102 speeches by……and 19 more speakers
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from David Rowlands.
1. When will the report on the investigation into the sale of land to South Wales Land Developments Ltd be published? OAQ(5)0735(FM)
The Auditor General for Wales published his report in July of 2015 and the Public Accounts Committee published its report in January of 2016.
I thank you for that reply, First Minister. First Minister, you’ve set up an inquiry into what was described by a committee of this Assembly as a cavalier approach to disposal of public assets, which was scandalous. And this deal has also been described as one of the greatest blunders of recent times in Wales. Therefore, does the First Minister not agree that this inquiry is a test of the competence of the entire framework of scrutiny and administration that makes up devolved administration in Wales? Further to this, is it not true that the magnitude of this blunder demands that the necessary checks and balances are put into place as soon as possible to make sure this sort of debacle does not occur again? At the moment, there appears to be a perception that this matter has been kicked into the long grass.
Well, no. The auditor general recognised that we acted quickly and appropriately once concerns were raised. We commissioned a review of the governance of the regeneration investment fund for Wales, and a peer review of the professional advice, which was conducted by Deloitte, and we made the results of both of these reviews available to the auditor general.
The Public Accounts Committee concluded that RIFW and Welsh Government lost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds. Yet, the Welsh Government has claimed it’s not possible to demonstrate that land was sold under value. In responding to the PAC, Welsh Government confirmed that a legal process had been initiated, and said further legal steps were under review. Will the First Minister confirm whether that process and those further steps are civil, regulatory or criminal? And, if he is to seek damages, can he confirm that he first needs to accept that he made a loss?
There are legal proceedings that are ongoing, and, as a result, I cannot comment further.
The facts of this matter are that, just to take Lisvane, land was sold for £2 million, which weeks later was said to be worth £41 million. The issue is a stain on devolution, and I believe it’s a stain on your First Ministership. Do you support South Wales Police reopening the investigation into the Lisvane land deal?
First of all, we must be careful because there was involvement with Ministers from his own party as well. But, regardless of that fact, this was not an episode that reflected well on those who were part of it. That much I accept. Nevertheless, there are legal proceedings that are still outstanding and, as I say, I cannot comment on those proceedings while they remain current.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the recent Estyn monitoring report on Coleg Cymunedol y Dderwen? OAQ(5)0733(FM)
I am very pleased to see that Coleg Cymunedol y Dderwen has made sufficient progress against its recommendations from the core inspection in October 2015 to be removed from special measures. And I hope, of course, the school maintains and continues to improve.
I’m delighted that the First Minister has seen that report, and he will note that the comments of Nick Brain, the executive head of the school, have been that they’ve flown out of special measures. I think it may even be unprecedented—the turnaround has been incredible. I remember shortly after the not-far-short-of-a-crisis that the school went into, the headteacher standing up in a prize-giving ceremony in that school, when their heads were down, and saying, ‘I tell you, we will turn this school around rapidly’ and, by that summer, they had achieved record GCSE results. Will he join me in commending not only the headteacher, but all the school staff, the support staff, the teachers, everybody involved in the school there, but also the governors as well, and also the pupils? This has been a difficult time for the school, but to fly out of special measures in this way, with the support of Bridgend County Borough Council local authority, with the support of Welsh Government and the Schools Challenge Cymru funding, has been an incredible turnaround, and it shows what can be done with leadership at all levels for the good of our pupils and our students.
I think that analysis is absolutely right. Nick Brain has an established track record elsewhere in the county borough. But it shows the difference that leadership can make to an institution that is going through a difficult phase. The staff are pretty much the same, the pupils are pretty much the same, but the leadership, clearly, was not there, in the way that people would have expected. It is there now, and it’s fantastic to see the progress that’s been made.
Can I just add my voice to those sentiments as well? I think this is amazing news for Coleg Cymunedol y Dderwen. Even so, the report does note that the curriculum currently limits continuity in the development of pupils’ Welsh and modern foreign language skills, and that it plans to address those in 2017-18. Well, bilingual and even trilingual skills, as I hope you accept, could be agents of social mobility, and, of course, we have the 1 million speakers target. So, is there any support that Welsh Government might be able to give the school, or the consortium that’s involved in this, or additional advice or support, in order to make sure that they actually crack this in this next 12-month period?
We do stand ready, of course, to provide advice, as will the local education authority. But I’m confident that, with the leadership that is in place in the school now, they will be able to meet the challenges that they have been set and, of course, to continue with the good progress that’s been made.
