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2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children

March 08, 2017

94 speeches by…

  • Elin Jones
  • Angela Burns
  • Carl Sargeant
  • Joyce Watson
  • Sian Gwenllian
  • Mike Hedges
  • Bethan Jenkins
  • David Melding
  • Caroline Jones
  • Jenny Rathbone
  • Mark Isherwood
  • Michelle Brown
  • Suzy Davies
  • Huw Irranca-Davies
  • Steffan Lewis
  • Dawn Bowden
  • Mohammad Asghar
  • John Griffiths
  • Hannah Blythyn
  • Paul Davies
  • Simon Thomas
…and 11 more speakers

Elin Jones

The next item on our agenda is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, and the first question is from Angela Burns.

Angela Burns

1. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on how he intends to support victims of domestic violence? OAQ(5)0117(CC)

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for her question, and, Presiding Officer, if I may, wish you and women and girls across Wales a very happy International Women’s Day. Our national strategy sets out the actions we are taking to support victims of domestic violence through the delivery, development and implementation of the framework. Since the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 was passed, we have appointed a national adviser, published the national framework on training, and piloted the ‘Ask and Act’.

Angela Burns

Thank you for that response and thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for attending the Mothers Affection Matters event earlier today. Because here we are, celebrating International Women’s Day 2017, and yet, today, we heard some harrowing stories and learnt of the deep fear of abused people who are reluctant to seek help because they feel their children will be removed. I’ll be absolutely honest, a couple of the stories I heard today have really affected me, so, my apologies. Because we should all be free and so should these women. It costs far less to support safe mothers and far more when children are removed into the care system. Could I press you, Cabinet Secretary, to review the successful German model of removing the perpetrators of domestic violence and enabling the abused person to remain in their community, with the support of police, social services, and GPs? I would like to see if this excellent practice could be a lesson learnt for us here in Wales. We’ve been so successful in so many other areas in being the first in the world on things like children’s commissioners and so on, and I would like us to see if we can do something really radical, and perhaps learn from our European neighbours. Thank you.

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for her question and the opportunity to briefly meet some of the people at the event at lunch time. Llywydd, no-one should blame victims who take the time and courage to come forward. We all know and admire the courage they show when they speak out, and what we can and should blame are the onlookers who know what’s going on and stay silent about these things. In regard to the very specific question on this, the VAWDASV Act is one piece of the jigsaw; the housing Act actually does look at removing perpetrators from a property. So, there is a suite of tools that we do have, but I will look at the model that the Member raises and ask my advisory panel to give me some more thoughts around that.

Joyce Watson

Last week, I asked what was being done to prevent female genital mutilation and to support those who are affected by it. A year ago, on International Women’s Day, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and BAWSO, supported by the Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board, launched Voices Over Silence, and it’s a project aimed at doing just that. It is a Welsh Government-funded project that allows 16 young women to be trained as youth ambassadors on FGM to spark conversations about FGM in schools and in communities across Wales. I’m really pleased to say that the project, last night, won the Royal College of Midwives award for partnership working. So, I ask you, Cabinet Secretary, if you will join me in congratulating all those involved in this outstanding initiative.

Carl Sargeant

Indeed. NSPCC, BAWSO and the university and the youth ambassadors indeed are doing a fantastic job and I was delighted when the Welsh Government-funded programme was awarded the RCM award. It is a big congratulations from me and I’ve already tweeted to say congratulations to them, too.

Sian Gwenllian

Yesterday afternoon, you declined to support a Plaid Cymru amendment that would make it mandatory to introduce healthy relationships education in schools. I would like to understand why you rejected that amendment. How are we going to reduce violence against women in a permanent way unless our children and young people have an opportunity to discuss key issues around ensuring healthy relationships? And if it isn’t mandatory in schools then there is no assurance that it will happen and will happen consistently across Wales.

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for her question. Yesterday, the Member is right, you tabled an amendment in regard to healthy relationships, and I did respond to you in that debate yesterday on the reason why we weren’t supporting it then—because we have a working group that the Cabinet Secretary for Education has set up; we want to learn from that. But you’re pushing at an open door here; it’s about the way we do this and introduction of it. I agree with the Member in terms of how it should be done, it’s just when we do that in the appropriate manner through the curriculum, and that will become clearer with the Cabinet Secretary’s statements shortly.

