74 speeches by……and 11 more speakers
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, and the first question is from Dai Lloyd.
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on Welsh Government funding for public service projects within the City and County of Swansea? OAQ(5)0104(FLG)
Thank you very much. The Welsh Government provides funding for public service projects, large or small, within the City and County of Swansea, from £100,000 invest-to-save money for a new looked after children service to £100 million at the Morriston Hospital site.
Thank you very much for that response, Cabinet Secretary. Over the past few weeks, people from across Swansea have been in touch with concerns about the future of the Swansea Community Farm, which has done excellent work over a period of more than 20 years in providing learning opportunities for people of all ages. Unfortunately, it is now facing closure at the end of this month unless they can raise £50,000 to keep the farm open. Will you work with other members of your Government and Swansea council to try and safeguard the future of this important asset in the short term, whilst they look at alternative methods of fundraising in the longer term?
Well, thank you very much for the question. I am familiar with this issue. I saw the response issued by the leader of Swansea council, stating that additional funding is available for the farm to submit a bid, in order to see whether they can assist them in that manner. The county is going to assist the farm in the submission of that bid and I am happy to speak to other Cabinet colleagues to see whether there is anything that we can do. But we, as a Government, haven’t received any bid from the farm as yet.
Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his mention of Morriston Hospital? I, like everyone living in the Swansea city region, are very pleased with the work that’s being done in Morriston Hospital, and the work it’s doing, attracting the hub-and-spoke model for health across the whole of south-west Wales. The question I’ve got though is: the project of greatest importance to Swansea city at the moment is the Swansea city region and the need for financial support for that. What I’m asking is whether the Welsh Government will commit to continuing to fully support the Swansea city region project.
I’m very happy to give that commitment this afternoon, Llywydd. The Welsh Government has been ready to sign the Swansea city deal for some weeks now. We are frustrated by the actions of the UK Government in the different messages that different Ministers in that Government appear to relay. I was pleased to see the letter from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Jonathan Edwards, the MP for Carmarthen East, in which the Chancellor again committed himself to the deal, and said that he hoped the Government would be in a position to move ahead with it very shortly. We certainly believe that they ought to be in that position.
Well, of course, Cabinet Secretary, one of the reasons for the delays is the UK Government’s concerns over the public/private sector balance with that city deal. And on that subject, if you like, I wonder if you could give us an indication—I appreciate you can’t give me a specific figure—of what proportion of Wales’s European funding in my region has gone on public service projects where the main delivery partner has come from either the private or the third sector?
I’m very happy to provide those figures and that level of detail to the Member. In general, as she knows, private sector partners are one of the major ways in which we’re able to deliver European funding alongside our universities, local government and the Welsh Government itself. Private sector partners are up there at that end of the league, and are fully represented at the programme monitoring committee, chaired by my colleague, Julie Morgan. I was pleased to be at that programme monitoring committee at the end of February, and to talk with private sector partners there, both about the way in which they are able to deploy funds under the current round, and how they can help us shape our thinking in relation to regional policy beyond Brexit.
Cabinet Secretary, the Welsh Government provide the City and County of Swansea with around £300 million per year to deliver public service to the people of Swansea. In the most recent National Survey for Wales, the number of people who felt that the City and County of Swansea delivered high-quality services was just over 50 per cent. Cabinet Secretary, do you believe that this represents value for money, and what can the Government do to ensure that local authorities deliver high-quality public services to the people whom they serve and, in the next survey, reach for the 70 per cent and expand on that in the future?
I do think that the people of Swansea get good value for money from the investment that we make in their public services—both health services and services provided by local authorities. Of course, we need to be ambitious for levels of satisfaction. Health service levels of satisfaction, as you know, at primary and secondary care are eye-wateringly high and always have been. I know that colleagues in local government aspire to achieving similar levels of satisfaction in the future.
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the initial response from local authorities to the white paper on Welsh local government reform? OAQ(5)0111(FLG)[W]
To date, only one local authority, Caerphilly, has responded formally to the White Paper consultation on local government reform, which closes on 11 April. The Welsh Local Government Association, on behalf of local authorities in Wales, welcomed the White Paper, noting it had been formed by dialogue and engagement with local authorities.