First Minister, it is good news that Coleg Cymunedol y Dderwen is out of special measures, and the staff and pupils should be congratulated on making strong progress against the majority of Estyn’s recommendations. First Minister, what help is your Government giving to the school to ensure they make better progress in improving the numeracy and literacy of pupils, and how will your Government ensure this work is not affected by budget cuts imposed by the LEA? Diolch.
Well, primarily, of course, it’s a matter for the LEA to provide support for schools. But, ultimately, a school needs a strong leadership team, and that’s been established at Coleg Cymunedol y Dderwen. The results are there for all to see. And we expect, of course, schools, and the LEA, to adhere to Welsh Government policies and to provide advice on that basis.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch, Llywydd. The First Minister will know that the Welsh economy is worth about £60 billion a year, and, of that, £38 billion is accounted for by public expenditure, between the UK Government and the Welsh Government—about two thirds of the total. Does he agree with me that there is an urgent need for greater diversification? We do need to get more private capital into Wales, to generate more wealth to raise the tax base, and, therefore, to have the opportunity to spend more on schools, hospitals, et cetera. And that’s why the decision on the Circuit of Wales was particularly disappointing, because that was a project that offered £315 million-worth of private capital to come into Wales, and now that isn’t going to happen, instead of which we’re going to spend another £100 million worth of taxpayers’ money on an empty industrial park. Is this not an indictment of the Welsh Government that, after 20 years, we’ve gone backwards rather than gone forwards?
Well, the point I make about the circuit is that the circuit needed a Government guarantee at the very least. Now, if the circuit was in a stronger financial position, it wouldn’t need that guarantee. What we have done is to move forward with the technology park. It’s based on discussions we’ve had with potential investors. It’s based on the fact that, for some time, it’s been difficult to attract investment into some parts of Wales because of a lack of buildings where people can actually base themselves. And, thirdly, of course, it’ll have a heavy emphasis on skills. The last thing we want is for jobs to be created but for local people not to be able to access those jobs. And the technology park will deliver in all of those areas.
Well, the technology park will just deliver a set of empty buildings. There is no interest in those buildings that the First Minister can point to that gives any guarantee that they’ll be occupied for any automotive firm, or any other firm, actually, whereas, at least with a world-class race track, in the light of decisions that might be made in Silverstone, where formula 1 could move away, then this is an obvious hub to form a cluster of related industries. Without that, there is little prospect that this will be any more successful than the Ebbw Vale enterprise zone in attracting jobs to a part of the world that desperately needs them.
Well, as I’ve said, the reality is this: we have spoken to potential investors and there is interest. We’re not looking to put a building up there that won’t be filled. The reason why we’re moving ahead as we are is because we have taken soundings, and we have listened to companies—companies such as TVR, who are coming to Ebbw Vale, and others—who are interested in creating that automotive cluster. They all said to us that a circuit was not essential to their business plans and they still want to work with us to deliver those jobs. Bear in mind, of course, that the circuit itself would have created very few jobs indeed. It was the phase 2—the technology park, which we’re looking to build— that would have created most of the jobs.
Well, of course, it has been said by the developers all along that the great advantage of this facility was to be the centre of a much larger collection of firms that would generate jobs in the real economy of manufacturing for many, many years to come. Those jobs are now more speculative than before, but instead of a Government guarantee, which might never be called upon, we now have an actual promise by the Welsh Government to spend real money—taxpayers’ money; up to £100 million over 10 years—with no guarantee of a single job coming out of that beyond the construction phase. So, shouldn’t we really be doing a lot more than we are to make Wales an attractive venue for private sector investment, as I said in my first question, in order to raise the tax base so that the Welsh Government has more resources available to it to spend on all the highly desirable social objectives that we all share?
Well, I don’t disagree with the point he’s making. I remind him, of course, about the announcement by Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles last week of 300 jobs being created in Newport. We have just seen our best foreign direct investment figures for nigh on 30 years. It’s a sign that Wales is a place that businesses want to invest in, that we are getting better jobs. In the early 1990s, investment was attracted into Wales on the basis that we had the lowest wage rates in western Europe. Those days are long gone and nor they should never return. We are increasingly able to attract jobs into Wales on the basis that our people have the skills required, that, to quote Aston Martin, we have a Government with pride and passion in terms of selling Wales to the world, and the results that we see for FDI speak for themselves.
The leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. Do you believe Wales is moving towards free higher education or further away from it?
I believe we’ve put in place a fair package of funding for both undergraduates and postgraduates, and that is of course something that we are proud, as a Government, to do. The package available to students in Wales will be more generous than those in England.
