Y Pwyllgor Cyllid

Finance Committee

08/10/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Mike Hedges MS
Peredur Owen Griffiths MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Peter Fox MS
Rhianon Passmore MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Ken Skates AM Comisiynydd y Senedd
Senedd Commissioner
Manon Antoniazzi Prif Weithredwr a Chlerc y Senedd
Chief Executive and Clerk of the Senedd
Nia Morgan Cyfarwyddwr Cyllid, Comisiwn y Senedd
Director of Finance, Senedd Commission

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Martin Jennings Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Mike Lewis Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Owain Roberts Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Iawn, dwi’n gobeithio ein bod ni'n fyw rŵan. Croeso cynnes i chi gyd ac mae'n dda eich gweld chi ar fore dydd Gwener fel hyn, a diolch yn fawr i chi am eich amser hefo ni y bore yma.

Yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 34.19, dwi wedi penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o gyfarfod y pwyllgor er mwyn diogelu iechyd y cyhoedd. Yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 34.21, cafodd hysbysiad o'r penderfyniad hwn ei gynnwys yn agenda y cyfarfod hwn. Mae'r cyfarfod hwn yn cael ei ddarlledu'n fyw ar Senedd.tv, a bydd Cofnod y Trafodion yn cael ei gyhoeddi yn y ffordd arferol. Ar wahân i addasiadau gweithredol sy'n ymwneud â chynnal trafodion o bell, mae holl ofynion eraill y Rheolau Sefydlog ar gyfer pwyllgorau yn parhau.

Felly, mi wnawn ni barhau ymlaen.

Okay, I hope we are now live. A warm welcome to you all and it's very good to see you on a Friday morning like this, and thank you very much for your attendance.

In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. In accordance with Standing Order 34.21, notice of this decision was included in the agenda for this meeting. The meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. Aside from the procedural adaptations relating to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place.

So, we will move on.

So, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

2. Papurau i’w nodi
2. Papers to note

We have some papers to note and, as long as there's no objection, we'll note papers 1 and 2. Paper 3 is a response to a letter sent by myself on 8 July on future collaboration. Sorry, Rhianon, yes. Do you want to come in?

I was going to wait. Yes, just to say that that's very welcome and I'm presuming that we will be positively responding to that offer of potential dialogue with them; I think it's something that I’ve been very interested in for a long time, and I think there's even more reason for synergy now, where we can, across the devolved nations. Thank you.

Lovely. Excellent. Okay. I think, if everybody is happy, we can task the clerks to move forward with planning that and looking at scoping that out for us. Excellent.

3. Craffu ar Gyllideb Ddrafft Comisiwn y Senedd ar gyfer 2022-23: Sesiwn dystiolaeth
3. Scrutiny of the Senedd Commission Draft Budget 2022-23: Evidence session

Okay, we’ll move on then to item 3, scrutiny of the Senedd Commission.

Croeso cynnes ichi i gyd.

A very warm welcome to you all.

Welcome to the three of you for joining us on a Friday morning like this. Can I just ask, for the Record, if you could state your name and role for the Record, please?  

I'm Ken Skates, Member of the Senedd for Clwyd South, and I'm a Commissioner responsible for the budget.

I'm Manon Antoniazzi. I'm clerk and chief executive of the Senedd.

Bore da. Good morning. Nia Morgan, cyfarwyddwr cyllid Comisiwn y Senedd.

Good morning. Nia Morgan, director of finance for the Senedd Commission.

Gwych. Diolch yn fawr. Diolch yn fawr. Felly, diolch yn fawr iawn ichi am eich amser y bore yma. 

Great. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much for your time this morning.

Thank you very much for your time. I'm going to kick off with some questions, and thank you for the budget and for preparing it and for your officials for preparing it as well. So, thank you very much.

The first question is: how have goals and priorities changed during the sixth Senedd and how is the impact of this on the budget compared to the last Senedd? So, the comparison between this one and the last one, if somebody would want to take that. I don’t know who. Ken, maybe.

Thank you, Chair. Yes, if I begin and then perhaps Manon might like to contribute as well to this question. And thank you so much for inviting us along to the committee. It’s really good of you to operate in a flexible way so that we can meet on a Friday. I'm really, really grateful to you.

The new Commission's goals and priorities have not yet been finalised. We discussed them at the July meeting. They're due to be finalised at the meeting that we've got scheduled for next month, for November, and, of course, we are more than happy to share information once finalised. Just as a reminder of the Commission’s goals back in the fifth Senedd term, they were threefold: first of all to provide outstanding parliamentary support; secondly to engage with all the people of Wales and champion the Senedd; and then thirdly to use resources wisely. Now, it’s not expected that these goals will change significantly, but, given what we’ve been through, given the climate emergency, given the ongoing threat in terms of cyber security, there will be some change in terms of security and sustainability. And, of course, we'll maintain the people of Wales at the heart of everything that we do. I don't know whether there's anything that Manon would like to add to that.