Thank you. The initial response that I’ve received from councillors mainly, from all parts of Wales, does note a number of grave concerns. While supporting the efforts to make public services in Wales more effective, many are concerned that the proposals outlined in the White Paper put at risk the core principles of local government—principles related to being responsive and being accountable at a local level. Your proposals could put at risk the role of local authorities as a crucial part of democracy in Wales. Others ask whether the creation of these regional strata will lead to a more effective and efficient system. So, how do you intend to maintain this important accountability in that regional system, and will there be an analysis of the cost of the proposals contained within the White Paper?
Llywydd, as I said, we’ve received only one formal response to date, and that was a very constructive response, which, of course, raised questions and gave us new comments about trying to strengthen the White Paper. That is what I’m looking for from the respondents to the White Paper. If people ask questions, that does help, but it’s better still if they offer solutions and make representations on how we can strengthen our proposals in the White Paper, and to assist us in answering questions such as those raised by Sian Gwenllian this afternoon.
On a visit to Milford Haven recently with the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, I was surprised to hear one senior officer of one of the public bodies in the meeting, saying that, at a senior level, surprise had been expressed that money was being paid to another organisation to carry out a function that was going to collectively benefit the community. How well do you think local authority and other public bodies are grasping the opportunities of public service boards as a new way of working and a new way of thinking about how we deliver the benefits for our communities?
I’ve been pleased with the progress that PSBs have made to date on their first core task, and that is the assessment of local well-being. I believe now, as a Government, we’ve received drafts of those assessments from all local authorities in Wales, and they’re being reviewed by my officials. I’ve had an opportunity to read parts of those assessments from different parts of Wales and I think that they demonstrate a genuinely engaged attempt to try and provide an asset-based approach to the assessment of well-being in their areas, looking at the strengths that their local populations have and how we can build on those better in the future. What they won’t be able to do is to succeed to the extent we would like them to succeed if they reflect the attitude that Jenny Rathbone expressed in the first part of her supplementary question. The whole thrust of PSBs and the White Paper on local government reform is to bring people together in new collaborative and co-operative relationships in which people will recognise that some things will be done by other organisations on behalf of a wider population, and that will be the right and proper way to do things.
Cabinet Secretary, I was going to raise the question of responses coming in with regard to voluntary mergers, and whether any local authorities had actually responded and wanted to come forward with voluntary mergers, which are a large part of your forthcoming local government reform in terms of looking for efficiency savings. Having only received one response—just one out of 22 local authorities—how do you intend to actually get stuck in now? We’ve been in disarray over the last three years in terms of local government reform. It doesn’t look to me that there’s an appetite to engage with you, having had only the one response. Therefore, how do you intend now to actually go forward and work with our local authorities to ensure that we’re not keeping our front-line workers and our elected members in a vague situation where no one knows what’s happening? I’m really disappointed to learn that we’ve only had one response.
I’m not disappointed, Llywydd, in the sense that the closing date for the consultation isn’t until 11 April. I’m absolutely confident that we will have a large number of responses from right across Wales by the closing date. There were two specific questions that the Member raised. We’ve received no formal request on the voluntary mergers front as yet. Frankly, with local government elections on the horizon, I wouldn’t have anticipated that any local authority would have made such a proposal with only a few weeks still to go. I will repeat what I’ve said in the White Paper—that where local authorities do come forward with proposals for voluntary merger, the Welsh Government wouldn’t look to be neutral on that but would look to support them where we could to try to bring those proposals to fruition. As to the Member’s final point, which I’ve now managed to forget in my answer—.
It was about engagement really.
Apologies. We were engaged very much with local authorities to encourage them to make sure that they do make those submissions, but it will be in their own best interests to do so, and that’s why I feel confident we will see a far larger number over the next few weeks.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Adam Price.
Could we stay with the White Paper, Llywydd, and the recommendation on the regional map for Wales? It’s 20 years—I almost can’t believe it—since I was commissioned, along with Professor Kevin Morgan, by the Secretary of State at that time, Ron Davies, to redesign the regional map for Wales in terms of NUTS II, to create a Valleys and west Wales region, and an east Wales region, in order to engage with the most deprived areas and, in so doing, obtain Objective 1 status for Wales. This map does the opposite: it engages disadvantaged areas and the most prosperous areas. So, could I ask the Cabinet Secretary whether this is the map that he will use in discussing the future for any continuity in terms of regional funds? Also, is it the assisted areas map for Wales?
