93 speeches by……and 15 more speakers
The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Jenny Rathbone.
1. What is the Welsh Government's strategy for tackling air pollution in Wales? OAQ(5)0592(FM)
We tackle air pollution in a number of ways. These include local air quality management, industry regulation, the planning regime and the promotion of active travel.
Thank you, First Minister. We know that air pollution kills more people than are killed in road traffic accidents, and even the UK Government admits it’s the largest environmental threat to public health in the UK. A cross-party group in the House of Commons called it a public health emergency. These air quality management areas include an area of Newport Road, where I’ve got no less than three primary schools running along it, and they are breathing in toxic levels of air at the moment. The latest plan by the Tories that was published earlier this month is no more than an options paper. There is nothing in it that even approaches a strategy. One of the options is to have clean air zones where polluting vehicles have to pay to enter them. Obviously, this would be the thing that would make the biggest impact on cutting pollution, but the Tories have passed the buck to local authorities, with shackles on. They’re not allowed to do anything along these lines until, for example, all buses have been converted from diesel to cleaner energy. I just wondered—
You do need to come to a question.
[Continues.]—what the Welsh Government interprets from this plan and what it sees as its responsibility in ensuring that communities like mine are relieved of this appalling thing.
Well, it’s important to note that some of the levers for improving air quality, such as fiscal measures relating to diesel vehicles, are non-devolved. The level of commitment to take action at a UK Government level is currently unclear, but, as evidence of our commitment to do all that we can to improve air quality at a Welsh national level, we’ve said in the UK plan that, within 12 months, we will consult on the detail of a proposal for a clean air zone framework for Wales.
Well, I commend that study, because, if you look at Germany, clean air zones have been hugely successful in their cities, reducing soot emissions from exhausts by more than 50 per cent in Berlin, for instance. But these policies require behaviour change, encouraging cycling and the like, access to city areas and free parking for cleaner vehicles, and better use of existing infrastructure, i.e. redesignating some of our routes for pedestrians and for cyclists. And, really, I do think we should have the ambition to declare Cardiff a clean air zone, so I encourage you to do that as soon as possible.
Well, of course, we are encouraging local authorities to create more cycle routes. The Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 is evidence of that, and, of course, the proposal for a metro, which will lead to better and quicker journeys on public transport, taking people out of their cars, whilst the metro itself will of course reduce emissions from the current all-diesel rolling stock. I can say that, where future evidence demonstrates clearly that clean air zones would bring about compliance before other measures, and in the shortest possible time, we will set out how to ensure the effective implementation of such zones.
Will you therefore confirm that it’s the Welsh Government’s intention that these air quality management zones do reduce air pollution, particularly in terms of the very small particulates—the PM10s—that can go deep into the lungs and are particularly dangerous to children and young people who walk or cycle to school? And, therefore, will there be specific targets within your plans for these air quality zones?
Well, this is something that is being considered at the moment as regards air quality management zones, and it’s part of the consultation that will take place, as has been set out in the British scheme.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of professional sport to Wales? OAQ(5)0597(FM)
Professional sport brings a number of important benefits to Wales, particularly to Swansea. Of course, I know the Member will, no doubt, ask about Swansea City AFC and their successful campaign this year to stay in the Premier League. But, of course, we know that professional sport is a catalyst not just to increase participation rates in sport, but it can also give people in cities and nations a feel-good factor, and, of course, the Euros of last year were an example of how that can happen in Wales.
Can I thank the First Minister for that response? Can I highlight the importance of professional sport in promoting the identity of an area and generating wealth within the economy? I want to stress the importance of Swansea City staying in the premiership, for the economy of Swansea bay city region, for tourism in the Swansea bay city region, and for name recognition of Swansea. Will the First Minister join me in congratulating Swansea on staying in the premiership, which benefits the whole of Wales?
Yes, I will. It’s hugely important that we have a team that not just gets into the Premier League, but stays there. Also important to note, of course, the successful campaign by Newport County to stay in League 2. We all saw the scenes when the final goal was scored, a minute before the end of normal time. I can see the Member for Newport East—I’m sure the Member for Newport West as well—beaming, when I mentioned that. But, it is true to say that professional sport is a hugely important economic catalyst. We know, for example, that Swansea’s presence in the Premier League has been hugely important in creating tourism for the area, in terms of improving hotel rate occupancy and, of course, in improving spend by visitors to the city, and beyond.
First Minister, grass-roots training in football is so often crucial to future development of young players to a more professional level. Currently, however, three of our four Welsh police forces are now investigating allegations of historic child sexual abuse at this level, with the Football Association chairman, Greg Clarke, calling this the biggest crisis in football. First Minister, in north Wales, there are several accusations of an historical nature that it is felt must be investigated. Steve Walters of the Offside Trust, and, indeed, one of my own constituents, PC Mike Smith, both of whom have suffered, are leading calls for the Football Association of Wales to launch a full inquiry into this matter. Will you work with your Cabinet Secretary to support those calls and, in doing so, provide an environment where children seeking to fulfil their ambitions in the sport, to a more professional level, are able to do so safely?