I know it’s the end of term, First Minister, but that wasn’t a very convincing answer. I’ve heard a range of attempted justifications in this Chamber and outside from you and Cabinet members to the announcement that was made last week, but what I’m hearing from students is very different. The National Union of Students believes that tuition fees should be frozen and they say that the announcement your Government has made is a huge step backwards. They say that this will hinder access to education rather than help it, and they say that there should be pragmatic steps towards free higher education. Those students were quoting what was, up until last week, Labour Party policy. Why have you turned your back on them?
Well, the NUS signed up to the Diamond review, so it’s surprising that they now say that they’re not supportive of what is proposed. Of course, they will want to represent students—we understand that. What the Diamond review does is also provide funding—[Interruption.] What the Diamond review also does is to provide, for the first time, support for postgraduate students, which is hugely important. We stand by, of course, the manifesto promises that we made in 2016.
The Diamond review didn’t recommend a hike in fees, First Minister. And also, a number of parties signed up to participating in that review, but they didn’t sign up to implementing whatever outcome was recommended. That is down to your Government. First Minister, you’ve turned your back on students, and you must be hearing the same messages that we have been hearing. Plaid Cymru believes that higher education is a public good and should be funded across the education budget by the whole of society. Students want their universities to be better funded through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and through your Government, not from their own pockets. Students should not bear the brunt of that demand for better funding because there is a historic funding gap that exists due to your lack of investment as a Government. You want students to pay for the funding gap. We believe that that is unjust. Now, I note—[Interruption.]—that the announcement was made during the summer holidays—
Can we allow the leader of Plaid Cymru to continue please? We don’t need accusations being hurled around the Chamber. Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. That announcement was made during the summer holidays, when students had already left campus. At the end of this Assembly term, will you now give those students some well-deserved good news and abandon that tuition fee hike or does the Labour Party no longer believe in free higher education?
Well, first of all, I’m surprised to hear that she’s distancing herself from the Diamond review, which is news to me, I have to say, at this stage. Secondly, it is not sufficient for her to say that she wants tuition fees to be abolished without saying where the money’s going to come from. It is not serious politics to say that—[Interruption.] It is not serious politics to say, in Wales, that you want to abolish tuition fees and then not say where the money is coming from. We have to deal with the real world. [Interruption.] Secondly—
Let’s hear the First Minister respond. Let’s allow the First Minister to respond.
Secondly, is she saying fees for undergraduates, or for postgraduates as well? That is something that she needs to clarify. What we have done is recognise that postgraduate funding has not been there in sufficient levels in the past, and so the package we offer for undergraduates and postgraduates is both fair and in advance of that available in England.
Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, yesterday the auditor general issued this report into the Cardiff and Vale university health board’s contractual relationships with RKC Associates, which, for the uninitiated, is a human resources company. In the 10 years that I’ve being in this Assembly—and I’ve seen quite a few reports, in fairness, in those 10 years—this clearly is one of the most damning reports that I have seen. I’d be grateful to understand what your take is on it, given that the Welsh Government is cited in several references about giving permission for the contracts to be engaged with with this individual and, above all, being on the selection panel that finally allowed the individual to go forward and take this place with the Cardiff and Vale health board.
Well, these are matters, ultimately, for the health board to explain, but I know the Minister will be talking to the health board in order to get an explanation from them and will, of course, inform the Assembly in due course.
First Minister, I had hoped you’d be far better briefed than that. It isn’t exclusively a matter for Cardiff and Vale health board by any stretch of the imagination. This is a health board that is in some measure of special measures from the Welsh Government—financial scrutiny, in particular, because it faces a huge financial deficit of £30 million to £35 million, at the last estimate, in this financial year. The contract that was agreed and the terms of employment in certain respects were paying £1,000 a day plus expenses, plus VAT, according to the auditor general. There is little or no transparency; there is little or no accountability. There is an inability for the auditor general to actually understand how the appointments were made, because there does seem, amongst the former senior executives of the health board, to be pointing to someone else as making the decision and just going round and round in circles. The one clear person who is involved here, because she was on the selection panel when the final appointment was made, is the health board chairman, who was sitting on that selection. Do you have confidence in the health board chairman given the accusations that are put—not the accusations, sorry—the proposals that have been put in this report from the auditor general himself? Because we have seen it time and time again: when these things run out of control, they can have disastrous consequences for the running and management of the health board in delivering services here in Cardiff and Vale.
Well, first of all, the health board is not in special measures. He said it was a kind of special measures, but it’s not actually in special measures in terms of the definition of the term. Secondly, the health Secretary will be taking the matter up with the health board, will be demanding answers, and those answers will be shared with the Assembly.