Mike Hedges

2. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on Welsh Government proposals regarding letting agent fees? OAQ(5)0113(CC)

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for his question. I’m very concerned that fees charged by letting agents are placing a disproportionate burden on tenants. I hope to be able to announce shortly how we as a Government propose to respond to this matter.

Mike Hedges

Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that response? I, along with several colleagues, most notably Jenny Rathbone, have been opposing letting fees being charged to tenants for several years. Currently, action is being taken in England and has been taken in Scotland. Can the Cabinet Secretary give an indication of the timescale for action being taken?

Carl Sargeant

We are aware Scotland banned these fees some years ago. England will soon be consulting on their proposals. Their experience will help to inform the proposals here in Wales. I don’t have a fixed timeline on this, but I will encourage the Member, again, and, of course, Jenny Rathbone and other Members, if they feel free to submit to the Members’ ballot, it will be supported by the—

Bethan Jenkins

I, too, would like to wish all the women in the Chamber a happy International Women’s Day. In response to previous calls to ban letting fees at the start of a tenancy, your Government has claimed that renters would end up paying more in the longer term in regard to increased rent. However, since laws surrounding agency fees have been enforced in Scotland, the charity Shelter has stated that there has been no visible increase in rents, and the organisation easyProperty has also stated that, due to competition in the sector, it was unlikely that agencies would pass on charges to landlords. What lessons will you be taking from Scotland in this regard? And I would echo Mike Hedges’s question: when are we going to get this review completed so that we can implement this here in Wales?

Carl Sargeant

Well, that was one of the issues we were concerned about—a transfer of risk to tenants, particularly in fees. We are more content now with the evidence coming from Scotland that that doesn’t appear to be the case. This is a piece of legislation that we’d have to introduce, so that will depend on introduction on the legislative timetable, if and when we’re able to do that.

David Melding

Cabinet Secretary, can I begin by congratulating you on your resplendent buttonhole? Not only would Lady Rhondda have approved, but I think our former colleague William Graham would have approved. He would have probably conceded that you did better than him in this occasion. The problem with the current structure is it distorts the market. We need these fees to sit with the responsibility of the landlord. It will be reflected in rents, but landlords would be able to get better value for money for these services and, at the minute, it really acts as the consumer’s disadvantage in having to pay, in effect, for the privilege of buying a service.

Carl Sargeant

I’m grateful for the acknowledgement that, if we were to introduce legislation, the Member may even support it as we move through with the passage of that. Look, Members, I hope to be able to announce shortly how the Government propose to respond to this matter. I will bring that to the Chamber accordingly.

Caroline Jones

Cabinet Secretary, Wales has been the trailblazer in so many issues, so it’s doubly disappointing that, on the issue of abolishing letting agent fees, we are so far behind the rest of Britain. Letting agency fees make it near impossible for many families to enter the private rented sector and increases the demand for social housing. Cabinet Secretary, there is absolutely no evidence that abolishing fees will push up rents, so when will your Government follow the rest of Britain and abolish these punitive fees?

Jenny Rathbone

I’d just like to add my voice on the urgency of this matter. Not only are students being asked to pay £150 to simply take the property off the market while they sort out the tenancy contract, which may never occur, but single people on housing benefits, people who are part of the Supporting People programme on employment support allowance, are having to pay for these fees out of the money they’re supposed to be using for food, because they cannot get housing benefit to cover these fees. So, this is a really, really urgent matter, and I hope I can impress on you that we need to get on with it.

Carl Sargeant

The Member regularly meets me to talk about these very issues. I want to make good law in Wales, Llywydd. I will not be rushed into it. However, I will give it careful consideration on the effectiveness, a tailored approach for the needs in Wales, and that the capability to enforce this is in place. But I will bring a statement back to the Chamber.

Elin Jones

Questions now from the party spokespeople. Welsh Conservatives spokesperson, Mark Isherwood.

Mark Isherwood

Diolch, Lywydd. As you consider the future for building resilient communities as the changes you’ve announced go forward, a lot has been happening with local area co-ordination, supporting residents and communities to, quote, ‘get a life, not a service’, driving collaboration between local people, families, communities and organisations to build something bigger and more sustainable alongside the people and the communities themselves. What consideration have you given or will you give to the conversations around local area co-ordination that started in Monmouth in 2013?

Carl Sargeant

My team have already started a discussion with the local service delivery boards, which were, effectively, the operations management of Communities First. That is also expanding now to community groups and other interested agencies, and I’m sure my team would be delighted to look at the proposals the Member has raised with me today.