09:35

Thank you, Ken. I think you captured the emerging themes there. I think engagement with the people of Wales is another one where we want to seek direction from the Commission going forwards in this sixth Senedd.

I would say, in terms of how the budget is being impacted, it probably isn't impacted very much in the budget that's before you for the next financial year, because we haven't had a chance to build in that new direction from the Commission yet. So, we have maintained a certain degree of flexibility—a very small degree of flexibility—within the context of the whole budget, because a lot of the estimates that you have before them are more or less fixed. But we will be taking into account the outcome of the capacity review, which we're currently conducting, work that is under way to look at future ways of working, and I was talking to the Public Administration and Public Accounts Committee about that on Wednesday.

We obviously want to learn lessons from the experiences that we've had during the last 18 months of lockdown and see what innovations are worth carrying on into the future, and there may be budgetary implications to that. But we will be looking, then, at the ICT provision, and other new ways of engaging. But I think that Ken has explained the situation there in terms of that the overarching goals are unlikely to change radically from the fifth Senedd, and it is just a matter of responding to emerging imperatives within that.

And, in all probability, it's going to be the budget for 2023-24 that will reflect any major change, given that we're still capturing data, evidence and working on those reviews that Manon has outlined.

We note that there's a 4.4 per cent budget increase. Do you think that's taken sufficient regard of the principles set out by our predecessor Finance Committee?

I think, first of all, the Commission is very conscious indeed and mindful of the statement of principles that was set out by the predecessor committee and, at every meeting, the Commission has reference to, or inclusion of, the statement of principles in the budget documentation. And, just recently in our September meeting, the SOP was included within the papers, along with the recent letter from the Minister for Finance and Local Government, and that's particularly important, I feel, for a new Commission and new Commission members to consider and to have sight of when discussing the budget strategy and the draft budget itself.

Okay. Lovely. And do you think that—? What would be the implications of possibly not raising it by 4.4 per cent?

Well, we considered various scenarios, various options, and the risk was felt to be too high. In not raising it by 4.4 per cent, there would've been significant risk to the support and service that Senedd Members receive from the Commission, and we felt that it was prudent, therefore, to set it at 4.4 per cent, not least given that we are still undergoing tremendous change and we need to take stock of the future needs of Senedd Members and also things like facilities and so forth.

Okay. Thank you. So, we've obviously heard the announcement about national insurance contributions changing next year. The overall cost of that is around £300,000, from your report—it states that in there. How much of that is related to Commission staff, and how much of that would affect the overall increase in the Commission's element of the budget?

If I may, I'll defer to Nia. I think it's roughly £170,000 relating to Commission staff and about £130,000 relating to Senedd Members and their staff. But, in case I'm slightly wrong on the figures, I'll invite Nia to provide them.

Yes, that's correct: we mention the £300,000 in the budget documentation, and, as Ken mentions, it's split between £170,000 for Commission staff and then £130,000 for Senedd Members and their support staff, which is included in the determination budget line.

Okay. Thank you for that. A final one from me on this. We know that there are discussions going on around Senedd reform and some of the scenarios and other things that we're considering and the impact of that on the 2022-23 budget. How would you resource that? Because, obviously, there will be some officials' time, there will be some initial work going on. So, how is that budgeted for? Is that a separate line in there, or are you going to be able to absorb it in some of the work that there's already? Have you given due consideration to that? 

09:40

By all means. Certainly, the prospect of further Senedd reform is one of the pressures that we have taken into account, along with the general volume of Welsh Government legislation that's coming along at the moment and the need for post-Brexit legislative scrutiny and, indeed, responding to the effects of the pandemic. So, Senedd reform is certainly there. So, to answer your question, an element of that is built into this budget. We try to be as transparent as possible in the budget document and explain the evidence for what we're requiring, and we have asked, according to the statement of principles, as Ken mentioned, for as little as we think we need. Of course, we are going to have to review that as we go on, as we normally do. We start off with a prudent request for what we consider necessary, and, if we can't contain that, then we will have to come back, ultimately, and ask for supplementary budgets, but it depends on events. We would hope to be able to contain most of that by continuing to work in an agile manner and dynamically managing the budget and reprioritising as we go along.

Thank you very much. Okay. Can I go over to Mike for the next section? Thank you.

I think that most discussions on finance normally start with, 'Because of the pandemic, certain things have happened.' There are three points I'd like to raise with you. The first one is that we've had a huge increase in hybrid working, with a lot of people working from home: has that led to any increase or decrease in productivity?

Shall I take this, Ken?

