Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

22/06/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas AS
Jayne Bryant AS
Joel James AS
John Griffiths AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mabon ap Gwynfor AS
Sam Rowlands AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Anne Hubbard Rheolwr, Partneriaeth Ymfudo Strategol Cymru
Manager, Wales Strategic Migration Partnership
Chrishan Kamalan Pennaeth Polisi Hil a Sipsiwn, Roma a Theithwyr, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Race and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Policy, Welsh Government
Gaynor Toft Pennaeth Dros Dro Tai a Gwasanaethau Diogelu'r Cyhoedd, Cyngor Sir Penfro
Interim Head of Housing and Public Protection Services, Pembrokeshire County Council
James Searle Pennaeth y Tîm Trosedd a Chyfiawnder, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Crime and Justice Team, Welsh Government
Jane Hutt AS Y Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol
Minister for Social Justice
Naomi Alleyne Cyfarwyddwr, Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol a Thai, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru
Director, Social Services and Housing, Welsh Local Government Association
Natalie Zhivkova Swyddog Polisi Gwirfoddoli, Cyngor Gweithredu Gwirfoddol Cymru
Volunteering Policy Officer, Wales Council for Voluntary Action
Rev Aled Edwards Prif Weithredwr, Cytûn—Eglwysi ynghyd yng Nghymru
Chief Executive, Cytûn—Churches Together in Wales
Reynette Roberts Prif Weithredwr, Oasis
Chief Executive Officer, Oasis

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Claire Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Manon George Clerc
Clerk
Osian Bowyer Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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 yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:00.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:00.

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

Welcome, everybody, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. Item 1 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. The meeting is being held in a hybrid format, but aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that manner, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest? No.

2. Ymchwiliad i ddarparu safleoedd ar gyfer cymunedau Sipsiwn, Roma a Theithwyr—sesiwn dystiolaeth 5: y Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol
2. Inquiry into the provision of sites for Gypsy, Roma and Travellers—evidence session 5: Minister for Social Justice

We move on to item 2, our inquiry into the provision of sites for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, and our fifth evidence session with the Minister for Social Justice and her officials. Minister, would you like to introduce your officials?

Yes. I'm very pleased to introduce Chrishan Kamalan and James Searle. Chrishan is leading on equalities and the anti-racist action plan, and James is from our crime and justice unit.

Okay. Diolch yn fawr. I'll begin with some initial questions, then, Minister, and firstly, whether you believe the current legislative and policy framework in Wales is robust and sufficient to support the development of culturally appropriate sites for our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. We've heard, in our evidence, Minister, that, at times, it does seem to be a matter of political will, to some extent, as to whether we have these frameworks, but, perhaps, more importantly, whether they actually count on the ground, whether they have the desired effect. And, obviously, that's political will at a local level, as well as a Wales-wide level.

Thank you very much, Chair. Can I say, at the outset, how pleased I am that you're undertaking this inquiry? It's absolutely timely in terms of us moving forward to actually ensure that we do implement what is, I believe, a robust legislative and policy framework in Wales. Obviously, that goes back, as you will recall, to the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, and it's also clearly underpinned, then, in terms of implementation, by our Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessments for all the local authorities, and those are statutory. So, it does point to the need for local authorities to actually deliver on their statutory responsibilities. They have got to identify those culturally appropriate sites and follow through and establish such sites, and also work with other authorities, as appropriate.

But what I would like to say is that—and it was in my written evidence—we really are moving things forward with the anti-racist Wales action plan. So, we're obviously engaging with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and communities, and with local authorities and all partners. The homes and places section—it's all in my written evidence—gives us strengthened goals and actions, which obviously include local authorities, and I'm sure we'll be discussing that. We're now actually approving the current round of 21 Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessments, and that is going to allow us as Welsh Ministers to see what the barriers are, the blocks are, in terms of identifying those sites. So, clearly, it is the local authority, but I think we've got a new impetus now—we've got the assessments coming through, the latest ones—behind the goals and actions in the anti-racist action plan.

Do you see that action plan as a game changer, as it were, then, Minister? Because I think the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community have had many false dawns, as it were, in terms of legislation and policy and strategy, and they've, in many cases, become quite frustrated that it doesn't seem to have been implemented effectively on the ground. Do you think that now will change?

09:05

I think, going back to your first question, Chair, obviously, we've got the legislation, we've got the mechanisms, we've got statutory guidance, and, actually, we've got some wonderful examples, haven't we, around Wales that have been taken forward by local authorities of provision, provision that has been developed with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. But it is the implementation, and I'm sure that the evidence you've been given has shown that it's now about driving this forward. I believe the anti-racist action plan and its goals and actions will help us with that.

I think, unfortunately, there are threats that are coming through from the new legislation, which we'll perhaps talk about later on, but that's to do with the need for us to work on the transit sites, clearly, because we've got to get that right for our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. But I do think the anti-racist action plan is a game changer.

I think, also, we actually do have, as I said, the sites. I gave it in my written evidence—the pitches, the sites that have been developed since the legislation came into being. We feel quite strongly, having talked with our partners—not just the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, but also local authorities who are delivering, Tros Gynnal Plant, who have been advising and advocating. It's great we've got a cross-party group chaired by Jenny Rathbone. We do think the anti-racist action plan—. I don't know if you want to comment on that, Chrishan.

Yes, Minister. I think, in terms of the step change, Chair, it's not just for the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community, but for all the groups within the racial framework. It's a very definite intent, and you will see that there are a series of actions, outputs, impacts and deadlines to be achieved. The chief difference in this mechanism is really the promotion of an anti-racist strategy. That is a defining feature. But as the Minister has said, implementation is key, delivery on the ground. In terms of working constructively with those partners, Welsh Government is committed to doing so, but there has to be will and appetite, obviously, on the ground to see delivery and to see improvements in the outcomes of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Could I ask you, Minister, in terms of the compliance or lack of compliance of local authorities with their duties to date, what levers does Welsh Government hold? Obviously, you want to work constructively with local authorities, as we've heard, but are there mechanisms—? We know there are duties, for example, and possible directions under the housing Act, so are you prepared to use those levers if necessary?

We do have the powers, and we have levers through the legislation and the statutory guidance. Our role is to monitor each local authority's performance, and we can do that by looking at the current round of the Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessments. That's actually with us now in terms of the current round.

We do want to work co-operatively with local authorities, and we do, so our officials are constantly engaging with our local authorities, but, actually, we do also have powers. We do have powers, as you know, under the Act, to issue a direction to a local authority where it fails to comply. We haven't used those powers yet, but I'm ready to use them, particularly, as Chrishan has said, as we've now got an even bigger push in terms of the anti-racist action plan. But also, local development plans are another route in terms of a lever, because when they're adopted, there is an annual monitoring report. Many colleagues here will be aware of them in their own constituencies and regions, and you can monitor Gypsy and Traveller sites delivery. But it is actually back to the local authorities.

I think we're into a time now where we've really got the opportunity to make this work, to ensure that they are held to account in terms of delivery and that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people can feel confident that this is about Travelling Ahead—do you remember? That was what we called the policy when we started along this route.

09:10

Yes. And the final question from me, Minister, before we move on to other committee members. Just in terms of timing, then, what you've just said about hopefully we will see better progress from here on with the race equality action plan and the assessments under way, and hopefully strong political will behind the need for improvement, what sort of timing can we expect around the coming to fruition of those developments?

As I said, we're in the position now where we're assessing all of the latest accommodation assessments from local authorities. They were due in at the end of February; we still have a couple that haven't come through. Again, this appearance today and this inquiry I think is really significant for local authorities. They've given their evidence as well. We've got the timelines in the anti-racist action plan, but I think actually, in a sense, there are a lot of actions there that will help the delivery and the implementation. So, the timelines are very clear. We've got to respond to the accommodation assessments, I will want to then come to the Senedd to update and to report on our findings from those assessments, but also, the timelines for the anti-racist action plan are already under way. For example, on piloting additional new ways of funding permanent provision, creating a national network of transit provision to facilitate travelling life, we're already on the way with that.