We know that a safe environment is crucial for children and young people if they want to enjoy sport. We know that standards at one time were far laxer than they are now. These are matters primarily for the FAW and for the police. But it is hugely important that as much assurance as possible can be given, that any allegations in the past or, indeed, the present, are investigated fully, so as we can ensure that our children and young people continue to have a safer environment now and in the future.
I was delighted that the Assembly unanimously last week supported a Plaid Cymru amendment to the Public Health (Wales) Bill, which will mean that there will be a Government strategy to tackle obesity on the face of that Bill. And I’m grateful to Members of all parties and to the Government for supporting that. Does the First Minister agree that our clubs and professional sporting organisations, as well as grass-roots sports, will need to have an input to the creation of that strategy, in order to ensure that we have a strategy that can truly tackle the greatest problem, perhaps, facing us in terms of public health?
Well, yes, that’s right, because, although sports in the community are vital to ensure that people are active within the community, professional teams can set an example, especially to young people. They see their heroes coming to talk to them and telling them how important healthy living is. So, there is a vital role for professional clubs as regards ensuring that we do address obesity.
Swansea City and Newport County FC are both important focuses in their communities. And community morale will rise in those places as a result of those teams’ success. The problem we have sometimes with professional football clubs is that they tend now to be foreign owned. Two of the three football league clubs—[Interruption.] Well, no, it’s not going to be an EU thing. Sometimes, they do become distant from their fan base, whereas, at the same time, they are also important assets in the community. So, I wondered is there any way in which the Welsh Government can help to preserve them in their role as assets in the community.
Well, Swansea City, of course, did that successfully. Cardiff City, which was mentioned, we want to see back in the Premier League next year. Before long, I’ll have to go round Wales and mention several clubs, and wish them all success. Wrexham—yes, and all other football clubs in Wales and, indeed, any sporting clubs, playing at any level, the best of luck for next year. But he is right that it is hugely important that fans are given the opportunity to own their clubs. Bayern Munich, if I remember rightly, is fan owned. It’s a model that is used quite regularly in Germany. And I do worry that, where there is a lack of commitment by some owners—I don’t mention Cardiff City; the ownership there has been settled for some time—but, in some clubs, the question has to be asked, are the owners properly committed to the clubs in the way that fans could be? We saw in Swansea City the resurrection of that club because of the dedication and the money of supporters who were willing to put the money in, and, as a result, of course, that club is very strongly embedded in their community.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Could I just welcome back the Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs, who makes a welcome return to the Chamber? I wish you well, hopefully, in getting over the recent fall that you had, Cabinet Secretary. First Minister, you said at the end of April that Jeremy Corbyn needed to prove himself if he were to become the Prime Minister at the end of this general election. The relationship between the First Minister of Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister is a very important relationship, and, indeed, inter-governmental relationship as well. Last week, at the campaign launch, you failed to mention his name. Last week, when the manifesto was leaked to the press, you put a press release out to say—[Interruption.] You put a press release out to say it was not your manifesto. Then, within a couple of hours’ time, it was redacted and changed. Do you believe that Jeremy Corbyn will be the Prime Minister on 9 June?
That is what I want to see. I’ve dealt with Theresa May; I see no evidence at all of strong leadership from her. She can’t answer a straight question. Leadership is about doing leaders’ debates. There are several of us who know that in this Chamber. Leadership is about going out and talking to people, rather than going to stage-managed events and stage-managed questions. That’s what true leadership is about, and there are several of us in this Chamber who have had experience of that and know that that is what leadership is about. I want to make sure that we have somebody who is willing to engage with the public, not somebody who shuts herself off from the public.
Giving a straight answer, First Minister, is most probably not your strongest card to stand on, to be fair, as anyone who’s asked you a question in this Chamber could attest to. But, in the manifesto that the Labour Party brought forward today, it talks of abolishing tuition fees, but yet your education Cabinet Secretary said last week that, actually, it’s not tuition fees that are the problem, but it is living costs. She also said, through a press spokesman, that Jeremy Corbyn would not be the Prime Minister. How on earth can you have any joined-up thinking in your Government when you have such a dislocate between the message that’s in the manifesto and the spending commitments that you’re signing up to day in, day out? Isn’t it the case that if people vote for Jeremy Corbyn on 8 June, you will have a coalition of chaos as opposed to the strong and stable leadership of Theresa May?
Well, I wonder if the leader of the Welsh Conservatives believes Theresa May to be a strong leader, given the rumours we’ve heard about his deselection, and that of the rest of his group [Laughter.] When asked on the radio whether she was supportive of him and his position, she said Andrew R.T. Davies is the leader of the Welsh Conservatives. Well, stunningly true as a fact, but hardly a great vote of confidence in him. We are proud of the manifesto that we are standing on. It offers great hope for our people. One thing we do know is that the Diamond review has put students in Wales ahead of those in England, and what we do know, of course, is that if the Tories win the general election, students will be hammered even harder. They will be forced to pay even more. So, one thing we do know is that students will never be in a position where they are better off under the Conservatives.