We don't think so, and the reason why I'm saying that is that we have needed, of course, to double down on good management in the course of this time, because it is challenging to manage people from a distance, and so we've been giving extra support to line mangers. We have been taking surveys—pulse surveys—on a regular basis to ask people to assess their own productivity, and also looking overall at whether goals are being met at every level, from people's individual goals right up to our corporate goals, which are, ultimately, assessed in the annual report, which we were being scrutinised on on Wednesday. In some cases, people are reporting that their productivity is going up by working in a hybrid way, because they can concentrate at home, but we are also, I should hasten to add, very mindful that, for a lot of our staff, the reports suggest that they do occasionally feel overworked. We have a lot of staff who have been home schooling during this period, so that's a huge strain on them, of course, and we also have staff who might not have an ideal environment to work in at home, and that's been something—we have been encouraging people to come forward so that we can help them both in terms of practical resources, if they need special equipment at home, or whether they need mental health support and social interaction. So, all of these things have been very, very challenging. And, like many other organisations, we have had to accelerate communication; we have had to accelerate good management practices. But I'm glad to say that I don't think there has been a decrease in productivity during this time.

I think, from the research that's been carried out, those pulse surveys, we've found—I think it's 20 per cent of staff have reported working more hours during the pandemic. Manon was outlining about what we've seen so far. I think the assumption that would lead us to believe that productivity, if anything, has improved would also mirror what happened during my time as a Minister. What we were seeing in the department as well, in economy and transport, was that productivity was not being lost; if anything it was being enhanced. There will be, early in the new year, a further Members' survey, which, perhaps, should include questions about productivity for Members and their offices. So, we'll utilise that as well to ascertain further evidence about productivity.

09:45

Well, having this meeting online has saved Nia and I two hours today, from getting back and forth to Cardiff, so that's certainly made both of us, I would imagine, more productive— 

So, Mike, that's a really important point. I was calculating how many working hours a week are saved as a consequence of north Wales Members not having to make the journey down, and my rough guesstimate was in excess of 30 hours, possibly 40 hours. 

If I could come in, obviously, that has environmental benefits as well, and we're hoping that it'll open up a far wider pool for us for potential employment in future, so we might be able to employ people from further afield. 

Certainly, but I think perhaps the point I was trying to make is that we become more efficient by not spending an hour travelling up to Cardiff, an hour travelling back. You've talked about saving— 

And there's also a huge social justice issue in this, as well, I believe. As a consequence of the pandemic and the new ways of working, it is opening up opportunities to people that, in the past, perhaps, would not have been able to be employed by the Senedd. So, it's contributing to social inclusion, as well.

As you know, I talked about that when you attended the other committee meeting. The other point is you talked about ICT, and you've had the one-off cost of ICT, haven't you, with hybrid working, to make sure people can work from home, and those costs have been met. Should there not be a saving in future years because those one-off costs have been met?

I wish that were the case. Unfortunately, the nature of ICT means that you have to keep up investment in it, and it's the nature of ICT that, quite often, these bits of equipment become obsolete quite quickly, which is why we have a rolling programme, looking forward several years into the future, of ICT investment. There is a cyber security risk of letting equipment get out of date, because we're not able to run the software we need to keep us ahead of people who would try to attack the organisation in that sense. So, I'm afraid it's something we're probably going to have to look at in future years as well, and because people are working in hybrid ways, there are some bits of equipment that you can carry between your office at home and your office in work, but there will be other bits of equipment where we may have to be setting people up and including Members, particularly—setting them up in several places, and you can't carry a large monitor around with you wherever you go in the way that you carry a laptop or a telephone. So, I'm expecting there will be some elevated costs for ICT for a while. 

Yes, sorry, just to add to what Manon was saying. We're aware that there are added demands from Members, as well, for example, for dedicated telephone lines into their homes in order to have superfast broadband and so forth. So, we, in the future, will probably have further demands of that nature and will have to take account of them, so I don't think we can rule out additional costs for IT. There was a startling figure quoted at the previous committee this week that we appeared at. I think it was Nia who quoted a figure of 100,000 e-mails that are received with malicious intent, and that demonstrates the security risk to the Senedd, Senedd Members, and further demonstrates a need to invest in cyber security and to work with those national organisations, including the national cyber security expertise facility and to invest in systems that protect us.

Yes, if I may, briefly, in regard to any and the shift in emphasis in terms of supporting staffing and also Members that COVID-19 and the health pandemic have, in a sense, propagated, that is extremely welcome. So, the first question, really is: in terms of the capacity review that you talked about—I'll come to Ken's point briefly, if I may—when will that be published? And, speaking to the comments that we've just heard with regard to a dedicated broadband line for Members—and I don't want to go off on a tangent, Chair, but on a security level alone, outside of the difficulty practically of working in a hybrid way on one single line, that's the norm in local government. And I would have thought, on a security level for the future, that that last comment is absolutely pertinent because we know that we will be coming under further and further scrutiny in that regard, working in a hybrid fashion. Thank you, Chair. 

09:50

My final question on this section is: you believe that the structure you've got is the best you could have, otherwise you'd have changed the structure. Have you considered bringing some management consultants in to look, because from my outside look at it, I think you're over-managed? And I think that layers of management could be phased out over a period of time. You don't believe that and, effectively, it's your decision, so I can't make you do that. But, have you thought of getting management consultants in to look at it to see whether you could reduce the layers of management?

