75 speeches by……and 12 more speakers
Our first item is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Janet Finch-Saunders.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's support for the farming industry in Wales? OAQ(5)0726(FM)
Yes, we will continue to work side by side with our farmers and other key stakeholders to deliver our shared vision of a prosperous, resilient agriculture industry.
Thank you. ‘Panorama’ this week looks at how Brexit could impact on our farmers here in Wales. Now, as Mr Jacob Anthony from your constituency said on the programme, the EU has ‘one agricultural policy that’s meant to fit all 28 nations…countries farming reindeer in the Arctic Circle all the way down to farmers in the Mediterranean growing olives.’ How are you, therefore, working with the UK environment Secretary, and others, including the Farmers Union of Wales, towards developing the best possible deal for our farmers that is better suited to Wales, and will you outline your response to the National Farmers Union’s policy document ‘The Vision for the Future of Farming: A New Domestic Agricultural Policy’?
Well, it’s not actually correct to say that one size fits all in Europe; of course there are variations across Europe. And nor should it be the case that one size should fit all, nor should it be the case that one size should fit all in the UK for that matter, because our farming is quite different. The structure of our farming is quite different, for example, to that of many parts of England. We’d be more than happy to work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary of State if only he would bother to meet with us, because one of the things that he did was to cancel his quadrilateral meetings with Lesley Griffiths as Minister, and with Scotland, for last month and this month. So, we’d be more than happy to meet with him. I’m sure the Minister is looking forward to doing that. I understand he will be at the Royal Welsh. Perhaps he will meet with us then. But what I can say, absolutely clearly, is that it does not bode well when the first action of a DEFRA Secretary of State is to cancel meetings with devolved administrations, and, secondly, it is hugely important that, when the repeal Bill is published, there is an acknowledgement that it is not for the UK Government to take the powers away from Brussels that should come to Wales and keep them in London. Under no circumstances will we support that.
Does the First Minister agree that we should look into the possibility of employing an experienced industrialist to ensure that if there are any barriers to farmers, in terms of high tariffs, in accessing the European market, we can say what we can of Welsh agriculture through ensuring that far more Welsh produce is procured for our schools and hospitals, even if that costs a little more? This industrialist could also be responsible for developing better collaboration between farmers in order to ensure that Welsh food that is of high quality can be provided in a reliable way to Welsh supermarkets and supermarkets across the UK.
Well, first of all, of course, any kind of tariff would be a disaster for Welsh farmers, and, secondly, any kind or restriction as regards access to the European market would be bad for the farmers of Wales. We’ve been working with farmers and food companies to try to ensure that more bodies in the public sector in Wales actually procure their food from Wales, and, of course, local authorities or other organisations don’t have to buy the cheapest. We’ve seen an increase, for example, in the amount of meat procured from Wales going into the health service because we worked with producers to ensure that they can ensure that the supply chain is reliable. But we must, of course, emphasise the fact that this won’t make up for seeing the loss or any restriction on the European market.
Thank you, Llywydd. I’m sure the First Minister would want to join with me in congratulating South Caernarfon Creameries, the co-operative company, on making the best profits ever in their long history. I visited the site very recently and saw that there’s a future for this sort of collaboration in the agricultural sector, and it is also true that those profits were based on significant investment of European funding and support from the Welsh Government. Now, in moving forward, your own Cabinet Secretary for finance has given us an assurance that there will be an internal target of 80 per cent as regards spending from the structural funds in order to meet the needs and ensure we make the most of that. Will you set a similar target for your expenditure on the rural development programme, so that companies such as South Caernarfon Creameries can invest for the future, and everyone else in Wales too?
Well, the funding is actually being issued, or is being spent, at the rate that we would wish. We have until 2023 to spend that money, and there is no reason to believe that the money would not be spent. May I join the Member in congratulating South Caernarfon Creameries? That’s the very first place that I went to when I was a Minister—some time ago now. And I remember the history—I think that it was established in 1933. So, that demonstrates how successful it has been. But, I’ve said before that we must ensure that more co-operative groups, or companies, come into the farming industry in Wales. It’s not a view that is always welcomed by farmers or others in the industry. But we must ensure that farmers can secure a fair price for their produce, and one way of doing that is to ensure that they work together in order to ensure that they don’t have to sell as individuals. We know that that would mean that the buyers would have all the power.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on staff redundancies in Welsh universities? OAQ(5)0727(FM)[W]
We are aware that a number of institutions are currently reviewing their staffing structures. We expect them to engage in meaningful discussions with members of staff and trade unions, and also the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, to explore the implications for individual institutions and their students.