As per usual, you cut off the quote, and she went on to say what a good job I’m doing [Laughter.] But, if you look at what the offer is on 8 June, it is an offer from the Welsh Conservatives today to abolish Severn bridge tolls and actually deliver a shot in the arm of £100 million to the Welsh economy. A £100 million against the fiscal illiteracy that we see coming out of Labour that I noticed the First Minister has not signed up to or committed to today, yet he sat in the meeting of the national executive last week and put his hand up to spend billions of pounds that this country has not got. It is a fact that if you want to get rid of Severn bridge tolls and put £100 million into the Welsh economy, you need to vote for the Welsh Conservatives, under the strong and stable leadership of Theresa May, unlike the coalition of chaos that Jeremy Corbyn will lead.
I am generous to the leader of the Welsh Conservatives. I want him to stay as their leader—I want him to stay as their leader; Theresa May doesn’t. So I’ll offer him that. He’s right, I want him to stay, but Theresa May doesn’t, and that’s chaos for you. He stands there with the chutzpah—I think the word is—to claim that abolishing the Severn bridge tolls were his idea and his party’s idea. For how many years have we stood in this Chamber demanding the end of the Severn bridge tolls? For years, we were told by his party it was too expensive. We saw estimates of between £20 million and £120 million a year of how much it would cost, and now it’s £7 million. I welcome their conversion—I welcome their conversion—but, at the end of the day, let’s face it, the Conservatives would not have abolished the Severn bridge tolls if it wasn’t for the strong action and strong position taken by this Welsh Government.
Leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit Secretary, was in Wales a few days ago and I see from a Welsh Labour press release that he said that Conservative Brexit negotiations pose a danger to the hugely successful campaign to recruit more doctors in Wales. Can the First Secretary tell us how many extra doctors from the EU this campaign has managed to recruit?
We do know that 5.8 per cent of our medical staff are from the EU. We know that there is interest from the UK and abroad. The reality is that every single health system anywhere in the world competes in a world market. It is folly to think that, somehow, the UK can train and recruit all its own doctors within the UK. And so nobody said to me on the doorstep, nor to him, ‘What we need, you see, are fewer doctors and nurses from abroad.’ Nobody said that. So, it’s vitally important that we’re still seen as a welcoming place to get the best and the brightest to work in our health service.
I agree with that. The actual figure is seven extra doctors have been recruited this year, compared with the same figure last year—not all of whom, or indeed perhaps none of whom, will have come from the EU. Therefore, this seems to be rather irrelevant to the whole question of the Brexit negotiations. But what Sir Keir Starmer seemed to be trying to do was to instil some sort of fear in the minds of those who might be susceptible to his words, that after Brexit we are going to turn away potential doctors and nurses from the United Kingdom. I’m sure the First Minister knows, in his heart of hearts, that this is a preposterous idea and that Australia, for example, has a very strict immigration system based upon points, which are awarded in order to fill various skills gaps in their economy, and the United Kingdom will be just the same. So, why doesn’t the First Minister get on board with the Brexit negotiations and try and make a success, instead of trying to be an obstacle to progress all the time?
Can he not see that, handled badly, doctors and nurses will get the impression that the UK does not want them? It’s already there. It’s already there because the issue of mutual recognition of residency rights has not yet been dealt with. Nobody—nobody—wants to see people not be able to stay in the UK, or UK citizens unable to stay in the rest of the EU. Nobody wants that, but there is no agreement on it yet, and it’s hugely important that that is done as quickly as possible, to my mind, in advance of the substantive negotiations over Brexit. But it is hugely important that we’re able to recruit from abroad. My great fear is that we end up with a cap on immigration every year, that there is a cap in each sector, that the city gets the lion’s share in order to protect banking and finance, and we end up, because of that cap, unable to recruit doctors and nurses into Wales. That, I think, would be a foolish way of dealing with the issue.
It is inconceivable that any cap that is introduced is going to work in such a way as to prevent the NHS filling skills gaps, particularly of professional people. But—[Interruption.] But the First Minister will also know that, two years ago, the Bank of England did an in-depth study of the impact of migration upon wage levels at the lower end of the income scale—people like cleaners and care workers and waiting staff in the health service—and it concluded that unlimited immigration from the EU and other parts of the world of unskilled and semi-skilled workers reduces wages by a factor of 2 per cent in relation to a 10 per cent rise in the proportion of immigrants in those sectors. So, what’s happening here is actually that wage levels are being compressed for the people who can least afford it, whilst there is actually no danger, as a result of the Brexit negotiations, to the numbers of doctors and nurses being recruited from outside the UK.