Mark Isherwood

Further—that was just the start, because local area co-ordinators in Swansea are working on the principle of getting to know people, their families, and communities, to build their vision for a good life, to stay strong and connected, and to feel safer and more confident for the future. Again, could you consider the work that’s been developed in a number of local authorities, with cross-party support, in many parts of Wales?

Carl Sargeant

Indeed. I think we shouldn’t close the door on community engagement in any way. We should think about how best effective support for communities can be delivered with communities, not to them.

Mark Isherwood

Well, thank you, and the biggie—it’s not in Wales, it’s in Derby, because local area co-ordination in the UK began in Derby in 2012, building on the very successful model implemented in Australia, which provides evidence of positive outcomes for citizens and savings. In Derbyshire, an independent evaluation by Derby university over 10 to 12 months found savings of £800,000 for the health and social care economy and also found that this had introduced and built relationships, established trust, worked to the person, using people strengths, and built connections with families and citizens to create solutions for those communities. This convinced the local authority and NHS there to invest and expand to all 17 council wards. So, if a project that has 50 people can improve lives, reconnect communities, and save £800,000, will you give serious consideration to how this model could be embraced here? Thank you. I was slightly relieved, because I thought the Member was going to invite me for a trip with him to Derby, but I’m glad he didn’t do that, because I would hate to refuse him on the floor. But I think the Member’s got a really interesting point there about looking at what works in communities, and it’s something that I will ask my team to look at closely. We have got some already effective programmes working in Wales that meet the demands of communities with communities. A Derby or Australian model—it’d be something that I’d be very interested to look at.

Michelle Brown

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Until 1970, thousands of children from across the UK were forcibly deported to countries across the Commonwealth as part of an unconscionable governmental policy that tore young children away from their families and sent them across the globe to be used as cheap labour, to be neglected and sometimes abused. What measures have you taken to ascertain how many Welsh children were deported under the child migration programme since the 1950s, many of whom may still be alive today?

Carl Sargeant

We are working very closely with the UK Government in terms of the commission around abused children. I understand my team have already started discussions to talk about children who were sent to different countries and what those numbers look like. But there is an operational helpline for people who wish to disclose historic abuse; they are able to talk to people in this country now.

Michelle Brown

Okay. Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. The children’s lives were totally torn apart, and they were torn away from their families. What support are you able to offer to try and reunite them with those families?

Carl Sargeant

Well, of course, the first port of call, really, is for the disclosure or contact by these young—older people now, but when they were young and sent off to other countries, it must have been very frightening for most of those individuals. We have professionally trained individuals to deal with those contact points, subject to people coming forward.

Michelle Brown

Thank you. I’m very pleased to hear that, Cabinet Secretary. I’m sure you’re aware that the alleged sexual abuse of children deported under the programme is currently being investigated by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, as part of their investigation into the protection of children outside the UK. What input will you be having into that investigation?

Carl Sargeant

My team meets with the officials of that independent inquiry on a regular basis, and we supply all information that’s relative to that inquiry. We will help and support them do their job.

Bethan Jenkins

Cabinet Secretary, last summer, the very first question I asked you was about the data collection and publishing in relation to anti-poverty schemes, which was a key recommendation of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee in the previous Assembly. Can you tell me what progress is being made on this, and when we can expect to see better data collection and measurement?

Carl Sargeant

All the issues that we’ve introduced, in terms of performance and data measurement, are around the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and we’ll be judged in the future on the performance of that. The indicators of that Act are important, to make sure that we are delivering for Wales what we say we’re going to deliver, in turning communities around in a positive way.

Bethan Jenkins

I appreciate what you say in relation to that, but, of course, we’ve still got many schemes that are based on current data and past data. And I’ve been speaking recently to a range of organisations, which have told me that they were unable to find data on outcomes for 29 out of 35 European social fund community funded programmes since 2007, despite funding being recently extended to 2020. So, since there is still a clear lack of measurable data, what was the basis for extending this particular funding?

Carl Sargeant

Well, I’m not aware of the particular programmes that the Member raises with me today, but if she’d like to give me some more detail, I will give her a fuller response to that comment. The issue around the 2020 deadline is that the European funding is available until 2020, we are aware. And we will continue to draw down that as long as we possibly can.

