85 speeches by……and 14 more speakers
And the first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Sian Gwenllian.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's efforts to tackle poverty? (OAQ51171)[W]
Our objective is to help and support everyone to live healthy, prosperous and rewarding lives. Our national strategy, ‘Prosperity for All’, sets out how we will build a Wales that is prosperous and secure, healthy and active, ambitious and learning and united and connected.
You confirmed here last week that the Government won’t publish a poverty action plan. Now, this is a huge disappointment and matter of concern to Plaid Cymru and the cross-party Assembly committee who have been studying this area. I understand that you are eager to work holistically and work on a cross-departmental basis, but, without a central strategy that you can follow, the work of different departments of Government, including measuring progress through targets and milestones, will be impossible to achieve. Can I ask you to reconsider this decision and ask you to create an action plan as a matter of urgency?
Well, I would argue, of course, that the strategy does this already. It demonstrates the framework where the Government can work as a whole in order to enhance and increase prosperity and to consider cases of poverty in a manner that is more effective and connected. This isn’t something that belongs to any particular Minister or any particular department; it is something that the Government owns completely.
First Minister, I see from reports today that your Government has refused to release full sets of data to assist the Prime Minister’s race disparity audit. And its findings are stark contrast for both the UK and Wales. I do wonder, though, is your reluctance in releasing the data because you haven’t got it, or is it simply that you won’t get it? And the reason why this is so important is because that data would help us to identify areas of poverty in black and minority ethnic communities, where we might actually be able to take some action and make some differences to those people’s lives.
Oh dear, that is wholly untrue, because Scotland has refused to co-operate; we have not. I’ll give the Member a chronology of what we’ve done in the meantime. On 26 October last year, we agreed to the Welsh Government’s participation in the work. On 8 December last year, our equality team arranged for officials from the race disparity audit unit to attend the Wales race forum. On 21 December last year, we signposted RDAU to publish data. On 28 February this year, there was a meeting between our officials and RDAU in Cardiff. On 11 May, there was another meeting with RDAU. We were concerned at that point by an apparent lack of progress on their website. They asked us at that point, for the first time, to undertake work to analyse the Welsh data. We thought at that point that they would be undertaking that work. They acknowledged the lateness of that request. We made it clear that we didn’t have the resources to support that work at that time, and expressed concern about being asked to undertake such a large exercise before the launch date in July. At that point, we were informed that the Scottish Government had decided not to engage with the project. On 26 May, RDAU responded to a letter from us with a provisional list of data that would be on the website. On 2 June, again we agreed to continue working with the unit, by providing advice on the Welsh data sources, and providing data sets for the RDAU to analyse. On 4 October, a third meeting between officials and RDAU took place. They gave us a glimpse of the content of the website, but did not provide us with a copy of the 45-page report. I think we have engaged properly, and perhaps it shows the shambles at the heart of the UK Government that they cannot tell Wales and Scotland apart.
One of the things that’s absolutely designed to undermine the Welsh Government’s efforts to tackle poverty is the introduction of universal credit, rolled out across Wales. We’ve seen in parts where it has been rolled out that it’s led to an increase in rent arrears and numbers of people going to food banks. Now, the Scottish Government has got responsibility for the administration of welfare, which has enabled them to reduce the amount of time that applicants have to wait, to two weeks, which is the same as jobseeker’s allowance, and also, to ensure that landlords can continue to receive the rent payments directly. So, I wondered what conversations you’ve had with the UK Government on enabling us to mitigate the worst effects of this ghastly new proposal.
Well, we know from experience that where we take control of aspects of the benefit system we get into a situation where the budget settlement is never enough. We saw that with the council tax benefit—£20 million was taken from that as the responsibility was transferred. So, I have no faith at all that the UK Government, if they were to transfer responsibility over universal credit, would actually transfer the budget to cover it and that is the problem. To my mind, what is needed is a proper benefits system across the whole of the UK administered by a Labour Government in London looking after the interests of the many, not the few.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on support for heritage tourism in north Wales? (OAQ51173)
We are supporting a number of initiatives for heritage tourism in the north. For example, as part of the heritage tourism project, Cadw spent approximately £7.8 million improving and conserving some of its heritage tourism sites in the north.
Thank you, First Minister. As you are aware, there is a host of amazing heritage attractions right across north Wales, including St Winefride’s Well and Basingwerk Abbey in my own constituency, which I did my bit to promote with tourism videos over the summer, and would also benefit from enhanced brown signage along the A55. And of course, there is the Mold gold cape, found in 1833 in Mold and currently housed in the British Museum. I know, First Minister, you’ll be aware that I am keen to one day see the Mold cape exhibited for the first time back in the town where it was discovered. But by doing this, and working in partnership with the various stakeholders and representatives to make it happen and make it a reality, on Friday I was able to take the time to visit the British Museum and see the gold cape up close and also talk with the curators and representatives there. I’m interested in how major institutions can and should work in partnership with communities to bring our heritage closer to the people and to make it accessible to everyone. First Minister, do you agree that this is important and what support can be given to ensure that our past provides a legacy for our future?
