open question. The one thing I can say to the leader of Plaid Cymru is we are absolutely committed, via the metro system, to deliver better frequency and better trains for the people of the Rhondda Fawr on all the Valleys lines.
 
13:45
Leanne WoodBiography
I welcome that statement, First Minister, because when the franchise was last awarded, there was no provision for a growth in passenger numbers, and there was no capacity within that franchise to increase the rolling stock. So, I wonder if you can explain to us how you will make sure that that point is addressed in the next franchise. People travelling on those Valleys lines are sick and tired of travelling on decades-old second-hand rolling stock. When you travel elsewhere, there are excellent trains. Do you think train travellers in Wales deserve the service that we currently have to put up with?
 
13:45
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
No, it should be far better. We have seen some improvements around Queen Street and the points of access into Queen Street station, but I know full well that the quality of the trains is poor. They lack air conditioning, they’re not pleasant trains to travel on, the frequency is not good, the capacity is not good, and people often have to suffer overcrowding to the extent where some trains have to pass through some stations in order to avoid the overcrowding. These will be addressed as a result of the franchise negotiations. The franchise will transfer in the autumn of next year, but we’re absolutely determined to make sure that there’s better capacity, better trains and better frequency on all Valleys lines services. It’s an intrinsic part of the metro to make sure that people enjoy a far better service than they enjoy now.
 
13:46
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.
 
13:46
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiographyThe Leader of the Welsh Conservatives
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, there was a report out last week that highlighted the extra cost that your childcare policy could potentially end up costing the Welsh Government at the end of the five-year Assembly—a potential deficit of about £120 million over what you costed for your manifesto. Do you recognise the figures within that report, and if you do recognise the figures in that report, how are you making the allowances to be able to meet that increased demand? We all recognise childcare is an important part of the balance that many families face on a day-to-day basis.
 
13:47
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There were some assumptions in that report about how we would implement the childcare policy, but the figures that we came out with were based on providing childcare for those who were working 16 hours a week or more, and they were figures that were provided to us by an independent survey, and not by ourselves—by an independent body.
 
13:47
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
I do take it from your answer that you do accept that there’s potential for this massive overspend, especially if the scheme is, hopefully, a rip-roaring success, in fairness, First Minister, because as I said, all parties recognised going into the election that childcare was a huge issue. Your offer is the offer that will be implemented because you’re in Government, and there is this potential overspend of £110 million. That’s not small change in the money that you have available as a Government. What allowances are you making to make sure that resources are available so that the scheme can be implemented and its full capacity and potential reached at the end of this Assembly?
 
13:48
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We don’t accept that those figures are correct. We are confident in the figures that we have; we believe that they are robust. They were figures that were provided to us as a result of work that we commissioned, and those figures we believe are correct in terms of the money that will be needed to implement the policy.
 
13:48
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. So, you do take it, then, that those figures aren’t correct and that your figures of £90 million are the costings of that scheme. But, if you look at your wider commitments in the first five months of this Assembly, you have the backing for the black route, which is the most expensive M4 relief option, you have the pupil premium agreed with the education Secretary, and you have the potential for an overspend in your childcare policy. We know from the report last week that there is a deficit opening up in NHS funding to the potential tune of £700 million. In fairness to you when you were on the campaign trail, you said that for every commitment there will have to be a cut. Where will the cuts fall within your programme to deliver on those commitments that I’ve just outlined?
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
That will become apparent during the course of the draft budget statement. On the M4 relief road, that, of course, will be financed through borrowing and not through our own capital budgets. We are more than content with the figures we provided back in May and that they will help us to deliver the manifesto promises that we made. Indeed, that’s exactly what we did in 2011—we kept the promises then and we’ll keep those promises in 2016.
 
Investment in Tourism in North Wales
 
13:49
Hannah BlythynBiography
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of investment in tourism in north Wales? OAQ(5)0216(FM)
 
13:49
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Our tourism strategy sets out our priorities in supporting the tourism industry, including capital and development funding, along with marketing and promotional activities.
 
13:49
Hannah BlythynBiography
Thank you. On Friday I was at a well-attended meeting of the Flintshire Tourism Association discussing the value of the visitor economy to north-east Wales. I welcome the Welsh Labour manifesto commitment and the Cabinet Secretary’s plans to create a culture corridor across the A55, which includes new signage to mark out our amazing heritage and tourism assets in the region. First Minister, do you agree with the value of this, and can you give an update on the progress of the enhanced signage?
 
13:50
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. I can say that Visit Wales is currently developing proposals for new tourism routes across Wales, including a project to do more to promote culture and heritage attractions along the A55, in order, of course, for people to spend more time in that area. There are many of us in this Chamber who will have heard from people who’ve said, ‘Yes, I’ve travelled along the A55 on the way to Ireland’, but they haven’t stopped. We need more of those people to stop and, of course, more people to make the north of Wales their destination in the first place.
 
13:50
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Tourism sector representatives in Flintshire and across north Wales have told me the Welsh Government needs to respond to the £40 million provided by Visit England for tourism marketing there, and to acknowledge how it proposes to address the fund there already being distributed. How, therefore, do you respond to their concern that Wales needs to be aware of the increased resources close to our border, such as Chester, Cheshire, Shropshire, Bristol and Bath, with the potential to encourage English staycation and avert English and overseas visitors from Wales?
 
13:51
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We’re aware of it, but of course, our tourism statistics show that more people are visiting Wales. Particularly, more people are visiting Wales from abroad. That’s been quite significant over the past year. We market Wales on the basis of themed years, and so, this year is the Year of Adventure. We know that the sector is worth £481 million to the Welsh economy, and of course, the north will play a very important part in the Year of Adventure plans. We’ve been working very closely with businesses in order for that to happen. So, whilst of course we keep an eye on our competitors, we know, from the figures that we have for tourism, that Wales has been successful in attracting more and more visitors.
 
13:51
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Of course, one of the priorities now is to extend the tourism season so that we can provide jobs to the people of north Wales throughout the year. Can you tell us what your Government is doing to try and achieve that and how you would use any additional resources that could be allocated to tourism to achieve that?
 
13:52
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
You have to have activities that are available throughout the year. Surf Snowdonia is one example of what we’ve supported, and Zip Word and Bounce Below—we’ve supported them. Of course, it’s important to say that tourism shouldn’t be completely seasonal, because of course it then creates a situation where people aren’t in employment throughout the year. So, by supporting such all-year-round activities, it’s important that we can bring the people in throughout the winter, as well as the summer.
 
13:52
Michelle BrownBiography
First Minister, could we have some more detail on how the Welsh Government proposes to market north Wales as a holiday destination, please?
 
13:53
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have a tourism investment support scheme. It’s made offers of funding to 42 businesses in the north, totalling £7.8 million. It has created 361 jobs and safeguarded another 113. We have, as well, the tourism attractor destination programme, working on four business plans for the north. If you look at what we’ve spent over the years—you look at Colwyn Bay and the work that’s been done there, not just Parc Eirias, but also the seafront in Colwyn Bay; the substantial investment that’s been put into Rhyl over the years—over £30 million in improving the Rhyl seafront; we have the regional tourism engagement fund and that’s been worth £280,000 to the north; and the tourism product innovation fund as well. And, of course, we have invested over £1.7 million in major events. They include events such as the Slateman and Sandman triathlons, the Llangollen Fringe Festival, Festival No. 6, the Tour of Britain and Wales Rally GB, just to name a few.
 
Primary Care Services
 
13:54
Dai LloydBiography
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the demand on primary care services? OAQ(5)0213(FM)
 
13:54
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We have seen an increase in demand on primary care services. I will be launching a national and international marketing campaign to encourage more general practitioners to work in Wales. Over £42 million has been given to health boards to support the delivery of our plans.
 
13:54
Dai LloydBiography
Thank you very much for that response, First Minister. Many of us attended a BMA meeting here last week where they launched ‘Urgent prescription: A survey of general practice in 2016’. That painted a picture of the huge pressures on GPs, bearing in mind that a GP would see some 50 patients per day on average, and that includes very complex problems, because the simple problems have already been separated out these days, and it’s only the more serious issues that the GP addresses. Of course, it’s only those situations where a GP is required, and that’s why the pressures are so huge. That’s why the pressure is so huge—there are 50 complex patients who can only be seen by a GP. So, what can you do to reduce these huge pressures on GPs now?
 
13:55
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, the BMA of course is part of the work that we’re undertaking. They’re not outwith that. Of course, they represent their Members, I understand that, but we have been working with them to ensure that there is a reduction in the pressures on GPs. One example is the collaborative in mid Wales, which is working hard to ensure that services are available for people in mid Wales, and is considering new ways of working. Ultimately, of course, we wish to see more GPs being trained in Wales and working in Wales, and that is why the campaign will be launched in two days’ time.
 
13:56
Vikki HowellsBiography
It is important that we provide primary care facilities that are fit for purpose and that meet demand. Cwm Taf university health board and RCT council are collaborating to develop a new health centre in Mountain Ash that will do exactly this. How is the Welsh Government working with partners to improve primary care facilities across Wales?
 
13:56
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I know the health board has established a project board to develop a proposal for the new primary care facility in Mountain Ash, and we look to work with all the health boards to deliver those kinds of facilities. I’ve seen them being opened all across Wales—modern facilities where practices can keep their identities within those buildings, but, nevertheless, have access to support services and modern facilities. We will keep on working with GPs and with health boards to deliver more up-to-date, modern health centres in the future.
 
13:56
Suzy DaviesBiography
Keeping people out of hospital is placing demand on primary care services that are already stretched. People in need of social care are more likely to call on primary and, probably, reablement care than the general population. Social care isn’t all about the GP, though, and I’m wondering how the Welsh Government is securing the support of non-medical intervention to support the confidence and emotional well-being of people in social care, and how you then measure the drop in demand on primary care services, especially primary mental health care services.
 
13:57
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We know how important it is to have support services for people when they’re outside hospital. That means ensuring that we don’t cut spending in social services, as has happened, of course, over the border. In Wales, spending on health and social services is 7 per cent higher per head than it is in England, because you cannot divorce the two. You cannot raid social services budgets in order to pay for health; the two of them run together. That’s why we’ve protected budgets in Wales and will continue to do so.
 
13:57
Caroline JonesBiography
First Minister, Wales has a growing and ageing population that is putting increased pressures on primary care services in Wales. As those of us who signed the urgent prescription for general practice can attest, workload pressures upon GPs are undermining the safety of patient care. Will the Welsh Government support the BMA request for local health boards to stop the practice of requiring GPs to deliver tests organised in other parts of the NHS and for the introduction of a national standard for a minimum number of patients a GP can be expected to deal with during a working day?
 