I notice you didn’t give a vote of confidence to the chair of the health board, and I offered you that opportunity. Can you not understand how frustrated and how angry members of the health board feel when they see a report like this that identifies consultants being brought in on £1,000 a day plus expenses? Over the 18 months of the employment, £26,000 plus VAT in expenses alone—that’s more than a nurse starts on, that is. And then, when a final contract was offered, they came to the Welsh Government to seek permission to raise the ceiling from £136,000 a year to £150,000 a year. Now, this is a health board that has been in the news because of the court case last Friday—that staff are facing prosecution and also demands for payment of incurred fines. But, more importantly, there will be huge anger among key members of the health board and patients who use that health board when they understand the cavalier nature in which this situation has arisen. It cannot be allowed to continue. As I said, the Welsh Government’s permission was sought to allow these arrangements to progress, and the Welsh Government gave its permission. So, you do have a key role to understand this and actually make sure it doesn’t happen again. I also note that the director general of the health service has written to all health boards in Wales to understand whether there are any arrangements like this in other health boards. Are you in a position to clarify the position on your understanding of arrangements, in particular when it comes to consultancies like this in other parts of Wales that could bring the health service into disrepute?
Well, first of all, I do have confidence in the chair. Secondly, this matter is something that needs fuller investigation, and Assembly Members will be told what the outcome of that investigation actually is. He mentioned the issue of staff car parking. This has been something that’s been in the news recently. It is important, I think, that the reasoning behind the court case is understood. The reason why enforcement was put in place was because there had been a death on the site, partially due to illegal parking and partially due to the traffic flow going through the site. Some 16,000 traffic movements go through the University Hospital of Wales at the moment, and it is right that there is proper enforcement of illegal and unsafe parking. That has to happen on a site that is this busy. Why these individuals went to court and what advice they received is difficult to know. I do know that one of them in particular had 59 parking tickets. Again, no explanation is given as to why that is. It’s unfortunate for those individuals—I understand that—but it is hugely important that there is proper enforcement on the UHW site in terms of safety, and to stop people parking there all day, in order to make sure that patients who arrive on site do have places to park. So, enforcement has to happen. Otherwise, are we saying that people can park there without any fear of any kind of penalty? Things have gone very far with regard to three individuals; it’s difficult to know why that is. I can say that the idea that they face costs of £150,000 is nonsense. We don’t know where that figure has come from and that has absolutely no basis in fact. But UHW is a site where there is a great deal of traffic movement and there does need to be enforcement regarding that movement.
3. Will the First Minister make a statement on what the Welsh Government is doing to improve public transport in Pembrokeshire? OAQ(5)0729(FM)
The national transport finance plan, published in July 2015, sets out investment for public transport for 2015-20 across all parts of Wales.
First Minister, your Government has recently decided, once again, not to prioritise any train stations in Pembrokeshire, despite the fact that certain stations, such as Milford Haven station, do need significant improvements. Now, I appreciate that when you as a Government invest money in rail projects, you will do this with stakeholders such as Network Rail, Arriva Trains and so on, but given that you are spending significant amounts of money, can you tell us what you’re doing to ensure that any Welsh Government funding that funds improvements is distributed fairly, so that all parts of Wales are taken into account?
There are criteria that are open and that can be seen, and that are used to decide which stations should be supported over the years. It’s a completely open process. It doesn’t favour any part of Wales. It just considers the investment required. Of course, through the investment of Welsh Government, the Fishguard town station was opened, after being closed for many years. There are also more services on that line. We always consider how we can improve the rail services and the bus services in Pembrokeshire.
First Minister, you confirmed on Friday in the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister that the franchise won’t be one where all profits are returned to Government, but one where you have to contract with a private company. So, what steps are you taking, therefore, to ensure that any profits that come from growth and investment made by the Welsh Government in that franchise are returned to people in Pembrokeshire and beyond, and that we don’t see the current situation where one company is making a profit on the back of public funding?
That is something that I would accept. I can say that and nothing else, I think. We don’t have the opportunity to run the railway ourselves or through a management company. But it’s crucially important that we have a model that is as close as possible to one that reinvests any profit back in the service itself, and also to ensure that the people of Wales see an increase in the quality of the service—not just having more trains, but also trains that are good ones to travel upon. That’s extremely important as part of the franchise.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government support for enterprise zones? OAQ(5)0732(FM)
Yes. We remain committed to supporting the existing eight enterprise zones located across Wales and a written statement will shortly be published to detail how that’s being achieved.
I just want to thank the First Minister for that response. The 1980s enterprise zones were not successful in Wales, with the largest in Swansea becoming a large out-of-town shopping area. In fact, the term ‘enterprise zone’ in Swansea is used to define an out-of-town shopping area. When are the current zones going to be reviewed, and what will constitute success?
