23 speeches by……and 2 more speakers
I’ll move on to calling the Minister for her statement—Jane Hutt.
I’ve a few changes to make to today’s agenda, Llywydd. The First Minister will shortly move a motion to suspend Standing Orders to allow us to hold a debate on the publication last week of the UK Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Later this afternoon, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure will deliver an oral statement on the development bank of Wales. Business for the first three weeks of the autumn term is shown on the business statement and announcement found among the meeting papers, which are available to Members electronically.
In First Minister’s questions, I raised with the First Minister this damning report that’s come from the auditor general around the way that Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board has recruited someone to a senior position within its structures at director level, has engaged in carrying over considerable sums of public money—over £300,000 of public money—that there does seem to be little or no accountability over and an inability to provide invoices for. You’ll find real anger amongst the workforce of the Cardiff and Vale LHB area. I do believe that this report requires an immediate response from the Welsh Government so that we can understand exactly how the Welsh Government will work with the health board to meet these responses that are required to build confidence back in the LHB. As I said in my question of the First Minister, this LHB is facing a financial deficit in this financial year to the tune of £30 million to £35 million, and, when you see it engaging in employing consultants in the first instance on a £1,000 a day plus expenses plus VAT, and then agreeing an employment contract and seeking the Welsh Government’s permission to extend the pay banding up to £150,000 from the Welsh Government’s own ceiling of £136,000, there does need to be a response from the Welsh Government to reinvigorate the confidence that staff may have lost, because of this report, in the ability of the management and the directors to actually have good governance and look after the well-being of the LHB. So, I’d be grateful to the leader of the house if she could elicit either a statement or a letter to Assembly Members from the Cabinet Secretary for health to clearly outline how the department of health in the Welsh Government are dealing with this report.
I will only repeat what the First Minister said in his response, which is important, that it is a matter for the Cardiff and Vale university health board. Indeed, of course, we have received—I’m sure you have, Andrew R.T. Davies—. The chair has written and we have very clear statements made by the new chief executive of the Cardiff and Vale university health board on this matter. But I think it is important to repeat that the chief executive of the NHS in Wales, on the wider point, Andrew Goodall, has written to all of the health boards to seek urgent assurance that good governance arrangements in relation to procurement and recruitment are in place across Wales.
Cabinet Secretary and leader of the house, in May we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Wales coast path. Many people have walked that and enjoyed the benefits of that walk but, as such, they have no recognition for that walk. Can we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, or perhaps the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, depending on which one takes the lead on this, as to how we can actually encourage more people to take that walk, to give certification to people who do that walk, as on other great walks across this country, so that people will be recognised for what they’ve been able to achieve? Perhaps it can also be used as a beneficial aspect of tourism to actually have aspects or elements of that walk certificated.
I think it’s very appropriate that we take this opportunity, and thank you, Dai Rees, for raising this. Of course, the coast path’s been a great success. In fact, the report for 2014-15 showed that the economic impact of the coast path generates approximately £16 million of gross added value to the Welsh economy, and around 715 person-years of employment each year. In fact, recent research shows it’s higher than that. We also know, of course, about the health benefits that came through in the 2014 assessment. But I think it’s the links that also are important—to the other trails, like the Taff trail, and the coast path to the Valleys. And the certification of that and the paths, of course, that is a matter for the Cabinet Secretary to consider.
Leader of the Chamber, I’d like a Government statement on parking charges for NHS staff. I think we’re all aware of the court case last week, and nobody wants to see nurses having to shell out thousands of pounds simply for trying to park to do their job. Many of us feel that it’s not right either that a French company takes millions of pounds out of Wales just so that sick people and staff can get to a hospital. We’d like your Government to act as a mediator in this issue, and we’d like to know what is happening to make public transport to the Heath improve, so people don’t have to drive there. Finally, I’d like you to address the matter of the car parks being taken into public ownership by the Welsh Government, or compulsorily purchased by, perhaps, your colleagues across the way on Cardiff Council.