Well, we know that it’s hugely important that we celebrate our past but not live in it. We have a history that is the equal of any country in the world. The Member has mentioned the gold cape, which, of course, is of particular interest to her as the Member for Delyn. I know that there are discussions between our officials and the officials of Flintshire County Council in terms of what might need to be done. There’s a long way to go yet in terms of finding somewhere that would satisfy the British Museum in terms of security and the right environment to display the gold cape. But we know that artefacts from the past are hugely important in generating interest, generating tourism and generating money, of course, for local communities.
One of the things that has the potential to damage heritage tourism is, of course, the proposals that your Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government unveiled last week for a potential tourism tax here in Wales. Whilst that might not affect you and your Cabinet colleagues so much given the luxury hotels that you must frequent on a regular basis, it could significantly impact on the lower cost end of the holiday market, much of it in my own constituency and your constituency, First Minister, namely on holiday caravan parks. What action are you going to take to ensure that people who are less well off don’t have their aspirations to have an annual holiday undermined by your ridiculous proposals for a tourism tax in Wales?
He stands there and lectures us about the less well off when only a few days ago he wanted to get rid of the education maintenance allowance. There he is—he stands there—. In fairness the brass neck is shining in front of us. But the reality is that we can’t take lectures from the Tories about this. We know that tourism taxes exist in many countries in the world. It makes no difference at all to demand, but what it does is generate money for tourism businesses. It generates the infrastructure for tourism so that visitors contribute more, rather than local people—his constituents—having to pay more in order to provide the infrastructure for tourists. We think that’s a way of sharing the burden. We think that’s a good way of ensuring more money is available for tourism. I would have thought, given his constituency—. [Interruption.] Yes, I know it hurts. I know it hurts, but, given his constituency, I would have thought he would welcome anything that would ensure that visitors pay a little more to contribute to the local economy. He is against his own constituents’ interests.
Following the mess that your Government made of the issue of the iron ring at Flint castle, can I ask you what arrangements are in place now to ensure that any interpretation of heritage happens from a Welsh perspective and context and not from someone else’s perspective?
We always interpret heritage from the perspective of what is good for us in Wales. We have a history of castles, castles that were built by an English king who wanted to turn Wales into some kind of fortress. Despite that, we celebrate that heritage, but we understand, of course, that those castles now belong to the people of Wales. There is a balance to be struck. For me, personally, there is nothing wrong in celebrating what we already have, because so many things that were done to the people of Wales are now controlled by the people of Wales.
Leader of the opposition to begin questions from the party leaders—Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, last year, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported that they’d seen nearly a 10 per cent increase in animal cruelty cases that they’d had to investigate. The legislation and the ability to regulate in this area firmly rest with the Welsh Government. Following that 10 per cent increase in complaints, there was a 35 per cent increase in prosecutions here in Wales, where people were taken to the courts and successful prosecutions were achieved. The legislation, though, and the sanctions do not meet—or are not fit for purpose—the crimes that many people are perpetrating when the complaints are investigated. Will your Government commit to revising the sanctions that are available to the courts here in Wales so that they fit the crimes that are being reported to them?
These are issues that we will keep under consideration. It’s not an issue that I’ve had raised with me personally—that the penalties are too low—but clearly we don’t want to see—. The fact that there are more prosecutions is a good thing, because that means that, actually, more people are being caught. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is more crime, but more people are being caught. Nevertheless, we want to make sure that the penalties are appropriate to the crimes, and we’ll keep under review whether those penalties are appropriate now.
It is a fact that one case that was highlighted by the RSPCA was how a man fed his dog cocaine and then cut the ears off that particular animal, and had a 24-week sentence imposed on him. That cannot be right, First Minister. That’s the most that could have been attributed to that particular individual. There are plans afoot in other parts of the United Kingdom to substantially increase the powers available, and the sanctions available, when animal cruelty cases are brought before the courts—up to five years and unlimited fines. I ask you again: will you please take forward the proposals that are being looked at in other parts of the United Kingdom, so that the sanction, when such horrific crimes are reported, is available to the courts, and, ultimately, the full weight of that sanction can be brought against the perpetrators of such foul actions?
I am willing to look at that, because the case that he mentions is very disturbing and upsetting, of course. I will write to him further on that. It’s not just the penalties; it’s the sentencing guidelines as well, because the maximum penalty is one thing, but the sentencing guidelines that govern what sentences should be imposed in certain circumstances are also important. So, the two things must run together.