Well, of course, I remember that piece of work 20 years ago. I believe that I remember hearing the Member talking at a conference here in Cardiff about the work and what emanated from that work. The map provides three footprints—the three city region footprints in effect—which we say will be responsible for economic development responsibilities. In that sense, the map is clearly relevant to the way in which regional policy and regional economic development policy would be taken forward in Wales post Brexit. What I don’t want to do, though, is to in any way close down debate about that at this point. I think there is the need for a lot of further thought, a lot of further engagement with people in the sector, about how that regional policy will be taken forward and what the geographies of that might be. If we’re trying to look at some of the upsides of Brexit, then we might say that greater geographical flexibility in the way that we deploy funds could be one of them, and that certainly has been a point made at the programme monitoring committee, where discussions of a future regional policy have already very usefully begun.
I’m grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for his considered response. Now, we heard in the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee this morning some concern expressed by the Bevan Foundation, for example, and by Professor Karel Williams, that there is an overdependence on the model and the map, which is, in the south, based on the city regions, and, in the north, based on the growth deal for north Wales, and the risk of actually diluting the focus on those most deprived areas in the northern Valleys, for example, or the north-west of Wales. Will he look at the alternative ideas that are being proposed by the Bevan Foundation in terms of creating an enterprise zone for the Valleys, and by my own party in terms of creating a new version of the Development Board for Rural Wales and also a development body that is purpose-built for the Valleys?
Well, Llywydd, I have a great interest in the work of the Bevan Foundation. Professor Karel Williams’s work was part of the discussions in the PMC back in Merthyr in February, where the debate was about place. How do we have a sense of place in the way that we fashion our future regional economic development policies that takes account of those places where there are the greatest concentrations of disadvantage, while not doing it in a way that seems to isolate those communities from possibilities that lie nearby or around their borders? And it was a very interesting discussion, with contributions from all the different sectors around that table, as to how we can best map a future, both geographically and conceptually, that allows us to find a way of taking account of the very particular needs of those whose needs are greatest without, as I say, seeking to isolate them from opportunities that they need to be connected to and would make a difference to their futures if we have a different set of ideas about how place-based policies can operate more successfully in the future.
We had a perhaps less considered dialogue a few days ago across this Chamber on the question of the balance of investment by Welsh Government across our regions, and let me emphasise that there is nothing I would say that would be anti-Cardiff in any sense, but would the Cabinet Secretary be willing to commission research so that we have statistics to look at the gulf that exists and has been there over a period of decades in terms of investment by Welsh Government in the various regions? And, finally, in focusing on a golden opportunity for the Valleys, I’m not going to ask him to tell us what the Welsh Government’s decision will be, but this is part of his remit, could the Cabinet Secretary tells us whether any decision or any announcement on the Circuit of Wales will be affected or impacted by Welsh Government rules on purdah within local government, which will come into force in 10 days’ time? As it is an announcement of national importance, perhaps it won’t affected by purdah.
Chair, I heard the exchanges in the Chamber yesterday between the leader of the house and the Member in relation to investment in different parts of Wales. There is a lot of information already available on patterns of investment over recent years and I’m sure that information can be made available. I am myself more focused on making sure that we make the right investments for the future and that we invest our scarce capital resources in a way that secures prosperity for all, right across Wales. As to the question of the Circuit of Wales, I know that my colleague Ken Skates has embarked upon what he has already promised to this Chamber, which is a period of scrutiny of the final plans that have been received from the Circuit of Wales. He will want to do that with a proper sense of due diligence and it will have to take the time that is required to do that job. I’m sure he’s aware of the purdah issue, but he will be focused, I’m sure, on making sure that the plans that have been submitted are subject to the right level of scrutiny so that he can make a recommendation in due course to the National Assembly.
The Welsh Conservatives’ spokesperson, Nick Ramsay.
Will the Cabinet Secretary update us on any inter-governmental discussions on the roll-out of tax devolution in the wake of the agreement on the fiscal framework?
