25 speeches by……and 3 more speakers
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on Jane Hutt, the leader of the house. Jane Hutt.
Llywydd, I have three changes to report to this week’s business. I’ve extended this afternoon’s statement on teacher recruitment, and later this afternoon the First Minister will make an oral statement on an update on Brexit negotiations. Additionally, the Business Committee has agreed to reduce tomorrow’s questions to the Assembly Commission to 15 minutes. Business for the next three weeks is as shown on the business statement and announcement found among meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Could I seek two statements, if possible, please, leader of the house? The first is in relation to the review that the Cabinet Secretary for the economy announced of the Heads of the Valleys—it’s the stage on the eastern part of that road. There do seem to be significant ramifications both on cost and time, and businesses in my region have already commented at the dire transport situation they’re faced with, with lorries, cars, vans, stuck in horrendous traffic delays on this part of the road network. It is disappointing, given that this is the largest capital expenditure by the Welsh Government on roads, that there is no statement forthcoming from the Government as to the type, the scale, of the review and, indeed, some of the initial problems that they’ve identified. I do not believe that we’ve had the time and opportunity to question the Minister—or the Cabinet Secretary, should I say—on this review. And, as I said, this isn’t some improvement to a lay-by, this is a £220 million investment made by the Welsh Government into the final part of the eastern link of the Heads of the Valleys road, and I do believe it would have merited presence on the order paper this afternoon, but, in the absence of it being on the order paper this afternoon, could we have the opportunity to have a complete and comprehensive statement from the Cabinet Secretary on this matter? Secondly, could we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health, if possible, please? The First Minister seemed very adamant in his address to me this afternoon that there would be no deficit at the north Wales health board, when a projected deficit of £50 million by the board itself is highlighted in its own board papers, when waiting times are doubling in that particular health board. One can see how residents in north Wales in particular, but in particular politicians from opposition parties in this Chamber who are here to scrutinise the Government, can only shrug their shoulders in disbelief when you think that, five months ago, the health board there is supposed to be making savings of £10 million a month. And to have no impact on waiting times or no impact on staff retention is, I think, fanciful to say the least. If it is the case that the Welsh Government will be injecting new funds into the health board, and, indeed, other health boards that had projected deficits, then I think that needs to be made quite clear and I would, therefore, call on the health Secretary to make a statement to clarify the position that has been taken by the First Minister so that we can have confidence on the measures that are being taken forward to (a) reduce waiting times and (b) make sure that the deficits within the health boards are brought back under control.
Thank you, Andrew R.T. Davies. In answer to your first question, just to clarify and update, the construction of section 2 on the dualling of A465 Heads of the Valleys road started in early 2015. As has been said before, the challenging nature of the scheme has meant that the programme for completion has been impacted, and in light of this—and I’m sure you will welcome this—the Cabinet Secretary has ordered a comprehensive programme and cost review of the project to be undertaken. This process is expected to be completed shortly, but he is happy to write to Members to give more information about that comprehensive programme and review. I think we have to remember that, of course, this dualling is such a large ongoing project it’s delivered in sections; it supports the objectives of the Valleys taskforce; the road connects the M4 at Neath to Abergavenny and Hereford and provides links between west Wales and the midlands—vital. But he will write to you with more detail of his comprehensive programme and cost review. On your second point, I did answer questions last week on this. In fact, I think it was a question from Angela Burns, and I think it’s important to repeat the points I made last week in terms of Betsi Cadwaladr to really clarify that it’s not set to overspend by £50 million this year. The board have identified a significant risk that they may not achieve their planned £26 million deficit, but they are properly using their governance arrangements to address this. The health board has recognised the risk, they’re finalising a financial recovery plan to ensure they receive the £26 million deficit, which presents a controlled total, and these actions will materially improve their forecast. But I think also, just in terms of issues around special measures arrangements, since August, officials raised concerns on the financial performance to date and the potential impact on the forecast deficit. They’ve added additional escalation meetings with health board executives on performance and finance. An independent financial governance review has been commissioned, and that will cover the development, adoption and performance of this year’s financial plan. And the Cabinet Secretary, along with the NHS Wales chief executive, has met with the chair and chief executive of Betsi Cadwaladr. So, I think that’s a pretty robust response to your questions.