Dwi'n mynd i siarad yn Gymraeg. Diolch i chi'ch tri am roi eich amser y bore yma—rydyn ni'n ddiolchgar iawn i chi am ddod yma. Mi ddaru chi, Weinidog, ddweud jest rŵan eich bod chi'n credu y buasai'r gymuned Sipsiwn, Teithwyr a Roma yn hyderus yn symud ymlaen yn gweld yr hyn sydd yn digwydd. Dwi ddim mor siŵr, o'ch tystiolaeth hyd yma, y buasen nhw'n hyderus—hwyrach y buasen nhw'n siomedig, mewn gwirionedd, oherwydd maen nhw wedi aros blynyddoedd i weld gweithredu. Mae yna ddeddfwriaeth wedi bod mewn lle efo disgwyliad i awdurdodau lleol ddarparu, a dydy o ddim wedi digwydd. Rydych chi'n dweud y bore yma bod gennych chi'r grymoedd i'w gorfodi nhw i ddarparu ond eich bod chi ddim wedi defnyddio'r grymoedd hynny, ar ôl pump, chwech, saith mlynedd a rhagor. Rydych chi'n dweud eich bod chi eisiau cydweithredu efo awdurdodau lleol, ond eto rydych chi'n dweud eich bod chi eisiau cael y ddarpariaeth yma. Pam eich bod chi ddim wedi defnyddio'r grymoedd yma hyd yn hyn, a pham bod angen dod â rhaglen newydd gwrth-hiliaeth i mewn er mwyn atgyfnerthu deddfwriaeth sydd yno'n barod?

I'm going to be speaking in Welsh. Thank you to the three of you for giving of your time this morning—we're very grateful to you for coming here. You said just now, Minister, that you believe that the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community will be confident now in moving forward in seeing what is happening. I'm not quite as sure, from your evidence, that they would be confident. They might be disappointed, truth be told, because they've waited for years to see action being taken. There has been legislation in place, with an expectation for local authorities to provide in this area, and it hasn't happened. And you say this morning that you have the powers to compel them to provide, but you haven't used those powers after five, six, seven years, or more. You say that you want to co-operate and collaborate with local authorities, but you say too that you want to have that provision. Why haven't you used these powers to date, and why do we need to bring forward a new anti-racism programme in order to reinforce legislation that already exists?

Diolch yn fawr. The use of those powers, obviously, we have to consider carefully, because we do work in collaboration, in co-operation with our local authorities. And there are difficulties that local authorities have experienced—finding appropriate sites, and also finding culturally appropriate sites for the communities that we're serving. So, we need to take into account what the issues are, what the barriers are to providing the appropriate accommodation. Clearly, that power of direction is there, and you may find that we will have to use this. We're just about to, as I said, timewise, look at the latest assessment, and that assessment will show us whether there is a will and, clearly, a commitment to deliver on statutory duties in terms of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller sites—residential and transit as well. So, I have no hesitation in saying that we will use those powers of direction if that is deemed to be appropriate. Obviously, we'll be advised as well whether that is appropriate in terms of use of direction, because it is a very strong power. But also, in a sense, what we want is for local authorities to respond positively and do what they're supposed to do under the law.

Now, our anti-racist action plan is something, which, as you know, Mabon, is for everything to do with race equality in Wales. So, it was very important—. I launched it a couple of weeks ago. This is one part of our anti-racist action plan, and it is so important that housing, homes and places, which are crucial in terms of standards and provision—I lay it out in my written evidence, particularly focusing on Gypsy and Traveller accommodation—are a very important part of that anti-racist action plan. I just think that, in a way, it's one of the most important things that we're getting on with with the anti-racist action plan in terms of implementation. It strengthens and it demonstrates our commitment to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and communities in Wales. But, again, it's working not just with local authorities, housing associations, Shelter Cymru, Citizens Advice Cymru, Tros Gynnal Plant—everyone who is giving advice to ethnic minority people as well, on getting appropriate housing. 

So, I think you could see this as a real opportunity as a committee, hopefully, to strengthen and demonstrate this Government's commitment to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. And local authorities—. I'm actually just writing to all the leaders of the new local authorities to share with them the anti-racist action plan. It's going to cover every aspect of their work and policy. If we're going to achieve an anti-racist nation by 2030, they've got to be part of it.

09:15

Oes gan rywun arall rhywbeth i'w ddweud cyn fy mod yn mynd ymlaen at y cwestiwn nesaf?

Does anybody else have something to add before I go on to the next question?

I don't know if, James, you wanted to say anything from an enforcement and use of direction—.

Yes, I think the only thing that I want to add, just building on your points, Minister, was the importance of the anti-racism action plan in terms of the approach to enforcement more generally. As the Minister notes, it's a plan that really does cut across everything we do as a Government and many of our partnership relationships as well. And from us, in terms of a moving forward point of view, we're working really closely with justice partners across Wales to build an action plan, which is very much going to be linked to the anti-racism plan, which, again, will really consolidate the important messages in that plan and help us to take things forward and challenge the disproportionate systemic outcomes that we know are embedded in that system as well.

Yes, because the systemic racism that we know exists, we've got to uncover in terms of delivery.

Wel, diolch am yr ateb. Maddeuwch imi, dwi'n dal ddim cliriach. Dwi'n cytuno efo chi eich bod chi'n dweud bod y Llywodraeth wedi ymrwymo yn llwyr i waredu hiliaeth ac i helpu cymunedau Sipsiwn, Roma a Theithwyr—dwi ddim yn meddwl bod yna amheuaeth am hynny. Ac yn wir, mae'r dystiolaeth rydym ni wedi cael yn dangos bod y cymunedau hynny yn deall bod y polisi, y fframwaith, yn eu cefnogi nhw, ond maen nhw'n dweud nad ydy'r delivery yno. Ac mae hyn yn mynd yn ôl at y pwynt: beth yw'r pwynt cael deddfwriaeth os nad ydych chi'n medru ei orfodi o? Felly, pam nad oes yna orfodaeth wedi digwydd? Beth sydd yn dal awdurdodau lleol yn ôl yn eich barn chi, felly, rhag gweithredu'r ddeddfwriaeth a sicrhau bod yna lefydd ar gael?

Well, thank you very much for that response. Forgive me, I'm no clearer. I agree with you that you say that the Government has committed entirely to eradicating racism and helping Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities—I don't think there's a doubt about that. And the evidence that we've received demonstrates that those communities understand that the policy and the framework support them, but they say that the delivery isn't taking place. And this goes back to the question of what is the point having legislation if you can't enforce it. So, why hasn't there been enforcement? What's holding local authorities back in your view from taking action and implementing the legislation and ensuring that there are sites available?

Well, I think it might be useful just at this point to look back to what has happened as a result of the legislation, and there is a recognition of this: that we have made this commitment. I think it's a pretty strong commitment in terms of Welsh Government, going back to the 2014 Act. But, between 2015 and 2021, we funded local authorities to build 63 new pitches and refurbish many more. This last financial year, we had a budget of £3.5 million, refurbishing existing accommodation, constructing new pitches, improving sustainability of sites. Applications are received and agreed. It's a rolling programme, and in the budget for this year we're in now—£3.69 million—93 pitches now have improved access to utilities, five new pitches being constructed, 88 pitches improved or refurbished, enabling site safety. So, I do think we need to take—. I wanted to give those figures, because it is on record that this legislation has delivered and those local authorities that have taken the lead are, I'd say, exemplar authorities. But I can recognise the frustration, having introduced that legislation. We've provided significant funding to address the need, but we have got to address those barriers. That is addressing them with local authorities, isn't it? It's addressing them with local authorities, it's standing up for Gypsy, Roma and Travellers. And, I have to say, in this Senedd, we've had people who've questioned the legislation, let alone the delivery of it. I hope we and this committee would recognise that we have to stand up with the local authority, when they find a suitable site, which Gypsy, Roma and Travellers want, and that we back them. This comes down to politics, doesn't it, sometimes, Mabon? I think the Travelling Ahead project, which Tros Gynnal Plant Cymru supports, is really important in terms of advice and support to the communities and we will continue to support that.