I agree with you, but what is firmly in your court is the ability to make progress in this area. So, I welcome that you will be writing to me with more information in this particular area, but what is quite clear from the evidence that’s before us all of the crimes that have been perpetrated against animals that are defenceless—they can’t defend themselves—the number of investigations and complaints that charities are looking at, and the prosecutions, is that it would be good to achieve today a timeline of how your Government will take forward actions to improve the sanctions that are available, and firm up the sanctions that are available, so that we do not see sentences that aren’t fit for purpose. Can you please give me a timeline as to how your Government will take this forward, so we can see positive action in this particular area?
I can provide more information in the letter that I send to him. These are important points that he raises, and what he has asked me there I will ensure is addressed in writing in a letter.
The Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, since the passage of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, what has your Government done differently?
‘Prosperity for All’ is an example of how we follow that Act, in terms of how we determine what we do in the future.
That’s not a very convincing answer, First Minister. The strategy that you’ve produced contains four cross-cutting themes, and the Act says that there are seven well-being goals. One of those goals—a globally responsible Wales—is not mentioned in your strategy at all. You imply that, because of the Act, you will use investment decisions, infrastructure decisions and planning decisions in a different way to the way in which you made those decisions in the past. Your Government is one of the public bodies listed under the Act, and you’ve got a commitment to goals such as sustainable development, a low-carbon economy, healthy functioning ecosystems and enhanced biodiversity. Does your support for the M4 black route meet with those goals, or are you shifting the goalposts and carrying on with business as usual?
Well, these are matters that need to be addressed via the public inquiry. We wanted it to be as broad as possible and to look at all the options, and we look forward to seeing the results of that inquiry when the work is completed.
We all know that it is your preferred option, and that sounds very much to us on this side of the Chamber like business as usual and a missed opportunity, First Minister. Now, in the national strategy, mention is also made of rural communities, the need to sustain the agricultural industry, and the world-class food and drink sector that you aspire to. You say that you’ll do this through post-EU agricultural and fisheries policy. Now, the need for us all to support Welsh farmers is obvious, given the contribution that they make to the Welsh economy, to Welsh culture and the role that farmers have to play in managing our natural resources. Plaid Cymru is calling for the same level of support for agriculture to be sustained until 2022 at the very least. That commitment has been given by the Westminster Government for England; First Minister, will you make that commitment for Welsh farmers now this afternoon?
Well, I have said publicly that we will maintain the same level of support. The money has to be there, of course, and we’d expect it to be there, but what I have said, as she knows, is that I think that the current pot that is available should be maintained by the UK Government and distributed financially in the same way as before, and that money will then be used for agriculture. How it’s then used is a matter for the Government and the Assembly, but in terms of the overall money, of course we want that to stay the same after 2022, and I’ve said that several times in public.
The leader of the UKIP group, Neil Hamilton.
Diolch, Llywydd. It’s in the interests of businesses in Wales that export to make progress in the future trading relationships between Britain and the rest of the European Union. Is it not disappointing, therefore, that in a vote on this in the European Parliament last week, Wales’s Labour MEP and Plaid MEP voted for the Commission’s position not to negotiate further because we’ve apparently not made sufficient progress in the talks, which have been blocked, actually, by the European Commission? Aren’t these people no better than fifth columnists fighting for the interests of a foreign power against the interests of Britain?
They’re Spanish fascists now, are they? Well, I will allow his greater experience of that to inform us. But I have to say to him: they have voted according to the way they see the facts. The UK Government’s position has been a shambles from the start. Fifteen months in, we’re none the wiser as to what the UK Government’s position is. They have spent more time fighting with each other. We’ve no idea of—. The only thing we know is that they’re doing their level best to deprive this institution and the people of Wales of the powers they rightfully should have. Beyond that, we have no idea. They’re now planning for a no-deal Brexit—I can say that no planning at all has been done for a no-deal Brexit. They have absolutely no idea what they want to do, and it’s important that the UK Government decides what sort of Brexit it wants. The people of Britain rejected the kind of Brexit that he wants, so it’s up to the UK Government now to decide what kind of Brexit is best for Britain. We’ve outlined our position as the Welsh Government, and that is something that we think represents a sensible Brexit that represents the views that people expressed last year.
Well, it’s not for me, of course, and UKIP to defend the way the UK Conservative Government has embarked on this negotiation, but if he has read Mr Yanis Varoufakis’s account of his negotiations with the EU, he will see there what is playing out. The EU has no serious intention of entering into negotiations with Britain for the future, because their interests are to keep the remaining members of the EU together, and they want, therefore, to ensure that Brexit—so far as they can—is not a success. So, we can’t expect to get anything sensible out of the EU. In these circumstances, is it not incumbent upon all political parties in this country to support the broad aims of the British Government, which are to have the freest possible trade with the European Union and to protect the interests of citizens—both EU citizens in this country and also British citizens in the EU? This is plainly what the Government, in its shambolic way, is trying to do, but, nevertheless, the aims are ones that we should all support.