Thank you. Neil McEvoy’s very aware, of course, of the Welsh Government policy—very clear policy—of no car parking charges at hospital sites across Wales. We’ve been very disappointed, as I know he would understand, that the University Hospital of Wales contract has had to be maintained over recent years due to contractual arrangements that had been put in place, and the prohibitive cost if we were to try and withdraw from that. But the contract will cease in 2018, at which point there will be no charges to staff or patients. Assembly Members will all be aware across the Chamber that the chair, Maria Battle, has written to Members on sustainable travel and car parking at UHW, and, of course, recognising the very difficult situation, which the First Minister also responded to earlier on, in terms of the impact on staff.
Can I ask the leader of the house for a statement from the Welsh Government on the financial deficit faced by our secondary schools in the Newport area? When setting up the budget for 2017-18, Newport City Council was warned that there was a funding crisis with all secondary schools in deficit and some without reserves. I have been told that one of the schools in that area is facing a deficit of nearly £0.75 million, which is serious money. If this situation continues, it could lead to job losses and activities such as sports, music, and drama disappearing from our schools forever. Could we ask for a statement on this matter urgently, please? Thank you.
Well, the Member is fully aware that local authorities in Wales have the flexibility to set appropriate budgets for the needs of their communities. Funding for schools in Wales is up, despite the cuts to our block grant by your UK Tory Government. Last year, we delivered an extra £35 million to councils for school services and, indeed, data show that the funding delegated to schools has increased last year from £2.123 billion to £2.142 billion this year. We have committed, of course, to spending an extra £100 million over the Assembly term to raise standards. But I would also ask the Member, Mohammad Asghar, if he would like to ask Justine Greening whether we can have a fair share of the funding that she announced, which we understand is being taken from other budgets within the education allocation in England. Not a pound or a penny for our Welsh Government. Has it gone—? Is that because it’s gone to the bung to the DUP?
As everyone is aware, the fatal fire in Grenfell Tower that killed at least 80 people was caused initially by a fire that started in an electrical item. Can I ask for a Government statement on electrical safety, including proposals for tests for white goods, especially in high-rise flats, but I think that all white goods—? Can I just remind the leader of the house that any item taken into Tŷ Hywel, for example, has to be PAT tested before you’re allowed to install it?
Well, we’ve committed, as Carl Sargeant has said, to learning all relevant lessons from the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, and to take all appropriate action. That’s why Carl Sargeant has convened the fire safety advisory group. We don’t want to pre-empt that group’s work, but we do need to identify a stronger case for mandatory testing than there is now.
There are two issues that I wanted to raise. Lunch time today, families in Wales affected by the contaminated blood scandal met on the steps of the Senedd to make clear the impact that this has had on people in Wales. Obviously, over the summer there’ll be negotiations and discussions about what form the public inquiry will take. Obviously this has been very hard-fought-for by families in Wales. Would the leader of the house commit to ensuring that the Assembly will have regular updates on progress when we return from the summer break? I did have a second issue. I wanted to raise—the second issue is that of Llanishen reservoir in my constituency of Cardiff North. As the Cabinet Secretary will know, there’s been a long-running fight over this reservoir and everyone locally is delighted that Dŵr Cymru has now taken it over and plans to invest in it. But, initially, the reservoir needs to be drained and this has been approved by Natural Resources Wales. Would it be possible for the Cabinet Secretary to arrange for a report to the Assembly, later on in the year, about the progress on this exciting scheme, and also what role Natural Resources Wales will play in the future?
I thank Julie Morgan for her questions and was also glad to join Julie Morgan and families affected by the contaminated blood scandal on the steps of the Senedd, with other Assembly Members from the cross-party group, this afternoon. We wholeheartedly welcomed last week’s announcement of the inquiry into the infected blood scandal that led to people contracting hepatitis C and/or HIV. The Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport is writing to the Secretary of State, setting out our expectations. And, of course, that has very much been driven through the work that you’ve pioneered, Julie, and the cross-party group. Our expectation is that the UK inquiry will engage and listen to those affected in Wales, in both setting the remit and in the taking of evidence—that came through strongly this afternoon. Consideration will be given to the 10 points identified by the Haemophilia Society, and there will be meaningful engagement between the four Governments in taking the UK inquiry forward. We will update Assembly Members about developments when we return from the summer break. On your second question, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, will be happy to provide an update to the Assembly on the progress of the Llanishen reservoir scheme in the autumn.