Well, I think that the process of capacity review is how we have satisfied ourselves in terms of organisational design. There was a big exercise that took place in 2017-18 on that, and looked at how we allocate our resources across the organisation and how our management is structured. There were some changes, if you remember, Mike, at that stage. We created the executive board, which was a smaller and leaner organisation, to bear the decision-making responsibility for the organisation. We have also, since then, created the programme and change board to make sure that projects are well and professionally managed. 

We have another capacity review taking place now and, forgive me, I hadn't directly addressed Rhianon's question. That capacity review started in May of this year. We're in a discovery phase at the moment, so we're gathering evidence and are preparing recommendations, which we expect to give to the Commission by the end of this calendar year. And then we will move into either further exploration of the recommendations or implementation of the recommendations next year. So, I imagine that it's probably going to be spring by the time—certainly before I am before you this time next year when we can talk in greater detail about that. 

One more point to Mike's issue of bringing in external expertise, we have in the past, for particular restructures, sought external advice to bring an objective eye. For example, for our communications and engagement directorate restructure, we had the benefit of external advice on that. And we do also have four external advisers to the Commission, our independent advisers, all of whom have a wealth of experience in working in the private sector and the public sector. And they are members of the audit and risk assurance committee and our remuneration and workforce committee. And so, they are a source of constant external advice to us. 

We are an unusual organisation. Although we're not huge compared to many local authorities, even, we are very highly regulated as well as very highly managed. We, quite rightly, hold ourselves to high standards and we're in quite a bit of a goldfish bowl. The level of scrutiny that we undergo is very welcome and is very helpful, but it is also very thorough. So, I think that we have evolved a management structure that responds to those demands pretty effectively, going forward. 

And, of course, we also share information and compare ourselves to the other devolved administrations and the UK Parliament as well so that we can judge whether we're managing ourselves in the correct way and appropriate way, compared to those. 

Just if I may, you talked about contingency planning and business continuity and that sort of thing. How has it affected your continuity business plans about a physical building, where we've done quite a lot online? So, has that changed the contingency plans of having a Chamber available if we needed to go somewhere else physically? What sort of contingency is there around that? I'd be interested to understand that.

09:55

A lot of this actually I believe has to remain quite confidential given the security issues that relate to alternative venues for us to meet, but there are contingency plans in place.

And the financial impact of that, how does that feed into your budgeting process?

To some extent, Peredur, it doesn't, because we can't prudently plan for that sort of catastrophic event. We would have to meet that eventuality when it came. As Ken said, we can write to you with more details of that, if you'd like, but we certainly haven't relaxed our planning for the need for a physical relocation, as well as now having additional avenues of business continuity open to us.

Thank you very much. I will bring—if Mike's—Mike, are you okay, or—?

The first question: can you confirm that your lease is full repair, i.e. you have to do the windows, or have you not got a full repairing lease?

So, the windows aren't a matter of debate, they're part of our lease responsibilities?

They are, Mike. I think there is probably something to explore about what a full repairing lease means, but yes, that is what we're faced with, and the question that we put to the Commission last December was, with the latest estimate of the figures of replacing them, what options they had in terms of is it more effective to do all of this in one go, or to phase it over a number of years, and so on. And the view of the Commission in December was that it wasn't right for it to take a decision and bind the hands on such a substantial subject so close to the end of a Senedd, and so it has presented those recommendations to the current Commission, and before they make a decision, I imagine they're going to have to think about our wider accommodation strategy, which I'm sure Ken will be able to talk to.

Thanks, Manon. Yes, the previous Commission did kindly pass the parcel to us on the windows issue for us to determine. But of course, there are things that aren't in our control that we need to consider regarding this matter. For example, what are the Government's intentions regarding their estate and their future intentions for working? The future composition of the Senedd as well; are we going to increase the number of Members? All of these major decisions will then contribute to our consideration of what estate is required for the Senedd, and that in turn will obviously then influence the decision over the future of the windows. We wish to make a decision concurrently over the windows and the future ways of working, and that's why the review is just so important. But as I say, there are certain things that aren't in our control.

Thanks. That's quite enough, I suppose, in terms of the timings that we've got. In regard to the full repairing lease, I've been asking questions on this for quite a while now, so there is absolutely, then, from what I read earlier—that wasn't apparent in the documentation that we had in terms of it being an absolute must and a full repairing lease—so, what you're saying is that there is no wriggle room, because I get a different perspective from what Ken has stated than from you, Manon. So, I'm just asking again: in regard to our obligations with this lease—because I'm not a lawyer—the fixtures and fittings of the building, we have to repair these windows, is that the case? A simple 'yes' or 'no' would be great.

I'm not a lawyer, either, Rhianon, but we have a full repairing lease, therefore we have an obligation to return the building in a decent condition if that is what we decide to do, because obviously, there is a question about the status of the building in future, whether the Commission wants us to acquire it or give it back to the current owner.