I’d like to congratulate my local university, Bangor, because that’s the only university in Wales to win a gold award under the UK Government’s teaching excellence framework, which is a wonderful result, confirming that Bangor University is maintaining excellent standards of teaching and learning consistently for its students, and that the provision in Bangor is of the highest quality seen in the UK today. But, I also note that Bangor University, along with almost every other university in Wales, is consulting on possible redundancies—117 possible compulsory redundancies in Bangor alone. Unfortunately, so many of our universities are being forced to take these steps at the moment. Do you agree that it’s about time that the Welsh Government considered this situation in earnest, and provided additional financial resources for our universities as a matter of urgency?
Well, the universities are, of course, independent, and so it’s up to them to take their own decisions. We, of course, do not welcome any situation where people could lose their jobs. But funding should not solely come from the Government. They have a responsibility to ensure that more funding comes in from outwith the public sector and the public purse, and they should seek research funding, for example, and funds from the commercial world. They are duty-bound to do that. But, of course, we don’t wish to see anybody losing their jobs in any university. And I would say to the universities that it’s crucially important that they do everything possible to ensure that that doesn’t happen. That should be the last resort, not something that they do on their first consideration of the situation.
Well, Welsh universities, of course, make a huge contribution to the Welsh economy; around 5 per cent of the Welsh economy is as a result of Welsh university activity. And, of course, if you are losing staff from a university, very often they’re experienced and expensive staff, which the university tries to move on first. What guarantees have you had from the university sector that that will not undermine the opportunity for the sector to perform very, very well in terms of its contribution to the Welsh economy, particularly if significant numbers of staff are going to be shed as a result of reductions in terms of certain courses and income?
Well, I think it’s hugely important that our universities don’t hamstring themselves, in terms of the way they compete not just with each other—Wales is a very small market—but across the world. And universities must consider whether losing staff would mean that they are no longer able to provide a service for their students, and possibly no longer able to attract an extra income as a result. As I said in answer to the Member for Arfon, redundancies should be considered as a last resort and not as a first.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the opposition, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, the interim report from the commission on health and social care published its findings today. The Government obviously set this commission in motion, and the final report is due at the end of this year. Previous Labour Governments haven’t got a very good record when it comes to implementing detailed findings from commissions, such as the Williams commission for example. Can you give us a feel of what importance the Government attaches to the findings from the commission, and will they be the central plank for this Government, going forward in this Assembly, in the way it shapes health and social care—the recommendations that the report comes out with?
Well, we wouldn’t have set up the review on a cross-party basis if we weren’t going to take it seriously; obviously not. We look forward to the report when it’s published, and that will form the basis of our thinking for the future.
I think what’s important for us to understand, in fairness—. And I commend you for setting up the parliamentary review, because some of the findings that they’ve made available today are backed up by evidence, showing, obviously, in the next couple of years, we’ll see a 44 per cent increase in over-65s, and yet a 5 per cent contraction in working-age people, which shows that there are real challenges to be faced. And where those challenges can be faced cross-party, obviously, those solutions will come a lot easier. But it is vital to understand whether this commission and its recommendations will meet the end of many other commissions that the Government has commissioned—and I use the example again of the Williams commission—or whether these findings will actually form the central plank of Government thinking going forward to the end of this Assembly in 2022.
We have to remember, of course—. He mentions the Williams commission. The Williams commission was opposed by other parties in this Chamber; it wasn’t as if the Government decided off its own bat, despite the support of others, that the recommendations would move forward. With regard to health, this is a major commitment for us to make. We made it, of course, as part of our programme for government, and it is hugely important that we can do as much as we can to find common ground on health across parties, to understand what the challenges are, because the challenges are the same regardless of politics, and then to see how those challenges can be met. That’s very much part of our thinking. As I say, we will look forward to receiving the report and look forward to acting on as much of it as we can.
I think what would have given us more confidence is if we could have had a clearer answer that would have said, ‘Yes, this will form our thinking going forward—the recommendations’, and that ultimately you look forward to delivering those recommendations, rather than just looking forward to getting the report and then deciding what to do, because time is of the essence. As Mansel Aylward points out, the demographic time bomb has already gone off. The other part of the report talks about the skills crisis within the NHS and social care that needs addressing now—it talks of now, not in the future, but actually happening with our workforce planning at the moment. And, importantly, it talks about structures and the way structures will—and I think the words that they use is: ‘The scale of challenges mean the system is becoming unstable, which cannot be resolved by small, step-by-step changes.’ So, on this basis, then, do you believe that that leads to the obvious conclusion that there will have to be wholesale structural change within the NHS here in Wales and the social care sector, or do you believe that a more incremental approach can deliver the solutions that the interim report points to and that the final recommendations will suggest need to be taken up by the Welsh Government?