13:58
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I have to say to the Member it is normally the case, where GPs deliver tests on behalf of other parts of the health service, that they are paid to do it. They don’t do it for nothing, and, as a result of that, it’s not the case, therefore, that they find that their time is not compensated in that regard. I have to say, for example, on top of what I’ve just said, that this year, we’ve seen the recruitment of over 400 additional staff across Wales, including clinical pharmacists, physios and care co-ordinators, and they help and support GPs as part of a GP-led multiprofessional approach. When we look at Prestatyn, for example, we see a great example there of a service that’s much improved for people, taken over by the health board, where a number of practitioners are available for people and they can be diverted to the right practitioner when they arrive at the premises. That is a good model that we need to investigate for the rest of Wales.
 
Means-tested Grants
 
13:59
Mark RecklessBiography
5. What will be the cost of giving means tested grants to newly eligible students from households earning between £50,020 and £81,000? OAQ(5)0219(FM)
 
13:59
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Member is jumping the gun a little, because, of course, the Government has not yet provided a full response to the Diamond review. That response is being considered and will be announced in due course.
 
13:59
Mark RecklessBiography
If the Government’s mind is still open on this matter, will the First Minister note that university participation at this income level is already high? Mark Drakeford will be setting out later the financial pressures the Welsh Government faces and, just in response to my party colleagues earlier, you said that you weren’t able even to estimate a start date for construction on the metro, and you heard that we had the lowest GP numbers of any of the nations and regions in the UK. In light of that, will the First Minister consider whether providing means-tested grants to this group really is that priority?
 
14:00
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
I’m not sure that GPs and the metro are connected, but in regard to the metro, that’s because, of course, the franchise will not be transferred until the autumn of next year. So, it’s difficult to give a start date to phase 2. Phase 1 of the metro has started, of course, already. That started last year. It’s to do with phase 2 and the way that the franchise, the agreement on the franchise, and the map that will be important in terms of determining when the next phase of the metro will begin.
 
The Cabinet Secretary for Education has indicated the broad principles that we’ll be following in response to the Diamond review, and we’ll seek to get the most equitable solution for all Welsh students.
 
14:00
Llyr GruffyddBiography
Of course, as we move away from the current model that has been described as an unsustainable model to a model that, one assumes, will be based on Diamond, can you confirm whether it is your Government’s intention to try to achieve any financial savings?
 
14:01
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, of course, we want to ensure that there is an equitable system in place that uses the funding available, of course, and that follows the principles that we’ve already set down, namely that we retain the principle that everybody should be part of the system, ensure that there is a fair and consistent approach to dealing with students, whether they are part time or full time, ensure, of course, that there is an investment by the individual and also by the Government, and ensure that they can have greater access to higher education. Those are the principles that the Secretary has cited to date, and those are the ones that we will follow.
 
14:01
Darren MillarBiography
First Minister, you had an opportunity there, in response to Llyr Gruffydd, to re-commit yourself to the commitment that both you and the Liberal Democrats reached when forming your coalition Government, which was that there would be no negative effect on the higher education budget as a result of the implementation of any changes. Will you take the opportunity to make that commitment today, and do you acknowledge that Professor Diamond himself has suggested that there will be a £48.25 million-worth of savings each year if these recommendations are implemented today? That’s a significant saving. What are you going to do with that extra money?
 
14:02
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We will look to invest in the institutions, in the universities, of course. It’s not without strings. We want to make sure that our universities deliver, of course. So, I don’t want to give the impression that this is money that universities would get without an expectation that they continue to deliver better, but we want to make sure that investment continues to rise in our higher education institutions while, at the same time, delivering a fair deal for students.
 
The Superfast Cymru Programme
 
14:02
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the steps taken when it is decided that a community cannot be connected under the Superfast Cymru programme? OAQ(5)0221(FM)[W]
 
14:03
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
When communities ask about the accessibility to Superfast Cymru, and it’s obvious that BT won’t be providing that service, it’s possible for them to follow other options through the Access Broadband Cymru scheme. Superfast Cymru, for example, is built on the basis of assisting communities where there is no commercial means of assisting them. But there will be alternative means of helping communities outside those two categories.
 
14:03
Rhun ap IorwerthBiography
Thank you for that response. We should celebrate, of course, the thousands of connections that have been made under the Superfast Cymru programme, but underneath those positives, of course, there are communities the length and breadth of Wales that cannot access broadband. I can tell you about the Brynsiencyn area where the famous Halen Môn company still can’t access superfast broadband. I can tell you about Llanddona, where 14 families are desperate to have superfast broadband and want to pay for it but can’t access it. The problem is that they aren’t given an explanation as to why they can’t get that access. Would the First Minister agree with me that a cost-benefit analysis should be published by Openreach so that people, first of all, can see why their area is too expensive to connect, and, secondly, as a tool to find an alternative way of providing that connection?
 
14:04
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
It is important that BT should tell communities why it’s not possible to link them up to superfast broadband. Of course, it is not the aim of Superfast Cymru is to look at whether something can be done commercially, but to ensure that the service is available. So, I think Openreach is duty-bound to say why it’s too much of a problem. Having said that, of course, as I said earlier, it is possible for people to look at schemes such as the Access Broadband Cymru scheme in order to receive funding to assist them to receive broadband ultimately. But it is important that BT gives the reasons why there have been problems up to now.
 
14:05
Paul DaviesBiography
First Minister, access to adequate broadband has been a huge issue for us in Pembrokeshire too. I do welcome the steps announced by the Minister last week to assist those communities that can’t be connected under the Superfast Cymru programme, and I understand that there will be some engagement activities happening now. I wonder, in these circumstances, can you tell us how the Welsh Government will promote these developments, especially for those living in more rural and isolated communities, to ensure that everyone is aware of this?
 
14:05
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, another review will be undertaken during the autumn in order to see what kind of options are available to us publicly to assist some of the communities that don’t fit into Superfast Cymru. But they can still, of course, look at the Access Broadband Cymru scheme in order to ensure that access to broadband is available to them if they don’t fit into Superfast Cymru.
 
14:05
Nathan GillBiography
First Minister, we’ve pretty much moved on since the Superfast Cymru initiative was started. In fact, there are three other types of broadband or fibre-optic, and now I believe it’s called hyper-optic broadband, which is 128 times faster than the superfast that we are fitting throughout Wales. What we’ve got is the equivalent of a four-lane highway merging into a winding country lane. Of course, we’ve got broadband all the way up to the boxes, and then we’re using 128-year-old technology to connect the houses to it. So, my question to you is: first of all, what are you going to do to ensure that new-build premises actually have the fibre-to-the-premises connections? Also, what are we able to do to allow houses that have broadband to the box at the end of the street to actually have the fibre all the way to their homes as well, if that’s what they require?
 
14:07
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, it’s interesting, in the sense of whether we can require developers, either through the building regs or probably more likely through section 106 agreements, to put in place state-of-the-art connections to the boxes? He’s right: there is a mixture of technologies in place in terms of the British phone system, because it lacked investment for so many years. What we’re trying to do with Superfast Cymru is to get most people to a position where they can download video, download music and listen, and download documents in a reasonable amount of time. But it’s true to say that it won’t be the fastest in the world, given the fact that we know that there are faster systems elsewhere. They will require substantial investment, but he raises an interesting suggestion, though I wonder whether developers would have a different view as to whether we should require developers, then, to put in place the most up-to-date technology possible when they get planning permission.
 
The Provision of Arts Centres
 
14:08
Bethan JenkinsBiography
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the provision of arts centres throughout Wales? OAQ(5)0208(FM)
 
14:08
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes. Wales benefits from a comprehensive network of arts centres and venues that cover the length and breadth of the country.
 
14:08
Bethan JenkinsBiography
Obviously, you will appreciate that, across Wales, one of the first ways that people can access the arts is in relation to small-scale arts centres. Therefore, I was really concerned that Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council has decided to close Pontardawe Arts Centre one day a week—the day of the week that community groups actually do use the centre. I was there recently to watch ‘The Revlon Girl’, which is a show I’m sure many of us have seen about the Aberfan disaster. I would be very concerned if the centre did close one day a week because, of course, they have vital services to be providing. Once it’s closing one day, it may be a slippery slope to closing more days of the week. So, would you join with me in trying to seek assurances from Neath Port Talbot council that they will not take this decision, and that they will keep the centre open for business?
 
14:09
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Ultimately, of course, it is a matter for the council, but I hope that the draft budget will provide councils across Wales with a level of comfort, so that they feel that they do not have to take decisions along the lines that the Member has just described.
 
14:09
Jeremy MilesBiography
Thank you, First Minister, for your answer to Bethan Jenkins. May I acknowledge the value that Bethan has put on the role that Pontardawe Arts Centre plays in the community? I, myself, was with Bethan watching ‘The Revlon Girl’ there a few days ago. Would he also acknowledge—[Laughter.] Not exactly ‘with’. [Laughter.] Would he also acknowledge the broader role that arts centres play, not just as places of entertainment, important though that is, but as community hubs, helping to tackle isolation, offering a broader offering for schoolchildren in terms of education and general well-being? Would he join me in hoping that local authorities across Wales will look at all those considerations when they’re considering funding and support for the future?
 
14:10
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Yes, absolutely. The Member makes a very good point about the educational purposes of arts centres. We shouldn't forget either that arts centres provide employment. Many years ago, I was at a very powerful lecture given by Dr Mererid Hopwood on culture as an economic driver, in Northern Ireland of all places. It emphasised very strongly how the arts can actually be used as a way of developing local economies as well. So, there are a number of areas where arts centres are important that go beyond what is immediately obvious to members of the public.
 
14:10
Janet Finch-SaundersBiography
First Minister, one way of protecting our community arts centres, of course, is a similar model to that in England of the Localism Act 2011 in order to save community facilities. Seventy-eight per cent of respondents to your ‘Protecting Community Assets’ were in favour of such rights. Over the past 18 months, you've funded a community transfer support officer at a cost of £56,000 to the taxpayer. Could you advise the Chamber today of the meaningful outcomes of that post, how many community assets have been transferred as a result of that, and how you intend, as the First Minister of Wales, to drive that kind of agenda forward that helps us to protect our community assets?
 
14:11
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
There are plenty of examples where communities have taken over facilities in Wales. Not long ago, I was in Briton Ferry library, in fact, in David Rees's constituency, where the library had been taken over. But it's important to distinguish between helping local people to take over their facilities and forcing them to do so via the Localism Act. We prefer to take a voluntary approach, and we see good examples of that happening across Wales.
 
The Pupil Deprivation Grant (Islwyn)
 
14:12
Rhianon PassmoreBiography
8. Will the First Minister make a statement on the difference the pupil deprivation grant is making to educational outcomes in Islwyn? OAQ(5)0214(FM)
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We see that the impact of the grant is strong. It’s making a real difference to the lives of disadvantaged learners, and we are starting to break the very stubborn link between poverty and educational achievement.
 
