64 speeches by……and 7 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 Janet Finch-Saunders.
1. How will the Cabinet Secretary ensure greater democratic accountability with any local government reform going forward? OAQ(5)0131(FLG)
Llywydd, the White Paper, ‘Reforming Local Government: Resilient and Renewed’, includes a number of proposals to ensure greater democratic accountability in local government. Consultation responses to this and other aspects of the White Paper are currently being analysed.
Thank you. Cabinet Secretary, Conwy County Borough Council, as you know, are now planning to move in to brand-new, state of the art buildings, with an original estimated cost of £35 million, but, of course, this was under the previous administration. However, freedom of information revelations now show that this cost has risen from £35 million to £58 million and has the potential to rise further. And that is excluding final accounts and associated maintenance fees. This agreement is essentially a private finance initiative by another name. Previously, under the local government reform process, the Minister made it quite clear that capital expenditure of this nature should not be happening. Given that now, but going forward, how will you seek to address in your forthcoming proposed legislation for local government reform that local authorities are not entering into contracts of this kind of nature that will simply, ultimately, incur huge costs on our future generations and, indeed, our council tax payers?
I thank the Member for the question. I have indeed seen the information that was supplied through FOI requests and, as far as I can see, that information does make it clear that all the decisions that led to the information in the public domain were made in full accordance with the council’s own democratic procedures. However, the White Paper, ‘Reforming Local Government: Resilient and Renewed’ does include a proposal for a new legal duty on local authorities to consult with partners and the public in budget setting and to do that annually, and no doubt some of the information that is currently in the public domain would have been in the public domain earlier had that procedure been in place.
Cabinet Secretary, one of the changes that you are proposing is joint boards, which I see as very similar to that of fire and rescue, currently. Do you see the benefits of having joint boards and do you believe that there is great advantage in involving as many members of the local authority as possible in these joint boards so that they can report back not only to their own council, but ensure that they can report back to their own constituents who, ultimately, they, and we, are always responsible to?
Well, I thank Mike Hedges for that question. He’s quite right that the White Paper does propose new regional arrangements exercised through what the White Paper calls ‘joint governance committees’. That model is the one most familiar to local government. It’s the way that cross-border service arrangements are most often currently delivered in Wales. They do draw on other models, such as police authorities in the past, where councillors from different component county councils—I was one, he may well have been one—were sent to represent our county councils on a joint board and then were held accountable to the local authorities from which we proceeded. So, he’s right to say there is a wealth of history in doing things in this way in Wales, and the key to doing them is to make sure that those people who sit on those boards are directly able to account for the decisions they take to their local authorities and to the populations that have elected them.
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on how the Welsh Government's budget will benefit the people of Wales? OAQ(5)0141(FLG)
I thank the Member for the question. The Welsh Government budget funds public services, supports our economy and invests in essential infrastructure. It has defended the people of Wales from the failed and foolish policies of austerity pursued by successive Conservative Chancellors at Westminster.
Well, thank you, Cabinet Secretary. Despite local government revenue expenditure per capita in Wales being 75 per cent higher than over the border in England, council tax payers here have a right to ask why their services have been cut, meals on wheels services discontinued, one in five public conveniences closed, a 23 per cent reduction in school crossing patrols, bin collections reduced to once monthly, fly-tipping incidents up by 14 per cent, and 142 schools closed since 2007. What plans do you have in place, moving forward with local government reform, to ensure that our local authorities have a process of careful and responsible spending so to sustain the much valued services our communities rely on?
Well, Llywydd, when constituents ask themselves those questions, they will undoubtedly find the answer in knowing that the reason that local public services are under pressure is because of the sustained actions of the UK Government in reducing the amount of money available for essential public services passed to the National Assembly for Wales and then inevitably having an impact on local authorities as well. This Government has provided Welsh local government, as a result of our budget and our agreement with Plaid Cymru as part of that, with the best settlement that it has had for a number of years. As I’ve said many times in this Chamber—I’ll say it again—it provides them with a period in which they have to plan for more difficult decisions that lie ahead, and those more difficult decisions flow directly from the decisions that have been made by her party in power at Westminster.