Well, no—if there is to be a cap, a cap is a cap. You can’t say, ‘Well, the cap doesn’t exist for certain professions.’ And that is something that we need, to my mind, to avoid. We have 80,000 EU citizens in Wales, out of 3 million people, so it’s a tiny proportion of the population. I take his point that there were many who felt that wages have been depressed as a result. Part of that lies in the fact there’s been a complete failure to prosecute for minimum wage legislation—no prosecutions at all, as far as I’m aware. I have to remind him that, in his former party, they were against the minimum wage, and, as a result of that, that would have driven wages down even further than now. There is exploitation. I’ve heard stories of exploitation of EU citizens who come to Wales. That needs to be cracked down on and it needs to be prosecuted, in the same way that those who try to employ people below the minimum wage, those people who try to get around employment legislation, should be prosecuted according to the law, and the law should be strengthened to ensure that nobody is exploited in the future. That’s exactly what a Labour Government would do in Westminster.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. Last week, the successful Time to Change campaign launched a pilot scheme in nine schools to tackle mental health discrimination and stigma. If this scheme is successful, we should see more young people coming forward to seek help for problems that they might have. So, can you tell us what additional funds you’ve made available for school counsellors and for training for teachers to deal with this extra demand?
Well, every school, of course, has a school counsellor, and she will know we’ve ring-fenced funding for health and put, I think, £8.6 million a year extra into child and adolescent mental health services. And we’ve seen a massive reduction in the waiting times with regard to having an appointment within 28 days.
We’ve not seen a massive reduction in waiting times, First Minister. You can fairly say that waiting times are no worse than they were before, but you can’t say that they are improved. It’s not clear at all what those improved outcomes are from this extra spending, but what we do know is that the number of children requiring counselling is going up, and that’s a good thing, because, hopefully, that means that problems can be prevented before they become severe and require specialist help. However, we know that many schools don’t have enough counsellors or teachers with training to help those pupils who may need it. Also, we’ve seen a reduction in local authority youth workers—a staggering 40 per cent in that workforce as a decrease. This is clearly going to have an impact on whether the children experiencing the low-level mental health problems are going to be able to get the support that they need, particularly as your Government has raised the threshold for accessing specialist CAMHS. I spoke recently to someone who works with care leavers, who told me that they’re only able to refer young people who are at risk of suicide. They have no capacity in the system to work on mental health prevention. Is that situation acceptable to you, First Minister? When is there going to be an early intervention service, that’s so badly needed?
Well, as I said to her before, there is a counsellor in each secondary school in Wales. Health boards have committed to meet the 28-day target by the end of March. They’ve made great strides to reduce the numbers waiting over the last 12 to 18 months. One example: in Betsi Cadwaladr, we’ve seen the percentage of CAMHS referrals seen within 28 days go from 21 per cent in April last year to 84.5 per cent in February this year. That’s an enormous improvement in the time required to get a first appointment. So, the money that we’ve put in—the extra money we’ve put in—to CAMHS, together with the counselling that’s available in schools, is bearing fruit.
You’re giving the wrong impression, First Minister, because it’s true to say that the waiting lists are no worse than before, and, overall, you cannot say—. You cannot claim, overall, throughout Wales, that they are better. Now, children and young people with mental health difficulties go an average of 10 years—10 years—before they receive specialist help. These are the people who are likely to be the most ill, and also who cost our services the most money. It didn’t have to happen this way, that we have the kind of teenage mental health early intervention scheme—that we don’t have—that we badly need. We know, don’t we, that self-harm is the second biggest killer of teenage girls globally. Are we going to have to wait for 16-year-olds to have the vote before the mental health of our children and young people gets the proper priority that it deserves?
Well, some of us do have children, and I have a 16-year-old daughter, so I know the pressures that exist on young people, particularly through social media. That’s something that didn’t exist when I was 16, and so any bullying stayed at the school gates and didn’t tend to move beyond that. I know some of the things that are said online, and I know that, when youngsters are at their most vulnerable in terms of their confidence, they can be very deeply affected by that. But she gives the—. She didn’t listen to the figures that I gave to her. I talked about Betsi and I said, ‘Look, the percentage of CAMHS—
I’m talking about the nation.
Well, she can shout as much as she wants. She’s had three questions already, right. Again, Betsi is an example of what’s happened around Wales. In Betsi, the level of CAMHS referrals seen within 28 days has gone from 21 per cent to 84.5 per cent in February. She can’t deny that, or she’s saying that the figures are wrong. They needed to improve. We knew more money had to be put in, because of the demands on the service. That’s exactly what we did, and we are delivering for our young people.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress of the Welsh Government commitment to raise the capital limit for those entering residential care? OAQ(5)0598(FM)
Yes. We’re delivering on this top-six ‘Taking Wales Forward’ commitment. A phased implementation is under way, and the first increase to £30,000 was introduced in April. We have provided local authorities with £4.5 million in 2017-18 to deliver that increase.