Well, thank you, Llywydd. Since the fiscal framework was signed between the UK Government and the Welsh Government in December, I’ve continued to meet with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I met him last in Edinburgh in a quadrilateral meeting between finance Ministers, at which fiscal devolution in all parts of the United Kingdom was discussed. Two aspects, I suppose: how we make the system we’ve now agreed work effectively; what things we need to see on the horizon that we might want to put on future agendas for work between us.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. As you know, there was cross-party support for the fiscal framework and we welcome its implementation. This morning, in Finance Committee, we took evidence from the Office for Budget Responsibility on the next big challenge—accurate forecasts of Welsh tax is no easy task. I’m sure you agree accuracy is vital, because the forecasts will be used to make future block grant deductions. What discussions have you had with the OBR about forecasting and how do you envisage working with them in the future to ensure that forecasts are as accurate as possible?
Well, Llywydd, I met Robert Chote, the head of the OBR, in Cardiff just before Christmas to discuss the work of the OBR and how it can capture data that are important to us in Wales. But, as Nick Ramsay will know, one of the key things that we secured in the fiscal framework was an independent stream of advice—independent of the OBR—that would come particularly from a Welsh perspective should we need to deploy that as part of the fiscal framework agreement. Part of the agreement was that we would secure independent scrutiny of the Welsh Government’s forecasts for the near future and I was pleased to issue a written statement to Members a few days ago, confirming that Bangor University has been successful in securing the contract to provide that independent oversight.
Thank you. The OBR—and others, indeed—have identified that, in recent years, growth in income receipts has been significantly lower in Wales than across the UK, due in part to issues like the raising of the personal allowance threshold and the shifting of the burden higher up the income scale, with lower incomes forming a greater proportion of the Welsh tax base. It’s vital that forecasting is tailored to Welsh needs and I’m pleased with the answer that you’ve just given as to how you’re trying to achieve an independent view of Welsh tax needs and Welsh forecasting. As I said before, it’s vital that we do have accurate forecasts. It’s vital that we don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution to that. In the absence of a Welsh fiscal commission, how do you plan to ensure the highest input of Welsh data and Welsh experience over the years to come into the process of forecasting, which is so vital in terms of the amount of money we receive in the block grant?
Llywydd, let me begin by agreeing with the general points that Nick Ramsay is making—the importance of having good, independent oversight of the process and accurate data that give us the best possible and reliable outcomes. Economic forecasting is an art, not a science, and the OBR—with its resources that we will never be able to match—you will know that, in a six-month period, its forecasts are able to move very significantly in some very important areas. So, even with very good data, and with very good resources, this remains an imprecise activity. I met the chair of the Scottish Fiscal Commission, Lady Susan Rice, when I was in Edinburgh a few weeks ago to learn from them as to how they have gone about securing that sort of advice. I’m still thinking with officials about the best way to provide that stream of independent oversight beyond the contract with Bangor, which is for the immediate future. Whether we need a full-blown commission for the level of fiscal devolution we have, I think is a question we have to be prepared to ask, but that doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t alternative ways in which we can secure the sort of assistance and independent input into this process that Nick Ramsay has rightly highlighted this afternoon.
UKIP spokesperson, Mark Reckless.
The Scottish First Minister has said that her Government is now to seek a second independence referendum. One of the challenges she will face is that, on a stand-alone basis, Scotland is running a deficit of some 9 per cent or 10 per cent of gross domestic product, compared to 4 per cent for the UK as a whole. It’s estimated, therefore, that an independent Scotland would have to fill a fiscal hole of some £15 billion to 16 billion. Has the Cabinet Secretary made any estimate of the equivalent figure for Wales?
Well, there are figures of that sort available for Wales, of course, but matters for Scotland, Llywydd, are a matter for the Scottish Parliament and then for the Scottish people to weigh up and come to a decision.
The Wales Governance Centre has helpfully recently published a report where it sets out total Welsh public sector spending by all levels of Government. The most recent year—2014-15—for which they have comparable data was £38 billion. That compares with total public sector revenues drawn from Wales of £23.3 billion. So, the report finds that Wales’s net fiscal balance was a deficit of £14.7 billion, almost the same as Scotland, despite a significantly smaller economy, which would leave a fiscal gap of 24 per cent of GDP. Given that gap, and Wales’s dependence on fiscal transfers from England, is it sensible for the First Minister to say that Scotland should be the model for Wales?