Well, success, of course, involves creating more jobs. It does not involve creating another shopping park, which, as the Member rightly says, happened in the lower Swansea valley in the early 1980s. I can say, in terms of governance, that the Cabinet Secretary met with the enterprise zone board chairs on 12 June to have an initial discussion around enterprise zone governance and the future direction of the enterprise zone programme in Wales. I know that the Cabinet Secretary plans to meet the chairs again at the end of the summer to continue those discussions, focusing on ensuring that future arrangements meet the requirements of the Government and emerging Government policy.
First Minister, there are eight enterprise zones across Wales. None of them cover my own constituency. I would say, in mid Wales, there is a great feel for entrepreneurship and there is a higher level of business start-ups than perhaps in other parts of Wales. So, what I would ask you, First Minister, is: do you think there is a case for an enterprise zone, or a growth deal, for mid Wales, particularly focused on growing businesses and creating higher paid jobs?
We’ll always examine that case. I mean, two things are important for his constituency. First of all, of course, is infrastructure, with broadband being one element of that. Secondly, there is an issue with the electricity grid, which is controversial, I understand, in his constituency, but the current grid is not particularly strong when it comes to developing manufacturing in the future. He knows, as I know, how controversial pylons are in his constituency, so I’ll leave it at that. But, it is an issue that will need to be resolved in the future. But, I’m more than happy to consider what such a growth deal might look like, how it would work geographically, as well, in some parts of Wales, and, of course, I share with him his desire to see more and better jobs closer to home.
Many people feel that the Circuit of Wales was a massive missed opportunity for the Ebbw Vale enterprise zone. Last week, referring to a pre-arranged meeting with the company, you said that ‘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.’ The chief executive of the company, Martin Whitaker, said that, ‘Clearly that statement is incorrect.’ ‘We made it clear that we did not agree with this assessment.’ First Minister, which of you is lying?
What I said is correct. I stand by my words.
The last of those eight enterprise zones is actually in Port Talbot, in my constituency, and the only one in South Wales West. But it is important that we see that now used to actually grow the local economy and grow local businesses. How are you monitoring the progress in that enterprise zone to ensure that that actually does take place and that the purpose of the zone is actually being achieved?
We’re confident that the enterprise zone is working well in Port Talbot. We know, of course, that there’s an opportunity for world-class manufacturing; the development, for example, of full ICT infrastructure that will develop for us a relationship with Tata Port Talbot; developing the energy and environment capability of the enterprise zone; construction of appropriate business and office units; and assisting the building of a Baglan bay innovation centre. I can say that, since the inception of the zone, a number of inquiries have been received, seeking information about support for growth or new locations. These are at the early stages of development, but there are, potentially, some significant inward investments.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's approach to inclusive work-based learning? OAQ(5)0736(FM)[R]
Last week, the Minister for Skills and Science set out the Government’s agenda for employability. Working Wales recognises this Government’s commitment to ensure work-based learning remains inclusive for all, irrespective of need.
Last week, I met with Dr Stephen Beyer of Cardiff University, who is working on the Engage to Change project, which was set up using money from dormant bank accounts and based on a partnership between the Big Lottery and Welsh Government. The aim is to get 16 to 25-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training and who have learning disabilities and/or autism into long-term employment. One of the organisations working with it is Trinity Fields School and Resource Centre in my constituency, where I’m a governor, and I declare an interest. I think it’s got an important role, this project, in supporting job coaching and work experience for those young people. I think it could also have implications for transition under the new arrangements being brought forward by the additional learning needs Bill. Would the First Minister therefore support a model of this kind if the pilot through Cardiff University is proven to be successful?
Yes, we’ll look to see, of course, how the model works, and we’ll evaluate the model, but we’re very keen to make sure that we have as much available to get people into work, particularly those who have learning disabilities and those who are on the autistic spectrum, and of course we look forward to seeing what the results of the project are.
I am sure the First Minister will agree that higher education should engage with work-based learning to address the economic imperative for the supply of workers with appropriate skills and knowledge to equip them for the changing nature of work in the present job climate. What is the Welsh Government doing at the moment to encourage increased co-operation between employers, employers’ organisations and further and higher education to deliver and expand the relevant workplace learning in Wales?
We work very closely, of course, with employers because we know that work-based learning is hugely important to develop people’s skills in the future. We are looking at how to develop people’s employability and how we work with businesses in order to make sure that people have the skills they need for the future.
Many employers feel young people leave the education system today lacking the practical skills they need for the labour market. Many people have degrees, for instance, but are not regarded by employers as being work-ready. Do you think that the university system in Wales could do with a shake up?