There has to be change—it’s clear. I wouldn’t use the word ‘wholesale’. I’m reluctant to express a view without seeing the recommendations of the report, for obvious reasons, but we would want to implement as much of it as we can and to seek consensus across the Chamber in order to do that. In terms of skills, there is no doubt that any kind of restriction on migration will make the skills situation worse because, of course, the social care sector recruits heavily from outside the UK, as, of course, does the medical and nursing professions. That’s an impact we can’t control directly here. But if he’s asking me the question, ‘Is this simply an exercise that we are taking forward without there being a clear end game?’, the answer to that is ‘no’. We want to make sure that, working with other parties around this Chamber, we can implement as many of the recommendations as possible. We have to see them first in order to make a judgment as to whether we can do that for all of the recommendations, or most of them.
Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, all of the opposition parties in the Assembly have called for a full independent inquiry into the decisions surrounding the Circuit of Wales project. Indeed, some of your own backbenchers have said that there are serious questions to answer. The first step in that process will be the publication of your own external due-diligence report, and you’ve agreed to publish this, but only when the Assembly is in recess. Now, for many of us, this looks like a Government that is seeking to postpone scrutiny for a decision that was itself postponed until after the election. Can the First Minister say whether his Government has yet asked the company and the external advisers if they are happy for that report to be published? And in terms of the one piece of information placed in the public domain, which you described as ‘unfortunate’, is the First Minister able to assure us that no-one associated with the Government was involved in its disclosure?
A leak inquiry has been initiated by the Permanent Secretary; that will have to take its course. Secondly, the process of talking to the organisations involved who are mentioned in the due diligence report has begun, with a view to publishing it. We want to publish as much of it as possible.
One of the reasons that an independent inquiry has been called for is because of a series of misleading statements made by the Government, often during election campaigns. I’m sure that is coincidental, First Minister.
You were asked on 7 April 2016 why the proposal had been rejected the day before, and you said, and I quote, ‘What happened originally was that they were looking for a guarantee of £30 million from us, it then went up to £357 million.’ When asked when that happened, you said, and I quote: ‘In the last few days.’ You, again, said to Wales Online on 11 April, and I quote again: ‘It was in the last few days beforehand. We weren’t to know the guarantee would be inflated.’ Yet a senior director of Aviva investors, Mark Wells, contradicts what you said. He denied that Aviva had requested a 100 per cent underwrite a few days before the rejection. He says and, again, I quote: ‘this deal had been worked up with the Welsh Government (through civil servants) for many months and nothing in our funding structure changed in the run up to this announcement.’ First Minister, only one of the two of you can be right. Can you tell us today which one of you is right and which one of you is wrong?
I was told on 5 April 2016.
So, that wasn’t a long-term discussion, is that what you’re saying, that you hadn’t been in long-term discussions with that company? Are you denying that now? You said on BBC Wales on 26 April this year, in the run-up to the election, just a few days before, ‘I want the Circuit of Wales to work, end of.’ You added that, since last year, the funding model had changed, in your words: ‘That is changing now; the model is better’, you said. Can you explain what changed between that statement before the election, and then the rejection a month later, after the election? You’ve told us that in the last 10 days or so, you were told about the balance sheet classification issue. Lots of concerns seem to have been arising for you, First Minister, in the last few days. Your Government’s been looking at this project for six whole years. Why was the classification issue not once, on this floor, raised by you? Why wasn’t it raised in the 28 different meetings that you had with the developers? And considering the £10 million or so of public money that has gone into this project, that could go up because the company behind the project says that there is a legal claim against this Government to be made? First Minister, you decided to postpone this decision until beyond an election. You decided to postpone the due diligence publication to when this Assembly was in recess. Why didn’t you decide to postpone the final decision so that you could have at least got Aviva and everyone else around the table to see if these issues identified in the last few days could have been resolved?
