79 speeches by……and 12 more speakers
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, and the first question is from Dai Lloyd.
1. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on what plans the Welsh Government has to improve Wales's international connectivity? (OAQ51151)
International connectivity and selling Wales to the world is a key theme addressed in our national strategy ‘Prosperity for All’.
Thank you very much for that comprehensive response. Naturally, Cardiff Airport is exceptionally important in our efforts to link Wales to the rest of the world. Whilst Qatar Airways will be establishing a new direct service to Doha next year, there is an absence of services to other key locations across the world—North America, for example. Would you therefore be willing to consider creating a national airline company, let’s call it ‘Ken Skates Airlines International’, or an alternative model of governmental support to fill the gap that exists because of the unwillingness of the private sector to provide these services to these important locations?
Can I thank Dai Lloyd for his question and his kind suggestion, although I think my surname is probably better attributed to a different form of transport than flight? I’d like to pay tribute actually to the entire team at Cardiff Airport for the excellent work that’s being undertaken in promoting that particular facility and in establishing new routes. I think the new route that’s going to operate direct to Doha opens up Wales to the world. We’ve looked in the past, I believe, at the establishment of a national airline and found that the cost of establishing one could be prohibitive. However, it’s certainly something that I’m willing to give further consideration to. It’s my belief, however, at the same time, that Cardiff Airport is already doing an excellent job in attracting new routes and new operators to the facility, and I hope to have more news on that in the coming years.
I look forward to travelling on ‘Skates Air’. I think there’s probably a niche in the market for you there, Ken. [Laughter.] You’ve put me off my train of thought now. It’s clearly been disappointing, Cabinet Secretary, that air passenger duty hasn’t been devolved to this place, and before you say, ‘Well, it’s your Government’, I’m aware of that, and we will continue to press for the case for air passenger duty to be devolved so that we have that important tool in the toolbox. Will you also do the same to make sure that, at the same time as we get stamp duty devolved, and landfill tax and income tax, we also have vital economic tools, such as APD, so that we can really get on with the job of improving the economy in Wales?
Can I thank Nick Ramsay for his question and say that I agree entirely with him?
2. Will the Cabinet Secretary make a statement on the growth of the gig economy in Wales? (OAQ51143)
Our national strategy, ‘Prosperity for All’, sets out our ambition for an economy that delivers individual and national prosperity, one that reduces inequalities and grows wealth and well-being in the aggregate, where people can fulfil their ambitions and enhance their well-being, and secure sustainable employment.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. The issue of modern working practices and wider questions about how we structure our labour market are hugely important. Chwarae Teg have noticed that the Taylor review, and the creation of the Fair Work Commission, help to change the nature of the debate around work and our ever-changing labour market. It’s crucial that we don’t miss the opportunity to ensure that secure, flexible and well-paid employment is available to all. Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that we need to collate and have access to more data on the gig economy in Wales in order to maximise the benefits and minimise the disadvantages to the people of Wales?
Can I thank the Member for her question and say that I do welcome the work of the Taylor review, although, of course, the recommendations appear to stop short of the strengthened enforcement of legislation needed to prevent exploitation of low-paid workers. With regard to what could be beneficial, and the enhancement of data on the gig economy, to help us understand the nature and impact of this on the Welsh economy, I think that it’s important that we go on working with the Office for National Statistics, and other parts of the UK, to consider how best the data can be captured. I can inform the Member that officials are part of a group that was set up to look at scoping out analytical needs and methods of measuring the gig economy, which is an issue right across the UK, but which has particular significance for us here in Wales. And, clearly, given the nature of the gig economy, the insight and new sources of data available through the data science campus could well play a very important role.
Cabinet Secretary, the growth of the gig economy and the rise in non-standard working practices has created problems for significant numbers of workers and has tested the limits of existing labour market protections. It is also a problem for employers, who struggle with this regulatory and tax system, designed for formal and reliable employment. The UK Government set up the Taylor review, headed by Matthew Taylor, a former senior advisor to Tony Blair, to look into the employment practices in the modern economy, and its recommendations are subject to consultation. What study has the Cabinet Secretary made of the Taylor review, and will he take it into account when forming employment rights and responsibility in Wales? Thank you.