I think universities have actually improved over the years in terms of the way they work with business. It’s true to say that some 10 years ago the link was very tenuous. Universities didn’t see themselves as needing to work with businesses in the way that they do now. I’ve certainly worked with universities and gone to universities where they are working very closely with business, and where they see themselves as an economic driver to create start-up businesses. That’s something that I very much welcome.
6. Will the First Minister make a statement on the importance of patients’ voices in the provision and development of health services? OAQ(5)0743(FM)[W]
It is key that the voice of citizens is continually heard when developing and providing high-quality health and social care services.
Well, yes, it is, and your Government is currently consulting on scrapping statutory community health councils. I see this as a retrograde step and a dangerous step, particularly for us in north Wales, because we need a strong, independent voice that is locally based, and that can challenge the health boards and challenge the Government when needs be. The health council in north Wales has made over 500 ward visits in the last year, which is some 500 more than Healthcare Inspectorate Wales have done in north Wales. We need to broaden the role of the health council, not centralise it into an ambiguous national body. Now, the new model that has been mentioned in your consultation is based on the Scottish health council, which has been recently described as a ‘toothless hamster’. Do you agree that going down that route in Wales would be a major mistake?
Well, we know that a number of people have argued that we need a new model in order to ensure effective representation of citizens in health and social care. This isn’t anything that will weaken the voice of the citizen. Of course, we wish to hear people’s views on the schemes and plans that we have for a new, independent body and, of course, we would be very happy to hear what Members and members of the public have to say in order to ensure that this is something that will strengthen patients’ voice.
First Minister, will you join with me in welcoming the construction of a new state-of-the-art £350 million hospital in Cwmbran, named the Grange University Hospital? It will help to modernise health services across Gwent for my constituents also in Islwyn. Judith Paget, chief executive of Aneurin Bevan university health board said, and I quote, ‘We have received fantastic support from local people living in the Health Board area as they understand the benefits this hospital…will bring.’ First Minister, isn’t this the Welsh Labour Government and the Welsh national health service in synergy, working together, listening to patients in the provision and development of health services? How can we continue this good practice in the interests of our people, who know that the NHS is safest in Welsh Labour hands?
The Conservative benches didn’t welcome that statement. They were complaining about it. I sense the Member’s enthusiasm, which is great, but not as great as that of the Member for Torfaen, whose enthusiasm is there for all to see within the Chamber itself. But this shows, of course, that we are investing in modern health facilities for our people, and this is a great example of that happening under a Welsh Labour Government.
Getting back to the original question, the Vale of Clwyd Trades Union Council, in responding to the 29 June Welsh Government White Paper, quality and governance of health care in Wales, proposing the abolition of community health councils, said that because of its make-up, the North Wales Community Health Council is the ideal body to be our patients’ voice and watchdog. How do you respond to that statement and to the response by the North Wales Community Health Council that the proposals would see the end of long-standing arrangements set up to place power in the hands of local people to monitor how their NHS services are working, and, for example, the proposed new citizen voice body would not have legal rights to hold health organisations to account for the way in which they deliver their services?
Well, we’ll examine that response, along with many others, and that will inform the final decision that we take. The fact that something has been in place for many years doesn’t necessarily mean it should continue in the future, but we look forward to the results of the responses that we get through the consultation.
7. What is the First Minister's assessment of the homelessness situation in North Wales? OAQ(5)0741(FM)
Well, our focus on prevention is having a positive impact in both north and south, with almost 8,800 households prevented from becoming homeless.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. You’re probably aware that every year, about 15,000 people become homeless in Wales, including 2,800 children. Of those, a few hundred will be living on the streets. Last week, my office was able to help find accommodation for a former armed forces veteran who, because of mental health issues, found himself homeless. According to homeless charities, there’s an estimated 7,000 ex-servicemen and women living on the streets in the United Kingdom. What is your Government going to do with local authorities and other associated agencies to ensure that your armed forces covenant in Wales is fulfilled?
Well, we have developed a number of distinct approaches to support some of those members of our community most at risk of homelessness. That includes the new housing pathway to help ex-service personnel; the national pathway for ex-offenders; the pathway to help young people avoid homelessness and an accommodation framework for care leavers to ensure they get the help they need to find suitable accommodation. That pathway is in place because we recognise, of course, that there are many members of the armed services, together, of course, with others who are particularly vulnerable, who need that specific help.