Well, first of all, I’m sorry I gave a direct answer to a question she asked; she was clearly knocked backwards by it verbally. But let me give you some more direct answers: the project six years ago is not the same project as the project we dealt with. It has changed many times in terms of its financial structure. The project that we looked at was a project that we had seen recently in the course of the last few months. It’s a project, of course, that was based on the guarantee that’s out there publicly. We looked at the financial structure that was proposed, we went through the due diligence, and the due diligence revealed that there was a very high risk of the cost or the guarantee being regarded as being on balance sheet. I don’t know if she knows what that means, but ‘on balance sheet’ means that it'll be treated as if we had given the company money now. It would mean we would find £157 million-worth of capital reductions in this financial year—that’s the risk that we took. We worked with the company to see what we could do to help. There was a meeting between the company and officials after the decision. It was explained to the company what the issues were, and they accepted it. They clearly haven’t spoken to her because the company accepted the issue with regard to the issue of being on balance sheet and the risks that that posed to us—they did not argue with it. Could I suggest she talks, perhaps, to the company to take their view on this? One thing that Plaid Cymru have never said is whether they agreed with the decision or not. Until we know whether they agree or not, so we can assess whether they think that there are high risks to be taken with Welsh public spending, then, of course, I cannot accept a lecture from the leader of Plaid Cymru.
The leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
Llywydd, I agree absolutely 100 per cent with everything that the leader of Plaid Cymru has just said—[Interruption.] There are occasions when UKIP can be ecumenical. In the interests of the Welsh people, this is one of them, and it’s something that, perhaps, we can follow up in the Public Accounts Committee, if not in a public inquiry, if that be not granted. But I want to ask about the First Minister’s forthcoming meeting with Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator on Brexit, which I understand is happening on Thursday. Is he going to use this opportunity to complement the UK Government’s negotiating strategy or to seek to undermine it? I believe that the First Minister accepts that we are going to leave the single market, and the Government has said it is going to leave the customs union. That is something that I don’t believe to be negotiable. I read that he is going to say to Michel Barnier that it is vital in the interests of Welsh jobs that we remain, if not members of the single market, at least with full frictionless access to it, but does he not accept that, when you go into a negotiation, like Michel Barnier himself, you should play hardball, not softball. If you go into a negotiation accepting the fundamental tenets of the other side’s arguments, then you’re not likely to get the deal you want, but a worse one. So, what he should explain to Michel Barnier on Thursday is the advantages of mutuality here, both to the Europeans and to the British of having the maximum possible free trade between us. Simply using it as an opportunity to grandstand against the negotiating strategy of the UK Government is likely to fail anyway, but will also do the Welsh Government no good in its dealings with the UK Government at home.
Well, I’m grateful for his display of telepathy, telling me what I’m going to say on Thursday, and I’m grateful for his advice on that. I can say that I’m not going there to negotiate; I’m going there to explain the position that we have taken as a Government in our White Paper, agreed with Plaid Cymru, and our position is very clear publicly that, whilst we are leaving the EU, the terms upon which we leave the EU are hugely important. As regards undermining the UK’s negotiating strategy, I have no idea what that is. Until we have a better idea of what the UK Government’s own view is on these things, rather than different voices—Boris Johnson again today, Michael Gove saying something different, David Davis saying something different, the Prime Minister saying something she’s repeated several times over that she’s seen on a piece of paper—. We need to know what the position of the UK Government actually is. We don’t know that.
The First Minister’s obfuscating here. He knows perfectly well that the aim of the UK Government is the same as the aim of the Welsh Government, and that is to achieve the maximum possible degree of free trade between the UK and the EU. But this is a reciprocal process. If we are not granted free trade to Europe, we will not grant the EU free trade with us, and, given that they have a trade deficit of £61 billion a year with us, it’s as much in their interests as it is in ours—as it is in trade worldwide—that we reduce barriers to the free exchange of goods and services. So, if he uses this opportunity on Thursday to reinforce that message, he may do himself a bit of good with the UK Government by going with the grain. I wholly agree with what he said earlier on about DEFRA Ministers not meeting with Welsh Ministers. I do believe that that was disrespectful and unhelpful, but it may be that the attitude of the UK Government towards the Welsh Government is informed by the approach that he and his colleagues have taken to the Brexit negotiations. They may think, ‘What is the point of meeting with them, because they’re only going to disagree with us?’