Well, I think I answered much of the Member’s question when I responded to Jayne Bryant, by saying that I do welcome the Taylor review. However, I do think the UK Government now needs to move at speed in responding to the recommendations. And, as I also said to the Member, I do feel that the recommendations appear to have stopped short of where they should have gone to. The recent decision, though, by the Supreme Court that tribunal fees introduced by the UK Government in 2013 are unlawful I think is a positive step to improve access to justice for those who have been subject to unlawful employment practices. I should say that work within Wales, in terms of procurement within the public sector, and in terms of the work that the First Minister has led on, on fair work, I think is important. It takes us ahead of much of the UK in ensuring that we have fair working practices across the economy.
Working in the gig economy suits some workers—it always has suited some workers, probably always will. But I’d suggest that the majority are not in the gig economy out of choice. What they’re actually getting in reality is no job security, no ability to budget. I’m sure you agree with me on all those things. The UK Government has identified the problem as being a reduction in the tax take, and Philip Hammond recently came out with a statement that he was going to readjust the tax regime to find more effective ways of taxing these workers. Personally, I think they’re completely ignoring the real problem. So, what representations have you made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with respect to increasing the growth of secure employment, rather than focusing on the tax take?
I’d agree with the Member that, for some people, the gig economy may offer attractions. But, for the majority, I think it’s probably an insecure, uncertain environment in which to earn a living. And my problem isn’t so much with the tax take; that’s clearly an issue for UK Treasury. My problem is with the impact that the gig economy is having on the collective well-being and mental health of the nation, and the health of the economy as a whole. We’ve been very clear within Welsh Government that we need to have a proper living wage, that we need to embrace and enhance the best employment practices that take place, and work is therefore ongoing to explore embedding employment practices within the sustainable development charter across the economy. It’s our view, and it’s captured within ‘Prosperity for All’, that we should ensure that there is wealth, health and well-being for all people in Wales, and that access to employment should be on the basis of sustainable employment and secure employment.
Questions now from party spokespeople. The UKIP spokesperson, David Rowlands.
Diolch, Llywydd. I make no apologies for the fact that I have raised the theme of my question a number of times before in this Chamber, because I believe it is fundamentally important if we are to expand the economy of Wales. We have heard recently the criticism of the levels of grants, as opposed to loans, that the Government has advanced to companies since 2010, together with the allegations that it gave loans to companies that subsequently failed. We in UKIP acknowledge that the Welsh Government is in the high-risk sector when making decisions with regard to advancing these moneys, whether in the form of grants or loans, in that it is a given fact that it aims to fill gaps where high-street banks have declined to be involved. Can the Cabinet Secretary confirm that, despite some unavoidable setbacks, the Welsh Government will continue to invest heavily in the business sector? And I promise not to mention the circuit of Wales here.
Can I thank the Member for his question and say, yes, we will go on investing in business in Wales—businesses that provide work opportunities for tens and hundreds of thousands of people in our communities. Our support since 2011 has provided work for 185,000 people. In the last Assembly period, it was 150,000 jobs that we created and supported through helping businesses to grow and expand. And the Member raises the important point about business failure. Well, I think I’ve already stated in this Chamber before, but I’m happy to write to Members again with the data, that the proportion of companies that failed was lower amongst those that we’d supported than in the entire economy. I think that demonstrates that whilst, yes, there were losses and there were failures, by and large, our support has acted as an enabler for growth in the economy. And it’s as a consequence of this that we can now with some confidence say that we have a sustained low unemployment rate that goes way beneath what we experienced in the 1990s and the early 2000s, and that’s as a consequence of pursuing every possibility to grow the economy and create jobs.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that assurance. Can I now ask how the Cabinet Secretary intends to make sure that funding for start-ups, particularly in the innovative sector, is readily accessible, especially once the Wales development bank begins to operate?
Well, the Member pictures there the important role that the development bank of Wales will have in almost doubling the amount of finance that’s available to small and medium-sized enterprises. I’m pleased that, this week, I received the location strategy for the bank to operate right across Wales, giving easy access to all SMEs. And I also believe that the role of the innovation programme, Be the Spark, will be critically important in driving innovation-led entrepreneurialism throughout the economy, bringing together different stakeholders so that we can all work together in creating a strong tech-based and innovation-driven economy that’s based on strong foundations.
Well, again, I thank the Cabinet Secretary for his assurances, but one of my constituents who is seeking funding for a very innovative product with huge commercial potential was recently told by a Business Wales representative that the product was insufficiently developed for funds to be made available. This hardly seems to be in accord with the Government’s affirmed policy to be involved in the innovative sector. Could the Cabinet Secretary give us some idea as to what the Welsh Government means by ‘innovative’, given that, if it is innovative, it may well not be fully developed?