I'd always urge buying it, because people's general view on housing is it's cheaper to buy than to rent over a period of time, and assuming the Senedd isn't going anywhere—although that's not necessarily everybody's view—I think that owning it would be a good way of going forward. I think what we need, at some stage, is for the Commission—it's not for the Finance Committee—to look at how much it would cost, and then how we would fund it. I think that being responsible to a landlord is never good in terms of financial management, and I would urge you—and it's your decision, not mine—to look at how much it will cost, and then make a business case for purchasing it.

10:00

That's really helpful, Mike. We are keen as Commissioners to make sure that we engage with all Members on this. It's a hugely important question and obviously it carries considerable cost, regardless of the decision that we ultimately reach. So, engagement with yourselves, I think, is very important.

Good morning, all. It's great to be with you. Just to finish on that last point, it's just a shame we didn't buy the building 20 years ago, isn't it? Because that asset—just think what that would be on our books now. That asset is always going to be hugely valuable, and very difficult to detach from our Senedd as well. So, if there's a way that we can secure that for the future generations, I think we should.

I was going to talk about a couple of things, and actually, some of the areas have already been covered. But just to pick up first of all on a bit about sustainability. I know that the Commission has recently produced its carbon neutral strategy, and I note in that that it's phased over three stages, moving forward. I just wondered if you could explain a little about how you prioritised those phases, and perhaps then how are those proposed expenditures, certainly in phase 1 and probably part of phase 2, factored into or reflected in the draft budget.

I'll introduce the three periods of investment, and then perhaps invite Manon and Nia to make comments as well. We've got the short-term period up to 2023, and that involves further energy monitoring to enable us to replace inefficient infrastructure like pumps and ventilation fans and so forth. The budget for that is not considerable—it's only £30,000. And then, also, further phased LED lighting replacement in Tŷ Hywel, which obviously leads to a reduction in electricity usage, and that carries a budget of £80,000 in 2021-22, and there'll be a further phase in 2022-23 subject to budget. Obviously, planning ahead is made more difficult by annual budgets. But then, in the medium term, that being to 2026, we're looking at solar photovoltaic panels for electric generation. Costs are going to follow, obviously, a feasibility study. We can't estimate at the moment what the cost is going to be on that. And then there'll also be replacement air handling units. Again, costs will be determined for that particular work. There'll be connection to the district heat network. That will carry no cost, and potential financial savings. Then we've also got the question about new windows that will have to be considered in the medium term. Then, in the longer term, that being to 2030, the budget is going to be subject to feasibility studies and actions will include air source heat pumps and investment in carbon offsetting schemes as well.

Thanks for that, Ken. So, there's not a huge overhead for us to carry at the moment in the draft budget, then. I can see that. I suppose I'm also trying to understand—and perhaps it's not for this committee to ask these questions, perhaps it was for the committee earlier in the week—how you decided to prioritise those things. Because I would have thought that some of the longer term stuff, that's where we're looking at MS travel and subsistence, for instance, you know—wouldn't it have been sensible really to have brought those things further forward, so they had a better impact earlier? Some of the things that were prioritised in the later phases might have had a financial benefit to us, and contributed to the carbon reduction targets sooner. Just looking at those, I can see the various things, which are all good, but I just couldn't quite understand how the priority came about. But that may be for somewhere else, Peredur, I'm not sure. 

10:05

It's a fair point about travel and subsistence, but we're still ascertaining future needs. The situation is still changing daily, and we don't know exactly what shape or form the needs of Senedd Members will take in the months and years to come. And therefore, we just need to gather the evidence before making budget projections for any work that's associated with changes to the way that we work, and that's why that flexibility and agile futures work is so important to consider. 

Yes, and I dare say the Commission will want to be flexible. If you see an opportunity to do something sooner, you might reprioritise, but, of course, you have to get a plan down, and I understand that. That's sustainability covered. I want to move on to workforce a bit, and actually some of that I know has been covered. Manon, I know you picked up some of these areas. I know that, Manon, you said that if you need more money for things, we'll have a supplementary budget if that's required, and I know there was a supplementary budget at the end of last year for an additional £650,000, I think, to cover some of the holidays that weren't going to be taken. Have we got an estimate of where we are about the value of accrued leave at the moment? 

We do. Can I hand over to Nia on that one? We actually have an executive board meeting immediately following this meeting. We regularly review accrued leave, flexi leave and annual leave, and review sickness absences as well. Nia, have you found the figure? 

Yes. Thank you. The figure you referred to is the £650,000 supplementary budget that we laid last year. The actual figure at the end of the financial year, which the PAPA committee looked at earlier in the week, was £512,000. So, the actual result was lower than the budget. The annual leave accrual balance itself at the start of last year was £775,000, and during the year the amount that we set aside as a provision for that increased to £1.287 million. So, it's that increase in that accrued leave that we need to put through the revenue accounts each year. We are now looking at it at the end of September and comparing back to last September, and then trying to project forward to the end of the financial year to look at the movement in this provision. What we would have expected to see was a potential decrease in the amount of accrued leave as the travel industry opens up and the pandemic reduces in its severity, but we haven't seen that as yet. 