Well, the Prime Minister went into the general election on the basis of obtaining a mandate to leave the single market, leave the customs union and leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. On each of those points she failed. She failed. The British people did not support that view, and so now it’s incumbent on us to find a way that provides the greatest level of consensus. Yes, we’re leaving. Yes, nobody wants WTO rules to apply, but they will apply unless there is at least a transitional period, because there’s not going to be a deal by March 2019. Nobody, surely, can believe that, given—. I’ve spoken to trade negotiators and they say to me that it takes 18 months to agree on what you’re going to talk about, let alone getting a deal. These things are, by nature, very, very complicated, so it is hugely important that we look at transitional arrangements. We have put forward our view: it’s in the White Paper. It’s very clear. Whether people agree with it or not, at least people can see that it’s there. I have no idea what the UK Government’s current position now is. That’s in no-one’s interests, and it’s hugely important that they work with the devolved administrations to get there. We don’t start from a position of trying to undermine the UK Government. We will be vocal, publicly, if we disagree with what they’re saying, but that’s not where we start. But, unfortunately, we can’t even get to that point because the UK Government at the moment has shut up shop to ourselves and Scotland. Now, that is not a sensible way forward if we’re going to get a Brexit deal that attracts support across the UK.
Well, I’ve made my point on that, but the EU comprises another 27 member states. With almost all of them, we have a trade deficit. In Germany’s case, for example, we have a trade deficit that amounts to £25 billion a year. One in 10 of every car made in Germany is exported to the United Kingdom. There is a massive interest in Germany in retaining the maximum possible free trade with Britain. There is a huge deficit in most agricultural products in the UK, and therefore there is, again, a mutuality of interest in maintaining the maximum possible freedom, for example, to export French wine subject to the lowest possible form of restriction. Therefore, I’m asking the First Minister whether he will take steps, along with his colleagues, to do a tour of the capitals of Europe to talk to the Governments of individual member states, because they won’t be involved directly in the Brexit negotiating process, in order to see what mutuality of interest we can engender there to help put pressure upon the EU Commission, which is, of course, unelected, to take the most liberal attitude towards free trade between our respective countries.
Well, first of all, it’s been made absolutely clear, and there is no dissent amongst the EU 27 about this, that the UK’s future arrangement cannot be as beneficial as membership of the EU. For obvious reasons, they take the view that you can’t have your cake and eat, to use that phrase. That’s the first thing to remember. The European Union is now stronger and more united, probably, than ever it has been. We must be very, very careful that that isn’t a unity against the UK, and diplomacy must be used to make sure that that doesn’t happen. This is not a negotiation of equals. The EU is eight times bigger than the UK. Its market is far, far larger. It’s far more attractive to foreign investors and exporters than the UK is, because it’s got far more consumers than the UK. So, we have to come at this from a realistic viewpoint. He makes the point about the EU exporting more to the UK than the UK does to the EU in terms of numbers. Well, it would be odd if it didn’t, given the fact that it’s eight times bigger; of course it’s going to export more in terms of money and numbers. But, if you look at percentages, actually we export far more of our exports into the European market than EU products coming into the UK. I think about 8 per cent of the EU 27’s exports go into the UK. From Wales’s perspective, it’s 67 per cent the other way. So, actually, as a percentage, we stand to lose far more than Europe does. Bear in mind, of course, the EU has just signed a free trade deal with Japan. The German car manufacturers will eye that very, very greedily, because they will look at that free trade agreement with Japan as a huge opportunity for them in a market that’s twice the size of the UK, bluntly—twice the size of the UK. The German car manufacturers have already said that, from their perspective, they’d want the UK to stay in. They are not going to press their own Government for some kind of special deal for the UK, and the Germans value the EU and its unity more than anything else. That’s been very clear over the course of the past few months. BMW are not a member state of the EU, and that’s something we should remember. We are realistic. Mutuality is important. A good deal for all is important, but, of course, we are now faced with a position with a Prime Minister who went into an election with a clear programme of what she wanted to do and lost, or failed—failed to win the election as a result of that. And that’s why it’s so important that the UK Government works with the devolved administrations to get to a position on Brexit that we can all try and support. But so far, the door’s been shut.
3. Will the First Minister outline the actions being taken to ensure children and young people in the Cynon Valley do not go hungry during school holidays? OAQ(5)0715(FM)
We’re providing £500,000 for 2017-18 to accelerate the roll-out of the Welsh Local Government Association summer holiday programme, and Penywaun Primary School in Aberdare is one of the sites benefiting from funding.