Bethan Jenkins

One of those projects was Communities for Work, and I’ve raised this many times with you, not only here, but in committee also. So, I think that’s one example that you could, potentially, look at and get back to me on. But, with regard to the future of your anti-poverty strategies more generally, I have had it also put to me that the problem with many schemes in the past is that they don’t measure the long-term outcomes, and actually end up with data that can be misleading. So, for example, somebody who gets a job via the Communities for Work programme is counted as a success, in and of itself, regardless of whether they’re still in that job in a few weeks’ time. But we all know poverty of people in work remains a huge problem. So, how is that particular scheme and others like it judged a success, when I’ve just outlined that it’s very hard for you to understand whether they’re in it for a week, or a fortnight, or a month, after they actually get that particular work placement?

Carl Sargeant

I recognise the Member’s point. I would say that the access to work is one element of success. The long-term success is about making sure that we can sustain employment. But the experience that people go through on the course itself is a very core skill for those individuals, to grow into the opportunities to get into work in the first place. So, one output of getting a job and sustaining that is important, but there are other aspects of that course that are important as well. I will write to the Member with details of that. But, if she wishes to furnish me with the full detail of her question, I’m more than happy to ask my team to respond to her.

Bethan Jenkins

3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on progress in implementing the financial inclusion action plan? OAQ(5)0123(CC)

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for her question. Since publication of the financial inclusion delivery plan in December 2016, we have progressed many of the actions, by working with partner organisations across all sectors. An annual update will be published in December 2017, setting out the progress we’ve made.

Bethan Jenkins

Thank you very much for that answer. As part of your financial inclusion strategy, credit unions are required to provide outreach services and education, such as school savers clubs. But when I introduced the Financial Education and Inclusion (Wales) Bill, one of the key things we identified after consultation was the availability of these services throughout Wales. There would be some schools that will be amazing at doing it, and a school down the road that wouldn’t have anything at all. What can you assure me will be done to work with credit unions, so that they are not struggling to provide these services, when, potentially, funding for them could be reduced? We need to ensure that organisations that go into schools can do so across the board, as opposed to just having expertise in one school and not in the other.

Carl Sargeant

Yes, of course. I think consistency is really important. The professionalism of the service is important too. We’ve done a lot of work with credit unions. Credit unions have provided £20.4 million worth of loans to more than 25,000 financially excluded members between April 2014 and September 2016. The latest funding of £422,000 was made available in 2017-18, which will help credit unions continue the financial support for excluded members and deliver action plans within the financial inclusion strategy. I will consider the Member’s point in regard to consistency in areas and see what advice comes back. But I did visit a great credit union in Jayne Bryant’s constituency in Pill only a few weeks ago where the young people were starting to save for fantastic things that they wanted to buy for the future.

Suzy Davies

The financial inclusion plan states that its vision is for a Wales where, amongst other things, everyone can ‘readily access their own money, whether by automated or over-the-counter means.’ That’s a quote from it. Tomorrow, I have finally managed to get a meeting with the HSBC bosses in Maesteg, where they’re planning to close their branch there. I appreciate you can’t comment on individual potential closures, but I do want to be able to tell them what pressure you can bring to bear on them, so that they take notice of your financial inclusion plan, particularly in areas where the cumulative effect of closures has a disproportionate effect on individual communities, perhaps who aren’t even well linked to broadband.

Carl Sargeant

Suzy Davies, you can take from me my support for your meeting tomorrow with HSBC. Tell them that I hope that they can continue to support your community and many communities across Wales. A bank is a very organised centrepiece of a community, and we should continue, as much as we can, to encourage them to stay in the communities that you represent and I represent.

Huw Irranca-Davies

4. What assessment has the Cabinet Secretary made of the impact in Wales of recent UK Government policy announcements on welfare reform? OAQ(5)0116(CC)

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for Ogmore for his question. We have assessed the impact in Wales of the UK Government’s welfare reforms being introduced between 2015-16 and 2019-20. Welsh households will lose an average of 1.6 per cent of their income. That’s around £460 a year, equivalent to £600 million a year in Wales as a whole.