I think it’s important that plans are at the point of being able to be realised, and I’d certainly welcome further detail about the particular example that the Member raises. There are support forms from Business Wales and also innovation vouchers that could be applicable to the particular case that the Member raises, but if he writes to me, I’m sure I can give it further consideration. Generally, through our support for business and entrepreneurship, through Business Wales and through initiatives such as Be the Spark, we now have more active businesses in Wales than ever before. That’s surely good for the economy, but we also need to have a dynamic economy where we have a constant dynamic that delivers new enterprises as exiting enterprises die.
Llefarydd Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. Unlike David Rowlands, I cannot promise not to mention the Circuit of Wales. On Friday, in a written statement to this Assembly in relation to the publication of the due diligence conducted on that project, Cabinet Secretary, you said that, ‘In relation to the fit and proper person test report, we have been unable to publish either in full or in summary because Michael Carrick has not yet consented to its release’. Could you tell us when a copy of this report, either in full or in summary, was first sent to the Heads of the Valleys Development Company and its principals with a request for their consent to its publication?
Yes, I’d like to respond comprehensively with the time frame for all Members today. Michael Carrick was provided with a redacted copy of the Grant Thornton corporate intelligence report, which is the fit-and-proper-person test, in May of this year. He then wrote to the Welsh Government on 30 May, setting out his observation that the report contained areas of concern for him and his colleagues. On 1 September this year, Michael Carrick, as chief executive officer of Heads of the Valleys Development Company, again wrote to Welsh Government stating that, and I quote, as regards the corporate intelligence report—which is the fit-and-proper-person test—which focused on individuals, they would emphasise that this not be released. Now, I made it clear in my statement last week in relation to the fit-and-proper-person test report, we have been unable to publish either in full or in summary because Michael Carrick has not yet consented to its release. Following publication of the due diligence documents last Friday, Welsh Government wrote again to Michael Carrick on 6 October with a further copy of the redacted report, and asked again if he would consider the matter and advise whether he was content for the Welsh Government to make this material publicly available. I can share with the Member and, indeed, all Members in this Chamber the following information: Martin Whitaker, the chief executive of Circuit of Wales, responded and made it clear on Monday 9 October that, ‘Our position remains unchanged in that we decline any consent for the release of the report.’ He also said, ‘We refers to the Head of the Valleys Development Company, Aventa and all of the individuals mentioned and referred to in the report.’
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for that report. The company in the letter that he referred to contests what he has just said, and I’m sure they will respond in due course. They maintain that a redacted copy of the report was only made available to them at 5.16 p.m. on Friday evening after the statement was made to the Assembly. While we’re on the subject of the publication of information in relation to the Circuit of Wales, can I ask the Cabinet Secretary about the leaking of confidential information held by your department to the ‘Western Mail’? Is he able now to update the Assembly on the leak inquiry that has been conducted?
This is not a matter that I am leading on; this is a matter for the Permanent Secretary, and I’m sure that she’ll be making all of her observations known in due course.
On 7 July, Cabinet Secretary, you told me in a written reply that you did not expect that civil servants were involved in the leaking of this information, and I believe that has now been confirmed by the Permanent Secretary. On 14 August, you told me that you were satisfied that special advisers were not responsible for the leaking of this information. That doesn’t leave many people left in the frame, Cabinet Secretary, so can I ask you simply this: do you know who leaked the information?
No, and what about the company itself? I would say to the Member that I recognise, given his unusual pursuit of this matter over a length of time, that he feels personally hurt by the outcome, because he’s staked all of his credibility on this particular project. And after performing the biggest u-turn since the dawn of devolution last week, you’ve shot to pieces your credibility on the economy. Two weeks ago, you were writing to all local authority leaders urging them to back this particular plan—
Answer the question that I asked you.
[Continues.]—to back this plan. And then within a week you’d gone on to say, ‘No, the management needs to change, the plan needs to change, the funding system needs to change.’ After spinning like a whirlpool one week, you then went and jack-knifed like a juggernaut the next. I mean this when I say it: you’ve got a lot to offer this Assembly and it’s no good shooting your own credibility down in the way that you just have done. [Interruption.]
Welsh Conservative spokesperson, Russell George. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Cabinet Secretary, if a family of four from the north-west of England were thinking of going on holiday to either Colwyn Bay or Morecambe Bay, perhaps hotels and facilities very similar, and one of those was charging a tourism tax, which one do you think that that family would choose?
They’d choose the best location, in my view, and that best location is Wales.