I thank the First Minister for that response and I do commend the Welsh Government on taking very early steps to deliver on this pledge to raise the capital limit to more than double over the life of this Assembly term, to £50,000. We know very often that the only asset many of our constituents have is that home, so more than doubling it has a disproportionately great benefit on what they can pass on to their relatives at some point. So, along with this, there is also to be a full disregard of the war disablement pension being introduced in Wales, which means that Welsh veterans no longer have to use any part of this to pay for the care they need. This is part of us honouring our covenant with those who put their lives on the line for their country. So, could I ask the First Minister if he has any idea, now, what sort of numbers we could be talking about in those who may benefit from this excellent policy?
Well, the initial increase to £30,000 will benefit around 250 people. The increase to £50,000 will benefit up to 1,000. This is out of a total of 4,000 care home residents who pay the full cost of their residential care, so a substantial percentage.
First Minister, we support the improvement in this policy, of course, particularly the part relating to the veterans’ disregard, but is this savings cap really the best that you can do for people who’ve tried very, very hard, very often at personal cost of personal sacrifices in spending, in order that they save more? Now, Jeremy Corbyn has recently said that he is not wealthy, despite earning more than £138,000 each year, and house prices in Wales are averaging £175,000 a year. So, don’t you agree that the £100,000 pledge, the cap pledged by Welsh Conservatives, probably reflects more realistically the hard work that people have put in to earning this money during the course of their lives?
Well, the pledge that the Welsh Conservatives had was not costed properly and there is a cost to how much such a policy would cost. We know that 25 per cent, roughly, of care home residents in Wales will benefit from this policy, and it’s another example of a Welsh Government keeping its promises, as we have done for the past six years.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the progress being made regarding the Welsh Government's economic and industrial strategy? OAQ(5)0602(FM)
Yes. We intend to publish our strategic approach to building prosperity for all before the summer recess.
Well, thank you for that, First Minister. I know that the Welsh Government understands the importance of manufacturing and engineering industries, their strengths within the Welsh economy. Unfortunately, the UK Government seems not to recognise the same thing, by placing steel towards the bottom of their priorities. I look forward to the Welsh Government strategy making sure that steel is at the top end. But we need to attract more manufacturing, such as Aston Martin and TVR, which the Welsh Government has actually achieved to deliver, and we need to provide more premises of a larger footprint—25,000 sq ft plus—to ensure that those factories are there for them to come into. What’s the Government doing to actually ensure there are a sufficient number of buildings that offer that large footprint to attract both inward investment in manufacturing, but also to allow current industries to expand?
Well, we do work with manufacturers and others to look at buildings as they become available. With Aston Martin, of course, it happened that the superhangar was there and that was very useful in terms of being able to attract them, and we work closely with all businesses to assess their needs in terms of future expansion. Where they seek to do that, we’ve usually been able to work with them in order to source buildings where they can expand.
First Minister, Jeremy Corbyn has set out plans for sweeping Government intervention in our industry, including taking parts of Britain’s energy industry back into public ownership alongside the railways and Royal Mail. That’s the biggest state intervention in our economy for decades. Can I ask whether you endorse Jeremy Corbyn’s approach, which I certainly believe would take Wales back to the 1970s, and do you agree with your party leader when he says that private transport operators cannot be trusted with having passengers’ best interests at heart?
Well, the energy companies—anybody who says the energy market is somehow good for consumers must be living in a different universe to the rest of us. Time and time again, Governments have recognised that the current system does not work. He talks about the 1970s—energy was cheaper in the 1970s, proportionately, and also we had major investments, such as Dinorwig, when, with the tidal lagoon, his party are prevaricating over the tidal lagoon. It would’ve been built if this had been the 1970s. He talks about the railways. The last major investment in intercity happened in 1977, with the introduction of the 125 under a Labour Government—under a Labour Government. Since then, we’ve had no major investment in the main line. We’re still waiting for electrification—where’s that gone—to Cardiff. We’re still waiting for it. We’re still waiting for electrification to Swansea. Where’s that gone? Two promises that were made by the party opposite not delivered on. We’re still waiting to see commitment to north Wales rail electrification—no sign of that yet from the Conservatives. Nobody could possibly argue that the railways, as they are presently constituted, are delivering value for money; they cost more for the taxpayer now than they did when they were nationalised, because of the way in which it was done. No, there needs to be more reality as far as the Conservatives are concerned, but above all else, they need to deliver on their promises for energy and rail, and, in that sense, they’ve been an abject failure.
Well, we certainly need new ideas when it comes to our economic strategy, because the old ideas haven’t worked, have they? I mean, we’re poorer now, relative to the rest of the UK, than when Labour first took office in 1997 at Westminster and here in the Assembly in 1999. So, can the First Minister explain what new ideas Labour has to transform our economy? And, given the fact that you’ve been in power in Wales for almost 20 years, and for a good proportion of the time in Westminster as well, what’s kept you? Where have those transformational ideas been up until now?