14:12
Rhianon PassmoreBiography
Thank you, First Minister. Statistics recently released show a further increase in the proportion of learners eligible for free school meals achieving five good GCSEs, including mathematics and English or Welsh first language. This represents the best performance yet by our disadvantaged learners and, for the second year, the attainment gap between children and young people receiving free school meals and their peers has closed. First Minister, this is further evidence of how successfully the Welsh Government is tackling poverty in Wales. Can you then tell me how the Welsh Government continues to build on this success?
 
14:12
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, I know that the Cabinet Secretary has a very strong personal commitment to the pupil deprivation grant. She's already announced a doubling of support from £300 to £600 for the early years pupil development grant to eligible three and four-year-olds in the foundation phase, and it's a clear demonstration of our long-term commitment to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
 
The Economic Development Strategy
 
14:13
John GriffithsBiography
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on the evidence base and research that is underlying the Welsh Government's economic development strategy? OAQ(5)0211(FM)
 
14:13
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
We use evidence from a wide range of sources to shape our approach to delivering a fairer, more prosperous and more secure Wales.
 
14:13
John GriffithsBiography
First Minister, Professors Brian Morgan and Gerry Holtham recently carried out research on what works in economic development across the globe. They found a very strong correlation between high levels of spend on schools and economic success. As well as the economic advantages, of course, education is a good in itself and benefits all aspects of life. Will Welsh Government work to increase funding to our schools in Wales?
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
Well, we've done exactly that, of course, through the protections we’ve put in place for schools. We are seeing new schools being built across Wales—something that didn't happen when I was at school in the 1980s. Nothing was ever built in the 1980s; things fell apart. We see more and more of our school students in buildings that are appropriate for them. The Member is absolutely right: skills and infrastructure are the two areas that are most important to any modern economy. You must have the ability to move goods out and to get people around your economy, but the one question I'm always asked by investors is: have you got the skills we need in order for us to be successful in Wales? And, of course, increasingly, the answer to that is ‘yes’, and we will continue to invest not just in schools, but in skills across the board for those of all ages, through, for example, our 100,000 places that we'll create for all ages in apprenticeship schemes.
 
The National Botanic Garden of Wales
 
14:14
Adam PriceBiography
10. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's support for the National Botanic Garden? OAQ(5)0218(FM)
 
14:14
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure is currently considering the findings of his task and finish group on this matter. He will meet the chair and chief executive officer of the garden towards the end of this week to discuss those findings.
 
14:15
Adam PriceBiography
The garden has submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery fund to create a regency garden on the site. It appears that that bid has been successful and has attracted the possibility of private contributions on top of that, but this, according to the fund, is conditional on confirmation from the Welsh Government of Government support for the garden. As we are talking about an investment of millions of pounds possibly in Carmarthenshire, can we expect that that confirmation will be provided by Government?
 
14:15
Carwyn JonesBiographyThe First Minister
The garden will receive £581,000 in revenue funding this year and £90,000 in capital funding. Having said that, it is important that the garden continues to consider methods of raising funds in a commercial way. This has been a problem since its inception because the garden hasn’t been able to raise sufficient income on the actions that they take there and the activities that are available. But, we wish to collaborate with the garden to ensure that there is a sustainable future for the garden, and to consider every possible means of funding the garden for the future.
 
14:16
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I thank the First Minister.
 
Urgent Question: The Wales and Borders Franchise
[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.
 
14:16
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The next item is the urgent question. I have accepted an urgent question under Standing Order 12.66 and I call on Russell George to ask that urgent question.
 
14:16
Russell GeorgeBiography
Will the Minister make a statement on the role of Transport for Wales in the procurement process to operate rail services in Wales, in light of the announcement that four bidders are competing for the next Wales and Borders franchise? EAQ(5)0055(EI)
 
14:16
Ken SkatesBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure
Yes, the procurement process to select an operational and delivery partner is being undertaken by Transport for Wales, a wholly owned, not-for-profit company established by the Welsh Government to provide support and expertise to deliver the next Wales and borders rail franchise and the next phase of the metro project.
 
14:17
Russell GeorgeBiography
Cabinet Secretary, it is disappointing, I think, that a statement was made to the media last week, even a briefing made available to the media, before a statement was brought here before Members. This is one of the biggest procurement exercises that Wales has ever seen and I should say that there is a great deal of cross-party consensus on the need to address Wales’s transport infrastructure, and a will, I think, to work together and take this forward. That’s why I think it’s particularly disappointing that the Assembly has been bypassed in this regard.
 
Cabinet Secretary, can you expand on what your officials told the media last week on the structure and governance arrangements for Transport for Wales, the procurement process, and Welsh Government’s vision for a not-for-profit model? Can I also ask how the Welsh Government intended to manage the risks highlighted in the auditor general’s and the gateway review in terms of franchised procurement and the franchise map?
 
I noted your answer to Leanne Wood earlier as well. Can you outline how Transport for Wales is taking forward the franchise development when the franchise map has not yet been agreed? Can you also confirm whether or not Transport for Wales is public facing? Can AMs meet with the managing director? Will they be subject to scrutiny from Members, and also from the Economy and Infrastructure Committee?
 
Finally, earlier this month you told the Chamber that you wanted to see Transport for Wales’s head office in the Valleys. But it appears that you have reversed this commitment and I’d be grateful for clarification on that point.
 
14:18
Ken SkatesBiography
I’d like to thank the Member for giving me an opportunity to confirm that the headquarters of Transport for Wales will be located in the Valleys. When I made my statement, which was comprehensive, back in July I said it was my intention to ensure that that happens, and I can tell Members today that it is still my intention, once we have identified suitable premises, for the headquarters of Transport for Wales to be located in the Valleys.
 
Presiding Officer, I set out details back in July for taking forward the Wales and borders franchise and the next phase of the metro, and last week’s announcement was part of the procurement process. In terms of what my officials told the media or anybody else, there is nothing new in what was presented other than the four bidders that have been named. Transport for Wales, as the Member is aware, is a not-for-profit, wholly owned subsidiary company of the Welsh Government and will act in a professional advisory capacity to support our procurement and delivery of the next Wales and borders franchise. It employs 22 members of staff—experts who I’m confident will be able to address the concerns of the report that the Member identified. In terms of the map, which was raised earlier in First Minister’s questions by the Member Leanne Wood, we have reached an agreement with the Department for Transport on the map, including the provision for services that will extend to Bristol and to Liverpool.
 
In terms of the operation of cross-border services, the Member will be aware that we’ve already established and agreed one agency agreement with the Secretary of State and we are in the process of finalising an agreement with the Secretary of State on a second agency agreement that will concern cross-border travel. However, I recognise that there are real and legitimate concerns across the border amongst many passengers who start and finish their journeys within England. For that reason, I am determined to make sure that we have the right processes in place for their complaints or, indeed, for any of their concerns to be expressed and to be dealt with appropriately. For that reason, I anticipate ensuring that the cross-border forum that currently exists continues well into the future.
 
14:21
Dai LloydBiography
Naturally, following on from that, there is concern on this side of the border about the quality of rail services, by the people of Wales. As has already been mentioned, we have seen these four companies bidding for the Wales and borders franchise and, naturally, to be fair, you have answered written questions from me on this very issue, of how exactly the railways will be operating under the franchise and whether the railways will stay fundamentally the same. What you’ve said, and to quote you:
 
‘routes operated under the next Wales and Borders franchise to be broadly unchanged.’
 
I’ve listened to the responses that have been given already today, but what does ‘broadly unchanged’ mean in this context? Will the most profitable railways remain as part of this franchise? Because if they don’t, we may find ourselves in the bizarre situation where, from this Assembly, we’ll be able to give a right to run the Wales and borders franchise to a private company from anywhere in the world and we’ll be funding their shareholders too, in countries abroad, while having virtually no power over investments in our own railways here in Wales.
 
So, can I ask, in the future—and I do understand that the work on this franchise is ongoing—are there any plans in the next franchise to claim more investment in the rail network here in Wales? Thank you.
 
14:22
Ken SkatesBiography
I’d like to thank the Member for his questions. We were very disappointed that the UK Government has not agreed to invest more in the network within Wales and those parts of the network in England that are operated as part of the current franchise. Historically, the network has been underfunded and I think the latest statistics suggest that only 1 per cent of the network spending has come to the Welsh routes. So, without a shadow of a doubt, there is a need to significantly increase the amount of investment in Welsh routes. Indeed, we would like to see those funds devolved so that we could ensure that a correct and appropriate amount of investment is available.
 
Presiding Officer, I think I should say that, in order to ensure fair and open competition and, indeed, to protect the integrity of the process, it’s not going to be possible for me to release any specific details, or the Welsh Government will face the risk of legal challenge insofar as the procurement exercise is concerned. However, I would like to, in response to the Member’s questions, just outline again what I stated in July with some details about the actual dates.
 
We’ve gone through the process of the consultation with the public. I think I said back in July that we had received something in the region of 190 responses from a very wide range of stakeholders. That consultation informed the initial stage of discussions with would-be bidders. Last week, four bidders were identified and named as having an interest in taking forward the next franchise. By November of this year, bidders will have responded to our call for outlying solutions.
 
Leanne Wood mentioned earlier a specific issue in her consistency regarding rail travel. What will happen next is that, as bidders develop their technical solutions, their focus will be on how to achieve our critical objective of delivering four services per hour to each of the Valleys. So, what’s going to be taking place up to November is that a series of outline solutions will be presented to Welsh Government. Following that, we will open up a consultation that will last approximately 12 weeks. That will be managed and operated by Transport for Wales. Again, it will enable the public and will enable stakeholders to give views on the future franchise. Dialogue will then commence with the bidders in the new year—we anticipate in January 2017—with the final tender process taking place between July and September of next year and then, as Members are already aware, the contract will be awarded by the end of 2017, with operations beginning in 2018.
 
The Member for UKIP earlier asked about dates and time frames for the operation of the metro. As the First Minister has already identified, phase 1 is actually being delivered, with £13 million of investment in the network. We expect the mobilisation of phase 2 to commence from 2017 onwards, with early works commencing on the metro phase 2 in 2018, so that by 2023 metro services in areas of the city region will be completed and operational.
 
14:26
David J. RowlandsBiography
Cabinet Secretary, UKIP welcomes the fact that there are four bidders competing for the rail franchise. Does the Cabinet Secretary not agree that competition is healthy and should result in the best possible deal for Wales?
 
14:26
Ken SkatesBiography
Competition can be helpful; the problem with the current franchise is that, when the contract was awarded, it was based on—as Members have already identified this afternoon—zero growth. That, in turn, led to all increases in passenger travel and passenger tickets, all of the revenue that was gathered from them, to be generated as profit for the operator. If we look at the current franchise and the numbers of passengers that have taken journeys on the rail network, 18 million passengers took journeys on the network in 2003; by 2013, that number had increased to 29 million. We cannot possibly afford to be in the same situation again, where we do not build into the contract contingencies for increases in capacity. That’s why I think it’s fair to say, during the process of the consultation that took place earlier this year, a huge proportion of the concerns that were raised with us related to capacity and the quality of rolling stock. In terms of questions that have been raised in this Chamber previously—again, by Leanne Wood, actually—in terms of the quality of rolling stock, each of the four bidders has significant buying power in terms of new rolling stock, and so we would expect that primary concern that passengers have expressed through the consultation, of quality of rolling stock, to be fully addressed in the next franchise.
 