But I think this is a real judgment point, isn't it, Chair, about the current Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessments, and I would suggest that you could all, anyway, as Members, find out how your authorities are doing in terms of the delivery of those assessments.

09:20

Diolch. Os caf i fynd at un cwestiwn olaf, mae'r ffigurau y gwnaethoch chi eu rhoi i'w croesawu, wrth gwrs. Mae'n ymddangos fel bod yna gagendor rhwng y ffigurau hynny a phrofiad cymunedau rydym ni'n ymdrin â nhw fan hyn, ond mae unrhyw ymrwymiad ariannol a pholisi i'w croesawu, yn amlwg. Ond un rhan arall o'r dystiolaeth rydym ni wedi'i chael a beth mae pobl yn y cymunedau Roma, Sipsiwn a Theithwyr yn ei ddweud wrthym ni ydy bod eu safleoedd nhw, cyn belled ag y mae rhai awdurdodau lleol yn y cwestiwn, yn cael eu lleoli mewn mannau amhriodol: eu bod nhw ar ochr ffyrdd peryglus; eu bod nhw'n bell o wasanaethau, siopau ac yn y blaen; bod yna ddim meysydd chwarae i'r plant; eu bod nhw'n gorfod croesi'r ffyrdd peryg yma er mwyn cyrraedd maes chwarae, er mwyn mynd i'r ysgol ac yn y blaen. Felly, ydych chi'n meddwl bod y ffordd y mae awdurdodau lleol yn mynd ati i ddethol a dewis llefydd yn briodol? Ac ydych chi'n meddwl bod angen i awdurdodau lleol gydweithio mwy efo'r cymunedau er mwyn sicrhau safle priodol ar eu cyfer nhw?

Thank you. If I may ask one further question, the figures that you gave are to be welcomed, of course. It suggests the gap between those figures and the experience of the communities that we are talking with here, but any commitment, in terms of funding and policy, is, clearly, to be welcomed. But one other element of evidence that we've received and what the people in these communities are telling us is that their sites, as far as some local authorities are concerned, are situated in inappropriate areas: they're at the sides of dangerous roads; they're far away from services, amenities and shops and so on; that there are no playing areas available for the children; they have to cross these dangerous roads to reach playing fields or to go to school and so on. So, do you think that the way that the local authorities go about selecting sites is appropriate? And do you think that there is a need for local authorities to co-operate and collaborate more with these communities to ensure that the sites are appropriate for them?

That's absolutely critical and, in a sense, probably some of my answers to your previous question demonstrate our understanding not only of local authorities' responsibilities, but the fact that this totally inappropriate location of sites—. Some of it is historical, of course, going back many years, even before the legislation, and there have been many discussions about relocation of sites or new sites being developed. So, again, it goes back to the anti-racist action plan, as I said in my written evidence—re-drafting the sites guidance to ensure that design and location needs of communities are better reflected in terms of taking the policy forward. That's crucially important.

One of the things that we've said in our anti-racist action plan is that we're actually going to provide learning and development support to local authority elected members on Gypsy and Travellers communities' culture, needs and strengths. The specification for this training—. Some of you round this table, including me, have been councillors, and indeed a leader here. We know that councillors do need to understand. They are the politicians at a local level who've got to grasp this responsibility. And I will share my letter, Chair, with you to the leaders that's going out this week about the anti-racist action plan, because they've got to make that change. It's totally unacceptable to have them beside busy roads and inappropriately not located near schools, near services, but I think this is where now, again, the strengthening of existing statutory legislation and guidance by the anti-racist action plan will be helpful.

Just to say, in terms of the anti-racist Wales plan, we will review compliance of every local authority's duty in Part 3 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. That's in the plan. We'll ensure that there are enough pitches to meet the need in that area, in the annual review, and adopt a consistent and robust approach to monitoring compliance. So, in a sense, I think the consultation with Gypsy, Rome and Travellers has brought these actions into our anti-racist plan, very much identifying the points that you’ve raised about concerns about delivery and implementation. So, we’ve got everything: we’ve got the legislation, we’ve got the guidance, we’ve got powers of direction, and we’ve now got this strengthened way forward, a clear way forward, with the anti-racist action plan.

09:25

Okay. Could I just ask you, Minister, about transit sites? Our evidence suggests that there are no transit sites in Wales, and I think there are two pitches. But, obviously, you want to create a national network with five pitches in north Wales and five in south Wales. Do you think that will be sufficient to meet need, and how do stopping places feature in the overall picture? What’s your understanding of the adequacy of stopping places at the moment, and what needs to happen?

Well, this is absolutely crucial—that we do move forward on this. So, back to my anti-racist action plan, the first bullet point under action is,

'Create a national network of transit provision to facilitate travelling life, with consideration for negotiated stopping, as appropriate'.

It was very interesting recently, when I was visiting the site in Merthyr, and Merthyr’s an authority I was visiting to see the tremendous refurbishment that is going to go on on that particular site, and just engaging with the residents there and seeing what this will mean for their lives. Proactively, the officers there who lead on this were saying that they want to work with other authorities particularly to ensure that we can move forward with this national network. So, we’re all already—. This is the first action, as I said. And we do see this opportunity to develop them across those key routes of the A55 and M4 corridors, but also we recognise that there will be some opportunities, I think, for regional working on this, again with our local authorities. This is particularly important in terms of ensuring that there are those transit sites, because unauthorised encampments are taking place, and they are managed very collaboratively with local authorities at the moment, and they are, in terms of the traditional way of life—. We know, in all our constituencies, that this is part of life, this is part of our nation of sanctuary. But, we will be moving forward on this, because we’ve identified that this is now vitally important.

How would you see that regional approach between local authorities developing? Would the corporate joint committees have a role there, or would there be some other sort of groupings?

Well, obviously it’s early days now for the role of corporate joint committees, but I think the strategic development plan guidance does state that they could take a region-wide Gypsy, Traveller and Roma accommodation assessment. So, I would hope that this would be the case—that they will be looking from that guidance to permanent and transit sites and pitches. This is actually, in a sense, what I said earlier on—there is a will to work regionally, particularly around transit, but also to learn from each other in terms of residential sites. But I think that’s taken for given, isn’t it, Chrishan?

Yes, Minister. So, the strategic development plan guidance, as the Minister says, states that corporate joint committees should undertake a region-wide assessment, and that there should be a policy that identifies the number of permanent and transit pitches. The guidance goes on to say that that global figure should be disaggregated on a local basis as best practice, and that is certainly a mechanism that is available.

Regarding private sites, do you think there is enough support and advice for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities if they want to create small private sites? We heard that, very often, they get pushed onto larger sites, and then there’s a mix of families, or whatever, that don't get on. But some prefer the smaller sites, just for their families, and it can take quite a while and a lot of money to try and get that appropriate planning permission, even if they own the site. And it's just understanding, really, what they can do. So, is this something that you've looked at?