Well, what I’d say, Cabinet Secretary, is that yesterday we heard the First Minister offering his avid support for a tourism tax here in Wales. The introduction of a tourism tax may well have the desired effect in countries that have low sales taxes, but in Wales where the full rate of value added tax is charged on accommodation, on meals and attractions, an additional tourism tax will in effect mean that the visitor pays twice. Slovakia is the only other country in Europe that charges a tourism tax while not having a reduced rate of VAT for accommodation businesses. So, is it your wish, Cabinet Secretary, that we should follow Slovakia’s lead? And also, your colleague Mark Drakeford has said that he wants to encourage behavioural change through the tax system. How do you think a tourism tax would change behaviour?
Well, first of all, if we look at the rate of VAT at the moment here in Wales, it’s charged at 20 per cent. In Paris, VAT is charged at 10 per cent. In Berlin, it’s charged at 7 per cent. In Barcelona, it’s charged at 10 per cent. I would urge the Welsh Conservatives to support this Government’s campaign, which has run for some time, I acknowledge, but which has fallen on deaf ears at UK Treasury, to reduce the level of VAT. The big difference between a local levy and VAT is that a local levy could be retained within that area to enhance the place that people wish to visit. It’s a local levy designed to improve the tourism offer. VAT goes to central finance in London and does not always find its way into those areas of Wales and Britain that need to be enhanced for the visitor economy.
Well, I wonder what the tourism industry would make of your answer. What I would ask is: what consultation have you done and conducted with the tourism industry or, indeed, were you actually consulted on this by your Cabinet colleagues at all as well? I have to say, the British Hospitality Association has said that a tourism tax will, and I quote, ‘undermine business sustainability, investment and…our employment plans’, as well as ‘be handing an unfair advantage to our competitors in England.’ The BHA, the Wales Tourism Alliance and MWT Cymru, and many other experts across the industry, have said that the prospect of introducing a tourism tax will harm Wales’s competitiveness and heap additional pressure on an industry that already pays tourism VAT and has seen increases in business rates. A day visitor to Wales already spends £17 per head less than in Scotland, £5 less per head than visitors to England. A tourism tax will deter them from visiting and spending here even further. In 2004, an inquiry was undertaken by Sir Michael Lyons that concluded that there was not a strong evidence base to support the introduction of a tourism tax. The Labour UK Government agreed. So, will you now take the opportunity to follow the advice from the industry and rule out the introduction of a tourism tax to provide the industry with the certainty that it needs?
I’d like to thank the Member for his question. He’s offered comprehensive analysis of the potential impact of the tourism levy. He’s not yet provided though a comprehensive analysis of the benefits. As part of the consultation and consideration of this particular proposal, we will now undertake a consultation exercise that will encompass all elements of an evidence-gathering exercise. We need to establish the potential benefits and, of course, the potential consequences of a tourism levy, and I commit to engaging fully with the sector in analysing the potential benefits and the potential costs of that particular initiative. This is one of four that are being considered. Each and every one of those proposals will take time to assess, but I do commit to working with the sector.
3. Will the Cabinet Secretary provide an update on the Welsh Government's plans to drive forward the Welsh economy? (OAQ51162)
Yes. ‘Prosperity for All’ frames our actions to grow our economy and spread opportunity. The economic action plan that will support the delivery of ‘Prosperity for All’ will be published this autumn.
That’s excellent news; we’ve all been looking forward to that because the UK Government’s austerity measures have meant that, at local authority level, we’ve seen a 65 per cent reduction in the money in economic development departments, a 45 per cent reduction in planning departments. Because of that massive reduction at local authority level, I just wonder if the Cabinet Secretary could tell us what communication he’s had with local government in drawing up those plans and also his communications with the private sector who are going to be key to driving this new model forward.
The Member is right that partnership will be crucial in ensuring that our focus on regional and place-based economic development is a success. Last week, I was delighted to meet with economic development leaders and with lead officials from across local authorities in Wales to discuss the proposals. I was also pleased last week to meet with Menter a Busnes to discuss the proposals that Welsh Government has for regional working. Today, I’m pleased to be able to inform Members that Welsh Government is appointing three deputy directors to lead in those respective regions. It’s going to be absolutely imperative that all local authorities work together on a regional basis to enhance the economic development provision within their collective area. We will play a part in that process as well by having deputy directors and regional units operating in tandem and in alliance with local government. I think it’s essential that we look at the distinctive strengths of each of the regions and also that we tackle the regional inequalities that have persisted too long in Wales. I also think that infrastructure, both physical and digital, plays a critical role in developing the economy across all communities. That’s why I’m pleased with regard, specifically, to the region that the Member represents, that we are taking forward a pinch-points programme for road infrastructure, that the TrawsCymru free weekend provision is proving incredibly popular, and that, through reforms to local bus services, through the new franchise for Wales and the borders, we will be enhancing connectivity across Wales and in the area that the Member represents—Mid and West Wales.