14:27
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I thank the Cabinet Secretary.
 
14:28
2. Business Statement and Announcement
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on Jane Hutt.
 
14:28
Jane HuttBiographyThe Leader of the House and Chief Whip
Diolch yn fawr, Lywydd. Just to say I’ve no changes to make to today’s agenda. Business Committee has reduced the time allocated to tomorrow’s questions to the Assembly Commission, and has also agreed that the debate on the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee’s report on the Wales Bill will take place as the final item of business before voting tomorrow, with the agenda adjusted accordingly. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement, which can be found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
 
14:28
Andrew R.T. DaviesBiography
Could we have a statement from the planning Minister, leader of the house, in relation to local authorities’ use of section 106s, and in particular their use when considering self-build or small residential developments? Section 106s can be a very useful tool in commercial developments, attracting moneys in for education and for other community facilities, but surely they cannot be a tool that can be used to leverage money out of self-build or small developments of three or four houses. That could have a detrimental impact on small-scale builders, which, especially in rural areas, can have an enormous economic impact if those builders are allowed to progress, but section 106 used in the wrong way can actually prohibit those developments from going forward. There has been a recent court case that found in favour of the arrangements that apply to other parts of the United Kingdom, which do exempt small-scale developments from the use of 106s.
 
14:29
Jane HuttBiography
Well, the Member does raise an important point in relation to section 106, which is indeed a very important provision in planning law, and the Cabinet Secretary will issue a written statement accordingly to clarify that point.
 
14:29
Mike HedgesBiography
Last week, the Minister covering social services said:
 
‘The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 will transform the way that we meet the needs of all people with care and support needs, including people with autism and their carers.’
 
Can I therefore ask for a Government statement on the social services Act and how it is working?
 
14:30
Jane HuttBiography
Well, clearly, implementation of the social services and well-being Act, which came into force on 6 April, is now up for scrutiny and consideration in terms of outcomes, and I think the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport clearly laid out a three-year framework for the evaluation of the Act, and we’ll be reporting on that as appropriate. But I think also it’s important for you to know, as a Member, that the first meeting of the stakeholder group indicated that the process—. Chaired by the Minister for Social Services and Public Health, Rebecca Evans, it has already met to discuss the progress in implementation of the Act, and they will be monitoring it very closely. But, also, all regions have regional boards in place that take ownership of the change agenda and pushing forward the delivery of the Act.
 
14:31
Darren MillarBiography
Leader of the house, can I call for two statements today, please? One is from the Cabinet Secretary for Education on the EU regional social progress index—a study found that Wales ranked at the bottom of the UK home nations in terms of access to basic knowledge, and, of course, that’s given rise to significant concerns amongst parents in particular, and knocked their confidence in our education system once again. I wondered whether the Cabinet Secretary for Education might like to respond to that particular study and give some confidence back to people in Wales regarding our education system.
 
And, secondly, as the species champion for the red squirrel, I was very concerned to hear of the death of a number of red squirrels on Anglesey today, possibly as a result of a virus. I wonder whether we can have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs on what the Welsh Government is doing to support red squirrel populations elsewhere in Wales and to monitor their potential vulnerability to such viruses, particularly in places like the Clocaenog Forest in my own constituency? Thank you.
 
14:32
Jane HuttBiography
In response to your first question, Darren Millar, I’m sure you are aware that the information regarding the EU regional social progress index study was published in February of this year, and, just recently, the same information has been republished as a league table by a think tank. Since the original data were gathered, the Welsh Government has published provisional verified GCSE results. In addition, the Cabinet Secretary will be making a statement to the Assembly on the official Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Programme for International Student Assessment figures as soon as they’re published later this year.
 
On your second point, yes, of course, the red squirrel is very fortunate to have you as its species champion, I would say. But I would also say that, having brought this to our attention today, I’m sure that the Cabinet Secretary will look into this and report accordingly.
 
14:33
David ReesBiography
Minister, can I ask for two statements from the Welsh Government? Can I have the first statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs? Prior to the Assembly elections in 2016, we had a commitment from the Welsh Government on a moratorium on fracking. It would be interesting to see that commitment reaffirmed by the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that fracking here in Wales remains off the table for any investor, so we know clearly where we stand. The second one is in light of the work that’s been done by community groups in the Afan Valley, particularly the Afan Valley Community Leisure activity, which was led by Brian Gibbons, my predecessor. As a consequence of his work, we will see the Cymmer swimming pool opened this Saturday because of the hard work of a committee of local residents. Can I have a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children to actually talk about the support such community groups can have when establishing and taking over community facilities and offering public services, such as leisure and swimming pools?
 
14:34
Jane HuttBiography
Thank you, David Rees, for those questions. I’m glad you’ve given us the opportunity, again, as a Welsh Government, to make it very clear that the Welsh Government remains opposed to fracking. The planning notification directions we’ve issued prevent local planning authorities from granting permission for unconventional gas development for underground coal gasification, and this does, of course, follow through in terms of current national planning policy, identifying the environmental impacts that must be addressed in terms of any proposed development that does not impact on environment, communities or wider society. But, I think, also, the policy clarification that the former Minister, and now current Minister, of course, in terms of Cabinet Secretary responsibility—. That was issued in July 2014, and it draws attention and reiterates these considerations.
 
On your second point, we’ve already touched on this this afternoon in response to questions to the First Minister. And, clearly, this is a very good example, isn’t it, of the community being able to work together? It’s good to hear that Dr Brian Gibbons has been involved in that—a former Member of this Assembly—and that that swimming pool in Cymmer is now going to be able to be used by the local community. There are ways in which local government and Welsh Government can advise, and, of course, it is about ensuring that the most appropriate responses, not just in terms of grant aid, but accountability to local government, to other public bodies, are ensured.
 
14:35
Angela BurnsBiography
Leader of the house, may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health and social services into how the Welsh Government can support Wales’s biggest medical school in light of its recent 20-place fall in ‘The Complete University Guide’, and the impact that this could have on Welsh Government’s manifesto commitment to deliver more doctors training in Wales? And I would also like to ask if the Cabinet Secretary could also issue a complementary statement on the cuts at Cardiff Medical School in a number of significant areas of research, such as cardiology, neurology, and complex spinal care, and what effect he foresees this action having on our ability to grow our own specialists within Wales. This is obviously particularly key when you take into account the effect on public health of conditions such as heart disease in this country.
 
14:36
Jane HuttBiography
Well, of course, the money and the support that we give to the Cardiff Medical School, part of Cardiff University, is clearly delivering outcomes, and is well supported by the Welsh Government. I know that there’s been a recent visit to the medical school, which I believe was very interesting, in terms of the discussions with those who are responsible for the medical school. But, of course, medical education is at the forefront of not only our commitments, priorities, but also ambitions, in terms of ensuring that we have an appropriate healthcare workforce in Wales.
 
14:37
Julie MorganBiography
On the weekend, I was very pleased to meet the founder of Recovery Mummy, which is an organisation set up to campaign for and support women who suffer from postnatal depression and other perinatal mental health problems. It was a very emotional, very difficult discussion. I think it’s difficult enough being a new parent and looking after a baby for the first time, as well as having to deal with mental health problems. So I wondered if it would be possible to have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport to lay out what we are able to do to help women in this position.
 
14:38
Jane HuttBiography
Well, Julie Morgan brings to our attention a very important new development. You describe a Cardiff mum actually getting involved and taking this forward, offering support for women with postnatal depression, perinatal psychosis, and other mental health issues. In fact, I know this was addressed in the Cabinet Secretary’s statement last week on ‘Together for Mental Health’—a recognition about mental health needs in terms of perinatal issues and that all-important point for the mother and baby. So, I think the new perinatal mental health services that were set up last year across Wales are developing well, with new specialist staff being recruited, backed by £1.5 million of new investment. But this example, I think, shows how much we must listen to those who need and use those services; how much we should listen to them and support them in that way.
 
14:39
Mark IsherwoodBiography
Can I call for two statements, please? Firstly, on community safety in Wales, following the Auditor General for Wales’s report of that name, launched today. This says, rightly:
 
‘Community safety relates to people’s sense of personal security and their feelings of safety in relation to where they live, work and spend their leisure time.’
 
But it goes on to say:
 
‘The Welsh Government has no single strategy for community safety and has focussed its activity on delivering the Programme for Government. Whilst all local authorities and the four Police and Crime Commissioners have plans, these are not consistently aligned to ensure the best use of resources and maximise impact and there are no areas where national, regional and local bodies have the same priority. Disjointed planning and poor co-ordination can create a risk of organisations either duplicating activity or no one focussing on the most important issues.’
 
And they recommend that you, with the police and crime commissioners and local authorities,
 
‘improve strategic partnership working by formally creating effective community-safety boards’
 
to replace the current mechanism. This is clearly important. It’s received, rightly, widespread attention today and it does merit a Welsh Government response to this Assembly before we hear a more detailed response outside it.
 
Secondly, on a theme we’ve heard much about today, I call for a Welsh Government statement on its proposals, as we look ahead, for autism legislation. I’ve had, since the vote last week, some distressing reports to me of people who have self-harmed. There is a letter to the Senedd from the Autistic Women’s Empowerment Project, which says:
 
‘This week the Welsh Assembly, a beautiful, swoopy glass building, voted against an Autism Act for Wales. 24 to 27. So close. So few minds to change to change my world, but change they did not. Why oh why would we need such a thing? An act just for autism? An act of autism? An enactment of autisming? Because of me. Because of people like me. Because of my autistic community, my people and their families and carers. Because it matters.’
 
She concludes:
 
‘Wales, I love you. I adore you. Your people, your greenness, your mountains, your valleys. Only you know my hiraeth when I’m not here. Nowhere undulates like you. Nowhere is warmer and kinder. But you’ve let me down. You’re letting me down every day. And we need you.’
 
Well, we heard earlier from the First Minister that the agreement with Plaid Cymru included a statutory underpinning for the other legislative and procedural changes the Welsh Government is implementing. The Minister said that the people he spoke to in the autism community said they didn’t know what legislation would do, but that’s not what the overwhelming number of people in north, south and mid Wales have been telling us for years, and as recently as last Friday night in Wrexham, as recently as last Sunday in Towyn and Kinmel Bay. We know what it’s about. We know the Welsh Government said it’s going to monitor the implementation of its refreshed strategy and national plan and legislation but people on the autism spectrum need certainty. So, when will you be carrying out the initial reviews? How will you be reporting that, and how will you ensure that that legislation and that statutory underpinning will be brought forward at the earliest opportunity?
 