Huw Irranca-Davies

I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that answer and for clarifying the impact. He will know that, a year ago, before the last March budget, the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions resigned over the then pending cuts to personal independence payments—the PIPs—arguing that the cuts were indefensible in a budget that benefitted higher-earning taxpayers. And in resigning, he said: ‘There has been too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.’ This year, there is further tightening of the PIP regime through a statutory instrument, rather than on the floor of the Commons in full public view. Some Conservative MPs have expressed deep disquiet over this, not least after a Minister said he wanted to focus on the ‘really disabled’, for which he has subsequently apologised. So, will the Cabinet Secretary commission an up-to-date examination of the impact of these and other very recent UK policy changes on people with disabilities, and on rates of poverty in Wales, perhaps through the office of the auditor general, so that we can assess the damage to individuals and communities, and with that evidence, present the UK Government with the true impact of these policies?

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for his question. I did speak to the Minister of State for Disabled People, and she wrote to me following her announcement stating that this was not a policy chance in regard to payments, and it would not result in any personal independent payment claimant receiving a reduction in the amount of PIP previously awarded to them. However, it does appear that the UK Government is seeking to overturn the upper tribunal judgment, which would increase eligibility for PIP. I’ve asked my officials to follow up with her department, to seek clarity around that, and the impacts for people with disabilities and health conditions here in Wales.

Steffan Lewis

A number of organisations have published comprehensive analysis, and academics and Government, on the impact of UK welfare reform on Wales. I’d like to ask the Cabinet Secretary—not going against the spirit of what the Member for Ogmore said—but perhaps we can go beyond analysing the impact to seeking solutions made here in Wales. Will the Cabinet Secretary therefore commit to publish a Welsh Government White Paper on creating a strong Welsh social safety net? This could include looking at how we could maximise powers that are already in competence, looking at strengthening partnership with local government and other service providers and maybe, dare I say, even, looking to the future, the possibility of transfer of certain social protection responsibilities from Westminster to Wales. So, will he commit to publishing a Welsh Government White Paper for a new humane Welsh approach to social security?

Carl Sargeant

We have undertaken work about the risks to the UK welfare system in Wales. I’m sure that the UK Government would be delighted to transfer the risk to Wales, and they have done in the past around council tax benefits, where we were pushed some money across from the M4, but not enough, and I’m sure they will continue to do that. What we are seeking to do is maximise the support for people who need that in Wales and we’ll continue to do so in the future.

Dawn Bowden

Cabinet Secretary, I’ve raised, previously, concerns with you over the impact of the Westminster Government’s changes to the local housing allowance from 2019 and the impact that that will have on Wales, compounded, I think you’ll agree with me, by the disgraceful decision that was taken last week to remove housing benefits for young people between the ages of 18 and 21. A study that was commissioned by Merthyr Valleys Homes looked at the level of frozen local housing allowance in comparison to the average private rental rate in Merthyr Tydfil and identified a difference of up to £7.35 a week that would have to be met by the tenant. As I understand it, part of the changes will see moneys currently paid as housing benefit devolved to Wales. Can the Cabinet Secretary advise me what discussions he or his officials have had with the UK Government on how that level of devolved funding will be determined and what assurance he can give that that will be ring-fenced in some way to help the most disadvantaged by the freezing of the LHA?

Carl Sargeant

The LHA differences affect some communities more than others. It will be something on which I will have a discussion with my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for finance—to have further discussions with the Treasury, as and when he has those, on a regular basis.

Mohammad Asghar

5. What plans does the Welsh Government have to improve support for communities to reduce child poverty in south-east Wales? OAQ(5)0108(CC)

Carl Sargeant

Our priorities for tackling child poverty include improving outcomes in the early years, building a strong economy, increasing employability and supporting parents into work. Empowered and engaged communities will play a vital part in ensuring children in south-east Wales, and throughout the rest of Wales, have the best start in life.

Mohammad Asghar

Thank you for that reply, Minister. When announcing the scrapping of the Communities First programme, the Cabinet Secretary said that he wanted to create communities that can offer children the best start in life. However, the Bevan Foundation has warned that organisations that deliver Communities First and the communities themselves are in a real period of limbo by the scrapping of the scheme. When will the Cabinet Secretary be in a position to remove this uncertainty by announcing his proposal to replace Communities First and will he confirm that reducing child poverty will be a key priority of any replacement scheme in his budget? Thank you.

Carl Sargeant

I’m slightly surprised by the Member’s question. I’m not sure if the Member was in the Chamber only a week ago when I announced the issue of the transition of Communities First and the programmes. He’ll not see in any of the statements that I made that I was intending to scrap any programme. We have made a very positive proposal for a transition. My team have been out last week meeting the north Wales and south Wales local delivery boards for Communities First to discuss the future and how that will look, with 70 per cent of the funding allocated for this year and a transition funding of £10 million revenue and capital for the next four years. I think it is a great opportunity for communities to start becoming different in the way that they manage resilience for the individual cases that Members have in their own constituencies.