I've quickly looked at the figures this week as at the end of September, and at first initial look, the figures have increased, which is surprising. So, I'd like to spend a bit more time analysing those figures and understanding what's behind them to make sure the figures are correct. And then, as Manon mentioned, I'm reporting to executive board today and asking for another week or so to fully analyse that. And then, it will be up to the executive board to see how we respond to this information, as we did last year. The week before Christmas, there was an opportunity for staff to take a week of leave where we reduced the volume of work that was expected of them. So, if Manon wants to talk about the approach that we took last year, and potentially that we need a similar approach this year. 

I'll just add quickly—Nia has summarised it there—that we were getting alarmed at the levels of accrued leave this time last year, and we actively encouraged people to take a proper break over Christmas, because we're all aware that one of the dangers of hybrid working as well is that work can leak into your life permanently, and you can end up with people overworking if we're not careful. So, we wanted to make sure that for well-being reasons, people were taking an appropriate amount of time away from work, and that worked last year. We're hoping to do something similar this year. 

10:10

Thank you. Yes, it is surprising, isn't it, that that accrued leave isn't reducing as normality comes back, and that deeper understanding is going to be important, because of how people are viewing holidays now when they're working from home, because of that flexibility. Do they feel they're not entitled to take things, because they're in theory in work, even though they could have that flexibility to do what they wish as well at times? So, there's a whole gamut of things we need to understand around homeworking, I think, and the implications to organisations and to the individuals.

Manon, you touched on the review earlier about staff capacity and different things around that, and time frames and things. I don't know if there's anything further you want to add about progress on that or what the outputs you might be looking for out of it are, and how that would feed into the workforce planning. I think you've probably covered a lot of it earlier.

It's a good opportunity for us to draw together our thinking on a wide range of things. The accommodation strategy, I think, is going to be closely interleaved with that, because how we work, how we use the office, how we think about the point of an office now is something that I talk about a lot with people leading other organisations as well, because there's a lot of good thinking out there about workforce planning particularly. But of course we have a unique set of challenges here in the Senedd, because there has to be a physical presence where Senedd Members meet, so we have to respond to that. But I think that one of the very positive experiences that we've had during lockdown has been to form a loans pool. So, in other words, we have moved resources around dynamically from the services that were inevitably left with less work to do, because buildings were closed, and so on, to the areas of greater stress, like HR and ICT, where we needed all hands to the pump. That's been a really good 'one team' cultural exercise that has enabled people to familiarise themselves with different teams and so on. So, I think that finding a way of continuing that and making sure that people have a variety of interesting experiences when they come and work for the Senedd makes it an even better place to work.

Thank you, Manon. Could you give a further insight into how the staffing capacity of the Commission is positioned to be able to respond to some of those other new differing demands, such as the internal market Act? You've already covered some of the Senedd reform things. Is there enough capacity? Have you factored in contingency into the draft budget to cover preparedness—I think we might have touched on that a little earlier—especially as it relates to Senedd reform?

One of the rather brave features, if I may say so, of our budget is that we don't have a contingency line. We have developed our management of the budget over time to try and foresee as well as we can the pressures coming forward and make provision for that. It's something that we keep under close review. I think I mentioned earlier that we're about to do a deep dive later on this morning with the executive board into absence figures, which, after being pretty healthy during the last financial year, are showing signs of increase this year. Some of that is due to a small number of particularly acute long-term cases, and so we'll deal with those particularly, but it is still something we feel we need to look at. I think that factors such as mental well-being, social isolation from colleagues, people not having appropriate work environments at home, and indeed people actually coming down with coronavirus—although we don't have very many of those cases—are all issues that we want to bear in mind. I think that our response to it, really, is—. Some of it comes down to good management, intensive communication, support for line management so that people know exactly what is expected of them, and we are giving leadership in terms of what the priorities for the organisation are at any particular time of the year. And then we monitor carefully as well what staff are telling us, so there's an ongoing dialogue with staff and lots of information provided and practical help and support, as I mentioned earlier. So, that's how we hope to be able to cope with ongoing pressures. But, ultimately, we plan as well as we can now and we provide as much transparency as we can to you as a committee, knowing that we will be retrospectively examined then on how well we did by the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee at the end of the year. But there may be adjustments that we have to make in the course of the year, but, obviously, the Commission will have full sight of that going forward and in delegating that responsibility to me.

10:15

Thank you, Manon. You've covered the next point I was going to raise, because I think a lot of us have real concerns about the well-being of our staff at home. For some, this system might be really great for them, but for others, it could be putting a terrible burden on them—

—and that flexibility for all of our workforce and understanding their needs is going to be fundamental.

I just wonder: have we assessed any of the financial impact of flexible working? I think we've probably covered this as well, but what does this actually mean to us? How many millions have we saved in electric, for instance, in not having so many lights on in the Commission, in the Senedd? I don't expect that that is the case—I don't know. Is there any financial analysis? Because that would really shape what a future Senedd might look like.