09:30

Well, I think this has also come out of our consultation and your inquiry, which I think is really helpful, but also came out of our consultation for the anti-racist action plan in terms of Gypsy and Traveller accommodation and to recognise again the importance of being able to break through barriers—planning issues, often. Also, we have to go back to the fact that this is getting a range of accommodation that can be appropriate, and it's not always going to be on a residential site. So, we have got this back into our anti-racist Wales action plan, to commission—and you will see it in the written evidence—a three-year pilot programme to provide independent, trusted advice to those seeking to develop private sites, because we understand that people have spent a lot of money and there's huge frustration. So, what we need to do is get that trusted advice. And I think that came from just feedback from the Traveller community as well, that it's trusted advice, that they can feel that they—. We need a service provider who can assist with this. But it does actually need—. We need to ensure that our advisory services are co-ordinated on this, so it will require more resource. But, also, we can look at the impacts of that once we've developed it, in terms of an impact framework, looking at the number of contracts, support offered and the results of this. So, this is, in a way, a new development and approach as a result of our work with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. 

Can I just ask one more question, which probably goes back to the previous—? So, as well, being sited in decent locations, really, for people, rather than at the side of roads and next to busy factories, so that they're close to amenities, to schools and have pavements so they can walk as well into the local community—. Some of the site provision was really poor as well and not getting the maintenance that they needed. They're paying rent, just like anybody else—rent to the local authorities—and we saw that some had damaged windows that hadn't been repaired. And also the onsite provision as well—I think, in consultation, they'd hoped that they would have a circular way of setting out the caravans, and they ended up in a straight line. There's no onsite play provision, not many green spaces. One we went to was all concrete plinths, with metal fencing everywhere, just so inappropriate. And then access to utilities as well: we saw one electricity point, and then connecting cables to that to each caravan, a lack of broadband, all these sorts of things as well. I was quite shocked, actually, really, at that. So, I hope that's captured when we talk to local authorities and councillors. 

Yes. Well, again, this is so important, that local authorities take on board what you're saying, Carolyn, that they take on that responsibility. We've been to sites, as you have, and have seen that they're not all appropriate. But the money is here; the money is there from the Welsh Government to refurbish, to provide those extra facilities and to ensure site safety—children's lives and also opportunities in terms of play areas, et cetera. So, we go back to the Travelling Ahead project, where we wanted to see that the sites that we can fund and provide with local authorities do just have a positive benefit on people's lives, supporting them to not just get appropriate accommodation, but access to services, benefits.

When I went to visit a site recently in Merthyr, there was a community hall beside the site. I don't know if it was one of the sites you visited. In that community hall, they've now got boxing sessions with the young people. Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin is actually doing a lot of work on sites, interestingly. So, they're working with the local authority in terms of accessing the children's needs. We had Citizens Advice—. I mean, everybody was—. That kind of provision is on site, but obviously children are also going to the local school. That is a community that felt that it was—. And also a lot of money is being spent on upgrading all their homes as well. So, this is what all local authorities should be doing, and they recognise that they could do more in that particular—. Every authority knows that there's more that they can do. 

09:35

Minister, could I just ask you a little bit more about the planning issues? Because we visited some private sites that are well kept, that are being lived on by the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma community at the moment, where they're well integrated into the local community and there have been no problems, and it's very positive in all respects, except for the fact that they haven't got planning permission. They've bought the land but they haven't got planning permission, and they live with the constant threat of having to leave the land and find somewhere else to stay, wherever that might be, and, as we know, there are no obvious alternatives.

So, I think in the one instance, there was a perceived planning issue around road safety in terms of getting in and out of the site, and, the other, there was a perceived issue with flood risk. But, from the Gypsy and Traveller's point of view, there are people living all around them with the same road safety issues and flooding issues, and, obviously, they feel that they're being discriminated against, really, through the planning system and local decision making. 

Yes. This is where we're going to have to turn to the planning authorities, aren't we, the local authorities? We need to make sure that they're proactive and positive, not defensive, and reducing barriers. We know for all planning applications there are processes and there's law and there's 'Planning Policy Wales', but that's why I think us moving forward with this pilot to provide independent trusted advice is crucially important, because it will actually enable us to help those who are already in these situations where they have private sites, but they're still worried about planning. 

Obviously, also we need to ensure that those who are travelling who find somewhere, and perhaps they need some advice before they buy land and go for planning in places where there are real obstacles that they might approach—. So, we just need to make sure that there is good advice and guidance. We provide funding to Tros Gynnal Plant for those particularly on sites at the moment, but I think this is where—. I've said about the training for local authority elected members, which is in the anti-racist action plan, but we also I think need to ensure not just this pilot programme, but that that can look at all the other advice providers who work in our communities with the funding from the single advice fund, Citizens Advice. Shelter Cymru are very engaged; I don't know if you've taken evidence from them. But we need to ensure that everyone is seeing it as their responsibility to help in terms of getting better outcomes for those who are or wish to be on a private site, and who have, often, as you said, been there for years and are part of the community. And maybe there needs to be more discretion and flexibility about those planning approvals. 

Thank you, Chair. Morning. Thank you for your time with us this morning. I just want to look at some funding bits. Can you remind me how the funding works in providing the support for local authorities to deliver these sites? 

Thank you very much, Sam. We obviously have our capital grant, which is an annual capital grant. I think £3.5 million I said earlier on, or perhaps it was in my written evidence as well; it's £3.69 million for this financial year. That's our grant as it is at present, and, local authorities, they know that grant is there and that it's available to them.

09:40

Thank you. So, my understanding is that that money can't, though, be used to purchase land. I wonder whether that's something that you think should change to enable local authorities to get hold of that land so they can deliver these sites more readily. Is that something that you've considered, perhaps?

Again, back to the anti-racist action plan, we're going to pilot additional and new ways of funding permanent provision and we're going to look at, for example, possible capital requirement for mobile home rental pilots. That's something that, again, has come to our attention as being something that would be welcomed. Again, we are committed to reviewing the operation of the sites capital grant, and I'm sure we'll be able to learn from this committee's inquiry in helping us do that. 

Thanks. Obviously, cash is one thing in terms of funding, but Welsh Government have quite significant assets as well. I'm just wondering how many sites Welsh Government have made available to local authorities for Gypsy and Traveller provision, whether it be transit sites or residential sites. Do you know that?

I've given you some figures already of the sites that we've funded between 2015 and 2021, so they're on record already in terms of new sites, new pitches, both construction and also for improvement and refurbishment.

Would any of that go on Welsh Government land, though, do you think?

I'm not sure whether we've got—. I'd have to come back to you on that point. [Interruption.] We'll come back to you, Chair, on that point, because—

That's fine, thank you. I'm just conscious that Welsh Government does have assets, land, available, and if there is a frustration with trying to find land for this provision, then perhaps you could provide it yourself.

As far as I'm concerned, absolutely, Sam, if there's land that we own, or indeed other public bodies, often health and local authorities, then the local authority has got every right and opportunity to look at that land. I don't think at the moment I can say whether any of our pitches, sites, are on Welsh Government owned land, but on the other hand we also have to make sure that it is an appropriate place, because it may be by a busy road, or—. It may not be the most appropriate site. But, obviously, I think the whole public estate in Wales should be—. As well as, often, privately owned land, local authorities should be able to look at all the estate.

I wonder whether you've ever considered Welsh Government behaving like a private landlord, in a sense. So, whilst local authorities should be working through and looking at provision as well, do you think Welsh Government would ever consider—? As a private landlord would in terms of providing a private site, would Welsh Government ever consider putting land forward and submitting a site on its own land, like a private landlord would itself? If there's frustration with the pace of delivery with local authorities, Welsh Government have land, and, if it's such a priority, would Welsh Government ever want to do this themselves, do you think?