Well, I support those principles, but let me take him back to the referendum last year. We were told by his party and his party leader that the EU would strike a deal quickly because the EU were afraid of the UK; it was untrue. We were told that German car manufacturers would put pressure on the EU to strike a deal; that was untrue. We were told by his own party leader that the UK could look more like Norway, but now we’re told it shouldn’t look like Norway at all. The fantasies that were peddled last year are now coming home to roost. The reality is that the EU is not afraid of the UK—why on earth should it be? He is right—the EU wants to keep the EU 27 together. Of course it does; that would have been blindingly obvious to most people last year, but not to his own party. Now, the principles he has expounded I agree with—who would not want to see the freest possible trading agreement? Who would not want to see the rights of citizens protected? The problem is that while we know what the EU’s position is, we have still no idea of what the UK’s position is and what kind of deal it wants. That’s the problem.
We indeed know what the EU’s position is—they don’t want to do a deal, therefore the whole process is a waste of time. Of course, he’s quite wrong—we didn’t say in UKIP last year that the Germans would do a deal; we said it was in their economic interest to do so. And indeed, given that they have this year a €42 billion trade surplus with Britain, if they don’t support a free trade deal they will be cutting off their nose to spite their face, which they may well want to do in order to keep the fourth reich together. Nor, of course, could we in UKIP determine what anybody else in any other party would be doing in any country in the EU. All that we said last year was that it is in everybody’s rational self-interest that we do a deal to make trade as free as it possibly can be. But if they don’t want to do a deal, 85 per cent of the global economy is outside of the EU—that’s growing, and we should be concentrating on other parts of the world. Therefore, what we should be doing now is scaling down the Department for Exiting the European Union and transferring those officials to the Department for International Trade, and concentrating on getting on with the real business of making Brexit a success in the rest of the world.
Well let me tell you what Liam Fox said to me when we had a meeting of all the Ministers in the Joint Ministerial Council. He said that all 53 free trade agreements that the EU had with other countries would automatically apply to the UK. Rubbish—it was rubbish. So, that gives an indication of my faith in the Department for International Trade. He cannot get away from the reality that his party, his leader, went on and on and on saying the EU will do a deal with us quickly. The German—[Interruption.] We heard it—the German car manufacturers will force the EU to do a deal. The German car manufacturers are more interested in the EU-27 than they are in the UK. He talks about preparing for the no-deal Brexit. What does that mean? It means border posts. Well, customs officers are not being recruited. Apparently, we’re told there will be some kind of a strange pre-notification procedure on the UK side of any border that wouldn’t apply in the channel ports, and apparently it would apply magically on the open border that would exist with the EU in the Republic of Ireland. It’s cloud-cuckoo-land—the whole thing is cloud-cuckoo-land. The most sensible way of dealing with Brexit is to make sure we have the best relationship we can with our biggest market. If he thinks there’s going to be a free trade deal with the United States, he can go and speak to be the Bombardier workers. The US will look after itself. It has a Government that was elected on the basis of America first. It’s not going to do the UK any favours, and it’s quite clear that that is not what it’s going to do. Free trade agreements with countries that have considerably lower standards of living than we do end up with jobs being exported. Ask the Americans and the North American free trade agreement—it is what happened. Jobs were exported to Mexico and many of the midwest towns lost their jobs as a result of it, and that’s what he’s advocating—that kind of free trade agreement. The reality is we need to have the closest possible trading relationship with one of the world’s biggest markets—bigger than America—that’s on our doorstep, which we have a land border with. If we can’t do a deal with them, we have no chance of doing a deal with anybody else.
3. How will the First Minister ensure the success of the Welsh Government's long-term strategy to combat homelessness? (OAQ51168)
Our commitment to dealing with homelessness is found, of course, in the budget that we published last week.
I didn’t hear your answer there, First Minister, because of the mutterings to your rear. Would you mind answering again?
I’ll repeat it. Our commitment to dealing with homelessness—
The First Minister will repeat the answer and his backbenchers will be slightly quieter.
Our commitment to dealing with homelessness is found in the budget that was published last week.
First Minister, last week when I asked you, you revealed that your plan to address the homelessness crisis that we face in Wales was to wait for a Labour Government to come to power in Westminster. Now, I’m sure that will be of great comfort to the many rough sleepers in Wales ahead of the fast-approaching winter. If we had powers over Jobcentre Plus and administrative control over payments, something that Plaid Cymru has called for for many years, you would have the power to prevent sanctions and to prevent the administrative fiascos that leave people destitute. Now, preventing homelessness, as you know, saves money in other public services. It also saves lives, because the increase in recent drug-related deaths is linked to homelessness. It’s for those reasons that we prioritised the Supporting People budget as part of our recent budget negotiations. Now, given all of this, aside from the Supporting People budget that I’ve just mentioned, are you seriously saying that there is nothing else that you can do to stop this growing crisis in homelessness until there is another Labour Government elected in Westminster some time in the distant future? Is that the best that you can come up with for rough sleepers in this country?