One benefit for my region, of course, is the Swansea bay city region deal, which will bring £1.3 billion into the economy, if it’s a success, and I think that’s a matter of interest for you as economy Secretary as well as for the local government Secretary, of course. Like last year, we’ve spent several months trying to convene a meeting between Assembly Members and the acting board, just for an update and to see how we might be able to help, as Assembly Members, but we heard last week that the governance arrangements for the city deal have still not yet been completed. In advance of our meeting, could you confirm what expectations you and the local government Secretary have about when those governance arrangements should be done by?
As soon as possible. I have also written to the Secretary of State for Wales, asking whether Assembly Members and also Members of Parliament can be engaged in the process of influencing and scrutinising the respective work of the city and growth regions. I think it’s imperative that elected Members in both Parliaments and at a local level have a fair say over what projects should be taking part as part of their respective deals. For our part, we are pressing hard for each of the deals to be game-changing and to invest in strategic priorities that transcend parochial and institutional bias, and focus on the future economies of the regions, rather than individual interests.
4. How does the Welsh Government intend to improve the public transport network of Wales? (OAQ51161)
We are moving forward with our ambitious vision to reshape public transport infrastructure and services across Wales, including local bus services, rail services through the next Wales and borders franchise, active travel, investments in our strategic road network and the south-east Wales metro project, which will act as a catalyst for integrated transport across Wales.
The Rhondda Fach in my constituency is an area that has been poorly served in terms of transport links. It’s got a bypass that stops halfway up the valley and no rail links. People, particularly those living in the northern-most communities, feel cut off and let down. That’s a sentiment that has been exacerbated by a recent bombshell that they could lose the Rhondda Fach Sports Centre as a result of council cuts. Following Plaid Cymru’s budget negotiations with your Labour Government, you now have an opportunity to start to right these wrongs. We insisted that an extension of the south Wales metro into the Fach would be explored. University College London, in a study called, ‘Transport and Poverty’, suggested that improved public transport can have a positive impact on GDP levels. Boosting the local economy of the Rhondda, I’m sure you will agree, is something that is very much needed, so will you give us an undertaking to look seriously into this matter with a view to delivering, for the people of the Rhondda Fach, a transport system that is worthy of the twenty-first century?
Our vision for the metro in south-east Wales is better connected communities right across the region. The metro must be designed in a way that meets the needs of Valleys communities first and foremost, that brings better jobs closer to people’s homes. I will commit to looking at the particular issue that the Member raises. The design of the metro and the procurement of the franchise are such that we should be able to allow for extendable services, and I look forward to being able to offer new, more reliable services to Valleys communities as we roll out not just the franchise, but specifically, an enhanced metro service. I would also like to offer any support that the Member may wish to seek regarding the future of the sports centre that was mentioned. I do, in my own constituency, have a very good example of a social enterprise that took over a community centre and leisure centre that was at risk from closure, and I’d be happy to share information and contacts with her particular leisure centre.
During my meeting—[Inaudible.]—with community transport providers in Flintshire, they told me that, after they resisted pressure to take on some commercial routes, the council had commissioned some pilot schemes from commercial providers that they felt would not be viable once the pilots ended. They also told me that the Welsh Government had set up transport for health groups in each region of Wales, but the north Wales transport for health group hadn’t met since May 2016, to look at all transport-to-healthcare provision in the region, and that the Welsh Government had not reconvened the meetings at that point. What action are you taking to address these concerns?
I’ll happily reconvene the transport for health group as soon as possible, as soon as members are able to meet. I think it’s absolutely essential that we consult with as many stakeholders as possible as we design the next franchise, and make sure that communities across Wales are better connected. So, I give my undertaking to reconvene that particular group on behalf of the Member and with the Member.
Can I talk about integrated public transport systems? In far too many areas, we have buses and we have trains, but the bus comes in at a different time to the train going out, and also we have a situation where buses park some distance away from the train. In my own constituency of Swansea East, for example, we’ve got Llansamlet station, but the bus stops a couple of hundred yards away around the corner on another road. What can be done to improve the rail-bus interchanges so that people can use public transport for the whole of their journey, rather than put them in a car first? And, when you put them in a car first, there’s a real danger that, once they’ve driven a certain distance, they just keep on going.