I’m sure the First Minister was right to point to the fact that there are many ways in which Scotland can be a model for Wales, just as there are many things that we do here that Scotland regards as a model that they can learn from as well. So, there are no points to be made of a sensible nature from that remark. What there is, as the Member says—and, from this Government’s point of view, we are a devolutionist Government that believes in being part of the United Kingdom. The reason we believe in being part of the United Kingdom is that we regard it as an insurance policy in which we pool our risks and we share rewards. I don’t believe that questions that appear to pit one part of the United Kingdom against another and to say that one part is being subsidised by another—I don’t think that’s a helpful way of thinking about things. The Member will be aware that the same report from the Wales Governance Centre says that Wales makes a greater fiscal effort per head of the population that any other part of the United Kingdom. We all make contributions, we all have needs that we are able to address, and I think that that is the most sensible way of trying to think about these matters.
So, £7,500, approximately, per head is raised in tax in Wales, compared to £10,000 across the UK as a whole. I’m glad to hear the Cabinet Secretary’s restatement and clarification that his party, at least, and the Government he leads, is a devolutionist one, because, in many of the actions of this Government, agreement is sought with a certain party opposite—and I’m never quite clear whether they are in opposition or supporting the Government, but their signature policy of independence for Wales is supported by a mere 6 per cent of people living in Wales. Now, the Cabinet Secretary spoke earlier about a quadrilateral meeting, and the First Minister has put great emphasis on the Joint Ministerial Committee sort of structure, but are we not in a very different situation? Not only did Wales, as England, vote for leaving the European Union, and did so by more than the UK as a whole, the situation we face is that Northern Ireland has no government, and it’s not clear when they will have a government, while the Scottish Government will, for the foreseeable future, be agitating for independence, seeking pretext for dispute, rather than trying to make the UK work. In that situation, should the Welsh Government not put a greater emphasis on bilateral meetings and negotiation with the UK Government to get the best result for Wales, as the Cabinet Secretary sought to do with the fiscal framework?
Bilateral contacts with UK Government are important. On the Brexit front, I met with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union the week before last, and the First Minister met bilaterally with him last week. But these things are not, in the end, a substitute for the JMC process and, indeed, for a better, improved and substantially stepped up JMC process. The Scottish Minister for leaving the European Union said very explicitly to me that, despite the fact that they have a political set of ambitions that they hope to take forward in the way that the First Minister of Scotland has set out, Scotland intended to continue to be participating members of the JMC. Coming together in that way, where the four component parts of the United Kingdom share ideas and attempt to find common solutions to common problems, I think, is not to be sidelined by bilateral contacts. Bilateral contacts supplement them and are important, but they are not a substitute for them.
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on any Barnett consequentials arising from the Chancellor's Spring Budget? OAQ(5)0114(FLG)
I thank Julie Morgan for the question. The Welsh Government will always aim to make best use of any new funding available to us. The consequentials that arise from the spring budget do nothing to reverse the UK Government’s pursuit of the damaging policy of austerity.
Before you ask the supplementary question, I believe you’ve requested a grouping of this question with question 4.
And you’ve been able to agree that, Llywydd?
Yes. Consider it done. [Laughter.]
4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the implications of the UK Government's 2017 Spring Budget on the Welsh block grant? OAQ(5)0110(FLG)
The Chancellor announced in his budget a £5 million fund to celebrate next year’s centenary of the first British woman to get the vote in 1918. This is, I know, a small amount of money in relation to the whole of the budget, but I wondered if the Cabinet Secretary could tell us how much of that money we would receive in Wales, how would that money be distributed and to what sort of projects.
I thank Julie Morgan for that question. Wales’s share of that £5 million fund is £294,000. That’s the consequential of it. The Welsh Cabinet will meet on Tuesday of next week to consider how we will use budget consequentials, and that will be part of our consideration.
Minister, I really welcome the fact that this Welsh Labour Government has continued to prioritise investment in social services, in contrast to the approach that’s been taken in recent years in England, but it remains the case that pressure on social services is immense. I hope that you are giving very serious consideration to using the additional funding to tackle those pressures. I know that you’re well aware of my continued concern about the reduction in funding for the Family Fund. What assurances can you offer that addressing the pressures in social services will be a top priority for you, and would you agree with me that this additional money presents an excellent opportunity to review the support for disabled children in general and the cut to the Family Fund specifically?