Well, we look forward to the day when there is a Labour Government in Westminster, but she asked me to list what we have done. Well, 11,000 people have been helped since April 2015; the recent homelessness statistics for the first quarter of 2017-18 show a steady rate of success in times of increasing demand; 63 per cent of all households threatened with homelessness have had their homelessness prevented in Wales because of legislation that we introduced—the legislation we know has been influential enough because England is now looking to copy us; we’ve clearly demonstrated our determination to drive down homelessness in the draft budget—the additional £10 million for each of the next two years will enable local authorities to intensify their efforts to achieve the best outcome for those at risk of homelessness; we’ve just announced an additional £2.6 million of funding for innovative projects to tackle rough sleeping and youth homelessness; we are committed to supporting the End Youth Homelessness campaign and we’re working with it to develop an action plan to tackle that problem; and, of course, we have another round of distinct approaches, which includes a 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. It doesn’t sound like torpor to me.
First Minister, I’m sure you’ll join with me in commending the work of the Wallich. In a recent report launched in the Assembly last week, I’ve found that there has been an increase in rough sleepers in Cardiff and Swansea and that those sleeping on the streets are 70 times more likely to die from substance misuse and 11 times more likely to die as a result of alcohol. We’ve heard that the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 does place an emphasis on preventing homelessness. That is very, very important, but the most severe type of homelessness is that that affects rough sleepers, and what are we doing to help resolve those problems of those who are actually now living on the streets?
Well, the Wallich I know very well. Oddly enough, their headquarters in Bridgend are on the street where I live—literally down the road. We’ve worked with them on a constituency basis over many years to help people who’ve been faced with homelessness. I refer the Member back to the point I made earlier on that we’ve allocated £2.6 million of the funding for innovative projects to tackle rough sleeping and youth homelessness. It’s important, I believe, to work with organisations that have experience on the ground and to allow them to develop the solutions that they believe are right, while providing, of course, funding from the Welsh Government.
First Minister, I went on the breakfast run with the Wallich the week before last, and it was very impressive to see the support and services they offer—hot food, hot drinks, clothing, advice about accommodation, GP appointments; there is a whole range of very important support measures and advice offered by the Wallich. We also heard first-hand from rough sleepers just what they thought the practical solutions were—for example, the consistent availability of showers at a particular time during the morning and somewhere to dry clothing, which isn’t generally available in Newport at the current time and they feel should be. So, I would very much agree with David Melding that the Wallich have such a strong track record of delivery and a deal of knowledge of the practical solutions that will help rough sleepers. So, I do believe that Welsh Government should be working ever more closely with the third sector and organisations like the Wallich.
Yes. There’s no need to replicate what’s already being done or to reinvent the wheel. We know there are organisations that have first-hand experience on the ground of helping people. The job of Government in those circumstances is to help those organisations, and that, of course, is what we’re going to do with the funding we’ve announced to enable projects to come forward that are innovative but, importantly, of course, can receive the funding.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government policy to grow medium-sized enterprises in Wales? (OAQ51153)
Yes. ‘Prosperity for All’ sets out a range of actions and priorities that will benefit small and medium-sized enterprises, and they include the development bank, enhanced Business Wales support and infrastructure investment.
Just last week, the Federation of Small Businesses published the report ‘Wales’ Missing Middle’, in which they stated that, ‘In the missing middle medium-sized firms, those employing between 50-250 people make up a slim 12 per cent of employment.’ They went on to say that, of those that do exist, they often face choices to sell to larger multinational entities rather than to pursue sustainable domestic growth. What plans does the Welsh Government have to address this issue and to what extent will it feature in the forthcoming economic plan?
The Member has addressed an issue there that is absolutely right. We have faced too many instances in the past where businesses that the Germans would describe as the Mittelstand businesses, the owners tended to sell rather than grow. It’s a problem we’ve had for years. We looked at one point at whether we could look to resurrect the Cardiff stock exchange to enable them to grow and then become listed. It wasn’t practical. That was something we looked at 10 or 11 years ago. What can we do in the meantime to help them? We’ve got the Business Wales service, of course, which helps SMEs including medium-sized businesses, and the development bank of Wales will be a core component part of the Welsh Government’s economic policy and delivery to build on the expertise of Finance Wales. That will help SMEs to access finance. And the economic action plan will, undoubtedly, look to support businesses of all sizes. I think it’s fair to say that, 20 years ago, the emphasis was entirely on attracting overseas investment and nothing else. That’s what the Welsh Development Agency did. That’s no longer the case. We know how important that broad and strong pyramid of SMEs is, and Mittelstand businesses, if I can call them that, because they are the base of the Welsh economy, and we want to make sure that our offer helps to strengthen them as well.