We have done quite a bit and we have written to predecessor committees capturing savings and costs going forward. But I think there are some subtle costs that we are yet to assess, which comes back to the point that we made to you earlier about taking our time to draw conclusions about future ways of working. Because it may be that we corporately have saved money on utilities, although we have had to maintain a comfortable working environment, of course, in the building for the people who are in and the people who've been cleaning and maintaining the building, so it hasn't been as dramatic as you might think. But, of course, people need to be supported at home then, and there are interim thoughts that we might have about hub working and so on, in future—all of this is at a very early stage of consideration. But it isn't a straightforward saving, by any means.

Nia, do you want to talk about the letters?

Yes. We touched on this with the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee earlier in the week as well. As Manon mentioned, we produced a letter at the end of the financial year setting out all of the financial implications—positive and negative—of COVID during the last financial year, and we're seeing quite a similar picture this year. But, in actual fact, we're seeing less data coming this year, because it was an election year as well, going straight into a recess period. So, there's less evidence this year. So, the Commission did take the view that there's more work to do and more information and data to gather on the extent to which staff and Members return to the offices and the accommodation strategy. We've also touched on the futures report and the capacity review. There is such a lot of information coming this year that we have tried to keep the budget quite stable for next year. And as Ken mentioned, the big changes are likely to be seen in the budget for 2023-24.

And throwing into the mix of, 'Yes, we blame everything on COVID', we've also got the spectre of potential inflation increases for next year, the gas prices, and the national insurance increase was thrown into the mix three weeks ago. So, the budget, as you can imagine, I'm juggling about 20 different things at the moment, so it's probably not the most accurate of budgets for next year that I've produced, but I think the executive board and the Commission are very sympathetic to the environment that we're working in at the moment.

Thank you, Peter. I'll bring Rhianon in now for the final few questions.

Thank you very much. In regard then to—if I briefly may—perceptions and future planning in terms of any perception in the Senedd or outside of the Senedd of a two-tier workforce, i.e. those in the building and those out of the building, a north-south potential divide as we move forward with hybrid working, are there any mitigations in place, whether they're early thoughts—? I know what you said in terms of security earlier, so I don't ask for any detail, but what is being discussed around that, firstly, very briefly, if I may?

10:20

Well, we don't want any form of disadvantage for any members of staff or any Members of the Senedd who are not on campus, if you like, who are not based out of Tŷ Hywel and the Senedd building. Obviously, we're still gathering information as to what future needs are, and that will then inform what provision is given to Members and to staff. But we're keen and we're mindful of the need to avoid any sort of two-tier system emerging, but, obviously, we're going to have to work very closely with staff and with Members of the Senedd to ensure that that doesn't happen. 

Okay. Thank you very much for that. We've touched briefly, previously, in a different committee, in regard to engagement around the lower socioeconomic cohorts in terms of the employment data being collected. So, I do really welcome the new audience innovative concepts resource line that is mentioned here in terms of our increasing engagement with the people of Wales. So, in short, how do the budget allocations reflect this?

So, I'll begin by saying that there's £200,000 in the 2022-23 draft budget for engagement and outreach activities, and, as you say, Rhianon, we are desperately keen to make sure that we reach those people who have perhaps not been engaged with us in past years, and that's why that £200,000 is so important within the £1.5 million project fund.

Okay. And how is that expected to change the current scenario in terms of the benchmarking of where we feel we are? What is the anticipated goal within that?

So, we're going to be investing in new online engagement tools to make it easier for the public to engage with the work of committees, such as inquiries. We're going to make it more interactive as well, what we offer, so that systems can then flag up petitions if somebody searches for a specific subject that they want to research, and if there's a petition linked to it, then that will become more available in an easier fashion. And we're also investing in surveys to better understand how members of the public view our work. 

And, briefly, this may be for a different committee, but those are all clearly understood. But are there any plans afoot for physical visits when we do start to open up to, for instance, mother and toddler groups, places where we know our cohorts are that we don't traditionally reach out to? I don't know if something could be provided at some point to us if there's no information on that. I don't know if there's any comment on that before I move on.

We can certainly provide more information on that. Our priority right now is making sure that, given people haven't been able to access the estate, the online presence is as good as it can possibly be, and that's why we're investing in additional social media content to make online access more interactive.

Thank you. In regard then to the up-and-coming elections for the Youth Parliament, how is the funding reflected in this current budget, and what changes are anticipated for this coming second parliament? And how are the Youth Parliament's ways of working changing also? I don't know if Manon would like to respond to that.

Shall I? Yes, the year we're looking at here is a non-election year, so there is a £50,000 budget—I'm just checking the budget figure here—and that is within another communications and engagement pot. Ken just mentioned the £200,000 that we've got for new ways of working in the project fund. There is also a £271,000 budget line for promoting awareness and understanding in another part of the budget, and that is within that.