Well, there are three things that need to be done: (1) we need to make sure that interchanges are planned in the right way, and already we are committing work in certain areas of Wales that will see enhanced interchanges. For example, I announced recently work that is afoot in Llanwern. In Wrexham and in Deeside, and right across the metro Valleys regions, we’re looking at where interchanges can offer seamless travel between one mode of transport and another. But the other work that needs to be done concerns integrated ticketing, and through-ticketing. That can be achieved through Transport for Wales leading on the procurement of the next franchise and potentially taking on more functions in the future. The third area of work that needs to be addressed concerns the schedules of bus and rail operators, making sure that you don’t have to wait around for too long before you move from one mode of transport to the next. Now, I do think that, in the City and County of Swansea, a good degree of work is already being undertaken with regard to integrated transport. We provided £1.1 million for the Morfa distributor road, £453,000 for the business case work for infrastructure enhancements along Fabian Way, £115,000, as I know the Member has warmly welcomed, to develop the outline concept for the south-west Wales metro, and, of course, £65,000 for the Kingsbridge link scheme. This is in addition to the considerable funding that we’ve made available through the local transport network fund, which aims to ensure that there are better integrated and better quality public transport services in Swansea and in the wider region.
Question 5 [(OAQ51140)] was withdrawn. Question 6, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
6. What plans does the Welsh Government have to note the 300th anniversary of the birth of William Williams Pantycelyn this year? (OAQ51142)[W]
I’m delighted that the national library is holding an event here at the Senedd on 18 October to celebrate the tercentenary of William Williams, and the First Minister will be taking part. Most of our cultural celebrations are developed in partnership and I am happy to discuss possible support for events that others may wish to put forward.
William Williams Pantycelyn is one of the most prominent figures of Wales, there’s no doubt about that, not just because of his contribution to the Methodist reformation and the over 900 hymns that he wrote, many of them among the most popular today still, but also he made a huge contribution towards the cultural and educational development of Wales. He modernised the Welsh language, was one of the first to write in Welsh against slavery in America; he was also very prominent in insisting that women should have the same rights as men in marriage and so on. The Welsh Government made huge efforts and carried out huge campaigns to mark the hundredth anniversary of the births of Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, and I do compare that, with all due respect, and look at it in a very different way in terms of this celebration at this Parliament, in this Assembly, in partnership with the national library, much as I welcome that event. A precedent has been set through the Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas celebrations for truly celebrating some of the giants of our nation. More than 1,200 people have signed a petition asking for real investment in this. Does the Welsh Government agree that Pantycelyn too deserves real investment in his commemoration given his influence on Welsh culture and life?
Yes, I do, and that’s why I’m saddened that, to date, no organisation or group of individuals has approached the Welsh Government with ideas or proposals on ways to commemorate the three-hundredth anniversary. Now, I should say, in contrast to what the Member actually stated, we did not organise the celebrations for Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas; they were organised and initiated by partners. We invested in them, we acted as the enablers. Could I urge the Member, if he is aware of any form of celebration or a fitting tribute to this three-hundredth anniversary, to please bring forward—? As I’ve said on numerous occasions to Members, please bring forward those plans. Our thematic years, and this year is the Year of Legends, are designed to celebrate people from Wales, events in Wales, and it would be incredibly helpful if we could bring forward more innovative ideas to celebrate the people and the past of Wales.
I’m very pleased to hear, Cabinet Secretary, that we’re knocking at an open door in terms of wanting to commemorate this very celebrated Welsh hymn writer. Can I make a suggestion to you that one fitting tribute might be a statue here in Cardiff Bay to celebrate this national hero, and, alongside it, perhaps, a statue of Ann Griffiths, who was the famous female Welsh hymn writer, who also is associated with the nonconformist history here in Wales? I think that a statue of this incredible duo, who are amazingly inspirational, even until this day, would be fitting tributes to them both. And, of course, in this three-hundredth year, I can think of no better way to mark this special occasion.
Well, I’d agree with the Member wholeheartedly. It would be fantastic to also have a statue of Ann Griffiths. I may be wrong, Members may wish to correct me, but I’m not aware of any statue dedicated to a woman in Wales, anywhere in our country, and that is something that we should be deeply regretful of. I would urge the Member to speak with my officials—I’ll facilitate it. What’s crucial is that we identify a delivery partner out there who could deliver this, but I would be more than willing to consider funding such a proposal through the same funding source that has helped to celebrate Dylan Thomas and Roald Dahl.