14:42
Jane HuttBiography
On your first point, of course, community safety in Wales is of paramount importance and the Cabinet Secretary will respond and he will update as appropriate on the current arrangements in terms of Safer Communities, which, of course, have served us well in terms of local partnerships. You did hear extensively from the First Minister this afternoon about our approach and our commitment and indeed the ways in which we—. In fact, you heard also from the Minister for health and social services about the way in which she is working with the National Autistic Society, working with actually a date in the diary again to look at their proposals and to look at where we are delivering in terms of a range of services to support people, families, children and young people and adults with autism. I think, again, it might be helpful if I just, again, read an extract from the First Minister’s Plenary statement on the legislative programme on 28 June. In fact, that was in response to a question that was put to the First Minister by Simon Thomas, and he said:
 
‘To start with autism, this is something, of course, that is being considered at present by the liaison committee’—
 
we heard about that this afternoon—
 
‘in terms of seeing in what way we can develop legislation on autism, and particularly whether we can ensure that the action plan can be strengthened through being placed on a statutory basis ultimately. That is being dealt with in that process.’
 
So, I think we have, this afternoon, responded to those points and I’m sure, across this Chamber, are meeting, as we do, with our constituents and with those local groups who are raising these issues.
 
14:44
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
I thank the Minister.
 
14:44
3. Statement: The Draft Budget 2017-18
Y Llywydd / The LlywyddBiography
The next item is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government on the draft budget for 2017-18. I call on the Cabinet Secretary, Mark Drakeford.
 
14:44
Mark DrakefordBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government
Thank you very much, Llywydd, for the opportunity to make a statement on the Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2017-18. I have laid the budget before the National Assembly this afternoon for consultation and scrutiny.
 
We live in a most uncertain period. After very careful consideration over the summer, I have decided that, in advance of the fiscal resetting promised by the Chancellor in the forthcoming November statement, it is only possible to place a one-year revenue budget before the National Assembly. A similar conclusion has been reached by finance Ministers in the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. Against this difficult background, my aim has been to lay a budget which provides stability for our core public services over the next 18 months. But it is also a budget with ambition, a budget which makes progress on our programme for government and our promises to the people of Wales.
 
The budget before you today, Llywydd, is also the product of an agreement between the Government and Plaid Cymru. I wish to thank Adam Price and his team for the careful, constructive and detailed discussions which form the foundation of our agreement. It provides for a package of additional spending commitments, in addition to non-fiscal measures. These can be seen in the budget documentation available to Members. We have also agreed a forward work programme for the finance liaison committee for the next 12 months, and I look forward to embarking on these discussions.
 
Llywydd, let me say a little more about the context in which this budget has been created. Since 2010-11, we have experienced successive cuts to the Welsh budget. By the end of the decade, our overall budget will have been reduced by 9 per cent in real terms—equivalent to almost £1.5 billion less for vital public services here in Wales. And, of course, I again restate today the urgent macroeconomic case for the abandonment of the self-defeating policies of austerity. It is because of those policies that there remain threats of further cuts to come, as the UK Government has yet to announce how it will find the £3.5 billion of departmental reductions announced in the March budget. This alone could mean another £150 million cut for services in Wales. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently concluded, Wales is looking at an extraordinary 11 or more years of retrenchment in public service spending.
 
Now, despite this, and the immediate impacts of the EU referendum on Wales, the budget before Members today will: invest an additional £240 million in the Welsh NHS to meet the ongoing growth in demand and costs of services; it will secure £111 million for apprenticeships and traineeships as part of our commitment to invest in skills and jobs in Wales, including £88.3 million to create 100,000 all-age apprenticeships; it will deliver a £100 million tax cut for small businesses; provide the best local government funding settlement in years; confirm our investment in the intermediate care fund; raise school standards with a £20 million investment next year; safeguard and increase funding for the pupil deprivation grant; take forward work on the UK’s most generous childcare offer for working parents. And, over and above the £240 million just identified, we will also provide £16 million next year for the NHS to establish a new treatment fund, which will make new and innovative treatments for life-changing and life-threatening diseases available to all those who need them in Wales. We will also allocate £4.5 million to raise the capital limit so people can keep more of their life savings when entering residential care, as promised in my party’s manifesto.
 
Our agreement with Plaid Cymru will see further additional investments for health services—£1 million for end-of-life care services, £1 million for eating disorders and transgender services, and £7 million over and above that already in the budget for additional investment in the training of extra healthcare professionals.
 
Llywydd, while it has only proved prudent to lay a one-year revenue budget, I have judged it possible to set out a four-year capital plan. Allocating the majority of the available capital will provide confidence and assurance to the construction sector, businesses and investors, and support the best decision making. We will provide over £1.3 billion over the next four years to deliver an extra 20,000 affordable homes here in Wales in line with our manifesto commitment. We will invest more than £500 million of conventional capital in our £2 billion twenty-first century schools programme, and use new innovative finance models to take forward the development of a new specialist Velindre Cancer Centre and the dualling of the A465.
 
Capital funding has been set aside in reserves to deliver the new M4 relief road by 2021, subject to the outcome of the public inquiry next year. There is almost £370 million in the capital budget over the next four years to deliver our ambitious plans for the south Wales metro, and we are investing to advance proposals for a metro for north Wales as well. Fifteen million pounds in the health capital programme for 2017-18 will be invested in improving diagnostics, as reflected in our budget agreement with Plaid Cymru.
 
Llywydd, this statement has focused on budget plans for the future, but we also know that there are some real pressures in the current financial year in some of our core services. I expect to be able to recognise some of those in-year pressures. Our response to those issues, however, will need to be balanced with what the Chancellor’s autumn statement will mean for Wales. I will, of course, update Members about these plans as they develop.
 
So it is, Llywydd, that this is a budget for stability and ambition. It invests for today and it prepares for tomorrow. It will help us to take forward our NHS, to raise school standards, to implement the biggest education reform package Wales has seen since the 1940s, and it will ensure that our local government partners can go on providing their essential services. It is also, Llywydd, a budget for ambition, investing in Wales, in vital new infrastructure, in housing, in transport, in jobs and in our future prosperity. It is a budget that takes Wales forward.
 
14:53
Paul DaviesBiography
Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his statement today and for his phone call earlier, giving me advance notice of the headline figures in today’s draft budget? I understand his logic in laying a one-year revenue budget and a four-year capital budget, but I’m sure it won’t surprise the Cabinet Secretary that we on this side of the Chamber cannot support this draft budget in its current form. Once again, Plaid Cymru have fallen over themselves to do a deal with the Welsh Government and prop them up regardless. Whilst there are some announcements that are to be welcomed in this statement, communities across Wales have still been left behind.
 
Of course, it is my earnest wish that this draft budget will deliver for Welsh communities where so many others before it have failed, but you will forgive me if I reserve some scepticism, given that outcomes in so many areas of public life are still badly wanting. As we enter into the next phase of the fifth Assembly, our nation remains in the chokehold of an underperforming economy, which sees families in Wales take home the lowest wages in Britain—this according to the Welsh Government’s own statistical analysis. Last week, an EU regional social progress index study placed Wales’s education system at the bottom of the UK league table—not the first study to do so. Public health, too, remains a major concern. The Welsh health survey highlighted that obesity levels are rising and diabetes prevalence has more than doubled since 1996. These issues stubbornly endure.
 
Going forward, it’s crucial that every pound spent by the Welsh Government is spent effectively, ensuring value for money for the Welsh taxpayer and a renewed focus on outcomes. No-one denies that we have been through tough economic times and the UK Government has had to take tough economic decisions to get the economy back on track. Of course, at the same time, the referendum vote to leave the EU raises a whole series of questions over future budget planning. Therefore, can the Cabinet Secretary tell us what impact the EU referendum result has had on the Welsh Government’s budget planning processes for the fifth Assembly and what work the Welsh Government has done since the referendum result in terms of its budget processes and economic forecasting ahead of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union?
 
Now, turning to some of the headline figures from today’s announcement, of course, I welcome the additional money that has been allocated to the health budget, and I sincerely hope that this will go some way to addressing the real issues that our NHS faces. The Cabinet Secretary will remember from his time as health Minister the struggle of delivering health services in rural parts of Wales, and so perhaps the Cabinet Secretary will tell us how today’s budget will roll back the centralisation of services that we’ve seen in recent years and fill in the gaps in provision that there are in parts of west, mid and, indeed, north Wales. Indeed, can the Cabinet Secretary confirm for the record this afternoon that, in light of the numerous reports criticising Welsh NHS finances, he is now fully confident that this draft budget is affordable and that it will sufficiently support the NHS in Wales?
 
As we know, there are higher costs to delivering public services in rural areas, and so it’s important that these areas are adequately prioritised in any Welsh Government budget. I understand local government will receive a cash-flat settlement in this draft budget, however, can the Minister indicate to us today how this money will be allocated to local authorities and whether rural authorities will be prioritised, given that they have suffered some substantial cuts in the past? An acknowledgement of the challenges that rural authorities face must be made in this budget, and I hope the Cabinet Secretary will provide more detail on how this budget will specifically address the challenges that rural local authorities face.
 
Today’s statement includes an extra £30 million for higher and further education, which is certainly welcome. I’m sure all Members in this Chamber want to see a strong Welsh education system that is sustainable for the future. Now, I appreciate that £30 million cannot possibly be the answer to all of Wales’s problems when it comes to higher education and further education, but this funding could actually make a difference. Therefore, can the Cabinet Secretary confirm what new proposals will be implemented with this additional funding and how this funding will be used to close the funding gap between Welsh and English higher education? In relation to further education colleges, can the Cabinet Secretary confirm how this additional funding will be allocated to colleges and what criteria the colleges will have to meet to receive any additional funding?
 
Llywydd, the Welsh Government must ensure that any spending through this Assembly is effective and delivers real improvements to key front-line services to the people of Wales. I was extremely disappointed, like many in this Chamber, in the Welsh Government’s programme for government, which does not provide the confidence or detail required to improve the life chances of people in communities across Wales. Therefore, can the Cabinet Secretary tell us how the Government will truly test the outcomes of any budget in this Assembly if there are no targets by which to measure them? Crucially, how can the Welsh Government ensure value for money across portfolio areas when there is very little detail in the programme for government to measure the progress of its budget? So, in closing, therefore, Llywydd, can I once again thank the Cabinet Secretary for today’s statement? My colleagues and I look forward to scrutinising the draft budget further over the next few weeks. Diolch.
 
14:58
Mark DrakefordBiography
Thank you to Paul Davies for his contribution. I take it for granted, really, that we share an ambition across the Assembly to make sure that the money we have available for public services is spent effectively, that it brings about real improvements in people’s lives and that we spend the money we have in the way that has the greatest impact. I look forward to the detailed scrutiny of the budget against those criteria that will follow today’s statement.
 