Local authorities across Wales, according to your Government, are expected to provide some form of cold weather provision for homeless individuals and rough sleepers, irrespective of whether there is a statutory duty owed to them. Guidance on this policy, First Minister, though, is very ambiguous. Certainly, in my own authority, there are no set temperatures or indications of what kind of weather conditions are included within the policy. Therefore, how this is applied can vary on an almost daily basis during very extreme weather conditions. What discussions will you hold with regard to introducing a more uniform guidance across Wales, so our most vulnerable homeless and rough sleepers are not, quite simply, left out in the extreme cold?
That process has started. But, of course, there’s nothing to stop the local authority doing this themselves and actually saying what their guidance will be, what temperatures they will recognise. There’s nothing to stop them doing that, but, nevertheless, we are moving forward with the process of starting to look at strengthening the guidance to introduce greater consistency across Wales.
May I draw your attention to a recent case of a constituent who was homeless? Citizens Advice and I tried to assist him in securing a crisis home until a more permanent home could be provided for him. I understand the pressures on local authorities, naturally, but in this case the council didn’t believe that they could place this individual in the priority category. But in this case, what we had was an individual who had a mental health diagnosis and who had a support worker that had been designated to him. Now, in that sort of case, do you, as First Minister, agree that we must consider those who have a mental health diagnosis as priorities?
It’s very difficult, of course, to—. As regards people with mental health issues, nobody would argue against ensuring that they have the support they need. If the Member would write to me with the details of his elector, then I would be happy enough to consider the situation to see what we can do to help.
8. What action will the First Minister take to counter-balance the UK Government’s job centralisation programme in relation to the Department for Work and Pensions? OAQ(5)0742(FM)
The Minister for Skills and Science met with Damian Hinds MP, the Minister for employment, last Thursday. Our Minister stressed our profound concerns and urged that the DWP work with the Welsh Government to explore alternate solutions, including co-location where feasible, to ensure that good jobs can be kept locally.
Thank you, First Minister. I too met with Damian Hinds last Wednesday, along with the MP for Llanelli, Nia Griffith, and once again found him to be urbane but indifferent to the plight of the workers in Llanelli, where the 150 jobs will be relocated. An estimated 50 of them will not be able to take up that offer of relocation because it simply isn’t practical on part-time work to be able to travel to Cardiff. The impact will be significant in areas like Llanelli. Despite the pledge of the Prime Minister as part of her industrial strategy to spread the wealth, and, as you say, despite the offer of the Welsh Government to help to relocate the offices to assist the Department for Work and Pensions, there was no intention to engage seriously with the Welsh Government on this. When the Welsh Government brings forward its economic strategy later in the year, will you make sure there are specific provisions to rebalance the economy to compensate for this centralisation programme that the Tories are pushing through?
Well, our mantra is ‘better jobs, closer to home’. That guides what we do. We know that it’s hugely important that Government jobs are available across Wales. We’ve done that; we’ve opened our offices across Wales. Those offices that existed in Carmarthen, in Caernarfon and Llandrindod, we’ve always resisted the pressure to do away with them. They are still there, because we know how important they are to the local economy. Unfortunately, the same principles and values are not shared by the DWP.
It’s very disappointing in terms of what’s happened in Llanelli, specifically the fact that so many people aren’t able to relocate. But in turning to your response to Lee Waters, your own jobs strategy does talk about the closure of offices too. You talk about reducing the number of offices to some 14 or 15. So, in reality, how are you different to the DWP?
Well, some offices have closed over the years—very few people worked there and they were very close to other offices. What we will never do is centralise jobs in the future. That’s why jobs have been moved out of Cardiff over the past 10 years, and that is something that we wish to take further.
9. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve access to healthcare services in Monmouth? OAQ(5)0730(FM)
The new Grange hospital, of course, represents a significant commitment of £350 million that will provide services for the people of Monmouth and, of course, the former county of Gwent. And that, of course, will represent a significant step forward in terms of healthcare for the people of Monmouthshire and beyond.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister. It was a pleasure to join the health Secretary yesterday at the new Grange University Hospital site—a much better name, I think, than the old ‘SCCC’ that we’ve been calling it for so long. It’s been a long time coming. I think it was 2007 when I first attended a meeting about the construction of the new hospital. Back then I remember a discussion about this not just being about the critical care centre, but the way it would free up space at existing hospitals such as the Royal Gwent and also Nevill Hall, and that that would allow for future reconfiguration. Back in 2007 it was anticipated that there would be a new Nevill Hall by now in 2017-18. Clearly that has slipped back. What is the timescale for the remodelling of the health services surrounding the critical care centre—the second piece of the pyramid, so to speak? Because the critical care centre is very important, but it is one part of the overall health jigsaw in south-east Wales.