Thank you, First Minister. During the year 2015-16, there were over 8,300 children who were eligible for free school meals within Rhondda Cynon Taf. This means that more than one in 10 of all children in Wales who are eligible for free school meals reside within my county borough. New research from the Trussell Trust suggests that, and I quote, ‘lone parents and their children are notably more likely to use foodbanks, suggesting that, even compared to the low-income population, lone parents and their children are particularly vulnerable to needing food banks.’ This is especially a problem within larger families and is exacerbated greatly during the school holidays, when these families have no access to free school meals. We know that the Welsh Government has plans for an extended system of lunch and fun clubs, so I’d like to ask: how are preparations going ahead of the school holidays, which start in just a few weeks’ time, and what evaluation of the scheme in tackling holiday hunger will take place?
We are working with the WLGA in order to move the scheme forward, of course, in the coming summer holidays. Evaluation is in place. Evaluation, for example, of the previous scheme—of the pilot scheme, rather—was done, and indeed was published in February 2017, and the findings made in relation to health, social, and education outcomes, and the findings that we saw from the pilot scheme, are very encouraging.
First Minister, this is a very important issue, and I commend the education Secretary’s announcement, earlier this year, to pilot these lunch and fun clubs for primary schools at first. But I just wonder if it’s going to be a scheme you will examine for the secondary school sector, because helping those that receive free school lunches, in terms of healthy nutrition, eating, and a healthy programme of activities, educational attainment—all these things are very, very important. That group has some of the poorest educational attainment of any that attend school, some of it because the school holiday itself is not very conducive to keeping their pattern of learning going. So, this is an area, I think, that needs careful examination.
Of course, we’re—. Money restricts what we might want to do, but, with the programme rolling out over the course of this summer, of course there will be an evaluation of it, as I have said, and in future years, of course, we’ll keep under consideration how the programme might be extended, when and if the finance becomes available.
First Minister, your party has been running the Welsh Government for 18 years, and yet there are still children going hungry—200,000 children in Wales live in poverty. Don’t you think that it’s a disgrace that a member of your own party has to stand up here and ask you about children going hungry in the Cynon valley, when you’ve had so long to do something about that? Why have you failed? Why have you failed?
What does he do, as deputy leader of Cardiff, I wonder, in terms of taking this forward? Not much, I suspect, but he’s always keen, of course, to point the finger elsewhere. Look, he is right to point out that there are children going hungry. Much of that is to do with the current policies of austerity pursued by the UK Government, over which we have little or no influence, but we can see that there are more and more children who find themselves in families who are unable to cope financially, which is why we’re putting this programme in place, in order that, in Wales, we have a programme that helps young children through the summer, and makes sure that they can have food in their bellies over the summer. That is, to my mind, true socialism—true socialism—and something, indeed, we should be proud of in terms of what we’re doing in Wales.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on employability programmes in Wales? OAQ(5)0713(FM)
The Minister for Skills and Science will make a statement setting out the Welsh Government’s approach to employability later this afternoon. That will set out how we’ll deliver our ‘Taking Wales Forward’ commitment to reshape employability support in order to enable individuals to gain and maintain sustainable employment.
Thank you for that. As you’ll be aware, the UK Government’s Work and Health Programme in Wales is currently out to tender, forecast to reach 16,000 disabled people, those with health conditions, or those out of work for more than two years, although there are 270,000 economically inactive people in Wales, excluding students and pensioners, according to Welsh Government figures. How will you address concerns expressed to me that the Welsh Government’s employability programmes, which we will hear more about later, are currently, we understood, not projected to begin until April 2019, having slipped a year, and, further, that there will be only one prime contractor operating left in Wales despite the Welsh Government’s statement that it wants to use multiple suppliers, and that if it doesn’t act now it will be forced to rely on external companies coming into Wales to provide those services? Finally, in this context, to address the statement to the cross-party group on industrial communities today by the Bevan Foundation that, in terms of employability, we need a one-stop shop, with ‘wiring of schemes behind the scenes in a seamless service’, whether they’re UK, Wales, or third sector.
The Minister, as I said, will make a statement later on this afternoon. He is right to say that we’re looking to commence delivery of our new programme in April of 2019. While we transition to the programme—the new programme, rather—we are looking at what we can do now to better support individuals into employment. Those transitional arrangements will focus on making amendments to the current employability programmes for the interim period up to April 2019 in order to deliver greater impact. We’re testing and trialling these approaches to support the Valleys taskforce agenda. Again, there’s a statement on that, if I remember rightly, this afternoon, and that will inform the development then of the employability delivery plan.