Well, Llywydd, it’s because of the priority that we have always attached to social services that social services in Wales have not suffered from the cuts that have been experienced across our border. Our social services do face very considerable pressures from demography and other factors—I absolutely acknowledge that—but they are in a better place to face those pressures than other services are elsewhere. The Member will have seen the report published only last week by Wales Public Services 2025 that confirms that, again, in this financial year, spending on health and social services in Wales is 106 per cent of spending in England, and it’s why, in the budget that was put in front of this Assembly for next year, in agreement with Plaid Cymru, £25 million extra was identified in the RSG for social services, and then a further £10 million recurrent funding was identified between the final and draft budget, to help social services departments come to a tripartite solution to the pressures of the so-called living wage in social care. In the run-up to the budget, I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, urging him to find additional funding for social care, and that matter will certainly be on the table when colleagues in the Cabinet meet on Tuesday of next week to discuss the consequentials. How that money is used, if any of it can be made available for social services, will of course be a matter for the Minister concerned, but she will certainly be aware of the Member’s views and will have heard what she has said this afternoon.
Cabinet Secretary, will you join me in welcoming the £50 million increase to the Welsh Government’s capital budget that will now come as a result of the budget, which builds on the £400 million increase announced in the autumn statement? This does give us some real flexibility in terms of capital development.
Well, Chair, I welcome any extra money that comes to Wales. The £50 million additional capital is over a four-year period. When you take it into account with the autumn statement money, it means that our capital budgets will only be 21 per cent, now, less in 2019-20, compared to what they were in 2009-10. So, the Chancellor has gone some way—some small way—to filling the hole that his predecessor had created.
In previous UK budgets, there has been considerable disagreement on how the UK Government has classified certain spending lines, particularly in capital spending—so, whether they designate a project UK-wide where there is no Barnett consequential, or England only where there is. Has the Cabinet Secretary made any assessment on the recent budget in terms of whether there has been any evidence to suggest similar accounting jiggery-pokery as far as Barnett consequentials are concerned?
Well, the Member can be sure that we are eagle-eyed in looking for exactly those sorts of manoeuvres, and my officials have been looking very closely at the detail of what was said by the Chancellor last week. As you know, the budget turns out to be a very moving feast indeed, and moved again only within the last hour with a further retreat from the proposals that were made only a week ago. But we do look very directly at the point the Member has made and challenge where we need to, where we think that classifications are being wrongly deployed to the disadvantage of Barnett consequentials.
The spring budget provides a £150 million boost to the Welsh Government resource budget and £50 million to its capital budget, as mentioned earlier. The Welsh Government recently announced an additional £10 million a year for social care in Wales, to help meet the additional costs of the national minimum wage. Will the Cabinet Secretary agree to give strong consideration to using some of the increase in the block grant to provide additional finance for social care in Wales, please?
Well, as I think I’ve said this afternoon already, Llywydd, Members can be assured that social care will be properly considered when the Cabinet meets to look at ways in which we are able to deploy any of the additional resources that have come to Wales as a result of last week’s budget.
I was indeed going to ask you about the impact on the block grant of the national insurance rises, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises in rural Wales, but the smell of the rubber from that particular u-turn is still fresh in my nostrils. So, let me ask, instead: one issue that wasn’t addressed in this budget that does impact on a lot of Welsh residents is that of state pension inequality for women—the WASPI campaign. Is it still the position of this Welsh Government that you are seeking a resolution of that issue, and have you had any conversations with the Chief Secretary or anyone else in the Westminster Government about addressing that in further budgets going forward?
Llywydd, we were very disappointed that the Chancellor failed to take an opportunity last week to grasp that issue and to respond to the points that are very properly made by that campaign. We take the opportunities that are available to us to continue to raise matters of that sort with the Chief Secretary and with the UK Government more generally, and had hoped that the budget would have been thought of as an opportunity to redress some of the injustices that that campaign has highlighted.