Where was his party when, for four years, his party actually was in charge of economic development in Wales? He conveniently forgets that, of course. [Interruption.] They don’t like hearing that, because it’s something that they’d rather forget about, but it’s conveniently forgotten about. Well, he asked new ideas. The Valleys taskforce is moving forward with new ideas for the Valleys. We’re looking at how we develop ourselves in terms of international presence, again, because we know that we have to look outside, to new countries, for investment. The air link to Qatar is a hugely important part of developing our window onto the world. We’ve seen unemployment come down to a level lower than England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and major investment such as Aston Martin, such as General Dynamics and such as Tenneco coming to Wales. The next challenge, of course, is to improve GVA. He is correct about that, but, certainly, as far as job creation is concerned, as far as reaching out to the world is concerned, as far as getting investment—having had the best foreign investment figures for 30 years last year—this Welsh Government is delivering.
5. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government’s approach to investing in capital infrastructure projects across Wales? OAQ(5)0600(FM)
At the heart of our approach to capital investment is a focus on maximising the resources we have available and targeting these on the areas where they can have the biggest impact in boosting the economy, supporting our communities and connecting all parts of Wales.
First Minister, it was welcome news that the finance Secretary stated a £1 billion mutual investment model will be used to fund infrastructure projects in Wales. This includes social infrastructure, like Velindre cancer care centre, and also the twenty-first century schools programme, but also the final phase of the A465 dualling, which is so vital for my own constituency. How does the Welsh Government plan to use similarly innovative approaches to invest in infrastructure and benefit the people of Wales in the future?
Well, we are continuing to face unprecedented challenges to public finances, so it is vitally important that we unlock all opportunities to boost infrastructure investment. As well as the £1 billion of capital infrastructure investment we are committed to delivering through the innovative finance model, using the mutual investment model, we are also using innovative ways of funding capital investment through the £250 million extension of the housing finance grant and the £150 million coastal risk management programme, and those schemes are in addition to the £1 billion-worth of direct capital borrowing as a result of the Wales Act 2014.
First Minister, last year’s UK budget provided a valuable boost to capital infrastructure spending in Wales and shows what can be achieved when Welsh and UK Governments work together. Do you agree with me that the projects that you mentioned, the welcome agreement on a Cardiff city deal, and today’s announcement on the scrapping of the Severn bridge tolls, shows what can be achieved and that the Welsh Government and yourself are much better off working with Theresa May than with Jeremy Corbyn?
There is some cheek in that question, and I give him credit for that, but the answer is quite simple: no, I’d rather work with Jeremy Corbyn, bluntly, if you want the answer to that question. But, secondly, yes, I think it is right that, at a time when there is no election, Welsh and UK Governments are able to work together. The city deal was an example of that. But I have to say that, when it comes to the Severn bridge tolls, we been pushing for this for years on end. Now, if an example of working together is, ‘We've made the case and, hallelujah, the UK Government is converted’, then I welcome that as well. But it does show how important it is to have a strong team here in the Welsh Government to keep on pushing at Tory Governments so that they deliver things such as the ending of the Severn bridge tolls, which we’ve called for for years.
In terms of the new three-stage process for assessing proposals for new railway stations in Wales, you are no doubt aware that some campaigners calling for the reopening of certain stations that failed to make the second stage feel aggrieved, and these include members of the Carno station action group. Now, in light of that, and in the interests of transparency, will your Government be prepared to share the results of the cost-benefit analysis in moving from stage 1 to stage 2? Diolch yn fawr.
I see no difficulty with doing that. It’s hugely important that the cost-benefit analysis is shared so that people can see what the methodology is.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh-medium stream at Brecon High School? OAQ(5)0608(FM)
Unfortunately, I can’t comment further on those proposals for change because of course there is a potential role for the Welsh Government, and that position can’t be prejudiced.
I thank the First Minister for that reply, which of course I understand. This is the opposite to the situation that we faced in Llangennech, where there’s parental opposition to the changing of the status of the school to a Welsh-medium school. There’s a feeling in the locality in Brecon that this proposal for closure has become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy because the council has, for many years, had a proposal to close down, and they’ve provided free transport to alternative schools for parents, so it’s not surprising that parents who want to have their children taught through the medium of Welsh are now exploring other opportunities with the result that the school rolls have been falling to unsustainable levels. I hope the First Minister will agree that I try to be on this, if on no other issue, non-partisan and helpful, so what I would like to ask the First Minister is: in addition to the acknowledged policy, which I think is the correct one, of the Minister for Lifelong Learning in relation to the situation in Llangennech—of persuasion and cajoling, bringing parents with us and going with the grain—is it not the case that where parents want to have their children taught through the medium of Welsh, you ought to make it as easy as possible for them? Therefore, requiring children to go on a bus journey of over an hour in each direction each day is not likely to bring more parents into the net of wanting to have their children taught through the medium of Welsh. So I’m wondering what, without, perhaps, commenting on this individual case, the First Minister can do to make it easier for parents in the situation that we find in Brecon to have their wishes satisfied.