Will the Cabinet Secretary comment on recent forecasts by the Construction Industry Training Board that the Welsh Government's groundbreaking £1.4 billion twenty-first century schools programme will play a pivotal part in the positive area of growth, as evidenced in my constituency with the opening of the new Islwyn High School? So, will the Cabinet Secretary join with me and welcome this positive news for Wales and positive news for the Welsh economy and positive news for Welsh jobs?
I thank Rhianon Passmore, of course, for that question and, indeed, I have seen the report of the Construction Industry Training Board for Wales, and it says that construction output in Wales is expected to be stronger than in any other part of the United Kingdom over the four years to 2021. The reason why construction output will be that strong in Wales is, in part at least, due to the nearly £7 billion-worth of capital expenditure set out in our budget for the next four years, investing in schools, investing in housing, investing in transport. All those things bring work to the construction industry and it is why the Construction Industry Training Board for Wales is able to predict that very strong period of output over the next four years.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. UKIP’s spokesperson, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch, Llywydd. I wonder if the Cabinet Secretary will agree with me that Theresa May has performed a minor miracle in this election campaign by making Jeremy Corbyn look half electable. If he does pull it off tomorrow and Labour is elected on their platform of increasing corporation tax from its current 19 per cent to 26 per cent, that’s bound to have an adverse economic impact in Wales. Has he done any assessment of the impact on business confidence, business investment and, indeed, wages of such a marked increase in corporation tax?
Well, I would agree with him to the extent that the Conservative election campaign seems to me to be the worst led campaign since the charge of the Light Brigade, and we’re hoping to see the results of that tomorrow. I think he’s quite wrong in trying to draw a direct line between rises in particular forms of taxation and their impact here in Wales. What I am confident of is that a Labour Government elected across the United Kingdom, determined to create the conditions of economic success, determined to invest in the conditions that will lead to economic growth and fair economic growth shared by everybody, can only be to the benefit of people right across Wales.
I can’t believe that the finance Secretary seriously believes that such a staggering increase in corporation tax would have no effect on business confidence, business investment and, indeed, the capacity of companies to pay wages, and therefore the implication is bound to be that the true cost of such increases in business taxes are ultimately felt by ordinary people, both in forms of restrictions in wage increases or, indeed, actual wage decreases and, indeed, in unemployment. In 2009, the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation published a major economic study that concluded that a rise of £100 in corporation tax would reduce wages by £75 through a combination of lower wages and fewer jobs. Does he really believe that that’s in the interests of working people?
Week after week here in the Assembly, Llywydd, we hear the Member offer us his version of supply side economics. He is addicted to the Laffer curve, to which he made indirect reference there. I can’t remember which economist it was—it may have been J.K. Galbraith who said that the real explanatory power of the Laffer curve was that you could describe it to a congressman in six minutes, and you could go on repeating it for six months, and we’ve heard it repeated here for months on end. [Interruption.] Yes, coming up now for years. I simply reject the basic supply side approach that the Member takes. It is his belief that tax cuts lead to economic growth and tax rises lead to economic decline. I simply don’t think that that is borne out by the empirical evidence when these things have been put into practice.
There is massive empirical evidence that proves the opposite of what the finance Secretary is asserting. It’s not my study that I referred to a moment ago; that’s an academic study performed by the wholly independent Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation. It must be obvious that if you put up taxes, therefore that has some economic impact, whether through reductions or increases. And given that business taxes reduce the amount of money that companies have available for investment and, indeed, for distribution to shareholders and to employees in the form of wages, there are bound to be very significant repercussions of such a dramatic increase in taxes as Labour is proposing. In those circumstances, it’s bound to have an impact upon Wales in particular. And, as we have only 75 per cent of the average gross value added in the United Kingdom in Wales—we’re the poorest part of the United Kingdom—it’s the poorest people in the poorest part of the United Kingdom who are going to suffer most from a Labour Government.
Llywydd, Bill Clinton raised taxes. Tax take went up and public debt went down. His successor, George W. Bush, cut taxes. Tax take went down and he left office with public debt of 101 per cent of the level that Clinton had bequeathed to him in the final year of his presidency. It’s simply untrue to assert, as the Member does time after time, that there is only one direction in which economies can move, and his prescription, which is to cut taxes, give money to wealthy people, and take it away from people who otherwise would be spending it and creating economic activity, simply would be very damaging to the way we do business in Wales.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Adam Price.