There were a series of specific questions in what Paul Davies had to ask, so I’ll try and address those, Llywydd. As far as the impact of the referendum is concerned, the Welsh Government will take a twin track to trying to respond to that. There are the immediate impacts in relation to the funding that comes from Europe to Wales, and our repeated calls on the UK Government to make sure that every penny that comes from the European Union should come to Wales have borne some fruit in the two statements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, providing some guarantees on that funding for Wales. I’m glad to see those and hope to see more of that in the future. The longer-term challenge for the UK Government, and then from Wales, will be on the long-term impact on the UK economy of leaving the European Union. It is quite impossible for us to make a reliable assessment of that in Wales when we have such an absence of clarity at the UK Government end on the terms on which they seek to bring about that exit. We will continue to urge them to conclude an agreement with the European Union that takes full cognisance of the interests of Wales, including full and unfettered access to the free market.
 
Mr Davies asked me questions about the health budget. The extra investment that we are making in the health budget in this draft budget will be sufficient to meet the Nuffield gap. It will continue our policies of shifting care from secondary to primary care, it will allow the health service to go on doing the remarkable work that has happened in Wales in recent times in increasing the share of chronic illness services that are provided outside the hospital setting—one of the reasons why the Nuffield report and its successors conclude that the health service in Wales goes on being affordable into the future, provided—and this is the really key point, Llywydd, which Members on the Conservative side will want to hear—that public services have, in future, a fair share of the growth in the economy. Local government has, in this proposed budget, for the first time in many years, no cuts at all in the cash available to it. I’m afraid that the Member will have to wait until tomorrow, when I will lay the local government proposed settlement, to see how that affects individual authorities.
 
I was grateful for what he said about the importance of further and higher education. The £30 million that we have been able to find additionally for HE and FE will be deployed by the Cabinet Secretary for Education, and she will do so in a way that is consistent with our ambitions for the implementation of the Diamond review.
 
15:03
Adam PriceBiography
First of all, I would like to thank the finance Secretary for his statement today and for the phone call that I received from him earlier too, but most of all, for the process of discussion that we went through over a period of months over the summer. Of course, the agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Government is testament to those mature discussions that we could use as a foundation for the statement that he has just given. Of course, there was compromise—it is an integral part of any discussion between two parties—but may I pay tribute to him for his constructive, creative, wise and considered approach to these negotiations? It is an agreement that we are very proud of in Plaid Cymru—the biggest ever deal between the Welsh Government and any opposition party: £119 million for Plaid Cymru manifesto pledges, the priorities that reflect the ambition of Plaid Cymru in terms of scope and substance, but even more importantly, ones that will lead to real improvements in the lives of people in all parts of Wales; £30 million for higher and further education, and I was pleased to see Paul Davies welcome that; £50 million for the tourism sector that we heard mention of; and an additional £5 million for the Welsh language and so on. The list is too long for me to go through it in full, but certainly it does represent an excellent deal for the people of Wales.
 
The agreement delivers on many of our key commitments as a party, set out in the manifesto upon which all Members elected as Plaid Cymru Members stood for in this Assembly election. It’s the mandate that we have been given by hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. I may be paraphrasing someone who has been a political mentor of mine by saying that it is always important that Plaid Cymru makes full use of its position to secure tangible improvements to the lives of the people in Wales. That is what democratic politics, ultimately, is all about; not grandstanding and carping on the sidelines, but delivering real improvement for the people of Wales. Often, in politics—[Interruption.] Often in politics, we can do more when we work across party boundaries, when we look for that common ground and we welcome that opportunity to deliver, together, the kind of changes that the people of Wales themselves want to see.
 
There will of course be aspects of the broader budget that we will disagree with. We will be seeking to discuss and amend the draft, and the budget process, as we go through scrutiny at committee level and on the floor of the Assembly, affords us all that opportunity to improve upon the draft budget. Our party, along with other stakeholders in wider society in Wales, will be seeking to be part of that wider engagement as well.
 
I have a few questions for the Cabinet Secretary, briefly. He has already referred to the autumn statement. The finance spokesperson of the Conservative Party referred to the ‘chokehold’ that we’re facing. Well, if we are talking about public finances, the real chokehold is being put there by a Conservative Government in Westminster that has actually left us with hard Brexit and austerity; it may be austerity lite, but I’m not convinced of that. That’s the chokehold. That’s the difficult context that we are looking at. But, could the Cabinet Secretary say a little bit more about the potential differential effects of the autumn statement in terms of the revenue or capital budgets, and perhaps give us some greater detail on how the changes that may need to be put in place as a result of the autumn statement will affect our revision process here?
 
I’m sure that the Cabinet Secretary will agree that one of the positive and unique features of this budget agreement, because it actually is embedded as part of a wider process with the finance liaison committee and the wider compact, is that it also contains a forward work programme beyond the budget agreement. One of the areas that we are keen to explore together is this vital area of improving effectiveness, which was referred to, and efficiencies within the public sector, broadly, which are absolutely vital, of course, if we are to deal with some of the fiscal challenges and the other pressures on public services that we will face. Finally, we will have a statement on the national infrastructure commission, so I won’t intrude too much on that subject. We have seen a significant reduction in capital expenditure compared to the beginning of this decade. The finance Secretary did refer to some of the innovative sources of finance that he is exploring in order to fill this gap, so that we can actually continue to increase and accelerate the rate of increase in infrastructure investment. Could he say a little bit more about what work is being done to take that forward?
 
15:08
Mark DrakefordBiography
May I say thank you to Adam Price for his comments in introducing his questions?
 
I will go immediately to the specific questions that Adam Price raised. He’s absolutely right to point to the fact that we are having to lay our budget before the Assembly in advance of the autumn statement, where the Chancellor promises a fiscal reset, and where we have to make our judgments without knowing exactly how that reset is to be brought about. As a result, I have had to make a series of judgments with Cabinet colleagues.
 
As far as the capital budget is concerned, I have made a judgement that, based on what we are able to read from the various statements that the Chancellor has made—most recently, perhaps, in Washington—that he has an intention of not reducing capital investment in the UK economy and that we may even see some modest investment—welcome as it would be—taking advantage of historically low interest rates and so on to give some boost to infrastructure spending. For that reason, I feel confident in laying a four-year capital budget.
 
The uncertainty over revenue is why I've been confined to a one-year revenue budget. When Members have an opportunity to study the budget in more detail, they will see that, in the draft budget, I propose to take a higher than usual revenue reserve into next year. That is there as a precaution against the autumn statement reducing the level of revenue available to the Welsh Government next year. And if people think that that is just a remote possibility, there’ll be Members here who’ll recall that only last year there were £50 million-worth of in-year revenue cuts that the Welsh Government had to absorb. What I am anxious to avoid is having to reopen the very detailed discussions that I've had with Cabinet colleagues over the summer, and, indeed, with Plaid Cymru, to be able to lay the budget that I'm able to today. If there are to be further cuts to the Welsh Government's revenue budget next year, I'd rather be able to deal with those through the reserve than by asking colleagues to absorb further reductions. If we don't face such a reduction next year, then I'll look to make some further adjustments to that reserve in advance of the final budget.
 
Adam Price drew attention to the forward work programme that's been agreed for the finance liaison committee. I thought it was an important part of our agreement to be able to identify that forward work programme. There are some very significant and long-term matters that we have agreed to address jointly, and I look forward to the opportunity to be able to move beyond the inevitable dealing with the detail that we’ve had to do over recent weeks to grapple with some of those matters.
 
Finally, I was asked a question about capital, and Adam Price is absolutely right to point to the fact that the capital available to public services in Wales will have reduced by a third between 2009 and 2019, and we have had to work hard to find ways in which we can bridge that gap. The budget in front of Members today deploys to the fullest extent the new borrowing ability that we have agreed with the UK Government. It builds on the work that my predecessor, Jane Hutt, did in taking advantage of the borrowing ability of housing associations and local authorities where we provide the revenue consequences of that borrowing. I look forward, as well, to the development of further innovative financial instruments to take forward, as I said in my statement, the new cancer centre at Velindre and the complete dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road.
 
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
 
15:13
Mark RecklessBiography
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his statement and advance notice thereof, although I think I must have missed his phone call. [Laughter.] I have, though, got the copy of the budget during the First Minister's statement—[Interruption.] Oh well, never mind, never mind. I've been doing my best to at least scan-read the budget since my question at First Minister's questions, while, of course, listening at the same time, and there certainly are aspects of this budget that we would welcome, particularly the increase in health spending. I think it's about 4 per cent for health, well-being and sport as a whole, and 5.4 per cent for what the Government calls ‘core NHS services’. Could the Cabinet Secretary give a bit more clarity about this extra £240 million and then the extra £44 million I think he referred to on account of Plaid, and in particular the £20 million ring fence of mental health—welcome, albeit only one twelfth of the increase—and the £15 million in capital for diagnostics? Are both or either of those included within the £44 million?
 
I'd like to give a particular welcome to the extra £7 million for medical training. The £1 million end-of-life care addition is obviously welcome, but, I'm afraid, is a drop in the ocean in that area—
 
15:14
Lee WatersBiography
Why don't you give us the money from Brussels? Then we'd have enough money to pay for it.
 
15:14
Mark RecklessBiography
We're looking forward to the extra money from Brussels, which will stand the Welsh Government and the UK Government in good stead in due course, once we leave.
 
The Plaid statement earlier we had from Adam Price—I think he said just now that ‘we will deliver together’, and I think he was quoted in the media earlier as saying that waiting times in the NHS will be reduced on account of this intervention by Plaid. Can the Cabinet Secretary advise us of the extent to which we call Plaid to account for their role in delivering this reduction in waiting times, or is that something he continues to take sole responsibility for himself and with the formal Welsh Government?
 
Outside the health area, where I think there are some welcome increases, we note local government is getting a 3.1 per cent increase, of which I think almost all is capital—£123 million—and I think that is welcome. However, I received at the beginning of this year a very welcome letter from Caerphilly County Borough Council telling me, actually, that they weren’t going to increase my council tax after all, because the grant settlement had been more generous than they anticipated. This year, we hear there’s another £25 million thanks to Plaid, and we are also told that, for the first year in four, there is to be an increase in the non-hypothecated grant. Can all this be afforded? I’m sure it’s very, very welcome for Labour and Plaid councillors standing for re-election next May, but given what the Cabinet Secretary says about the overall pressures, is not the risk that there will be very significant cuts following those elections, and given the relative generosity of spending settlements since austerity commenced in 2010 for Wales in the local government area, certainly compared to England? Although I’m not suggesting that we replicate the cuts there in any sense. Certainly, the social services additional funding and the integration with the NHS are welcome. But can the Minister continue to protect local government to the extent that he says in this budget?
 