Last week, I asked for a statement on whether the Welsh Government had plans to review the terms and conditions on which grants in Wales were made to businesses, following the job losses at Newsquest and the threat to jobs at Essentra in Newport. Both companies have received grant aid from the Welsh Government. Since then, it has emerged that of the £320 million spent on business support since 2010, less than a quarter was classed as a repayable grant or a commercial loan. And, less than 2 per cent has been repaid. Does the First Minister agree that there is an urgent need to review his Government’s policy with regard to grant aid to businesses to ensure that their objectives are achieved and the maximum benefit to the taxpayer is obtained in the whole of Wales?
One hundred and fifty thousand jobs have either been created or preserved as a result of the money that Welsh Government has made available. We’re not going to apologise for that. The reality is that the move towards repayable finance was originally made in 2010—seven years ago. Now, circumstances have changed since then. We’ve found that businesses were not able to access finance. They didn’t see repayable finance as attractive to them. So, yes, we have provided more grants, but we have seen the results and we’ve seen many, many thousands of people who are in jobs today because of the support that their Government has provided for their families, in order for them to have an income for the future.
One of the key conclusions of the FSB report is that Welsh Government economic policy has relied too heavily on attracting foreign direct investment. That’s not just true of this Government; it’s true of Welsh economic policy going back 50 years to when Cledwyn Hughes produced ‘Wales: The Way Ahead’ in 1967. It hasn’t worked. At best, it’s been a short-term sticking plaster; at worst, it’s sold the Welsh people the fallacious myth that the salvation to our economic woes would come from outside. Will we at last see a sea change in the new economic strategy, so that we can concentrate not on selling Wales as a location for the world to produce, but invest in our own capacity to produce our own innovations, our own skills and our own enterprise?
I don’t see the two as being in conflict. It is right to say that we have been very successful in attracting foreign direct investment and many, many thousands of people in Wales are employed by companies outside Wales. That is not something that we should apologise for—it’s a mark of our success. He is right to say that, certainly, the experience that I had at the start of the last decade was that economic policy was geared, because of the WDA, almost entirely towards attracting very large investments at the cost of not supporting SMEs. We can’t afford to do that anymore, because we want to make sure that SMEs are able to grow in the future. At that time, our universities didn’t work with SMEs; they didn’t see themselves as economic generators, they didn’t see themselves as having to produce start-up businesses based around their own research. That’s all changed. Our universities are very much on board now, and we have worked with organisations like the FSB. We’re interested in what the FSB have to say in terms of what we can do to support businesses in the future, but we have to understand that all countries—well, all open countries—rely on foreign direct investment. They create many thousands of jobs in Wales. It isn’t the be-all and end-all, we understand that. Getting a balance is absolutely crucial, and that’s exactly what the economic action plan will do.
5. Will the First Minister make a statement on the advanced manufacturing sector in Wales? (OAQ51139)
Yes. The advanced manufacturing sector is vital to a growing and prosperous Welsh economy. I have a touch of the Theresa May lurgy this afternoon, I see. There’s nothing behind me that’ll fall off though, I trust. [Laughter.] The sector is typified by highly skilled, highly paid jobs and above average productivity, and we continue to support companies in the sector in Wales to sustain their current operations and exploit growth opportunities.
Can I thank the First Minister for that response? I agree entirely that promoting advanced manufacturing is going to be incredibly important to the Welsh economy, and areas such as robotics and graphene can help grow the Welsh economy. Does the First Minister agree that there needs to be a further clarification of the definition of advanced manufacturing by the Welsh Government, to exclude things like 1970s technology for colour coating steel from being considered advanced manufacturing, despite the fact that both Bryngwyn and Tafarnaubach had closed previously?
Well, colour coating steel is advanced manufacturing. If you look at Shotton, for example, it’s highly technical. Photovoltaic cells are involved in the production there. It’s not an easy definition to make, but from our perspective, we know the sector is defined by a range of standard industrial classification codes published by the Office for National Statistics. Those codes were agreed by the private-sector-led industry panel, which was established to advise both Ministers and officials, and the treatment and coating of metals, including colouring, is an activity included in the range of SIC codes that defines our advanced materials and manufacturing sector. So, it’s a definition that is based on consultation with industry according to a set series of codes.
First Minister, the Welsh Government are currently encouraging manufacturing businesses in Wales to explore opportunities to export to Iran. Now, when I met with a manufacturing business yesterday, they told me it’s impossible to get paid from Iranian banks because Iran remains locked out of the global financial system. Given that your Government is encouraging Welsh businesses to export to Iran, which I welcome, can you provide some advice to manufacturers as to how Welsh Government can support them in order for them to be paid from Iranian banks and businesses?