7. What consideration does the Cabinet Secretary give to sustainability when taking decisions in relation to transport? (OAQ51165)
Sustainability is a key consideration for all my decisions on transport, including our investment in public transport services. The south Wales metro will be an exemplar of sustainable and integrated transport and it will act as a blueprint for the future of transport right across Wales.
I agree that the south Wales metro would indeed be an exemplar of sustainable development. Unfortunately, we have yet to be able to identify the funding for it. You’ll be aware of the correspondence with the future generations commissioner about the importance of taking into consideration our very own the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 when determining what constitutes sustainable development. She emphasises the importance of taking account of all four pillars of well-being and the five ways of working and that all decisions have to improve economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being. In light of the proposal for an M4 relief road, which had been round the track for many, many years, long before the future generations Act, how do you think the new future generations Act has changed your approach to this proposal?
Well, in terms of the future generations Act, it’s incredibly important that we take full account of the ways of working and the aspirations contained within that legislation. I can give the Member a number of examples of the way in which we have shaped policy and shaped delivery in light of the Act. For example, the refreshed Wales transport strategy will take full account of the well-being of future generations Act. In addition, the Welsh transport appraisal guidance 17 is being shaped in the face of the Act and has been welcomed by the future generations commissioner. The Member will be aware of the free weekend travel on the TrawsCymru network, which was designed with a view of enhancing and improving the availability of transport so that we can get modal shift away from cars. That is about a long-term change in behaviour through a short-term pilot scheme that would deliver great benefits, and so far the results are pretty astonishing. We’re also looking at investing, as the Member is also aware, £100 million in an automotive technology park in Ebbw Vale, where there will be a particular focus on low-carbon, autonomous and connected and intelligent vehicles—again with an eye on future generations. And, also, I’ve asked officials to look at retaining a percentage of road infrastructure spend on new projects specifically for the purpose of enhancing the active travel.
I agree with the Member. I think use of the future generations Act is an important way of assessing the various options before us. The three routes to alleviate congestion of the M4 at Newport, it seems to me, do lend themselves to this sort of approach and that comparative analysis, because we need to do something, would be very, very helpful.
Absolutely. As I say, there are numerous examples of how we are shaping policy in light of the future generations Act. I can’t comment on the latest development concerning the M4, because we do have statutory procedures that are ongoing, but I welcome the commissioner’s engagement in the debate about the M4 relief road. I think it’s absolutely imperative that every stakeholder and every person in Wales gets to have a say on what is, I recognise, a controversial proposal, but one that we believe is necessary in order to free up the economy of south Wales.
8. What role does the Welsh Government have in supporting Welsh businesses to trade with one another? (OAQ51157)
We actively support Welsh businesses to trade with other Welsh businesses through our Business Wales and Sell2Wales services. We also hold supply chain events where Welsh businesses can identify alternative suppliers, including other Welsh businesses.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary for that answer. Whilst it will always be vitally important to Welsh jobs that our businesses can supply businesses overseas, to export and to serve global supply chains, we should also, as he indicated in his answer, encourage Welsh businesses to trade with one another and to maximise the economic value in Wales and in our regional economies. What is the Cabinet Secretary’s confidence that the identity of Welsh businesses and their capacity to supply one another is understood by the Welsh Government, or, more importantly, by those trading businesses themselves? How does he respond to the Federation of Small Businesses’s call, last week, to undertake a mapping exercise of Welsh-headquartered firms so that we have a better picture of the capacity of Welsh businesses to trade with one another and to identify gaps in supply chains that Welsh Government can then support those businesses to fill to the benefit of Welsh firms, the Welsh economy, and the Welsh workforce?
Well, I’d like to thank the Member for his question and the observations that he makes, and for referring to the important contribution of the Federation of Small Businesses last week. I’m pleased to say that, today, we’re able to announce further expansion of an important company in south Wales: Maesteg-based Talgarth Bakery is set to move to new premises as a consequence of Welsh Government assistance, and that will create and secure dozens of jobs—another example of how Welsh Government support is acting as an enabler for growth. Now, the principle of increasing collaboration and connectivity across businesses, academia and key stakeholders has been embedded in the anchor and key influencer network. This initiative has delivered an interactive innovation hub map and facilitated easier communication between key pillars of the Welsh economy. The network also works closely with Be The Spark and with anchors and other companies making pledges to strengthen innovative entrepreneurship in Wales. I think another practical example of how we are working with supply chains to tier 1 companies might be the work that’s taking place with regard to Vauxhall Motors in the north and the entire automotive supply chain in north Wales, where we know there are opportunities with, particularly, the potential Astra replacement, given that currently only about 20 per cent of the products for that particular vehicle are sourced from within the region. There are huge opportunities for the supply chain, and that’s why we’re focusing on strengthening the supply chain, not just there, but right across Wales, for other sectors as well.