I was wondering if we could return to the demise of the Barnett formula, rumours of which may have been exaggerated. We heard earlier in the week from the First Minister for Wales that it was going to be scrapped. Kezia Dugdale, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, as we know, is on the record as saying, ‘I’ll keep the Barnett formula today, tomorrow and forever’, which sounds pretty definitive to me. Now, the First Minister said that he has spoken to Kezia Dugdale. Well, on rare occasions, he even speaks to me, but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily agree. So, I was wondering if the Cabinet Secretary could bring his usual calm rigour to this question, and tell us what is meant by the long-term reform of how the UK allocates public expenditure that is set out in the Labour manifesto. Does it necessarily mean removing and replacing the Barnett formula? What’s the timescale of that reform, and when would its effects begin to be felt here in Wales if there is a change of Government at Westminster?
Llywydd, I listened carefully to what the First Minister said yesterday. I thought he was very clear in the position that the Barnett formula will remain in the short and probably into the medium term while its replacement is sought. That replacement will be a fair funding formula for the whole of the United Kingdom, and it will have relative need at its heart.
Let’s look at the short to medium term, then. The Welsh Government signed recently, in January this year, a fiscal framework with the Westminster Government. Would it be the intention of the Welsh Government, if there was a change of Government at Westminster, to revisit that agreement and to renegotiate some aspects of it—for example, the population related revenue risk that is an element within that, the limit on current borrowing and the fact, of course, that the needs assessment with that fiscal framework is already out of date? So, could we have a commitment from the Welsh Government that there will be an immediate renegotiation of that fiscal framework if the political weather in Westminster changes?
Llywydd, the fiscal framework already allows for it to be revisited. There is a mechanism within it that allows both the Welsh Government and the UK Government to require a relook at its terms. A new Government at Westminster will change many things in the relationship between ourselves and the Government that will be formed there. If a Labour Government is formed tomorrow, as we hope it will, then that fiscal framework will be part of that new relationship.
On the wider question of the Barnett formula, could I ask the Cabinet Secretary about something that I find very curious in the Labour manifesto? It sets out the creation of a national investment bank—I absolutely support that principle—a national investment bank with £250 billion of investment, of which £10 billion is to be apportioned to Wales and the development bank that’s being created here. Now, by my calculation, that’s around about 4 per cent of the total for the national investment bank, i.e. Wales is not even getting its population share, let alone a Barnett consequential, effectively, from that investment. And yet, we’re told that this is the tool that is going to reduce the disparity in prosperity across the UK. Finally, as well, the commitment on structural funds only runs to 2019-20. There is no commitment, actually, beyond that, to creating a long-term cohesion fund as part of a wider regional economic policy. On these two points, why, actually, is the Labour manifesto so incredibly weak in setting out real levers that can actually begin the work of lowering the disparity in wealth that we see across the UK?
Well, I was glad to hear the Member welcome the action that the Labour manifesto sets out to make sure that there will be a major investment in the sort of infrastructure that will be so important to the UK economy and to the Welsh economy. Our manifesto makes it clear that there will be a direct Welsh share in the investment that a new Labour Government will make, and I can say to him that, as far as the continuation of cohesion funds are concerned, my party is committed to the principle that the investment that Wales has been able to draw down from the European Union, based on our relative needs, will continue to be available to Wales post our membership of the European Union.
Conservative spokesperson, Nick Ramsay.
Cabinet Secretary, yesterday, the Welsh Government didn’t move the motion to agree the financial resolution in respect of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill—the first time, I believe, that this has happened, although there have been issues with previous costings for legislation. As Cabinet Secretary for finance, are you concerned that the costings associated with legislation that the Government brings forward seem to be often—at best—woolly, or as was the case yesterday, completely misleading?