And in terms of how it's going to work, one of the great principles with the Youth Parliament is that we allow them to direct their own work. They decide which subjects they're going to concentrate on, and they decide how they're going to go about discussing them. So, we're looking forward very much to working with the new cohort and seeing what ideas they have and really learning from them, which is what happened very successfully last time. 

I would just say in response slightly to your earlier point as well, in terms of reaching new audiences, that is very much the cornerstone of the engagement and communication strategy now. The annual report for last year outlines in the KPI sections how we're giving ourselves some quite stern output measures, and we're looking to increase year-on-year metrics that we're capturing about reaching new audiences, and influencing the politically disengaged. It is clear from that that the online engagement we've had, the virtual tours we've been able to offer of the building and so on, do give us an opportunity to reach beyond those people who have enough confidence and knowledge to come and visit us in person.

10:25

Well, thank you very much. And, in regard to that engagement work, as you're very well aware, the Senedd and the work and the engagement work here is very well respected internationally. I'm going to move on to potential changes to the official languages scheme. Will there be any budgetary impact in 2022-23? And can you briefly articulate what those could be?

Well, we don't foresee any significant budgetary impact in 2020-23. We're maintaining a business-as-usual approach.

Okay, thank you. Finally, the pandemic, as we know, has had a hugely significant impact on the number of Welsh learners, or we believe so. What are the reasons do you think this has stemmed from? And what action is being taken around this particular output? 

So, I guess, there are two main reasons: first of all, the change in learners' personal circumstances and that's then led them to withdraw, and, then, secondly, the preference that learners have for face-to-face learning over online learning. So, as face-to-face learning becomes available again, we do anticipate that numbers will increase. And, I think—correct me if I'm wrong, Manon—in the last few weeks alone, 20 new learners have been recruited onto our Welsh language learners scheme. So, we're steadily getting back those figures that we had before the pandemic.

Great. Just to touch on one final thing before we close, and we've got about three minutes, according to my clock, and I'm grateful for that. To look at the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020, how do the costs of the current financial year compare to the provision for 2021-22 budget? And then, what assessment has been made of the goals and objectives of the original Bill, whether or not they've been met and whether value for money has been achieved?

So, the costs related to the current financial year relate to an extension of the franchise. There was, I think, £150,000 identified for education and awareness raising for votes at 16 within the pre-election budget. And in 2020-21, there was £97,000 spent on votes at 16 and, in the current year, further expenditure of just over £50,000, and a further £50,000 was also made available for other awareness raising ahead of the Senedd elections. And that was focused very much on sections of the population that tend to have lower turnout, so low-income groups, black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, and it also sought to raise awareness in the wider population obviously, but with a particular focus on those who traditionally haven't voted. In terms of the outcomes, if I can hand over to Manon.

Yes, certainly. As Ken mentioned, the two major changes that had financial implications for us in the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Bill were the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds and other categories, and then the name change. We have been undertaking the impact of the name change. We looked at the period either side of the implementation of the name change in May 2020. We had planned a large campaign to take place around that time; that wasn't suitable so early in lockdown. But the evidence that we've gathered, so far, suggests that it did fulfil the policy intention of raising awareness of the Senedd and an understanding of the distinction between it and the Welsh Government, and that will now form part of the assessment going forward of communication and engagement effectiveness.

In terms of votes at 16, we're working with academic partners on a longer term assessment of that and there will be very interesting results, no doubt, coming out of that eventually. Within the Bill itself, of course, there was provision to report back on significant elements of the Bill by the 2026 election and that responsibility falls on the Welsh Government to report back to the Senedd in due course, but that's still a few years away.

I would just say that, in terms of value for money, we've seen a very great increase in numbers visiting the Senedd website since the name change and a large proportion—over 80 per cent—of visitors to the website were new to the website. There are probably lots of things that contribute to that, but the name change will have been part of that landscape as well. And the cost of the name change, we came in under budget—we had budgeted £70,000, but it was largely because a lot of the work was able to be delivered by our skilled teams in-house that that came in more cost effectively than we'd thought. And, as Ken mentioned, the money spent on supporting the extension of the franchise has been within budget. There's been a bit of slippage between one financial year and the rest, but it's all been included in either the pre-election costs of the last year or the election costs of this financial year.

10:30

Gwych. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi am eich amser y bore yma ac am ymuno efo ni yn y cyfarfod yma, a diolch am eich atebion. Byddwn ni'n ystyried beth rydych chi wedi'i ddweud yn agos iawn dros yr amser nesaf yma rŵan.

Excellent. Thank you very much for your time this morning and for joining us at this meeting, and thank you for your responses to our questions. We will consider your comments very carefully now.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Dwi'n cynnig felly, yn ôl Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix), bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod hwn. Ydy Aelodau'n fodlon? Rwy'n gweld eu bod nhw. Rydym ni felly yn mynd i—. Fe rown ni 10 eiliad i fynd oddi ar y sgrîn.

I do now propose, under Standing Order 17.42(ix), that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting. Are Members content? I see that Members are content. We will therefore move into private session. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:32.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:32.