Well, the essence of the legislation is that this is a local authority statutory duty. I think, as you will, clearly, agree, local authorities have got the responsibility and they certainly will want to make the decisions, and will make the decisions, in terms of access to appropriate land for a site. So, I go back to my point: this is about the public estate of Wales, where we have some power and responsibility and even ownership, being made available, if it is an appropriate place. But, again, we work with officials, directly with local authorities who have key officers who have this responsibility; we work with them and help them. They identify sites. It is their responsibility. I think this is crucially important, and I don't think they'd want us to take that responsibility away from them. They have got the responsibility. We will put everything that we've got—resource, estate et cetera, but particularly the law and the guidance—at their disposal.

09:45

And just to further press on this point, I suppose you could, if you wanted to, set up an arm's-length organisation in Welsh Government that actively went out and looked to deliver some of these sites. Is that not something you've wanted to do, or do you think that should not be something that Welsh Government is involved in?

Well, I don't think we would want to do that. This would be going right against the whole basis of Travelling Ahead, the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, and indeed, the commitment of local communities, and local elected members, to take their responsibilities and deliver on them. This is where we work in partnership. So, that is certainly not something that we would be considering.

But I think we've got a whole new phase, haven't we, of opportunity for local authorities. We are going to be doing a lot of national Wales-wide work in terms of the anti-racist action plan, which they are going to have to collaborate with to deliver, alongside and with us, on the needs of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and communities. 

So, it's all there, and I think that's what we've got to move forward and deliver. 

All right, Sam? Could I just ask you about your intention to pilot new ways of funding site provision, Minister, and particularly private sites? Because I think we did hear quite a lot of evidence that, given the shortcomings of some of the bigger sites—and I guess that's fairly well documented—often, private sites are more appropriate and offer better quality of life. Is that your view, that, increasingly, we need to be looking at smaller private sites?

Well, it's very clearly there in the action plan that we pilot additional new ways of funding permanent provision. And I would certainly want that to include private sites. 

Thank you, Chair, and apologies again for arriving late. Thank you, Minister, for coming today, and thank you both for also coming. I wanted to quickly talk about the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. Obviously, we've taken evidence from the GRT community, and other stakeholders, and there's a concern there about the impact that this Act will have. But then, we've also taken evidence from the policing side, and they've said, 'Well, we actually think it will have a very limited impact; it only strengthens current legislation. In terms of illegal camps, there are very few in Wales.' And I just wanted to get your opinion, Minister. Do you think it could criminalise the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community, or do you think, 'Well, actually, in the grand scheme of things, the impact is quite limited'?

I did respond to this in my written evidence, and I will just go back to that to say—and this is pre the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act coming into force—that we raised repeated concerns with the UK Government about the provisions on unauthorised encampments. We asked them to reconsider the approach. We said it would impact disproportionately on members of our Gypsy and Traveller communities. We had deep concerns about it, which were expressed actually in the Senedd as well. And we are very concerned. We met with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people; we met with the Wales Race Equality Forum prior to this legislation coming through, and when we had a legislative consent motion to debate. And we are very concerned about it, but, actually, we've worked very closely with policing in Wales; we've discussed this at our policing partnership board, and we very much value the progressive approach that they're taking towards this Act, to mitigate the provisions of the Act. 

But we feel very concerned about this, and, unfortunately, that new legislation does provide additional powers for the police that could potentially criminalise the community, and we need to ensure that this does not happen in Wales. We said we should be excluded from it because of our commitment to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, and this is where there's a real potential negative impact of the Act on communities. 

I don't know, James, if you want to come in here.

09:50

Yes, please, Minister. Just to add to and reinforce that, for me, I think there's a really useful distinction in terms of the powers themselves and how they are used. Just because a power is there, it doesn't then impact on how policing leads will then, both the 'if' and the 'how' of acting on those powers in practice. And I think that explains the distinctions between the potential fear of how it could be used in practice versus the really proportionate and engagement-based approach that the police have outlined in their session. And that's something that we've very much reinforced, haven't we, through our regular partnership with police colleagues. That doesn't mean that it isn't something that we're going to be monitoring really, really closely, to see how the impact works in practice, but, for me, I think there's been a really helpful distinction about all the horrible things that could come from these additional powers and the approach that policing colleagues have been taking in practice on this so far.

Okay. Perfect. Thank you. I just wanted to touch upon what you've just commented on there, James, about having that regular dialogue with the police forces. And I note from the Minister's written evidence that the Minister chairs the policing partnership board for Wales, and this was recently discussed, back in March. And I was just wondering if we can have a flavour of those conversations there, if that's possible.

Yes. I co-chair the policing partnership board with the First Minister, and it's a really important partnership board. Actually, the Secretary of State for Wales attends those meetings, and Kit Malthouse also attended one of our meetings recently. We discuss all issues relating to devolved areas of responsibility, and also anything that is likely to have, in terms of UK legislation, what we would consider an adverse impact on Wales and the Welsh people, particularly, as far as this is concerned, our Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community.

And I think what's important about that, you have a meeting, you have a partnership board—in fact, I'm chairing one tomorrow—but there's a lot of work; we've got a police liaison unit in the Welsh Government, which works closely with the chief constables and the police and crime commissioners. I meet regularly with the lead police and crime commissioner, so this will have come up before we discussed it at the policing partnership board, with Dafydd Llywelyn, who was then the lead PCC; it's now Jeff Cuthbert.

And the most recent meeting when we discussed this was 17 March; it's in my written evidence, so you know that. And what was very welcome was the fact that they wanted to have this progressive approach, because we've been managing unauthorised encampments, and it can cause tension, and there were issues during the pandemic, but where we've managed it—. We have community cohesion officers in all our authorities, which we fund. The local authorities are working closely with the police, and also with the communities themselves. And this is part of Welsh life; this is the traditional nomadic life that we respect with Gypsy, Roma, Traveller people and communities.

We felt that, from the word go, this was utterly unnecessary, this legislation; it was unnecessary, it had the effect of criminalising a community who we value as part of our Welsh life and our diversity. So, that's why I think there were very good discussions at our policing partnership board about this issue.

Okay. Thank you, Minister. So, I suppose that leads me on to my next question, to get some idea of the dialogue and engagement that you've been having then with the GRT community and other stakeholders, really, to mitigate any perceived impact that this Bill could have. Because I know James was mentioning there that just because you've got this new legislation, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be enacted, and there are concerns then about how far a police force might take it then. And I was just wondering if I can get some idea of that interaction and that role that you're taking to try and mitigate any concern as well, really, that the community might have.

Well, I think if we perhaps go back to our anti-racist Wales action plan, at the same time as drafting that and consulting on it, we were also very concerned about this forthcoming legislation, and we did agree that we would look at the guidance on managing unauthorised camping from 2013. This really goes back to the questions about providing transit sites as well, and local authorities and working regionally to provide this. I think one of the most powerful meetings I had—I don't know if James or Chrishan were there—was with the Wales Race Forum, who are formal stakeholder representatives who've been guiding us with the anti-racist action plan. So, we took their views at those meetings. I think some of you have also met with those groups, perhaps in other capacities or as committee members. And the fact is that they felt—. The feedback was that it is a direct threat to them and to their way of life, and our recognition of their way of life in Wales. There's also fear of loss, the fact that their vehicles could be seized; the loss of homes, of what are their homes; and the fact that this quite clearly goes back to Mabon's point: if there isn't proper provision at a local authority level, then you're more likely to have an unauthorised site.  It's not just transit, is it? You are more likely to have an unauthorised site because of a lack of provision. So, it all comes together that we've got to address this. James, did you want to add a point on that?

09:55

Yes, I think the only thing that I want to add, Minister, is just to note the importance of the continuing engagement that I know happens between equality leads in Welsh Government and GRT communities. And just to highlight that because we work so closely and effectively together, we're very, very alive to enter into any issues as they emerge from those communities. It's not something that we'll be waiting for the monthly meeting to discuss. If there's evidence from our regular engagement that something needs to be brought to light with police colleagues, we're going to be really quick to do that.