Yesterday, Cabinet Secretary, there was a huge pile-up on the M4, and one of the things, for business, vital to success is moving its people and its goods around a particular area, indeed around a country. This summer, the traffic jams on the M4 have been literally horrendous, and the loss to industry and the loss to all sections of society by those blockages have caused huge problems. What assessment has your department made of the measures that are in place, where suitable, to be deployed in a timely manner so that traffic can be put on the move again quickly, rather than see the 16-mile tailbacks that we saw yesterday? I appreciate where there have been fatalities or serious injuries then police investigations have to take place, but there has to be a solution to some of these problems in the hands of Traffic Wales, about the way they manage incidents on the motorway.
The Member identifies a particularly tragic case from yesterday. I’m sure all of our thoughts are with those who were involved in this particular incident. The Member was also right to draw attention to the fact that it is the emergency services that determine how long a period is required for work to be carried out. Nonetheless, I do believe that there is an important focus to be made on constantly improving the resilience of our trunk road network, and responding as quickly as possible to incidents such as this. I will be publishing this month the resilience study into the A55, which identifies relatively easy, I hope, and relatively quick delivery systems that can improve the resilience of that trunk road, and potentially then be deployed elsewhere.
9. What is the Welsh Government doing to maximise the economic development benefits that will flow to south-east Wales following the UK Government's confirmation that the Severn bridge tolls will be abolished during 2018? (OAQ51158)
We’ve long recognised the significant economic benefits and the opportunities for Wales with the removal of the tolls. This would boost productivity in Wales by approximately £100 million a year.
Does the Cabinet Secretary agree we should invest more in rail as well as road to drive that economic development? Since new stations at Llanwern and St Mellons will change the pattern of mainline services, does he agree a new station at Magor could complement this? With campaigners meeting the Department for Transport and Network Rail tomorrow, will he consider matching the £80,000 that they and Monmouthshire council have already raised to complete a GRIP 3 assessment and potentially unlock Network Rail investment?
Can I thank the Member for his question and recognise the consistent approach that he’s had to removing the tolls on the Severn bridge? I think that he’s been right to campaign for the removal of the tolls because they have of course enabled us to have tariff-free access to a significant market. It is quite ironic, though, that the Member campaigned for the removal of Britain from a tariff-free market, that is, the EU single market. However, we are working with partners across the border to identify maximum benefit following removal of the tolls, both in terms of the highway network and in terms of the rail network. The Member already identified the investment at Llanwern. We’re looking to improve stations across Wales, but ultimately it requires a commitment from UK Government to improve on the 1.5 per cent of funding that has been provided in the current control period for the best part of 11 per cent of the rail network across England and Wales. It’s absolutely essential that the Department for Transport listens sympathetically to the campaign group from Magor, and I know that there are other campaign groups across Wales that would wish to see service enhancements and enhancements to their infrastructure. I welcome any opportunity to assist in the development of proposals to enhance stations. Indeed, I’ve met with the campaign group that the Member outlines. I’d be willing to meet with other campaign groups. But ultimately it comes down to one fact: we do not have the devolution responsibility and funding for rail infrastructure, and until such a date as we do, it comes down to UK Government to provide the money.
And finally, Jenny Rathbone.
I think that the Member raises an important issue here. I’m quite concerned to read that the Department for Transport expects this lifting of the toll to increase traffic by somewhere between 28 and 45 per cent over the next 10 years, and the savings of £1,400 a year for commuters mean that it’s more likely that even more people are going to be piling into Cardiff by car when we don’t have the alternative public transport solutions available. No £1,400 has been given to encourage more people onto the rail and bus services, and we are talking about something that could actually make our capital city a total nightmare.
And for that reason it’s essential that we plan transport holistically and that we do not see transport modes in isolation but as part of an overall package of responses to what is an increasingly mobile world. I think the figure, if we were to maximise the capacity on the metro—the maximum figure that we could remove from the M4 would be about 4 per cent of existing traffic. I’ll correct myself if that’s wrong. But, the fact is that we need to ensure that the M4 is fit for purpose now that the tolls are going to be removed. The M4 was built at a time when it was a bypass rather than a motorway. It requires urgent work. But I await the outcome of the public local inquiry before making a decision.
Thank you, Cabinet Secretary.