The Welsh Government programme for government, ‘Taking Wales Forward’, includes a commitment to reshape employability support for job-ready individuals and for those furthest away from the labour market. It is important to recognise that employability is not just about jobs and skills, it is about getting every aspect of Government policy—education, health, housing, communities—working together to support people into sustainable jobs. First Minister, what does the Welsh people’s endorsement of Welsh Labour at the Assembly, local, and general elections over the last year say about how the people view our plans for increasing employability in our nation?
Well, can I say that it shows that the people of Wales trust Welsh Labour to deliver economically, socially, and for their communities? And, of course, we saw that again last month.
5. Will the First Minister outline the Welsh Government’s support for the Swansea Bay city region? OAQ(5)0712(FM)
Well, we are working with local partners to support business growth, to improve infrastructure, and to create a more attractive economic environment across the region.
Can I thank the First Minister for that response? The first supplementary budget provides an extra £20 million for the Cardiff city region. Will the Swansea bay city region get the same financial support from the Welsh Government when it needs it?
Yes. The Swansea city deal is structured around 11 major project proposals. There is a process set out that triggers the money going to Swansea in the same way as Cardiff. It’s not identical, but the Welsh and UK Governments have committed to jointly invest, subject to the submission and approval of full business cases in relation to the 11 identified projects and the agreement of governance arrangements for the deal, a sum of up to £241 million on specific interventions.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. It’s been over three months now since the deal was signed between yourself and the Prime Minister, yet, as far as I understand it, the governance structure is still unresolved. I think work does need to move on now on delivering those projects that are worth £1.3 billion to the local area and beyond, with a strong focus on the commercialisation and economic development of ideas, as well as the social and well-being goals, of course. I’m wondering: have you given any consideration to delivering the Welsh Government oversight of this through the economy and infrastructure department rather than through the finance and local government department?
No, there are no plans to change that. The reason why the governance arrangements haven’t been agreed yet is because the general election intervened, and that, of course, set back the timetable. But we are keen, of course, to get to a position where the governance arrangements are agreed in order to see the deal being delivered successfully.
What message would it send to those involved in the Swansea bay city deal region if we lose a huge renewable investment project in the tidal lagoon due to dither and delay by the Westminster Government? And have you had any indication at all that they’re going to make a decision on this?
What impression does it give? A poor one. Have we had any suggestion that they are close to making a decision? No. Again, there is no reason why this project should not proceed. The Secretary of State for Wales I think today said that he supported the Swansea bay tidal lagoon. Well, if he says he supports it, he must deliver it. He is the Secretary of State for Wales. He can’t say that he supports something and then say, ‘Well, of course, I can’t help to deliver it’. He has said that, and it’s hugely important then that he is able to make sure that his voice is heard around the UK Cabinet table. If the tidal lagoon doesn’t come, what assessment do we make of the voice of the Secretary of State for Wales around that table? So, yes, we know that 1,000 jobs will be created by the tidal lagoon. We know that the UK Government needs to make its mind up now in terms of the financial arrangements surrounding the lagoon. We know there’s been a review. We know that there’s no reason now why it should not proceed. If £1 billion can be given to Northern Ireland, there is no reason why the lagoon can’t proceed.
First Minister, the city region has the potential not only to transform the Swansea bay region but also to deliver wider benefits to Wales as a whole. The internet of life science and well-being could help reshape the way we deliver healthcare in future. Key to the success of the internet coast vision of the city region is the transatlantic cable. Can you provide an update, First Minister, on the progress made in bringing a fibre-optic cable from New York to Oxwich bay, which is within my region?
Well, I’ll write to the Member on that, but, of course, this is part of the ongoing development of business cases as part of the city deal. But I will write to her with more detail in terms of that specific project.
I very much welcome the news today that we’ve had that the Secretary of State, Greg Clark, will actually meet with a cross-party delegation of Chairs of prominent committees here to advocate the case, once again, for the tidal lagoon. I thank him for the courtesy he’s extended to that cross-party delegation. The First Minister will know that we had a debate here before the general election where there was universal support for the tidal lagoon and for the findings of the Hendry review here in this Chamber. It also has the backing of the higher education sector, the construction sector, the business sector, the CBI, individual businesses, the unions, local government, cross-party, right across the board. So, we’ll welcome the opportunity of taking that delegation and stressing the strong commitment. Would he agree with me that there could be no better signal of the UK Government taking an active direct interest in Wales in terms of energy, but also in terms of national infrastructure, than to give the go-ahead for the tidal lagoon in Swansea?