Obviously, Minister, you mentioned there about the race equality action plan and how there'll be a review of managing unauthorised camping, and then to reflect changes in the legislation that's coming in, and I was just wondering if we could get an idea of whether there's anything else, or any other frameworks within the Welsh Government sphere, that would need to be adapted or looked at in terms of this legislation.

Yes, Minister. Underlying all this and prior to the Act—and James may wish to comment as well—we have the underpinning really, which is part of our DNA, of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the commitment to an equal Wales, a Wales of more cohesive communities. That's vital because that's the whole parameter from which we approach these issues, and the communities are very aware of that, of a distinct difference in approach, which wasn't reactive in terms of, unfortunately, this Bill coming along and the provisions being enacted, but the prior commitment especially towards equality and cohesiveness is something that is worked through many of our policies. So, that is very much an underlying driver.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning, everybody. Thank you for your written evidence and the evidence that you've given us today so far. I'm just going to talk a little bit about engagement and accommodation assessments. I'm just wondering if you believe that the accommodation assessment process is sufficiently robust. We've had some written evidence from Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council that the Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessment is generally quite costly, with local authorities using consultants to complete research. And on that thinking, perhaps it might be better served, and the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community might be better served, with ongoing assessments of their needs rather than the current five-year assessment, periodical review.

Well, I've already mentioned my visit to Merthyr because I was very impressed with the fact that they've got designated local authority staff working with the Gypsy and Traveller community, and they obviously take this very seriously in terms of dedication to the work to develop the Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessment as well. The fact that they're looking at that with Gypsy, Traveller, Roma communities to develop that accommodation assessment is crucially important, and not all local authorities have got those designated staff members, so they go out for consultation, as you've said. But I think it's quite clear, it's laid down in legislation, they've got a statutory duty; they will certainly know now—and my letter to leaders and the training we're offering—that they've now got to have a refreshed look at all of this, in terms of implementation. It is fit for purpose, but obviously we will be prepared to look at this in terms of the outcome of this, not just your inquiry, but the latest analysis of the accommodation assessments that are taking place. But I do think this is a chance for us to really raise the profile of this, because I mean, also, local authorities do—. They recognise other statutory responsibilities and they fund them. This has just got to come to the forefront of it, I think.

10:00

Thank you. We've heard today as well, but we've heard in evidence, that Gypsy, Roma, Traveller communities feel that they're rarely involved in the development and provision of sites, and they feel like they're consulted very late on. You've mentioned a couple of things, but how else do you think that the engagement and dialogue could be improved so that the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community are really heard and not just listened to?

It's in the statutory guidance, as well as in the legislation, that they should involve the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community in their considerations of site provision, accommodation assessment et cetera. I think our anti-racist action plan measures and actions will be a real push for local authorities to do this differently, and that at every point we would expect engagement with Gypsy, Roma, Travellers.

I've mentioned Merthyr once or twice, but they're living examples of how this can be done. When I visited the site and it was being refurbished, the people who came and the architects who came and the builders, they'd done it entirely on the basis of this refurbishment, of what the residents want on that site, and I think it was just tremendous to see the support. The warden of the site is a resident, and he was just showing to me that this is the way they live and this is the way they want to have the site redeveloped. So, it can be done.

But I think what's very clear is that we've got to get local authorities, and that's why there's training for members—it's going to be crucial as well, in terms of their awareness raising. Also, there are national groups, and the cross-party group, which I've mentioned already, involves national groups coming together. And of course we've got our links, through Tros Gynnal Plant, who are working actively with communities on site, and then there are local authorities who are supporting not just designated officers but actually voluntary groups as well. So, I think it's just getting the message over that they have to be involved. The anti-racist action plan was co-produced with Gypsy, Roma, Traveller people, and that's got to be reflected in delivery locally.

I think that's really exciting, about the training in particular, but it's going to be important for those local councillors as well to use the training throughout their term as well, and keep engaging with the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community throughout that. But I was just wondering if you—. Would that training be accessible to people from community councils as well? Because I know, in certain areas—. I know, in the area that I represent, that community councillors are quite active and they've had quite a few dealings with the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community, but I think that's always something to think about. And also, the work that would go on with the wider community, really, as well, because where there are settled Travellers, but also perhaps where there are unauthorised encampments—working with those, with the wider community, perhaps before any unauthorised encampments might occur.

10:05

I think that's a really good idea about town and community councillors, so we could add that in as well. And obviously there's lots of liaison between local authorities, unitary authorities and their town and community councils, so we could perhaps take that back as well. But I think as much involvement—. Our community cohesion officers are very crucial to this, so I don't know whether you've taken evidence from any of our community cohesion officers, but we fund them and they work in local authorities, so we would really want to bring them—. Hopefully, local authorities can use them as a route as well to engage with local communities.

In areas where there is no provision, it's really difficult, isn't it? Because there is no provision, so there's nobody even to engage with locally, but there will be people to engage with at the next neighbouring authority who is doing something. So, we need to be more imaginative.

Can I just go back to the fact that in terms of—? Back to the Chair's earlier questions, compliance, ensuring accountability—this is the compliance and accountability for what they're doing and how they're coming about their accommodation assessments is clearly laid down in statute and guidance, so we will be able to see from this latest round, and we'll be able to monitor how they've engaged and what the outcome of that engagement is. And if it's not there, as I said: letter to leaders—I'll share that with you—training, review of the guidance, and on every front, the anti-racist action plan is, I think, going to be a really strong steer, and not just steer, but more than that, in terms of tackling any kind of barriers and gaps in terms of implementation.

Can I just ask you perhaps one final question on what you've just said, Minister, about the need for monitoring? Because I think it is quite crucial, isn't it, given the performance to date in terms of provision. So, there's that five-year periodic review and the assessment process, but I think we heard that monitoring needs to be ongoing throughout the years, and only if it is that extensive are we likely to see the sort of implementation that's necessary.

Yes. It has to be ongoing. We've got opportunities to take stock, haven't we, in terms of monitoring, with the accommodation assessments coming through. But this is not just one-off, this is constant engagement from our officers. One of the things I haven't mentioned in terms of training and awareness raising, because you've got to get people to understand their commitments, is that not just for local authority elected numbers, but we're going to be providing training for housing option teams as well, because we know that, at the end of the road, this is what the officers are going to be delivering on this, but if the members and the cabinet members particularly recognise their responsibilities, then they will be monitoring. It can't be just us monitoring; actually, it's got to be scrutiny from, I believe, local authority members as well, in terms of what's being delivered and what the gaps are. But certainly it's ongoing; it's reviews and it's frequent feeding back to us in Government about failures, in terms of barriers to implementation.

But can I just say, Chair, that we have got a real opportunity, and I'm so glad this committee is doing this inquiry? Obviously, holding us to account to what our responsibilities, our strategy duties are, but also hopefully bringing to life the anti-racist action plan as a real opportunity, and we've no doubt that there's a lot of learning to be done out there to actually address this. So, that's why we want to show that Wales is travelling ahead with our Gypsy, Roma, Traveller people.