Chair, I saw the letter that Alun Davies sent to all Assembly Members explaining why he wasn’t going to move the financial resolution yesterday and giving a very firm commitment to moving such a resolution in September, at which point Members will have an updated regulatory impact assessment. That will give Members the figures that I hope will give them confidence to support that financial resolution. The general point that Nick Ramsay makes is one to which I would respond by saying that I think it is very important that Welsh Government proposals come forward with as reliable an RIA as is possible. There are circumstances in which assumptions have to be made, and where you have to be able to make the best provision of information that you can in the circumstances, but it is the responsibility of Ministers bringing forward those pieces of legislation to make sure that we have done everything we can to make that information as reliable as it can be, and then for that to be tested by Members here. I know the Finance Committee is doing a piece of work looking at this aspect of the way that the system here in the Assembly works. I look forward to giving evidence to that inquiry, and I’m sure that there will be things that we will be able to take from it that will help us to strengthen the system to provide the sort of reassurances that Nick Ramsay was looking for.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I agree totally with the decision yesterday to delay or postpone the financial agreement of this Assembly to that Bill. In asking the question today, I’m in no way blaming you for some of the problems we’ve had around the costings for legislation; I’m purely asking you because, with your role as Cabinet Secretary for finance, you do have an overall view of the way, financially, that this institution and the Welsh Government operates. So, that’s the reason behind it. You’ve mentioned the Finance Committee. We did consider it this morning, and as a Member of the Finance Committee that considered the Bill’s regulatory impact assessment in the first instance, I share the Chair’s concern that major changes to that assessment were not shared with us until after the Stage 1 report deadline. It transpired that the Bill will cost £8.3 million over the four-year implementation period, rather than saving £4.8 million. So, I hear what you’re saying, Cabinet Secretary, about how this is an art in as many ways as it is a science in terms of predicting costs, and you can’t always be right, but in this particular case with that Bill that we were discussing yesterday, we’re looking at a difference of over £13 million—£13.1 million—between the prediction and what we now can expect that costing to be. So, these aren’t small details that led to the withdrawal of yesterday’s motion. Can I ask you: what input are you having into the timely provision of accurate financial data for new legislation so that these kinds of inaccuracies don’t happen in future?
Well, Chair, the way that the system works in the National Assembly is that each Minister is directly responsible for the production of the explanatory memoranda and the RIAs that go along with them. There is a piece of work that is done form the centre, through the office of the chief economist, to make sure that the methodology deployed in the RIA is one that would stand up to examination. The particular figures that are then used in that method are the responsibility of the individual Cabinet Secretary. The letter that Members received yesterday from the Member in charge of that Bill explained why the figures as originally anticipated have had to be revisited. I think, as Nick Ramsay said, it is the first time that a financial resolution has been postponed in this way. While I’m certain that the Member in charge would have preferred to have been able to move the financial resolution yesterday, the fact that he has a plan to bring it forward in September shows that the checks and balances in our system have successfully identified the need for further work to be done there.
Thank you. I appreciate fully that it’s the initial responsibility of the Member in charge, but you do, Cabinet Secretary, have an overall responsibility for the financial robustness of the Welsh Government—no easy task, I appreciate. And I do appreciate that the whole process with the regulatory impact assessments is a developing process, and I’m sure that the review being carried out by the Finance Committee under the stewardship of the Chair will deliver you some strong recommendations in that regard. Cabinet Secretary, we know that this Assembly is passing an increasing amount of legislation, and that will increase further in future. The pressure on officials who provide the financial data and the regulatory impact assessments will also increase inevitably, inexorably, so it’s important that we get this right. This whole process relies on accurate costings and transparency. Will you agree to work ever more closely with departments and Members in charge, working on legislation, to ensure that costings are accurate and that we as Assembly Members and, indeed, ultimately, the public can have confidence that we are keeping—all of us, and the Welsh Government and yourself in particular—a tight grip on finances as legislation is developed, so that the public finances in Wales in respect of the legislation that this place passes can be as robust as possible?
Llywydd, can I just make it clear that I agree with the central thrust of the questions that Nick Ramsay has asked this afternoon? It is an important responsibility of Government, in bringing forward legislation, to make sure that the costings that are attached to it are as thoroughly worked out and as reliable as we can make them. The system that we have is a maturing system. As it matures, we should be able to do better at it. The Finance Committee’s inquiry will, I think, be a helpful contribution to that, and it is the ambition of both myself as the finance Minister and all my Cabinet colleagues, I know, that when we bring proposals to the floor of this Assembly, they are as robustly underpinned by analysis and by data as we can possibly make them.