Can we have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for the economy and transport on the apparent inability of Caerphilly County Borough Council to upgrade a roundabout without unleashing absolute chaos? People are hours late for work, children late for school, and there’s evidence of businesses now being affected by the upgrades at Pwll-y-Pant roundabout. The works are set to continue for up to a year, and I fear that, if they continue for up to a year in their current form, that will have a long-term detrimental economic impact from which Caerphilly town might not recover for some time. This is one of the busiest roads in the country. Can the Government please intervene in order to turn this shambles around?
Well, the Cabinet Secretary, I’m sure, via his officials, will be aware of the difficulties relating to the construction of this roundabout. But, of course, there are probably examples across Wales where there is disruption as a result of investment in infrastructure, which will, ultimately, make a huge improvement, I’m sure, in terms of connectivity and access, not just for business but also commuters. But you’ve made your point today, Steffan Lewis, so we acknowledge that.
Leader of the house, can I take the opportunity to ask for two statements today? The first is an update to this place in terms of the Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales and where we are in terms of implementing the first Order. I was able, in a previous life, to play a part in ensuring that we set up this panel here in Wales to replace the abolished Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales. I’m aware that an Order was due to be made in April 2017 and we’re still awaiting that, so I think we need an update in this place as to the next steps in the process and whether, before the formal negotiations, that would actually include us doing normal pay negotiations and backdated payment as well. The second statement I’d like to request today is an update on where we are in terms of securing a north Wales growth deal. I understand there have been discussions between both the Welsh Government and the UK Government. So I’d appreciate and welcome an update on that. Also, the Welsh Government has been in talks with leaders in the region, and I’d just encourage, going forward, that any negotiation include those stakeholders and business leaders in the area to make sure that we get a deal that actually works in the best interests of the area.
I thank Hannah Blythyn for both those questions. In response to your first question on the agricultural advisory panel and the implementation of an Order, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs has referred the draft Agriculture Wages (Wales) Order 2017 back to the Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales. That’s in accordance with section 4(1)(b) of the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014. She’s awaiting their response. Consultation on the proposed Order is currently open. It’s due to close on 3 November, and I understand the panel will discuss the outcomes of the consultation at their next meeting. On your second question in terms of a growth deal for north Wales, we are working very closely with the north Wales growth bid team and providing assistance and guidance, but, again, it’s important that partners identify a realistic and proportionate package of measures to justify the unlocking of Welsh and UK Government financial support. In terms of the Cabinet Secretary’s engagement in this, informal support has been given to the concept of a growth strategy for north Wales, integrated with macro planning for north-west England and connectivity to the wider UK economy. This is clearly important in the context of the growth of the advanced manufacturing and energy sectors, which are prioritised by the Welsh Government as the two lead sectors for the region. But the Minister for Northern Powerhouse and local growth, the Wales Office, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and the north Wales growth bid team, with our Cabinet Secretary—those meetings have taken place.
Cabinet Secretary, may I ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Education on the problems facing supply teachers in Wales? Last week, I spoke to a constituent in Newport who raised concerns that employing supply teachers through agencies had resulted in lower pay and poorer terms and conditions in the sector. Instead of receiving £140 a day, they’re receiving £95, because the rest of the money goes to the agency that supplies the teacher. And that is, I’m sure, not the right way of putting public money—into a different direction, rather than into the education system. My constituent also advised me that many of her colleagues are thinking of leaving the profession, and wants to know why Wales does not adopt a central register system as they do in other devolved nations in the United Kingdom. Could we have a statement on this important issue please?