Well, the role of ensuring support for exporters when they seek to export to markets where payment is not always available is done, of course, by Atradius across the road. That is their role—formerly Nederlandsche Credietverzekering Maatschappij, formerly, of course, the Export Credit Guarantee Department. So, in terms of indemnifying exporters, that is not something that we would look to do. But, of course, we are looking to see what opportunities exist in Iran. It’s been open as a market for the first time in many, many years, and potentially a very large market, both for exports and for imports. So, we’re very much aware of the situation there. We very much are working towards putting together a package of support for businesses who want to visit Iran, who want to look at the market in Iran, but it would stop short of indemnifying businesses, because that, of course, is a role for another organisation.
Is the First Minister aware that Wales is responsible for producing most industrial graphene in the world? We’ve been in the carbon business before in Wales, of course, but it is good to see that we are in the vanguard with this industrial revolution. Two companies from Ammanford are responsible, by the way. Would it be possible for us to meet with officials in the department for the economy so that we can make the most of this golden opportunity for the Welsh economy?
Yes, of course. Perfectly right. We wish to work with manufacturers and producers, and when they produce something that is world leading, then of course we would love to meet with them.
6. What is the Welsh Government doing to increase the availability of housing in Wales? (OAQ51172)
We are making a significant investment in all housing tenures, which is reflected in our 20,000 affordable homes target. We’re providing additional support for social housing and financing to get small companies building again, as well as new schemes to make home ownership more accessible and support for innovation.
I thank him for that answer. Yesterday, I joined the Minister for skills at Hale Construction in Neath in my constituency to discuss modular housing. There’s a growing interest in off-site construction in meeting housing need in Wales. It brings sustainability benefits, with energy efficiency, and speed of construction. There’s also interest from overseas companies in particular in importing components for construction in the UK. If the sector were to be dominated by that, that would cover the cost of sustainability and, indeed, the cost of the opportunity to create jobs in Wales for this emerging sector. There are policy challenges for the growth of the sector, including planning, the supply chain, finance and support for SMEs, which make up the current majority of the sector in terms of manufacturing. Will the First Minister commit to reviewing and addressing the policy obstacles to the growth of the sector, which if we don’t build in Wales, others will?
Well, I’m delighted that 35 schemes have applied for support from the first round of the innovative housing programme. They have been assessed by an independent panel, and we will be announcing the ones that we will be supporting before the end of this month.
First Minister, earlier this year I raised the work of Hafan Las, a local group in Pembrokeshire that promotes cohousing, in a question session. Proposals such as this will provide efficient and affordable housing for local people, with a third of the residents over 50 in order to bridge the gap between generations. In your response in May, you said that this was something that you and your officials would be interested in. Given your previous comments, could you give us an update on how the Welsh Government is supporting projects such as this in west Wales?
Wel, rydym ni yn rhoi cyllid refeniw i Ganolfan Cydweithredol Cymru er mwyn rhoi cefnogaeth i grwpiau cydweithredol tai. Mae hwn yn rhywbeth sydd yn cael ei wneud ar draws Cymru. Rydym ni’n moyn hybu ffyrdd gwahanol o adeiladau tai, gan gynnwys, wrth gwrs, ffyrdd gwahanol o adeiladu tai gan grwpiau cydweithredol.
First Minister, yesterday, I was pleased to be able to go out and be a ‘The Big Issue’ vendor, alongside Cabinet Secretary Carl Sargeant, taking part in that process as a way of seeing how people who are, potentially, in between housing, who are struggling with many things in their lives, are using ‘The Big Issue’ to sell and not to beg. What I found was it was quite revealing as to how invisible I felt, quite frankly, to many people who were just going about their daily lives and didn’t really realise that selling ‘The Big Issue’ was part of a social enterprise and it was going to aid and help them to get out of the situation that they were in. So, I’m wondering if we could encourage, and you could encourage, people to actually buy ‘The Big Issue’ and if you could tell us how you are helping people in those situations into jobs, so that they feel empowered to live their everyday lives in a successful way.
I’d be more than happy to work with ‘The Big Issue’ in order to promote it. I know, as a group, we do advertise and pay for that in ‘The Big Issue’, as I’m sure other groups do as well. I’d certainly be interested in helping a campaign to encourage people to buy ‘The Big Issue’. When it comes to the actual vendors, their circumstances tend to be very, very different, so, for them, what’s needed is a tailored package to help them. But the very fact, of course, that they are selling ‘The Big Issue’ rather than begging is a sign that they want to get onto the ladder of improving their lives and putting more money in their pockets so they can live more comfortably. It would be useful to work with ‘The Big Issue’ in order to understand what more could be done to help those people.