John Griffiths

Cabinet Secretary, the Flying Start scheme is making a very significant contribution to tackling issues amongst some of our youngest children and delivering considerable benefits in my constituency, but there are some families that are outwith the reach of the scheme due to the postcode nature of accessing that particular provision. So, are you able to say anything today to those constituents of mine, and I’m sure of other Members, Cabinet Secretary, who are outwith the scheme at the moment as to whether it might be extended and have a wider reach?

Carl Sargeant

Well, we should say, ‘Congratulations and thank you’ to the Flying Start staff right across Wales. In South Wales East, we’ve reached around just under 10,000 children in that area, supporting them with services for their families. With the transition from Communities First into the new community resilience programmes, Flying Start and Families First are part of the integrated approach to delivery of services, and I’m looking to support that with a flexibility in that approach, where the people in need outside of that area may have the opportunity to access Flying Start or Families First or adverse childhood experiences profiling, which will help, I hope, your community and communities right across Wales.

Carl Sargeant

We continue to support the Welsh fire and rescue authorities to improve fire safety. We have provided £1.4 million for them this year.

Mark Isherwood

Diolch. Responding to your 7 February statement on safer communities, I referred to press reports the previous day of an 11 per cent increase in deliberate fires in Wales the previous year, which had diverted from other 999 calls and diverted fire crews away from their other priorities. Ten days later, press coverage of Welsh Government figures reported a third increase in deliberately started grass fires in Wales last year, with some 2,604 grass fires started on purpose. When you replied to me on 7 February, you referred to the previous Minister having had a joint meeting with local authorities, fire authorities and the police, but, given these significant increases now on your watch, what action have you or will you be taking with the relevant authorities?

Carl Sargeant

Well, the results speak for themselves. Fires have more than halved since devolution and the responsibility for fire services has come to Wales. The Member is right to raise the issue of it peaking in grass fires. Look, any fire that is set like that is unlawful, and I encourage the authorities, or individuals who have any information about that, to tackle that by ringing the police in this case. I do meet with the fire authorities on a regular basis. I met them only last week. I will discuss how critical this issue is with them, in regard to the grass fires specifically, as we move forward into spring.

Jenny Rathbone

Obviously, arson is an extremely serious offence. I want to pay tribute to the fire services who turned out so promptly at a deliberate arson attack on a vehicle in Llanedeyrn on 15 January, because, without that, there would have been serious loss of life. But I also want to pay tribute to the Cardiff youth services and their work with the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service to ensure that young people who deliberately set fire to things are really aware of the potential dangers. They’re not targeting anybody in particular; they think it’s just a recreational activity. So, the Phoenix project, the young firefighters scheme and the fire setting intervention scheme seem to me to be three things that really do help young people understand that setting fire to anything is a very dangerous activity, and something to absolutely be avoided.

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for her question. I agree with the Member—I’m incredibly proud of our firefighters across Wales. We have a great service, and, indeed, South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority provides several fire safety programmes to young people in Cardiff and beyond. These are funded by the Welsh Government and provided in collaboration with public and third sector partners, and they’ve proven highly effective in keeping young people safe from fire and reducing deliberately set fires in particular. This also goes hand in hand with work by the police liaison team, and it’s something that we recognise does have a big impact where we have intelligence of where there is some risk of young people setting fires.

Hannah Blythyn

7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the future of community support projects in north Wales? OAQ(5)0120(CC)

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for her question. The Welsh Government will continue to provide core funding for county voluntary councils across Wales, including CVCs in Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Isle of Anglesey and Wrexham. In addition, community support projects will be benefiting from the Communities First transition, legacy funding and the employment grant.

Hannah Blythyn

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Following on from the announcement of the intention to phase out Communities First in its current form and the shift of focus onto employability-type programmes, I’m sure you’re already aware, Cabinet Secretary, of the numerous employability programmes in Flintshire that are providing support not only to prepare people for the world of work, but to also enable and empower them into work—projects such as the Building Futures course in bricklaying skills, and the brilliant one that I saw on a recent visit to Ysgol Maesglas in Greenfield. It is a brilliant initiative they’re doing there to work with the parents on an employability programme. Of course, we’ve got the Lift programme, which has seen over 200 participants, and partnership programmes with Lift on social care. Cabinet Secretary, are you able to provide a further update on the future sustainability of such projects and perhaps provide an idea of alternative support that could be made available for any projects that don’t fall directly under the future criteria under the new employability scheme?