Well, Mohammad Asghar, you will be, I’m sure, staying for the duration of the afternoon to hear the statement from the Cabinet Secretary on teacher recruitment.
Leader of the house, I’d like to ask for a statement on the use of pelvic mesh within the Welsh NHS. I’ve been contacted by one of my constituents regarding her heartbreaking experience following her surgical pelvic mesh implants. My constituent has told me how the surgery impacted on her whole family and feels it’s destroyed her life at the age of 46 years old. She’s been unable to leave the house, unable to go to work, and is, consequently, on half pay, with severe concerns about what her future has to hold. This is one example of thousands of other women across the UK who face the same distressing issue. I understand that the Welsh Government has a task and finish group on this issue, but I would welcome a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health as soon as possible, please.
This is an important issue affecting constituents, including some of my own constituents, and the Cabinet Secretary for health will make a statement on this matter.
Leader of the house, I would like to call for a statement on public procurement. The recent report of the Auditor General for Wales found that despite broad support for the principle of the National Procurement Service, less than a third of local authorities were satisfied with it, including the Welsh Government, despite being the host organisation. Just £149 million of an estimated maximum potential spend of £1.1 billion was spent through the NPS in 2015-16. That’s just 13.5 per cent. I think you’ll agree with me that the report doesn’t actually shine too well on the Welsh Government. With regard to the total savings to be generated by the NPS, as put forward in the initial business case—some £98 million over five years—it was noted that it is clear that these, and some other subsequent estimates, have proved overly ambitious. So, will the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government now bring forward a more detailed statement on how he intends for his refocusing of the National Procurement Service and Value Wales to address these issues?
The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government is addressing this issue and will be updating Members accordingly.
This week, we learnt that London has almost doubled the charges on the most polluting vehicles going into central London, and Oxford has just announced it’s going to be the first UK city to ban petrol and diesel cars from its city centre from 2030. Meanwhile, Paris has regular car-free days in the capital city of France to tackle the toxic air that they’re experiencing. Could the environment Secretary or the transport Secretary make a statement on what carrots and sticks the Welsh Government is considering to clean up the toxic air in our cities, which is driving far too many people to an early death?
I thank Jenny Rathbone for that question. We are developing a new clean air plan for Wales, including a clean air zone framework, which we will be consulting on. All options will be considered, and the Cabinet Secretary will be making a full statement to Plenary about the ongoing air quality work programme before the end of the year. And also Welsh Government is working very closely with local authorities to discuss the air quality challenges specific to their areas and how compliance with EU limits for nitrogen dioxide will be accelerated.
Could I request two statements? First, I understand that the national autistic spectrum disorder—although I prefer the term ‘condition’; I hope the Welsh Government will start using that—co-ordinator is leaving her post. Could I therefore call for a statement? Because there’s uncertainty in the community over what the intention is in terms of a replacement, or how this might impact on roll-out of the new national integrated autism service. Secondly, and finally, could I call for a statement on slavery and human trafficking through Wales? Last week, I questioned the communities Secretary over human trafficking through Holyhead port, referring to the findings of the North Wales Police serious and organised crime local profile modern-day slavery report. In his response, he said we’re the only part of the country—I think he meant the UK—that has an anti-human trafficking co-ordinator, although the UK has in fact had an independent anti-slavery commissioner since 2015, and north Wales lost its north Wales anti-slavery co-ordinator after its three-year funding expired, which had been funded by Welsh Government through local statutory agencies. I’m told that the trafficking route from Romania to France and to Dublin, through Holyhead port, is a huge issue. The manifests on the ferries are inaccurate, with names being made up. The situation is getting worse, but not enough victims, desperate to be found, are being found. There’s no safe house, reception centre, or facilities in north Wales, and, as I said, we lost the regional co-ordinator. Given that, next Saturday, a non-profit organisation called Haven of Light, working with North Wales Police, the voluntary sector council, community and faith groups, are holding a big event in St Asaph cathedral to raise awareness among the north Wales community about the real issues of trafficking and exploitation, I hope we can have a more thorough response from the Welsh Government that details what actions you are taking singly, and also jointly with UK Government and other agencies. Thank you.