Question 3 [OAQ(5)0137(FLG)] has been withdrawn.
4. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on promoting diversity in Wales's democratic institutions? OAQ(5)0142(FLG)
A great deal of ground remains to be gained before we can be confident that Wales’s democratic institutions fully reflect the population from which they are drawn. Promoting diversity is a responsibility shared by all those with an interest in the health of Welsh democracy.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your response. As it is now 2017 and not 1917, I, along with many others, I’m sure, was dismayed to see the Vale of Glamorgan Council announce a new cabinet that consisted of seven white men following the local council elections. I welcome the Welsh Government’s initiatives to encourage diversity and applaud councils like Caerphilly, which, whilst not quite achieving full gender balance, has appointed four women to a cabinet of nine. If, as I hope, Merthyr council remains in Labour control following the delayed Cyfarthfa ward election tomorrow, I will be encouraging the council to make positive moves towards a gender-balanced cabinet there, but also acknowledge that there’s still much work to do in that council area, too. So, will you join me, Cabinet Secretary, in urging all local authorities in Wales to look at appointing cabinets that are far more reflective of the populations that they serve?
Llywydd, I absolutely agree that it is very important that political leadership at local level reflects the diversity of the communities that that local authority will serve. It is disappointing to see that there will be one council in Wales where diversity is at a pretty low ebb. It is the only local authority in Wales where that will be the case, and there are much better examples in other parts of Wales. There are some interesting new initiatives being tried in parts of Wales. There is a job-share post in the cabinet in Swansea, for example, which is contributing to gender diversity in the cabinet there. So, we see things moving ahead in many parts of Wales. We have four women leaders of councils now confirmed, which is nowhere near enough, but it is twice as many as we had in the last round. I would urge all local authorities and local authority leaders, in forming cabinets, to think about the way in which their local populations will want to see themselves reflected in the leadership that those council cabinets are there to provide.
I’m sure the Cabinet Secretary will want to join me in congratulating Councillor James Lusted in Rhos-on-Sea for his election to Conwy County Borough Council. Councillor Jay is the first dwarf councillor elected here in the UK. He’s got a very proud record on disability rights and activism. I wonder what you’ll be doing specifically not just to address this gender issue and problem that there is in Welsh local government politics, but also to ensure that people with disabilities are properly represented as well on local authorities.
I thank the Member for that question and for pointing to the important issue of disability and representation at local authority level. I congratulate all those people who stood for election and those who were successful, and particularly people who, in taking that quite brave step, sometimes, to put yourself in front of the public, will know that there will be some additional challenges that they will face in making themselves known and explaining why they could be somebody who would be able to represent people successfully. Our diversity and democracy programme, which we ran in the last Assembly from October 2014 to March of this year, came out of the report chaired by Professor Laura McAllister on creating more diversity amongst the population. Fifty-one individuals took part in that programme. Sixty-five councillors volunteered to be mentors to them. It included people with disabilities, and it was designed to try and help overcome some of the barriers that people face in putting themselves forward for election. And where people do it and do it successfully, they are very powerful role models to others who we hope will follow in their footsteps.
5. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on efforts to improve diversity levels in Welsh local government in light of the council elections? OAQ(5)0143(FLG)
I thank the Member for her question. As I just mentioned, prior to the local government elections, the Welsh Government ran a number of projects as part of the diversity in democracy programme. We now intend to undertake a full evaluation of the programme, looking at the people who participated in it and their success in elections, with a view to learning from it and taking the diversity agenda further forward.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. I know we’ve already discussed this issue here today—I just want to highlight the achievements of RCT council, where 43 per cent of councillors are women, as are four out of nine cabinet members, and, in fact, in my own constituency more female councillors were elected than male. Clearly, however, from the comments that we’ve heard here today, there is need for progress to be made elsewhere. Is there anything else you can add to the answer that you’ve already given to my colleague Dawn Bowden about how we can take more practical steps as well as urging local councils to follow best practice?