10:10

Un pwynt terfynol gen i, os caf i, a maddeuwch imi, gan eich bod chi o'n blaenau ni, a gaf i gymryd y cyfle i ofyn ar ran rhai o'r bobl dwi wedi siarad efo nhw yn y gymuned—mae yna argyfwng costau byw ar hyn o bryd, ac mae Sipsiwn, Roma a Theithwyr yn byw mewn trelars ac mae'n anodd iawn i gynnal gwres; maen nhw'n byw efo nwy potel, sydd yn ddrytach nag unrhyw fath arall o wresogi, ac maen nhw'n dweud wrthym ni ei bod hi'n anodd iawn iddyn nhw gael mynediad at rai o'r grantiau a chymorth ariannol sydd ar gael, yn enwedig cymorth sydd yn dod, rŵan, o Lywodraeth San Steffan—£400 y pen o ran pwyntiau trydan. Wel, un pwynt trydan sydd yn nifer o'r safleoedd yma, yn cael ei rannu rhwng eraill. Felly, os oes posib ichi jest trosglwyddo'r neges i gymryd hwnna i mewn i ystyriaeth—bod y cymunedau hyn yn ei chael hi'n anodd iawn, iawn ar hyn o bryd, efo incwm bach iawn a chostau uwch na'r cyffredin. Maddeuwch imi am gymryd y cyfle.

One final point from me, if I may, and please forgive me, but because you are before us, may I take this opportunity to ask on behalf of some of the people I have spoken to in the community—there is a cost-of-living crisis at the moment, and Gypsies, Roma and Travellers live in trailers and it's difficult to maintain heat; they have bottled gas, which is more expensive than any other kind of heating, and they tell us that it is very difficult for them to access some of the grants and financial assistance that is available, especially that which comes from Westminster Government—£400 per head for electricity points. Well, these sites often only have one electricity point, shared between others. So, could you just pass on that message to take that into consideration—that these communities have great difficulty, with very small incomes and higher than usual costs. Forgive me for taking the opportunity.

Diolch yn fawr, Mabon. I would just quickly say that we've just recently approved this partnership with the Fuel Bank Foundation, which is not just vouchers for pre-payment meters but also for off-grid, including access to Calor gas and oil. And I've already spoken to some Gypsy and Traveller communities where this came up months ago, as an issue, and we're now moving into the winter months. The access to the discretionary assistance fund is important, but I'll do a note for committee on this point. But just to say that I'm very glad that you've raised this, because this is something that we then have to ensure that Gypsy, Roma, Traveller people have access to the advice and that they know what benefits are available. And I would say that that, also, is the responsibility of the local authority, to ensure that they have got access to that advice and that they're getting all the grants that they should be entitled to.

Okay, thank you very much. Thank you, Minister, and thank you to your officials for coming in to give evidence today. You will be sent a transcript, Minister, to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau canlynol y cyfarfod: 4 a 8
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the following items: 4 and 8

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 4 ac 8 y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4 and 8 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

The next item on the agenda today is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 4 and 8 on our agenda today. Is committee content to do so? Thank you very much. We will then move to private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:13.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:13.

10:45

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 10:47.

The committee reconvened in public at 10:47.

5. Cartrefi i ffoaduriaid o Wcráin—sesiwn dystiolaeth 1
5. Housing Ukrainian refugees—evidence session 1

Welcome, everybody, back to committee. We've reached item 5, then, and this is our first evidence session on the committee's inquiry into housing Ukrainian refugees. And I'm very pleased as well that we've been joined by Sarah Murphy from the Equality and Social Justice Committee, which obviously has a keen interest in these matters also. So, let me welcome, then—joining us remotely along with Sarah—Naomi Alleyne, director of social services and housing for the Welsh Local Government Association; Gaynor Toft, interim head of housing and public protection services for Pembrokeshire County Council; and Anne Hubbard, manager of the Wales Strategic Migration Partnership. So, thank you, all, very much for joining us today. Perhaps I might begin with quite a general question, really, which is just to seek your views on the support available for refugees from Ukraine. What are your views on the approach taken in Wales; for example, whether the welcome-centre model is effective, and whether you perceive any gaps currently? Who would like to begin? Yes, Anne.

Thank you. So, I think, in general terms, the welcome-centre model is very effective. It's been proven in several different contexts that frontloading support for new arrivals into a country can be very effective. We saw that in action with the evacuation of people from Afghanistan, from Kabul, into the bridging sites in Cardiff. So, when people arrive at the centres, they're given well-being assessments; referrals to mental health or specialist services can be facilitated. I'm aware that there is also support for front-line professionals at those centres. Traumatic Stress Wales have developed a video, for example, which gives an overview of the kinds of reactions they can expect from people who've arrived who've been through very difficult experiences and difficult journeys. So, the video talks to them about the principles of providing psychological support and first aid. All arrivals into Wales are given other details of mental health services, for example, the 24-hour mental health helpline that's available—the Community Advice and Listening Line helpline. I mean, there are barriers for refugees and asylum seekers in accessing mental health services, but I'm aware that in the response to Ukraine, councils, Welsh Government and third sector partners have done their utmost to make sure that people do receive the support that they need.

10:50

Diolch. Thank you. From an operational, local authority perspective, then, obviously, as soon as the crisis emerged and it was obvious that a response was needed, some of the first lines of entry, really, were through the Homes for Ukraine scheme. So, as far as the local authority is concerned, we've more or less integrated the principles of our civil contingencies response framework with a nominated gold lead, and then we have a silver multi-agency group that meets on a twice-weekly basis. That group has been invaluable, really, in pulling together the local authority response as well as the community response and the third sector response. We've also got bronze cells that look specifically at things like accommodation, safeguarding, community cohesion, employment opportunities, education and so on. So, all that information—we meet on a weekly basis and that's drawn together into that silver group.

As far as the role of the local authorities are concerned, obviously, in Pembrokeshire, we've got the two arrival hubs. We've got the two ports, so we've got the arrival hubs established in the area. We've established the processes as far as undertaking property inspections and the safeguarding checks and so on, but I won't go into the detail as a general overview. But, obviously, it's the case that the local authority, the third sector, local private employers and that community support, really, and the community response has really kicked in once again in terms of that response to this crisis.

As far as the approach for Wales, we welcome the approach, obviously. We are dealing primarily, at the moment, with the Homes for Ukraine access for Ukrainians into the country, but, obviously, as the welcome centres have established themselves and as the visas now are being issued, as far as the welcome centre—the supersponsor route—is concerned, we are also seeing that demand, then, and need for move-on accommodation through that route as well. So, obviously, we're ratcheting up our response as far as that issue is concerned.

When you ask about whether there are any gaps, I think the concern is, really, from an operational capacity perspective in relation to our continued response to the crisis. We've established a team of outreach workers, for example, as well as housing advice seconded into roles to try and meet that need of providing the necessary support to the Ukrainians as they arrive in the country and are placed with our sponsors. So, it's that operational capacity that identifies as a gap.

Availability of accommodation: I'm sure we will discuss that again during our session, but, really, we've got this acute shortage of move-on accommodation. We've been overwhelmed, obviously, and grateful for the response from sponsors offering up their accommodation, but it is questionable in relation to the long-term sustainability of that, and that's the concern that we also have. Thank you.

Thank you, Gaynor. As you say, we'll come on to other matters in due course. Naomi, did you want to add anything at this stage? No, you're quite happy. Okay.

Could I just ask one further question, then, before we move on to other committee members? That's the Welsh Government's decision to pause the application process for supersponsors; whether you think that is the right decision, whether you think there are any particular actions that should be taken during the pause, and how long the pause should last for.

I'll come in on that, Chair. Thank you. I think, firstly, to say that we weren't consulted on the pause per se. We were informed, as were other people, but then the Minister did meet with leaders and cabinet members to discuss the pause, the purpose of that, and what we hoped to achieve during that time.

We haven't had a chance to discuss with members, so this is based on some of our experience and knowledge so far, but I think it is a sensible approach to just allow us to regroup and to make sure that we've got the arrangements in place and that the arrangements are working well.