5. Will the Cabinet Secretary outline what the Welsh Government has done to increase transparency within local government? OAQ(5)0112(FLG)
I thank Angela Burns for the question. The Welsh Government continues to encourage local government to conduct its business in an open and transparent manner. The current White Paper on reforming local government proposes a range of ways to further increase transparency.
Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. My understanding is that the current White Paper, though, has dropped the obligation for councillors to publish an annual report to increase transparency and to allow voters to see what their representatives have been doing. I wondered if you could perhaps explain that a little bit further and explain why that requirement has been watered down and, if it has, why you feel that regular and consistent reporting by all councillors on the work they undertake for those they represent is not a suitable mechanism for open and accountable government.
Well, Llywydd, I absolutely agree that it is an obligation on any elected councillor to remain in a continuous relationship with those people who have elected them. What the White Paper does is to set up a menu of ways in which a local councillor can demonstrate that they have done that. They will have to demonstrate that they have done it. But if you are a local councillor, for example, who publishes four quarterly newsletters and delivers them around your ward, then I think you’ve gone beyond a single annual report in demonstrating that you are delivering on the obligation that the White Paper does create, that you as a councillor must be able to show that you are doing what we would, I think, collectively agree that you should do. So, there is a menu of choices that councillors will be able to use to show that they are doing it. An annual report is one, but there are other ways as well. Councillors will have to show what they have done from that list of things to remain in that continuously answerable relationship with their populations.
Cabinet Secretary, do you want equal pay enough to introduce pay transparency in local government, since transparency is a vital step towards equal pay?
Well, I agree that transparency is very important in relation to pay. It’s why, in December 2015, the Welsh Government published ‘Transparency of Senior Remuneration in the Devolved Welsh Public Sector’, a set of principles and guidance. It’s why the Public Services Staff Commission was asked to develop guidance on this, which they published in December of last year. That guidance was discussed at the workforce partnership council, which I chaired last week, with employers and trade unions. We remain committed to taking further steps, where necessary, to ensure that there is transparency in the way that pay is reported in the Welsh public service.
6. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the allocation of funding to the Communities and Children portfolio to support the Welsh Government’s car parking pilot scheme? OAQ(5)0105(FLG)
The budget of 2017-18, approved by the Assembly, reflects our agreement with Plaid Cymru to provide £3 million for pilot schemes to support free town-centre car parking.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your answer. Can I ask what further details you can give on the £3 million fund for a pilot scheme to support town-centre parking and how it will operate? What involvement, so far, have you had with local authorities across Wales? I will say that one local authority that I did write to recently informed me that they were unaware of this funding or how to apply for it and, as a result, have not made any submission to the Welsh Government to receive this funding.
Well, Llywydd, local authorities don’t have to apply to receive the funding because they receive it through the RSG. So, they will all receive their share of the funding. Let me say that I do expect that every local authority in Wales will participate in the new scheme. I understand that my colleague Carl Sargeant met with Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on this matter earlier today. The Cabinet Secretary, Carl Sargeant, has written to all local authorities today, and the letter has already been published, in which he sets out a series of requirements and guidelines to make sure that local authorities are aware of the scheme and that they will participate within it in the way that we would have expected.
Plaid Cymru is disappointed that the funding for the free parking programme is being distributed through the revenue support grant, rather than there being a specific pot available for councils to bid for, because there is a risk that this funding won’t be used to its intended purpose. But I do understand, following the meeting I had this morning, and at my request, that you will be contacting all council leaders asking them to allocate the funding for this specific programme. Will you therefore confirm that your Government is asking councils to use the funding for free parking, as was agreed between the two parties, as part of an ongoing attempt to improve our high streets across Wales?
Well, I understand, Chair, that whenever anybody has a particular scheme that they are committed to, they would like to see it in a special grant because it’s more visible in that way. That’s always in a bit of a conflict with the principle that local authorities of all parties prefer that money should go into the RSG to allow greater flexibility for people on the ground. In this case, I decided that it would go into the RSG, but that it would be very carefully monitored. The Cabinet Secretary’s letter makes that clear. We want to have innovation. We want to allow local authorities to develop pilots that work best in their own localities, with the aim—. As Sian Gwenllian said, the shared aim of them all is to do more to allow our high streets to be thriving places where businesses can operate successfully and local people can feel that they are provided with something that is vibrant and worth while in their lives, too.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.