I thank the Member for that question and I share her congratulations to RCT and to the women who stood successfully there, and as I said in my original answer to Dawn Bowden, we are still some way from where we would wish to be in terms of diversity of representation across Wales. But there is some good news in that the number of women elected for the first time to local authorities in Wales in May of this year rose right across Wales, and there are some very talented—and often, young—new people coming into local authorities in Wales, and I think we are fortunate to see that new generation of politicians willing to come forward to do those important jobs. We will work, through the local government data unit, to analyse the patterns of people who are willing to stand and how people were elected in the elections that took place last month. We will look to build on our diversity in democracy programme, working directly with individuals, taking messages into schools, providing information on social media, to try to reach further into communities, to attract a wider range of individuals willing to put themselves forward for these very important responsibilities.
My wife’s 13-year career as a Flintshire councillor was too often characterised by misogynistic bullying. In her first week there, she had a private meeting with the monitoring officer, asking him to ask officers to stop referring to women councillors as ‘Mrs’, when they referred to all male councillors as ‘Councillor’. The next day, she was on the front page of the local paper: ‘Don’t call me “Mrs”.’ More recently, the deputy leader of the council resorted to social media to make misogynist, bullying comments against her, and then reneged on the remedies agreed under the ombudsman’s local resolution procedure. In the recent local government elections, a supposedly independent chief executive and returning officer e-mailed her with a threatening e-mail, stating if she didn’t remove evidence-based, party-political content from her leaflet, he—quote—would not want to be in the position of having to place a corrective piece in the press and on social media. This, and much more, made her ill, subject to anxiety attacks and no longer able to fight back. Will you agree that this sort of political culture must end if we’re going to bring more women forward into local government, and if you do agree that, what action—what party-blind action—are you going to take?
Well, Llywydd, let me put it positively: I think that there is an obligation on all local authorities, political leadership and professional leadership, to make sure that a context is created in which people from all sorts of backgrounds feel comfortable in taking on the responsibilities of elected office, and that the contributions that they make are properly recognised and respected. In the White Paper that I have published on the reform of local government, we propose new obligations to be placed on leaders of political groups within local authorities to uphold the standards of conduct that we would expect to see, and to make sure that respectful relationships between elected members that recognise diversity and celebrate it rather than attempt to eliminate it are put at the heart of the way that we conduct local government here in Wales.
6. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement about assets owned by local authorities? OAQ(5)0134(FLG)
I thank Russell George for that question. Local authorities own substantial assets in all parts of Wales. Those assets must be effectively managed and deployed to create wider efficiencies within local government and in collaboration with other public service partners.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your answer, which I very, very much welcome. The Newtown bypass is a huge opportunity for Newtown in mid Wales and I’m keen that Newtown town centre is supported when the bypass is completed. Now, there is an area of land owned by Powys County Council and used as a car park in the town centre, but due to an historical clawback provision the area has not been able to be developed or refurnished by the local authority. Now, there have been discussions between the Welsh Government, who seem to be enacting a clawback agreement, and the council but little progress has been made. So, in light of your answer to me, which I’m grateful for, that this land should be used for the best advantage, I would be grateful if you would be willing to meet with me, with your relevant officials, to discuss this in more detail to try and bring a resolution to this particular issue.
I thank the Member for the question. It’s not an issue with which I’m immediately familiar, so I’m perfectly happy to investigate it and to speak with him further about it.
7. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the Swansea Bay City Region deal? OAQ(5)0136(FLG)
Well, thank you very much, of course, for that question. The Swansea bay city region deal aims to boost the local economy by £1.8 billion, to generate almost 10,000 new jobs, and build on the many indigenous strengths of the whole region.
Thank you for that answer, Cabinet Secretary. Now, when the city deal was first developed, the notion of developing the internet coast was very much based on building a digital superhighway connecting the UK and North America, with a transatlantic broadband cable landing at Oxwich bay on Gower. Now, that element now receives less attention than it once did. Can you update us as to the latest position as to the delivery of the transatlantic cable and its importance for the success of the city deal?