The £30 million extra for higher education and further education—we support some of those further education additions. The higher education, we’re told, is for the transition to the new student support arrangements., which we were told were going to be cost neutral, or, the Conservative spokesman says, a saving of £48 million. Can the Minister confirm how cost neutral or otherwise these changes will be, and whether he, given his long history of progressive left-wing politics, considers that these handouts of means-tested grants to families earning between £50,000 and £81,000 is a priority for him, including also the £1,000 for families earning even higher than that? Is it possible we could seek some savings in this area given the other changes and the pressures that the Cabinet Secretary sets out in his budget?
 
On transport, we welcome the study into the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth route, and possibly reopening that, although for £300,000 we’re not totally sure, given the challenges, how much that’s going to lead to. But we welcome it as far as it goes. It was in our manifesto as well as in Plaid’s. We note that the Cabinet Secretary has set aside in reserves more than £900 million for an M4 relief road. Is that enough given the estimates of cost we now get for that black route? Professor Stuart Cole told me the week before last that he now thought it would be at least £1.2 billion, compared to just £0.5 billion for his blue route or £0.6 billion with the second leg up to the A449.
 
Finally from me, I’d just like to refer to the Severn bridges and the tolling arrangements. The St David’s Day agreement said they would be a matter for agreement between the UK and the Welsh Governments. There doesn’t seem to be much agreement, though, with this continuing tax that the UK Government is going to put on the tolls after they should be abolished in approximately a year’s time. Will that continue after the purported debt is paid off, or will the Cabinet Secretary look forward with me to something in the budget next year to make a contribution towards maintenance so that tolls on those bridges can be scrapped?
 
15:18
Mark DrakefordBiography
I thank Mark Reckless for those parts of the budget that he recognised as being welcome. I’ll try and address his specific questions.
 
In relation to the mental health funding that is part of the £240 million, the £15 million for diagnostics is part of the capital programme provided to the health main expenditure group, and, of course, as a result of that investment, waiting times for diagnostics will continue to reduce still further.
 
The £7 million for training is over and above the £240 million, and the £1 million for end-of-life care is certainly not to be regarded as a drop in the ocean. In terms of the hospice sector in Wales, that is a very significant investment and will be, I know, very widely welcomed by a service that is the best in the whole of the United Kingdom.
 
As far as local government is concerned, I’m very glad to have been able to provide a no-cash-cut budget to local government this year, but let me say what I’ve said to local government already: tougher times and harder choices lie ahead. The budget that we are promised from the UK Government goes on cutting the resources available to this place, year after year after year. There is nowhere that anyone can simply melt those pressures away. They are inevitably bound to have an impact on our delivery partners. I was keen to provide an 18-month period of stability for those key services, and they need to use that time to prepare for the choices that lie ahead.
 
As far as education is concerned, I’m very happy to provide a copy of my leaflet on progressive universalism—[Laughter.]—which I’m sure the Member would enjoy. It is very important that we continue to provide services in which all our citizens have a stake. That’s how you get the best services. His party’s insistence on means testing would simply go back to that very old adage that services that are reserved for poor people very quickly become poor services. The reason why services continue to be of the standard they are in a civilised society is that we make sure that everybody—the well informed as well as those who struggle, the articulate as well as the inarticulate—has a stake in making those services as good as possible. That’s the sort of education service that we want to see here in Wales.
 
As far as the M4 relief road is concerned, I have very carefully designed the budget so that the expenditure that the Cabinet Secretary with the responsibility needs to have next year for M4 purposes are available directly to him in his portfolio, but the rest of the expenditure for the M4 is held in reserves so that we pay proper respect to the independent public inquiry that is to be conducted. We will know, when that inquiry concludes, the level of funding that will be needed to be secured for those purposes. Thankfully, Dirprwy Lywydd, I’ve not needed to address the issue of tolls on the Severn bridges for the purposes of next year’s budget.
 
15:22
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you. I’ve got three more speakers and it’s important that they’re heard as well. So, I’m going to ask for questions without the preambles, if possible. Mike Hedges.
 
15:22
Mike HedgesBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I just say that what the Minister agreed with Plaid Cymru are a lot of issues that I would have actually been asking him for if he hadn’t?
 
Austerity for the Tories is a political policy not an economic one. It’s about shrinking the state. It is having a serious effect on public services. I have three questions. On health, can the Minister confirm that the health, well-being and sports budget is now over 50 per cent of managed expenditure and that it’s just under half of total resource and capital?
 
On local government, which is very important to the people of Wales, especially support for health—things like refuse collection, social services, leisure facilities, environmental health and housing all play a major part in keeping people healthy—the pressures on social services, both child and adult services, are immense, and, I would say, far greater than those on health. The importance of education we’ve discussed earlier. What information does the Cabinet Secretary have on pressures on local government expenditure?
 
The third question is—we had a statement on Communities First last week, will the Cabinet Secretary be able to tell us what is being cut from the budget in terms of provision? If Communities First is not going to exist in there, what is going to happen to some of the schemes currently being supported by Communities First? Will they exist under another form, or will they just disappear?
 
15:24
Mark DrakefordBiography
As ever, it is possible to do the maths in many different ways. As Mike Hedges said, the responsibilities of my colleague Vaughan Gething now include sport as well as the health service. The best estimate I have of the proportion that health spending takes in next year’s budget is that it remains below 50 per cent of this Assembly’s budget.
 
Of course, I recognise the pressures that there are on social services. Personally, I don’t find it the most helpful way to think about these things as being to regard health and social services as somehow in competition with one another. Our aim is to make sure that they work together to the best possible extent.
 
I hear of the pressures on local government absolutely regularly. As Members will know, I have visited all 22 local authorities in recent months, not a single one of them forwent the opportunity to explain to me the pressures that they face, and those messages culminate in the finances sub-group that we have here in the Welsh Government, where politicians from local government and experts come together to assess those pressures.
 
As far as Communities First is concerned, as Carl Sargeant made clear in his statement last week, this is not a budget-driven set of decisions. He will have decided to bring together in his portfolio a series of spending streams in a new preventative budget, which includes Communities First but also Flying Start and Families First. The policy that the Cabinet Secretary is pursuing is one of how best to use the resources that we have at our disposal, rather than how to reduce them.
 
15:26
Simon ThomasBiography
May I thank the Minister for his statement and for the mature and constructive way in which he’s discussed the draft budget with my colleague Adam Price? The budget will now be out for consultation. You will first of all appear before the Finance Committee tomorrow morning to kick off this process. May I ask you, in terms of all of the committees that will look at the budget over the next few weeks, can you explain what role preventative spending will have and what influence important pieces of legislation brought forward by the previous Government, such as the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 will have, and have they influenced the way in which you have allocated expenditure in this draft budget?
 
Two very specific questions, too, if I may, on what’s included in the budget as we currently find it: can you confirm, as the Assembly has desired, that there should be no cut in the Supporting People programme budget, and that that should remain without any cuts to its budget, as I understand it? Can you also tell us what has happened to the increase of 1 per cent that the previous Government had put in place in terms of expenditure on schools and education for those of five to 16 years of age? As I see it, that guidance has been removed from this budget. If so, is there another target for expenditure in schools that has coloured the decision in the current draft budget?
 
The final question: am I right to interpret your answer on the M4 as meaning that there will be no capital expenditure in this particular budget on the M4, apart from, of course, paying for the public inquiry and so on?
 
15:28
Mark DrakefordBiography
Thank you very much, Simon Thomas, for those questions. I look forward to the process of scrutiny. I acknowledge that Members won’t yet have had an opportunity to look through the budget narrative that I published this afternoon, but I hope that more details about the things that Simon Thomas has raised will be available there. I can say this afternoon that Supporting People will not face any cut in its budget.
 
The protection of 1 per cent, which was a feature of the last Assembly term, has not been possible to provide again in this Assembly term, but there are very significant investments in the education field. There is £20 million for general education improvement as part of the £100 million commitment that we made as a Government, and those budgets that are there as part of the pupil deprivation grant, which was a time-limited programme, will be taken forward next year. Nearly £90 million will now be available for those very important purposes.
 
As far as the M4 is concerned, just to repeat what I said, the money that the Cabinet Secretary will need for purposes next year is available to him through his own MEG, but the bulk of the expenditure that might be necessary for the M4, depending upon the outcome of the public inquiry, is held in reserve to make sure that that inquiry can be seen to be conducted with the independence that we need it to have.
 
15:29
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you. Finally, Lynne Neagle.
 
15:29
Lynne NeagleBiography
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I give a very warm welcome to this budget statement today, set as it is against the backdrop of very, very challenging economic circumstances?
 
I’m delighted to see so many of our programme for government commitments funded in the statement. I particularly welcome the additional money for the health service. As you know, Minister, we have not gone down the road that they have in England, where we have seen extremely harsh reductions in funding, particularly for adult social care. We’ve always taken the view in Wales that the health service and social services go hand in hand. Are you able to outline what additional funding there is in this budget for social care?
 
I’m also very pleased with the announcement about protecting local government funding. My own authority works extremely hard to deliver public services in very challenging circumstances. Unlike Paul Davies though, I would like a slightly different assurance on the allocation of the funding. In my experience, it is deprived authorities that often lose out under the local government formula. So, I would like to ask what steps you are going to take, and obviously we await more detail tomorrow to ensure that it is our neediest communities that receive the most protection.
 
15:31
Mark DrakefordBiography
Can I thank Lynne Neagle for her opening remarks? All the key commitments of this Government are reflected in this budget. That’s why it is an ambitious budget, because it sets us on the road to delivering all those key things that we put before people in Wales earlier this year. I agree with her entirely that the only sensible course of action, from the point of view of the citizen, is to regard our health and social care services as a continuum in which they get a service in the round, dealing with all the different aspects that they require, and that’s why we have gone on making sure that we invest in our social care services, at the same time as providing our health services with the investment that they need.
 
As a result, as well as Supporting People being protected in this budget, we will continue next year to provide the full £60 million that was invested this year in the intermediate care fund—£50 million in revenue and another £10 million in capital. And in the local authority budget, which I have set out today, there is £25 million earmarked in that budget for social services purposes, as there was £21 million earmarked for the same purposes in this year, in order to make it clear to our partners in local authorities the extent to which we are determined to go on supporting those vital services in our communities.
 
I can say to Members that in every one of the 22 visits that I made to local authorities, every local authority was able to explain to me why the funding formula for local government in Wales uniquely penalised their particular needs and circumstances. When those individuals get together in the finance group, they recognise that our funding formula brings together a whole range of needs, recognising rurality and sparsity, but quite certainly, recognising at its heart, the relative need between our communities. And I look forward to the opportunity to discuss with Members the way in which those considerations feed through to the statement that I will put before the National Assembly tomorrow afternoon.
 
15:33
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Thank you very much, Cabinet Secretary.
 
15:33
4. Statement: The National Infrastructure Commission for Wales
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
We now move on to the next item on the agenda, which is a statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure on the national infrastructure commission for Wales, and I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates.
 