A surgery in my constituency in Pen-y-groes, Dyffyn Nantlle, is to close at the end of the month, leaving the area with one fewer doctor. Now, I’ve been seeking information about this since I heard rumours that the service was to be lost. I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for health on 24 April, copied to the chief executive of Betsi Cadwaladr—I didn’t get a response. I wrote again on 23 June to Vaughan Gething asking for a response—again, no response. I raised the issue with the chair and chief executive of the health board at a meeting on 19 May, and they made a promise that they would look into the issue. I wrote again to the health board on 29 June and, again, got no response. In the meantime, the health board did respond to a press request on the issue but it appears now that that information is incorrect. It’s clear that there are communication problems within the Government and the health board, and this causes great uncertainty for patients in my constituency. Will you therefore look at this lack of communication and report back to me as soon as possible, please?
I am grateful for that question because it does point to the importance of that communication, not just between yourself and the health board, but also for your constituents in terms of practice closures, such as the one you describe in Pen-y-groes. I think it’s important to recognise that there is funding going in to ensure and support the sustainability of high-quality primary care services, as a result of agreed changes to the GP contract, and also an investment of £95 million into a support package in terms of education, training of healthcare professionals, and £40 million to improve primary care estates. So, obviously, putting this now on the record today as part of the business statement will mean that some progress, I hope, will be made.
Can I request an update from the Welsh Government on its actions in support of the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign to get justice for the many women who have been unfairly affected by the UK Government’s changes to the pension system? And, leader of the house, I’m sure that WASPI campaigners would also welcome the Welsh Government putting on record that it condemns the crass, insensitive and insulting comments from the UK pensions Minister that they should simply look for apprenticeship opportunities in order to alleviate their financial hardship.
Vikki Howells has consistently raised this important campaign, and although pension matters are non-devolved, and the responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions in the UK Government, we as a Welsh Government remain very concerned about the disproportionate effect the changes arising from the Pensions Act 2011 are having on a significant number of women. Welsh Ministers have written to the UK Government about these issues. It’s been highlighted in our concerns in Plenary. Indeed, women from the WASPI campaign I know are coming in to meet with Assembly Members this week, and we will continue to offer our support for the efforts of this campaign, to highlight the serious impact of these changes, and decry the insulting comments made, which again, unfortunately, indicate the attitude and the lack of concern or interest in the important needs of these women who have been so adversely affected by these changes in equality and state pension age changes.
Leader of the house, tomorrow I am sponsoring a celebration of Welsh musical performance culture in the Senedd, with the Arts Council for Wales at 12 noon in the Neuadd. I invite the leader of the house, yourself, Llywydd, and all Members to the celebration event. As well as a range of youth performances, the event will be headlined by one of Wales’s greatest sons, Bryn Terfel, and it won’t be the ‘Ring Cycle’. [Laughter.] Leader of the house, will the Welsh Government look to make a statement to the Siambr on the development of a national music performance strategy for Welsh children and young people, a national performance strategy able to deliver and offer instrumental tuition and orchestral access, regardless of wealth, and ensure Wales retains its position as the land of song?
Well, I think all of us, across this Chamber, will want to congratulate Rhianon Passmore on the way she has been able—with, of course, the Arts Council of Wales—attract such distinguished figures. And others, who can spend some time joining that very important event, I know will do so. But I think your more important point is to link this to the importance of the Welsh Government’s commitment to culture, musical education, and to, as you say so clearly, make sure that Wales is at the forefront in terms of being able to educate our children, and enjoy Wales as the land of song.
Leader of the house, I’m rising in irritation that the leader of the Welsh Conservatives had two pops at the Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board, without any opportunity for any other Members to add to this. Although, clearly, there was a breach of compliance, the chief executive of the Cardiff and Vale health board has said very clearly that there will be no further breaches of compliance by staff on his watch, and this has exposed an error in the way in which procurement has been conducted. But it seems to me that there is a balance to be struck, in terms of understanding that, clearly, there’s been a breach of compliance, but the work overall that Cardiff and Vale does is much to be valued.
I’m grateful for that comment from the Member for Cardiff Central.
I thank the leader of the house.