Well, Llywydd, the Member is absolutely right that the cable was an integral part of the discussions that began the Swansea city deal, and the leadership that Sir Terry Matthews provided was very much connected with that idea of the internet coast. As the Member will know, the city deal, as finally agreed, has 11 specific projects at its heart. Two of those projects run right across the whole of the region area—that’s investment in digital infrastructure and initiatives to make sure that we develop the skills and talents of those people who live right across the Swansea bay region. The connector, and the way in which it will influence the deal as a whole, will now form part of the development of those project plans, because the final versions of them have to be approved by both the UK and the Welsh Governments, as well as the regional Cabinet that will form part of the governance of the deal.
Well, the leads taking this bid through faced some very rigorous due diligence from both the Welsh Government and the UK Government, and I’m sure that you’ll have envisaged certain milestones being set to mark progress promised, firstly in terms of delivery of that governance structure that you were just talking about, and secondly in terms of the sort of metaphorical spades in the ground, if you like, the actual beginning of spending of money on those projects. When is the first of those milestones in each of those two areas due to be reached and what mechanism is Welsh Government using to monitor progress against its own expectations for the outcomes of the deal?
I thank Suzy Davies for that. She’s quite right to say that the investigation of the deal was a rigorous process involving both Welsh Government and the UK Government. As a result, there are a series of mechanisms either already in place or now to be confirmed to make sure that that sense of rigour continues in the development of the deal in the future. So, the city deal delivery team, which is the on-the-ground team, have to provide quarterly reports of their activity to the UK Government and to the Welsh Government, and we keep on track with it in that quarterly way. As I said to Dai Lloyd, the 11 projects will not be finally signed off until the submission of full business cases to all partners, and we have an agreed implementation, monitoring and evaluation plan that will be put into practice now, post the local government elections and the coming together of the partners again, so we can be sure that, in advance of implementation, we can all be confident that the deal will deliver in practice the very real promise that it holds out for people right across the Swansea bay city region.
8. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the budget allocated to the economy and infrastructure portfolio in relation to road safety? OAQ(5)0140(FLG)
The economy and infrastructure portfolio will invest more than £700 million over four years in new transport infrastructure, and those plans will take account of road safety considerations. In this financial year, we are investing £11.6 million specifically for road safety initiatives across Wales.
Thanks for that. There seems to be a problem developing with school lollipop staff, or road-crossing assistants as they’re sometimes known, because the number has decreased by 23 per cent over the past three years. There isn’t currently any legal duty for councils to keep the crossing assistants, but, of course, they are needed to keep a perception of safe routes and will assist with walking to school and active travel targets. So, I wondered if anything could be done to protect the role of the crossing assistants.
Well, can I agree with the Member that the work that is carried out by crossing patrol staff in Wales is very important? The reasons for the reduction in the number of staff actually are more complex than they first seem. It is true that, as staff retire, councils in different parts of Wales have taken the opportunity to review whether or not a further post is needed. But the larger problem is actually in recruiting people to do this job. It is quite shocking, actually, sometimes, Llywydd, to read of the experience of crossing patrol staff and the abuse that they suffer from motorists in carrying out their jobs, and recruiting people to vacant posts has not been easy. In some parts of Wales, the problem has been partially solved by schools themselves taking a greater interest in filling posts, and town and community councils being willing to assist in that as well. So, there are some solutions that are being attempted. The issue that the Member points to is a real one.
Cabinet Secretary, in the latest year for which we have figures in Wales, 6.6 per cent of all road traffic casualties are cyclists. This is a slight reduction on the previous year, but still the second highest recorded figure since 1984. Do you agree with me that councils, and indeed the Welsh Government in its budget allocations, have to take safe cycle routes seriously, and we need to designate them, not by painting a line near the pavement down the length of the road, but be serious about having exclusive cycle routes to key destinations, particularly in our urban areas?
Llywydd, the most vulnerable road user groups are pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motor cyclists, and we’ve talked a lot in the Chamber here about motor cyclists and actions that can be taken to try to make roads safer for them. The big picture, as the Member knows, is that fatalities in road accidents in Wales have fallen over a 30-year period. The actions that the Welsh Government takes, using the £11.6 million specifically for road safety measures, include actions to support local authorities in the work that they can do to protect cyclists on their roads, and I’m sure that they will be aware of the points that the Member has made this afternoon.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.