Absolutely. It presses all the right buttons, if you’ll pardon the use of that expression, in terms of job creation, in terms of sustainability, in terms of the environment, in terms of it being a clean source of energy, in terms of reliability and predictability. There is no reason why this project should not go ahead. We need that decision soon, so the UK Government shows that the amount of money it has already committed to Northern Ireland can be matched in part to the money it’s prepared to commit to Wales.
6. Will the First Minister outline what steps the Welsh Government is taking to encourage individuals to learn new languages? OAQ(5)0724(FM)
Welsh Government places a great value on the teaching and learning of all languages, be that English, Welsh, or modern foreign languages. As a demonstration of this, the Welsh Government has put in place Global Futures, a five-year plan to improve and promote modern foreign languages in schools.
Thank you for that response, First Minister. You may be aware of the Scottish language fair, which is free of charge to the public, and receives official support from the Scottish Government. The event is held for anyone who takes an interest in languages, and it includes seminars and taster sessions on languages and cultural performances in an incredible celebration of world languages. It’s a lively, exciting celebration that places minority languages alongside the major, or so-called major, languages of the world. Now, following this success, is the Welsh Government open to the concept of holding and supporting a language fair here in Wales?
Well, it’s true to say that we would be open to the idea. We would have to study how it works in Scotland. May I say to the Member, of course, that one of the things that will be happening in the autumn is that the language institutions of France, Spain, and Germany are going to open offices in Cardiff? That’s a very major step forward, because, of course, we need to ensure that there are a sufficient number of teachers available to teach modern languages. Therefore, that’s vital. But that idea is one that is worth considering.
The latest ‘Language Trends Wales’ report found that the teachers were extremely worried about the future of modern foreign languages. More than a third of Welsh schools now have less than 10 per cent of 14- to 15-year-olds studying a modern foreign language. The statistic is that 44 per cent of schools have fewer than five pupils studying foreign languages at AS-level, and 61 per cent have fewer than five foreign language pupils at A-level. Given that Global Futures is having a limited impact, what action will the Welsh Government take to stem the serious decline in modern foreign language learning in Wales, please?
Well, ‘Global Futures’, remember, is a five-year plan that’s aimed at improving and promoting modern foreign languages. So, the judgment of that will be after five years. There is no question that there will be a need for our students to develop foreign language skills in the future. One of the issues around Brexit that has not yet been properly understood or explored is that English is per se the second language of people in the European Union. If the UK leaves, the influence of English starts to diminish. What does that mean? It may mean nothing, but we don't know what that will mean in terms of other languages becoming more predominant then within Europe and the need for our own children and young people to learn those languages as a result. It’s why, of course, ‘Global Futures’ was published in October 2015 with a view, of course, to improving the situation markedly by 2020.
On very similar lines: 7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the state of modern languages teaching in secondary schools in Wales? OAQ(5)0725(FM)[W]
Well, I'm not very fond of saying ‘Can I refer the Member to my previous answer?’ but, of course, my answer is along the same lines, namely that we have a strategy in order to ensure that more language teachers are available and also, ultimately, that more pupils study modern languages.
It's been a pleasure to welcome pupils from three primary schools from Anglesey to the Assembly today: Ysgol Porthaethwy; Ysgol Corn Hir, Llangefni and Parc y Bont in Llanddaniel. I was discussing learning additional languages with pupils from Parc y Bont and Corn Hir, and the pupils from Corn Hir are already being given French lessons on a weekly basis. As bilingual pupils, they were very eager to see opportunities to push their linguistic boundaries. But, of course, the evidence tells us that there has been a great decline in the number of pupils learning a modern foreign language in secondary schools in Wales. The latest report from the British Council on language trends in Wales shows a decline of almost 50 per cent in terms of the pupils taking a GCSE and A-level now in a modern foreign language as compared to the situation 15 years ago. A series of Labour education Ministers has failed to prevent that slide. Does the First Minister now agree with the latest demand of the cross-party group International Wales that the talk of an ambition of creating a bilingual Wales ‘plus 1’ should turn now to action, particularly in the context of the fact that the new curriculum is in the pipeline?
It’s extremely important that we consider this. There is an emphasis, of course, today, in this Chamber and outside this Chamber on how we attain the target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050. But, of course, as the Member has said, that doesn't mean to say that we’re going to forget other modern languages. Of course, one of the things we will ensure that is done is that we yoke our Welsh language strategy to the ‘Global Futures’ strategy in order to ensure that our children have the opportunity to learn more than two languages in future.
I thank the First Minister.