Well, if I can speak generally, the leader of UKIP is correct in that, in many parts of Wales, the length of the journey time to get to a Welsh-medium school puts parents off. It’s particularly true in some parts of Wales where there is a Welsh-medium primary school but there is a substantial journey to the Welsh-medium secondary school. Monmouthshire is an example that springs to mind—Ysgol y Ffin, Ysgol y Fenni—it’s a long way to Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw from there, and steps must be taken to make sure that they’re able to access secondary education, particularly, more locally. Generally, local authorities have to produce their Welsh in education strategic plans. We look at those plans and, if we judge them to be inadequate, then we do not approve those plans. It is for local authorities all across Wales to show that they are providing sufficient access to Welsh-medium education in order for those plans to be effective.
The Welsh Government has an ambition to see 1 million Welsh speakers by the year 2050. Now, in order to reach that target, we need to get as many children as possible starting their education through the medium of Welsh. As you have said, it’s difficult for you to discuss this individual issue, but just as a matter of general principle, do you acknowledge that in those rural areas it costs more to get children to go to those schools? Is there any recognition of this within Government to make this possible? Because if we want to reach that target, as you said, we have to make it as easy as possible so that those parents don’t see any barriers in their way.
Well, generally, of course, the further that children have to travel to be educated, the greater the obstacle. That is true specifically of secondary schools, and that is part of the consideration we’re giving to the Welsh in education strategic plans. As regards to the target of 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050, I won’t be in this post at that point, if I may say that, but the final document will consider the relationship between the language and economic development, and that is something that will be published this year, and, of course, the situation of education will be considered carefully as part of that whole process.
I’ve raised these issues in correspondence with the Minister around a month ago. I’ve not yet received a response, but I very much hope that I will receive a response soon. Issues of school transportation have been raised, but one thing that is problematic if you are trying to provide bilingual education in rural areas is how you actually hold events outside of school times and ensure that transport is available to arts and sports activities, and so on. So, what does the Government have to say in general in terms of that difficulty in ensuring that there is a fair option in making the choice of Welsh-medium education?
One way of ensuring that there are more activities available, for example, is to ensure that you have more Urdd branches. For example, in my area there’s one Welsh–medium secondary school and it’s in the Llynfi valley. It’s not very central to the county, but every child in the county goes there, even those that come from the Ogmore valley--they have to travel across two valleys to get there. The Urdd does hold lots of activities so that children don’t have to go to Llangynwyd every time—they can go to Bridgend or Porthcawl, which ensures that children have access to a Welsh ethos outside the school without having to travel too far.
7. How is the Welsh Government supporting armed forces personnel in Wales? OAQ(5)0593(FM)
Whilst responsibility for serving armed forces personnel lies with the UK Government, we have made clear in our programme for government our commitment to support serving personnel and their families so that they are not disadvantaged by their service.
Thank you. My further question is more about the wider armed forces community. Earlier this year, at their request, I, with Andrew R.T. Davies, met a group of women veterans, all of whom have suffered injuries on service and all of whom told us they were also dealing with mental health issues as a consequence of their service. How do you respond to the concern they expressed to us—and I’m quoting them—that ‘with more and more veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan it’s now taking three months to get an appointment with Veterans’ NHS Wales then three to six months to see a specialist and then they can only deal with mild to medium trauma because there are no acute services, and they’re having to travel to England for treatment for their mental health and rely on charities’?
If the Member writes to me with more detail on that, I will of course investigate. But generally, we have produced a ‘Welcome to Wales’ booklet, specifically for serving personnel and their families while living in Wales. It gives information on the support and services available in one place. They include free swimming, of course, across all 22 local authorities, a fast-track referral pathway for specialist healthcare, an enhanced flexible childcare offer, and of course access to education. We work pretty closely with organisations such as the Royal British Legion as well, to make sure that we give the veterans who have given so much what they deserve when they are living in Wales.
First Minister, the children of service personnel who have been posted overseas are in danger of receiving a patchy education. In postings where there is no official school provision, these children are sent to international schools, which may not follow a set curriculum. As a result, the children may be ahead in some areas and behind in others. What is your Government doing to ensure that children of service personnel who have attended international schools are fully assessed and receive additional support if needed?
The Supporting Service Children in Education project within the WLGA has been funded through the European social fund since 2014 to mitigate issues of mobility and deployment. That project has produced a guide for parents of service children about the Welsh education system, and for teachers on supporting service children. The latest resource to be produced by this project is the digital stories resource, which was launched at the end of last year. In addition, the MOD has operated the education support fund, although we understand that that funding will come to an end next year. The Cabinet Secretary for Education has written to the MOD, asking them to explain that position.