Well, of course, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children responded to this last week, and indeed I did in questions on the business statement, in terms of the action that the Welsh Government is taking. It does have the anti-human trafficking co-ordinator—the first in the UK—but is working very closely with the UK Government, because many of the issues you raise are, of course, the responsibility of the Home Office. It is about joint working and a joint leadership group, which of course we are fully engaged with, as we are also with the police and crime commissioners.
Can I raise a concern with the Minister and ask for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs on the impact of income for zoos in Wales as a result of a potential tourism tax? One of the things that was discussed at the recent British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly was the great value that zoos across the United Kingdom, and in the Republic of Ireland, have to the local economy. And, of course, they do a great deal of work in terms of education and conservation as well. Concerns were raised by Dr Pullen, who is the chief executive of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, regarding the potential impact of the Welsh Government’s plans to look at introducing a tourism tax here in Wales. It was met with some alarm by her, because, of course, it would mean significant reductions in gate fees at zoos if it affects visitor numbers, and that could hamper their opportunities to educate and undertake conservation activity. So, I wonder whether we can have a response from the Welsh Government on the concerns that the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums has raised, and whether there has been any discussion with zoos. As I understand it, there has not been a single discussion with zoos in Wales about this, including the Welsh Mountain Zoo, which, of course, is the national zoo of Wales in my own constituency. They’re very concerned about the potential impact of a tourism tax and I would like to see the Government responding to their concerns.
You’re obviously, clearly, revving up for tomorrow’s opposition debate, it seems to me. I don’t think there is much more—apart from possible fake or false information coming forward. But we look forward to hearing you again, I’m sure, Darren Millar, tomorrow afternoon.
Leader of the house, I’d be grateful if I could repeat my request of four weeks or so ago for a statement regarding the publication of regulations for the Welsh language standards for the health sector. You did say in your reply to me, at the time, that there would be something in the following day’s debate, but there wasn’t, I’m afraid. So, I’d be very grateful if perhaps you could press for that to be brought forward, to give some indication of when the timetable’s going to be published.
Thank you, Suzy Davies. I will certainly enquire as to the progress and timelines.
Can I concur with the earlier comments of Janet Finch-Saunders in referring to the Auditor General for Wales’s report on procurement? I look forward, with the rest of the members of the Public Accounts Committee, to looking further into that. It’s clearly a very important issue for the Assembly to look at. Secondly, within the last couple of weeks, an application for a new hotel and spa in Monmouth, at the gateway to Wales, has been turned down after being called in by the Welsh Government. The decision to put that application in was roundly welcomed by people in the town of Monmouth and there were potentially great economic benefits of having that development. It was turned down on the grounds of technical advice note 15. I wonder if we could have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary on the workings of TAN 15 across Wales, because I know that this particular development is just one of a number over the last few months and years that have been turned down in this way. I’m all for measures to guard against flooding across Wales, and flooding of new developments, but in the case of a major economic boost such as this, I do think there are serious questions that need to be answered, and I think that the Welsh Government need to look at revising TAN 15 so that legislation like this does not negatively impact the economy of Wales.
In answer to your first question, Nick Ramsay, of course, we welcome the findings of the WAO report. Janet Finch-Saunders raised this earlier, as you said. We are pleased it identifies the leadership we’ve shown in providing direction on public procurement and support for public bodies in Wales on procurement, but we do see this as a further opportunity to build on the progress that’s been achieved, and that’s why the finance Secretary announced his intention to refocus the National Procurement Service and Value Wales within the Welsh Government, considering, of course, all the recommendations in the report as we take forward the work in collaboration with the public sector. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, I’m sure, will note the points the Member made this afternoon, and there’s always an opportunity to ask that question and make those points to her: question time and appropriately as a Member in committee.
Thank you, leader of the house.