15:33
Ken SkatesBiographyThe Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Today, I am launching a consultation on a national infrastructure commission for Wales. This Government’s delivery document, ‘Taking Wales Forward’, sets out how we will work to secure more and better jobs through a stronger, fairer economy; improve and reform our public services; and build a united, connected and sustainable Wales. ‘Taking Wales Forward’ pulls no punches. We know how tough the next five years are going to be and how challenging it will be to try and create the level of economic stability needed for the long-term well-being of our people and communities.
 
A fundamental element to improving economic stability is the range and quality of a country’s infrastructure—the physical systems and services that we need to have in place in order for Wales to work effectively. We are living at a time of particular financial uncertainty, which makes it even more important to act now to strengthen the way we consider and prioritise future infrastructure needs and create the conditions for stable, long-term investment.
 
This Government is committed to moving towards a better informed, longer term strategy of investment in infrastructure, which enshrines the principles of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. That better informed approach will enable the more efficient development of projects, as their importance and value will be understood by the people of Wales. This Government has therefore committed in ‘Taking Wales Forward’ to establish a national infrastructure commission for Wales, to provide us with independent and expert advice on strategic infrastructure needs and priorities.
 
The establishment of a national infrastructure commission for Wales also reflects our agreements with Plaid Cymru, as part of the compact to move Wales forward. We intend establishing an advisory, non-statutory national infrastructure commission for Wales to provide independent and expert strategic advice. We propose that the commission starts as an advisory body, responsible for analysing, advising and making recommendations to Government on Wales’s longer term infrastructure needs for the next five to 30-year period.
 
Responsibility for making investment decisions for infrastructure that is devolved would remain with Welsh Ministers, and with the UK Government for infrastructure that is non-devolved. The Wales infrastructure investment plan would continue to be set by the Welsh Government, and set out our overall infrastructure investment plan for the term of the administration, which would be informed by the commission. The commission would also inform our national development framework, which will provide a longer term, strategic perspective on planning needs, and is a key component of the changes introduced in the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 for reforming the planning system to ensure that it is fair, resilient and enables development.
 
This Government appreciates that there are a range of models already in existence, and different ideas for the status and the remit of an infrastructure body. We therefore see the establishment of an advisory, non-statutory commission as a first stage in strengthening decision making and delivery on infrastructure, and we are open to changing the body’s status and remit if, with experience, clear benefits emerge for doing so. The consultation asks a range of questions about how the commission should be set up and run in practice, including its relationship with the infrastructure commission that the UK Government is establishing with other bodies, such as those that are already the subject of price control mechanisms.
 
If our commission is going to be a game changer, its members, who will be chosen through a public appointments system, will need to be both independent of Government, expert and experienced. There will be no question of members being appointed because of their office or who they represent. The public appointments exercise we will run will make sure of this. We need people who think and operate across sectors, and are creative and inclusive in analysing future needs—people who will be able to focus on priorities for any new research that will be integrated, and add genuine value to analysing and understanding our infrastructure needs.
 
That is why we are proposing that the commission should be able to look at cross-cutting delivery issues, if it considers them a barrier to delivering infrastructure needs, including governance, costs, financing, and programme or project management methodology. We are determined to have a commission that is as diverse as possible, and are specifically asking for ideas on how best to engender interest from less obvious applicant fields. We are committed to a geographically inclusive commission that advises on infrastructure needs for the whole of Wales, and the consultation proposes arrangements for how the commission engages with people and communities across the country.
 
We want the commission to work in an open and transparent way, and propose that the commission publishes annual reports of its work. The consultation opened yesterday and, taking account of the Christmas break and our desire to receive as many informed responses as possible, extends to 9 January. Depending on the feedback from consultation, we intend establishing the commission by summer 2017.
 
15:39
Y Dirprwy Lywydd / The Deputy Presiding OfficerBiography
Have you finished? I never know whether you have, because I always see you turn the page over and I think there’s another page. Adam Price.
 
15:39
Adam PriceBiography
Thank you, madam Deputy Presiding Officer. I’m very grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for today’s statement and indeed for the commitment to create the infrastructure commission, originally set out in the compact, and also for the willingness that he has just set out in his statement for the role, the remit, the status and the focus of the infrastructure commission to evolve, and for it itself to be able to address some of the wide cross-cutting areas of potential interest that it may want to focus on.
 
I’m grateful to him for having had sight of an early version of the consultation document, which has been published today, and for the positive engagement that we’ve had with the Government so far. He’s aware, and it won’t come as any surprise, obviously, because Plaid Cymru published its own document setting out our vision in terms of the national infrastructure commission recently, that there is some daylight, I think, between us still on a number of issues. If I may, in my short remarks here, I’d just like to concentrate on three of those very, very briefly.
 
The Cabinet Secretary has just said that, at least initially, the infrastructure commission will be constituted on a non-statutory basis. I note that his party colleague and former leader of the Labour party, Neil Kinnock, recently fairly fiercely actually criticised the UK Government’s decision to quietly shelve their plans, previously, to put the UK national infrastructure commission on a statutory footing. He went as far as to claim that this rowing back had actually wrecked the commission because it didn’t give it sufficient status and independence. So, I was wondering if the Cabinet Secretary could respond or reflect on Lord Kinnock’s view that actually a statutory basis is an important element for a successful infrastructure commission.
 
Secondly, on the issue of financing, I note that the Cabinet Secretary did refer to financing as part of those cross-cutting delivery issues that he referred to. It is an area of key concern actually. One of the constraints, one of the co-ordination problems—failures—that we have at the moment, I think, is the ability to put together the complex package of financing that is often required in the kind of major infrastructure investment projects that we’re talking about. It’s a very complex, very specialist field and I think the Cabinet Secretary may be getting a bit of a flavour of that, indirectly, with the Circuit of Wales, for example. And because, of course, we haven’t had an infrastructure commission in Wales, that’s held us back in terms of the quantity and the scale of infrastructure investment. We don’t have the expertise available to us, which is really why, certainly in our vision, we see a central role, whether it’s directly or indirectly, for the infrastructure commission in putting together the financing arrangements, including some of the innovative approaches—the non-profit distributing model that the finance Secretary referred to earlier—but also more conventional approaches to public-private partnership as well. So, I’d be grateful if the Cabinet Secretary could say a little bit about his evolving thinking on the role of the infrastructure commission in that. We’re agnostic as to who does it. There is a suggestion that the development bank could actually build up a team that is specifically looking at infrastructure investment. We’re open to that. The point is that we don’t currently have the expertise in Wales and we need to change that very, very quickly.
 
Lastly, it’s really a question that kind of overlaps, once again, his responsibility and that of his Cabinet colleague the finance Secretary, but it’s a question of the appetite within Government for both accelerating the pace, but also extending the scale of public infrastructure investment. Last year, the OECD produced a report that said that a modern economy, an advanced economy, should be spending around 5 per cent of GVA on the renewal and modernisation of infrastructure. In the UK last year, that was as low as 1.5 per cent. It’s possibly even lower in Wales because of the historic constraints on our ability to invest in projects such as this. The Scottish Government has recently announced a £20 billion programme over the next five years. Is the appetite there in Government, if necessary looking at innovative sources of finance to overcome some of the constraints that we still face in terms of borrowing powers, et cetera? Because would the Cabinet Secretary agree that, as Gerry Holtham, former financial special adviser to the Welsh Government said, this could have a dual benefit for Wales, not just in terms of laying the foundations, through the infrastructure itself, for a generation to come, but also having a very significant stimulus in terms of the economy? If we looked at a £3 billion additional programme over a period of five years, that could be a stimulus equal to 1 per cent additional growth in terms of GVA. So, I’d be very interested to hear what’s the current thinking of the Government in terms of have you got the appetite for actually ramping up a level of public infrastructure investment that, for a variety of reasons, has been far lower than many of our partner and competitor nations elsewhere in Europe over the last few years.
 
15:46
Ken SkatesBiography
Can I thank the Member for his comments, and put on record my thanks to both Adam Price and to Dai Lloyd for the very constructive discussions that we’ve had? I’d like to thank the Members and their party for the advance notice that I was given as well of the proposals for the Plaid Cymru infrastructure commission for Wales. I do think discussions and the document that you have produced have been invaluable in pressing forward deliberations that we’ve had to date, and, as I set out in my statement, this, I believe, is the first step in establishing an infrastructure commission for Wales.
 
In terms of what’s happened at a UK Government level, I recognise that it was something of a surprise that the UK Government did not proceed with making their commission statutory. We have asked for detailed reasoning in this regard, because we had been developing our model on the basis that they were going to be making theirs statutory, and therefore the natural next step based on evidence gathered in the years to come would be that we could also then transform ours into a statutory body. I’ve pledged to ensure that, by the end of this Assembly, there will be a review of the remit, efficacy and operations of the national infrastructure commission for Wales, so that we can fully assess whether it should be statutory. And then, if so, it will enable us to propose legislation when possible.
 
In terms of the financing of work, of course, it’s essential that I work very closely with colleagues across Government, but in particular with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, but the Member is also right insofar as innovative financing is concerned. I think membership of the infrastructure commission will be absolutely essential in this regard. It will be very important that we have the appropriate expertise that perhaps has not been available until recent times to enable us to deliberate over what sort of innovative finance can actually support the major infrastructure projects that Wales very much needs.
 
If I can just review some of the considerations that we’ve been giving to raising additional funding, we do share the aim of raising additional moneys for public infrastructure investment by developing models that retain most of the attractive features of the non-profit distributing model, but which reflect the current classification regime, which can inhibit some of the developments that are being proposed by Plaid Cymru. We have engaged legal and financial advisers to assist with developing a model that allows for the public sector to capture some of the returns to equity, which, of course, the Scots have been particularly successful with through hub, and which we are also proposing to do.
 
We’ve extensively consulted with colleagues from Scottish Futures Trust and also with Her Majesty’s Treasury, with the Office for National Statistics, Eurostat and the European Public-private Partnership Expertise Centre of the European Investment Bank, and we’re developing our model in consultation with experts, including a peer review with the European expertise centre.
 
In terms of the historic levels of underinvestment in much of our infrastructure, I think during questions earlier, and during the urgent question, I mentioned that, historically, we’ve seen underinvestment in our rail network. It’s fair to say that we need to significantly increase the level of investment right across our physical and digital infrastructure to ensure that we have a country that is well connected and united, and one in which people are able to live within their communities without concern over how they will access places of employment. For that reason, it’s essential that we proceed with what is one of the most ambitious infrastructure programmes that a Government has introduced since the dawn of devolution, which includes proposals for an M4 relief road, a Menai third crossing, and upgrades to the A494, A55, A40, Newtown bypass and Caernarfon bypass, in addition to the next phases of superfast broadband connectivity, and which also captures social programmes, such as new health centres and hospitals, and, of course, twenty-first century schools, higher education and further education.
 
The Member is absolutely right in asserting that capital programmes can dramatically increase the degree of economic growth in a country, and, for that reason, we wish also to accelerate the programme of buil