8. What policy will the Welsh Government follow to encourage and support sporting success in Wales? OAQ(5)0596(FM)
Our policies on sport are set in the context of ‘Taking Wales Forward’ and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Our investment in sport, via Sport Wales, focuses on encouraging participation amongst all ages and ensuring sporting infrastructure is in place so that talented sportsmen and sportswomen reach their potential.
I thank the First Minister for that answer. I believe it is really important, for reasons I think all Members here would recognise, First Minister, that we support sport and physical activity at an elite and grass-roots level in Wales. So, I would like to return briefly to Newport County’s success, because I believe it’s very important for both levels. We had a local boy, Michael Flynn, as manager, taking over the team 11 points adrift at the bottom of the table, near the end of the season, and completely turning it around with a dramatic winner in the eighty-ninth minute of the last match of the season to retain professional football for next season in Newport, showing the importance, I think, of local input into team, and of course it is a supporter’s trust. We will now have Premier League funding for grass roots community and sports activity around football into the future—long into the future, I hope—and at the same time, we’ve seen Newport rugby club shareholders vote for a Welsh Rugby Union takeover, which will keep regional rugby in Newport, and also nurture the game at a local grass-roots level. So, I think professional sport and grass-roots sport are looking strong in Newport at the moment, First Minister, and I wonder if you would join me in paying tribute to all of those people involved in making that a reality, and particularly the grass-roots support.
Absolutely. I saw the scenes at the end of the game, the scenes of joy, when the second goal went in against Notts County. In fact, I tweeted at the time. I’m more than happy to congratulate Newport County. I think the Dragons have a bright future as well—they need more financial stability, but that seems to be coming together. I fully recognise the importance of sporting development. The national football centre is in Newport, of course; the Football Association of Wales over the past few years has been transformed as an organisation, and now has, of course, a training facility in place where there was none before. And, of course, in terms of the importance of individual physical activity, I know how important this is, and I know, indeed, that the Member for Newport East has spent the last 18 years telling me how important it is, and I have failed to follow his advice.
9. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for the manufacturing industry? OAQ(5)0606(FM)
We continue to take a broad range of actions to support the manufacturing sector across Wales.
Figures released last week show that UK industrial output shrank for a third month in a row, with the manufacturing sector falling by 0.6 per cent, and the UK’s trade deficit doubling to more than £10.5 billion. As a country here in Wales with a proud industrial and manufacturing past, it’s sad that the proportion of apprenticeships in manufacturing fell from 6 per cent in 2006 to a dismal 2 per cent in 2014. Those are StatsWales’s figures, in case the First Minister wants to accuse me again of misrepresenting the facts. Does the First Minister agree with me that it is unacceptable to dither for over a year with a new economic and industrial plan for this country? What hope is there for a future in industry for Wales on a global level when we’re not providing the next generation with the skills to deliver?
Well, can I remind him that it is a key commitment of this Government that we will fund a 100,000 apprenticeship for people of all ages over the course of this Assembly term, something that we think is hugely important? He’s right to point out that manufacturing is of greater importance to the Welsh economy than it is for the UK as a whole. Some 10.8 per cent of the Welsh workforce are in manufacturing compared to 7.6 per cent for the UK. I do not accept what he says about dithering: we brought Aston Martin into Wales; we brought Qatar Airways into Wales. At the moment, the advanced materials and manufacturing sector team is currently working with 88 companies, wishing to locate or expand in Wales. So, far from dithering, we’ve been hugely active and the investment figures speak for themselves.
10. Will the First Minister make a statement on the roll-out of the Superfast Cymru programme in Montgomeryshire? OAQ(5)0594(FM)
The Superfast Cymru scheme has, to date, facilitated the roll-out of superfast broadband access to over 46,500 homes and businesses across Powys, including, of course, Montgomeryshire, delivering average speeds of 87 Mbps and investing over £13.3 million.
Thank you, First Minister. We are now eight months away from the drop-dead date, when the Superfast Cymru project—. It does seem to have a continuing miscommunication issue with residents. I’ve been contacted, for example, by one constituent from Adfa who has complained that even though he had confirmation of superfast broadband via fibre-to-the-premises technology in February of this year—also confirmed to me in writing by the Minister—he has now been told that the situation has changed, and the technology to be used is fibre to the cabinet, and that he now is too far away from the cabinet to benefit from the upgrade. So, the situation here, I think, I hope you’ll agree, is unacceptable: one minute he’s told that he’s going to receive up to 330 MB, and then the goalpost is changed to find out that he’s not going to benefit at all. Now, back in February, there could have been other solutions that he could have taken forward through other technologies, which are no longer available. Would you agree with me that it’s important that people are given the right information in the first place?
Absolutely. Perhaps, if the Member could write to me with the details of his constituent’s problem, I will, of course, investigate.
Thank you, First Minister.