Carl Sargeant

There are two elements to that. There is a transition period where we will provide 70 per cent of the funding to prepare Communities First clusters to start thinking about what the future looks like and how they are able to attract other finance sources. Also, we’ve made an £11.7 million investment through the employability programme, Communities for Work, Lift, and PaCE. We’re continuing proposals as we drive that forward. The other priorities for local authorities or for delivery boards will be a matter for them in terms of the amount of funding available to them and how they can work with the Communities First current settlement to move forward for the future. I’m confident that, given time, they will be able to adjust the programmes accordingly.

Mark Isherwood

When you announced that you were phasing out Communities First, my response referred to the ‘Valuing Place’ report commissioned by the Government, based on research in three communities, including Connah’s Quay, somewhere I think you’re very familiar with. They found that establishing local networks to connect people together who want to take local action should be of priority. In the answer you’ve just given, you referred to the delivery boards and local authorities, but how do you respond to the article from the Bevan Foundation in their spring 2017 publication exploring what the idea of resilient communities is, stating that community buy-in is essential and there’s a consensus that, if people feel that policies are imposed on them, the policies don’t work?

Carl Sargeant

Well, that’s always the case, isn’t it? I think you get that with political parties and political will across the spectrum. My intention is to make sure that public services boards and local authorities are very close to their communities. We legislated on this, about engagement being a critical part of involvement in decision making. I would expect any authority that moves into a transition period from Communities First to engage with the communities that they work with, so that we can build this from the ground up as opposed to doing things to communities, working with them to make sure the ideas come from the centre.

Sian Gwenllian

8. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on funding plans under the Community Facilities Programme for 2017/18? OAQ(5)0109(CC)[W]

Carl Sargeant

I recently announced an additional £4 million for the community facilities programme in each of the next four financial years. This brings the total available for projects in 2017-18 to £6 million. Priority will be given to applications seeking to improve the sustainability of facilities serving Communities First communities.

Sian Gwenllian

Next week, it will be 11 months since Canolfan y Fron submitted an application for a grant from this programme. Delays within the Government are putting the whole project at risk. It’s also almost nine months since GISDA—a vulnerable young people’s charity—sent in their application, and they are still waiting to hear whether they have been successful in their bid. The Government had pledged that they would have received a response by October. I’ve written to you a number of times over the last few months on this issue, and in your response to one of my letters, four months ago, it was mentioned that a decision was about to be reached. But there has been still no response. Both of these organisations make a considerable difference to the lives of many people in my constituency, but they are being held back significantly because of a lack of information from the Government. Will the Cabinet Secretary inform us today the exact date that GISDA and Canolfan y Fron will learn whether their applications have been successful?

Carl Sargeant

If the Member wishes to keep pushing me on a response, rather than me giving her a measured response to this process—. Will they be getting any funding today? No, they won’t. If that’s the response the Member wants, I can give her that today. Actually, the Member would be much better off waiting for me to make a collective decision on how we’re going to allocate this funding, and we will do that shortly.

Suzy Davies

Well, I’m pleased to hear of the additional investment, at least. The community facilities programme guidance says that local authorities, health boards and other public bodies, as well as businesses, can be partners to local organisations who want to make a bid to the fund. But, it appears to me that most of the projects are administered through the local authorities. It’s difficult to see how easy it is for local organisations to work with private businesses and use the wealth of skills and information that they have. Would it be possible for you to tell us how many programme projects work with local authorities as compared to those working with local businesses? What kind of encouragement do these businesses have to actually collaborate on this?

Carl Sargeant

That’s a really interesting question that the Member raises. I don’t have the detail on me today, but I will write to the Member with notice of that. I’m really keen for as much involvement and third-party activity around these programmes as possible. Rather than single access points, I think, actually, we gain much more from the private sector and public sector working together with volunteers to create a community facility. I will give that some further thought, but, as I said in my response initially, my concentration of this fund now will be in Communities First areas in terms of transition.