Well, bear in mind, of course, that our capital budget was cut by 40 per cent, so it was difficult for us to move forward with the programme as we would have wanted to over the last few years. That said, of course, there have been already a number of local service improvements, including direct access to physiotherapy at Nevill Hall. There’s community dietitian and weight management services available there now, enhanced community diabetes services and enhanced pharmacy management of patient medication. So, already we are seeing the development of new services in Nevill Hall, and that development will continue, of course, in the future, and after the Grange hospital has opened.
Question 11, Neil Hamilton. Question 12, Mark Reckless. Question 13, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
13. Will the First Minister make a statement on the protection of war memorials in Wales? OAQ(5)0734(FM)[W]
War memorials are an important part of our heritage, and a permanent reminder of sacrifices made and losses sustained by communities. I am pleased that the Welsh Government grant scheme, launched in 2014 as part of the commemorations of the first world war, has helped to protect war memorials across Wales.
Mi gofiaf i heddiw fel y diwrnod lle cyrhaeddom ni gwestiwn 13, ac mae fy niolch i Neil Hamilton ac i Mark Reckless am fethu ag ymestyn am eu ffeiliau yn ddigon cyflym. Rwy’n ddiolchgar o gael y cyfle, ac mae hwn yn fater, digwydd bod, rydw i’n teimlo’n reit gryf yn ei gylch o. Mae cofebau’r rhyfel mawr—mi wyddoch chi amdanyn nhw—ar sgwâr y pentref yn bethau sy’n cael eu gwarchod, ac mae Cadw yn gwneud gwaith arbennig yn eu gwarchod nhw. Ond mae yna gofebau rhyfel eraill o gwmpas Cymru—mewn capeli, er enghraifft, neu hyd yn oed mewn hen ffatrïoedd—sy’n cofio pobl sydd wedi colli eu bywydau mewn rhyfeloedd. Mae angen gwarchod y rheini hefyd, ac a gaf i wneud apêl ar Lywodraeth Cymru i sicrhau bod gwaith yn gallu cael ei wneud—mi allaf i roi’r Llywodraeth mewn cyswllt â’r bobl sy’n gwneud ymchwil yn y maes hwn—er mwyn ein helpu ni i warchod ein treftadaeth ni ar gyfer y dyfodol a chofio’r rheini a gollodd eu bywydau?
A gaf i ddweud fy mod i wedi cyrraedd cwestiwn 15 o’r blaen, ond dim ers amser, achos roeddwn i’n cael fy nghyhuddo o roi atebion rhy fyr. Achos hynny, penderfynais i fod yn rhaid i mi, felly, ehangu’r atebion yn y pen draw. Rwy’n gwybod bod cofeb Llanrhuddlad ar Ynys Môn yn cael ei ystyried ar hyn o bryd, ynglŷn â chael ei restru fel cofeb sydd yn arbennig. Mae honno’n enghraifft anarferol, rwy’n deall, o gofeb a gafodd ei ail-ddylunio ar ôl yr ail ryfel byd ac sydd â ffigwr milwr o’r ail ryfel byd arno. Un o’r pethau oedd yn rhaid i ni ei wneud pan ddechreuom ni’r cynllun hwn oedd sicrhau ein bod ni’n gwybod faint o gofebau oedd yna, achos nid oedd gan neb rhestr ac nid oedd neb yn gwybod ble yn gwmws yr oedden nhw. Ond beth sydd wedi digwydd lan i nawr yw bod mwy a mwy o bobl wedi ystyried bod gyda nhw gofeb ac wedi, wrth gwrs, ystyried bod yn rhaid cael bach o arian er mwyn sicrhau bod y gofeb honno yn cael ei chadw yn y ffordd briodol. So, felly, os oes yna rai ar Ynys Môn, mae’n hollbwysig ein bod ni’n gwybod ble maen nhw, ac, wrth gwrs, mae’n hollbwysig eu bod nhw’n gwybod ym mha ffordd y gallan nhw gael unrhyw fath o help.
Thank you, First Minister. The next item on our agenda is the business statement and announcement, and I call on Jane Hutt to make the statement.
Llywydd, I want you to consider a point of order.
Ah, right. This is a point of order, not your statement. Okay. Point of order—Jane Hutt.
Diolch, Llywydd. I want you to consider a point of order made regarding Adam Price’s question, which I felt was inappropriate in relation to Standing Order 13.9, to the First Minister in relation to the Circuit of Wales this afternoon.
I listened to the question clearly. There did not seem to be any accusation that needed to be ruled out of order in that question. It was clearly a question put to the First Minister, and the First Minister clearly answered the question. I don’t consider I need to say any more at this point.