Could I invite the First Minister to perhaps expand a little bit on the answer he just gave to Paul there on the Pembrokeshire example? Because there has been support over a number of years now for the community land trust model within Wales, and there have been many very good, but relatively small-scale, examples, particularly in rural communities, but now within towns as well. But if you look at, for example, the Burlington community land trust model in Vermont—I believe a certain gentleman called Bernie Sanders had something to do with the establishment of it in 1983—it now has within that community land trust over 2,000 properties and protection of open spaces, as well, that go with it. It’s a not-for-profit model, it has ownership by local people and it’s providing affordable purchase homes, not just to rent, and they share the assets when they are released, but it dampens down the rise. Now, I just wonder whether, with local authorities, with the regional consortiums we have, with the city deals and so on, does he—? Would he venture to think that there is scope here for some creative thinking, in the large affordable housing plans that we have, on how community land trusts can actually fill some of that gap?
Yes, I do, and the advantage of a community land trust, of course, is that the land is owned communally or by a trust. The houses are leased from that trust, and so there is a limit as to how much those houses can be sold for. People can make a little money from houses that they sell, but the prices are kept low enough to be affordable—so, a hugely important model that we want to promote. How are we doing this? Well, for example, in the last Government we provided nearly £2 million of capital funding to support the development of three co-operative housing pilot projects in Cardiff, in Newport and in Carmarthen—87 new homes. We want to see more co-operative housing, including the CLT model, and we would very much welcome more proposals from local authorities and housing associations as to how they can be delivered.
7. What are the Welsh Government's priorities for securing economic growth in Aberavon? (OAQ51167)
They’re set out in ‘Prosperity for All’, and the Cabinet Secretary will publish an economic action plan later this year that will support delivery of the strategy.
Thank you for that answer, First Minister, but—. Many people know Port Talbot is associated with famous actors such as Richard Burton—and there are many others that I probably should name, but I haven’t got enough time for them all—but most people know it for its steelworks. Our local economy over the centuries has been driven by industry, is still being driven by industry, particularly with Tata, and the supply chain is dominant in that sector. Now, industry is at the heart of Port Talbot, so much so that even the land at Baglan industrial park has a covenant on it to say that it should be used only for industrial purposes—quite well, as it fits in with the enterprise zone in Port Talbot that’s just been identified by the Welsh Government. The skills base within Port Talbot is actually based upon industry, manufacturing and construction. Now, with all that strength evident in the town, how does the building of a new prison drive the economy forward? And, consequently, will the Welsh Government refrain from changing the covenant on this land that actually recognises industry as the local economic driver, and not the building of a prison?
It’s not clear, if there’s a covenant on the land, who would lift it, or whether the Ministry of Justice would have to go to court to lift it. It’s not clear without looking at the documentation. Port Talbot is hugely important in terms of manufacturing; we know that. A year and a half ago, he will know, things were bleak as far as the steelworks were concerned. The great fear that I had at the time—I would drive past it and I’d think, ‘Will we see the heavy end here for much longer?’ It’s still there. There are plans for it to prosper in the future. Why? Because of the work and the money we put in as a Government. The reality is that we put money on the table, we worked hard with Tata, we convinced them about Port Talbot’s future, and the workforce responded. Because the workforce made sure that the losses that were being incurred at the plant were turned around very, very quickly into a situation, now, where the plant is profitable. That’s a tribute to the work that the workforce actually put in—not easy, and sacrifices, we know, such as the pension fund, had to be made. But, working with the workforce and working with Tata, we know that, with the joint venture that was announced, the promise that we’ve been given is that there’s no effect on Welsh jobs, no effect on Welsh sites. We’ve come a long way in a year and a half, and that’s the Welsh Government working hard for the people of Aberavon.
8. Will the First Minister provide an update on plans for a third crossing across the Menai strait? (OAQ51176)[W]
We are still on time to complete the project in 2022. Discussions have taken place—they’ve been ongoing for years—with National Grid on what we should consider in order to ensure that the crossing is built.
Thank you for that. I’m pleased that, in our pre-budget agreement, we secured funding to develop this project, which is needed not just because of the frustrations for people because of delays in crossing the bridge but in order to provide resilience for the crossing between Anglesey and the mainland. On 15 June last year, I made an appeal to ensure that the National Grid should make a financial contribution towards the bridge rather than wasting £200 million on a tunnel under the Menai strait. Now that the completion date, rather than the commencement date, is 2021-22, can we take that as a sign that the National Grid have agreed to make this contribution and that we are seeking a model to achieve that? Can I be given assurance the consultation on the proposal will be as broad and as full as possible with the constituents of Anglesey?
Well, the answer is, in no uncertain terms, ‘not yet’. There is no kind of agreement as yet. I raised this with the grid about two to three years ago. At that time, we wanted to consider with them how we could develop a crossing for the Menai. At that point, they weren’t interested. Things have changed since then, but we’re not in a position where we can say, ‘There is an agreement’. By May of next year, of course, we will announce the route that we wish to take so that the bridge can be built. By then, of course—way before then, we hope—we’ll be in a position where we know what the grid’s position will be, and what kind of contribution they wish to make to the crossing.
Thank you, First Minister.