Paul Davies

9. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline the Welsh Government's regeneration priorities for Pembrokeshire? OAQ(5)0110(CC)

Carl Sargeant

The regeneration priorities for Pembrokeshire continue to support the communities through a range of regeneration programmes that underpin sustainable development.

Paul Davies

I’m grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for that response. As the Member for Mid and West Wales said in earlier questions, last night I hosted a reception here in the Senedd with Milford Haven Port Authority to learn more about their investment plans for the local area, which will significantly transform the Milford Haven area as we currently know it. In light of their plans, can you tell us what discussions you’ve had about how the Welsh Government can support the authority’s regeneration plans? Can you also tell us what additional support the Welsh Government can offer organisations such as the Milford Haven Port Authority in order to encourage future investment in Pembrokeshire?

Carl Sargeant

Of course, and I think there are some opportunities there about working in partnership. Under the Vibrant and Viable Places framework, we are supporting Pembrokeshire County Council with a £2.25 million town-centre loans scheme, which is a 15-year recyclable loan grant. This will, I hope, be able to reduce the number of vacant and redundant sites and premises in town centres like Pembroke, Milford Haven and Haverfordwest. So, we are already taking significant actions with the authority, in terms of a new offer for the area that the Member represents.

Simon Thomas

I welcome what the Cabinet Secretary has just said about regeneration in the port of Milford Haven, but I wanted to ask him in particular about other communities in Pembrokeshire that are more difficult to reach for regeneration and support. Following his decision to change—well, to withdraw—over a period of time from Communities First, I was particularly concerned as to what now could be delivered for the Gypsy and Traveller community in Pembrokeshire. I asked the First Minister some of these questions in the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister in Carmarthenshire as well, and I’m still struggling to understand what the Welsh Government’s approach will now be to tackle these communities. I intend to visit one of the communities in Pembrokeshire in the next month or so, and I’d like to take them a positive message from the Welsh Government about how they will be supported going forward, particularly on how educational opportunities and support for young people in Gypsy and Traveller communities will be achieved. What can the Cabinet Secretary tell me that I can take to my constituents?

Carl Sargeant

I don’t know when the Member is visiting the site, but what I can do is try to ask one of my officials to join him in order to have a conversation with the young people and Gypsies and Travellers on that site to see what actions they’re seeking to happen. I think we have a very positive Gypsy and Traveller strategy, and I’ve got a team of officials who work with Gypsy and Traveller families very closely. The educational attainment levels of Gypsy and Traveller families and their children is an important factor that we consider. I would be happy to ask one of my team to come along with you to visit this site.

Hannah Blythyn

10. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline the measures the Welsh Government is taking to tackle harassment against women in Wales? OAQ(5)015(CC)

Carl Sargeant

The Welsh Government is committed to working with all of its partners to tackle harassment against women in Wales. Violence against women is unacceptable in all of its forms. It is right that, on International Women’s Day, we raise awareness of the issues many women are still facing.

Hannah Blythyn

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for that response. Concerns have been raised with me about how cases of harassment are dealt with—with the necessary and appropriate sensitivity and seriousness—by those who work in front-line public services. Cabinet Secretary, are you able to provide reassurance on the work being done to prevent harassment with those in front-line devolved public services? Also, what work is being done with non-devolved public services, such as the police, to ensure that cases of harassment are dealt with correctly?

Carl Sargeant

I thank the Member for her question. I take a zero-tolerance approach on bullying, harassment and abuse. I wouldn’t care if somebody was a friend or a political ally—if they cross the line, there can be no compromise on this: this is wrong. I am confident that we are working across Welsh Government to address the long-term entrenched inequalities. Objective 4 of our strategic equality plan sets out the actions that Welsh Government will take to reduce the instances of all forms of harassment and abuse. We should all take a responsibility in making sure that this happens in our public sector bodies.

Angela Burns

Back to the Mothers Affection Matters event earlier on today, Cabinet Secretary, listening to some of the people who gave their stories, they talked about harassment turning into abuse from a very, very early age. I’d like to just reinforce the calls made by Sian Gwenllian, and I think others yesterday, for healthy relationships training and counselling and development in schools. If we can train young children, young girls and boys, young men and women to respect and cherish each other, then we will have gone a long way to stopping harassment and abuse of women and men in their more adult lives.

Carl Sargeant

You don’t need to convince me on this argument. I am working with the Cabinet Secretary for Education to see how this is achievable and we will, hopefully, have something positive to say shortly.