I think the arrivals have happened a little bit faster than we anticipated, so it's about being able to just take a little bit of a pause and regroup. Because what we're very keen on—I think Anne made the point and Gaynor reinforced that—is that people arriving in Wales receive a very structured and warm welcome, so that the support that we provide, the wraparound support, isn't just around a roof over their head, if you like, but we're looking at their other needs and addressing that in a broad way. So, the pause enables us to make sure that we're planning accordingly, moving forward.

I don't think we have any view on the time per se; obviously, we're seeing how it goes. But we are taking advantage, with Welsh Government, to relook at some of the processes, see how we can streamline some of those steps that may be needed, just to make sure that particularly the move on—the flow through the system of people in the welcome centres back out to hosts or to other accommodation—is actually working well. So, it gives us an opportunity to pause and review, I think, and make sure our planning arrangements are all working as they should to make sure we do provide appropriate support to everybody who arrives in Wales.

10:55

Okay, thank you very much, Naomi. Would either Anne or Gaynor like to add any thoughts on those matters?

I don't think I have anything to add, thank you, Chair.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Bydda i'n siarad yn Gymraeg. Gaf i wirio bod y cyfieithu'n gweithio efo pawb, os gwelwch yn dda? Ardderchog. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Rydym ni wedi clywed yn y newyddion heddiw, os ydych chi'n gwrando ar Radio Cymru, am lety croeso yr Urdd. Mae'r Urdd, unwaith eto, chwarae teg, yn tynnu eu pwysau ac yn gwneud gwaith rhagorol. Ond, mae'r cyfnod chwe mis o ran y lletyau croeso yna yn dirwyn i ben, ac mi fydd angen ffeindio cartref i'r bobl sydd yn y lletyau croeso yna i symud iddyn nhw. Pa rôl sydd gan awdurdodau lleol i sicrhau fod yna gartref ar gael, fod yna do uwchben pobl o Wcráin sy'n chwilio am lety sydd hwyrach yn gadael y lletyau croeso yma? Ac ydych chi yn ymwybodol o rai sydd bellach yn gweld eu hunain yn ddigartref? Gaf i ofyn i Gaynor i gychwyn, os gwelwch yn dda?

I'll be speaking in Welsh, so I'll just check that the interpretation is working with everyone. Excellent. Thank you very much. We've heard from the news today, if you listen to Radio Cymru, about the Urdd welcome centre. The Urdd is once again pulling its weight and doing excellent work. But the six-month period in terms of that accommodation is now drawing to a close, and a new home will need to be found for the people in that accommodation to move on to. What role do local authorities have in ensuring that there is a home available, that there's a roof above people from Ukraine who are looking for accommodation who are leaving these centres? And are you aware of those who now see themselves as homeless? If I can ask Gaynor to start, please.

Diolch yn fawr am y cwestiwn.

Thank you very much for the question.

In that regard, we are working closely with the Welsh Government and the welcome centres. We have got an 'expression-of-interest list', as we call it, then, in relation to those offers of sponsorship accommodation that have been put forward. So, each local authority has received that expression-of-interest list for likely sponsors, and we are working through those lists in a prioritised way with the intention of putting these expressions of interest through to Welsh Government and the welcome centres themselves, really, in relation to likely matching of households from the welcome centres.

So, as Naomi sort of alluded to in the last answer to the question, we are working in terms of streamlining that process in terms of making sure that there is that steady stream of placements from the welcome centres into the local-authority-sponsored placements. We are needing additional sponsor offers because we anticipate that the lists that we've got—we are having to use those lists to rematch when placements are falling down as well. So, we are quickly working through those lists to try and identify which can be matched to those coming from welcome centres and where we are having to rematch when there are existing placements that are breaking down.

So, as I said, the route that we are prioritising currently is through the sponsor route, then, because that is the most available accommodation that we've got. We are also, obviously, discussing with local landlords, as well as ourselves as social landlords, to try and see what available accommodation we do have. But, as you're aware, we do have significant homeless pressures as well, with a significant number of people in temporary accommodation who are homeless. So, there are pressures across many fronts as far as the need for social as well as affordable housing is concerned locally. We are seeing, as I said, breakdowns of the sponsor placements already. For example, we’ve had half a dozen happen in Pembrokeshire already, so we are having to find a rematch for those placements to make sure that the flow and the welfare of the Ukrainians are safeguarded.

11:00

Diolch, Gaynor. Cyn i fi ofyn i Naomi neu Anne, Gaynor, rwyt ti’n dweud bod yna dorri lawr mewn perthynas wedi bod rhwng rhai o’r sponsors. Pam? Beth ydy’r achos? Ai eich bod chi ddim wedi gwneud eich gwaith o adnabod y sponsors, ai’r sponsors sydd ddim wedi deall beth ydy’r dyletswyddau arnyn nhw? Beth ydy’r rheswm am y torri lawr mewn perthynas yma?

Thank you, Gaynor. Before I ask Naomi or Anne, Gaynor, you say that there’s a breakdown in that relationship that’s happened between some of the sponsors. Why? What’s the cause of that? Is it because you haven’t done your work in identifying those sponsors, or have the sponsors not understood the duties upon them? What’s the reason for this breakdown?

Mae sawl reswm.

There are several reasons.

There have been multiple reasons, really. Some of them have been because they want to move out of the area—they would prefer to be near the city lights, so to speak, and not to be in Pembrokeshire, or they’ve got family members who might be placed elsewhere across the country, or even in England. Sometimes, for the sponsors, it’s more of a challenge than what they did at first anticipate, so there could be some personality clashes, for example, that could exist. So, there is that multitude of reasons. And the other reason is that the property make-up, potentially, in terms of the numbers of bedrooms, isn't exactly what they would have hoped for. So, although, obviously, we do a lot of work in trying to prevent some of this happening in terms of the conversations that we have with the sponsors, together with the outreach worker support, the caseworker support that we are providing as well, and we do try and make sure that that doesn’t happen, or is avoided in the first instance, it is inevitable that that does occur.

Diolch, Gaynor. Naomi, os cawn ni fynd nôl at y cwestiwn cyntaf o ran beth ydy rôl awdurdodau lleol ac a oes yna bobl o Wcráin yn cyflwyno eu hunain yn ddigartref, neu, yn wir, os oes gennych chi gyfraniad at y pwynt olaf a oedd yn cael ei wneud. 

Thank you, Gaynor. If we can go back to the first question with you, Naomi, in terms of the local authorities, and are there people from Ukraine presenting themselves as homeless, or maybe you want to contribute on the last point that was made. 

Thank you. I think it’s also important to differentiate between some of the different schemes. There's the Welsh Government supersponsor scheme, the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but, as I’m sure you’re aware, under the family visa scheme, we don’t receive any data about people arriving in local authority areas. So, obviously local authorities are also, then, looking at which schemes people have come through, because, as Gaynor said, with the people who have arrived under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, we are, if there was a breakdown, looking to rematch those with other sponsors that may have come forward. But with those in the family visa scheme, because of the difference, sometimes they’re the people we’re finding are homeless, because you can’t rematch them into a different scheme. So, the differentials between the schemes mean that different support can be provided, or different options around how we can support that, because I think one of our concerns, obviously, as Gaynor said, is the high number of people already in temporary accommodation, so we would like to avoid the homeless route for this cohort of people if at all possible.

One of the other issues we might come on to is around location. Some people in the welcome centres would like to be accommodated in England. So, those cross-border issues are something that we need to address, because obviously that’s from different local authority areas. So, while there’s agreement within Wales that people can be accommodated outside the welcome centre local authority area, if you like, when people are looking to go cross border we do need to get some of those arrangements in place. I think it’s just reinforcing Gaynor’s point that a lot of work is being done with families and guests to look at what their needs are so we can try and best meet their needs in the first instance, but obviously, accommodation is one of the biggest challenges for us in this scheme, both in terms of the location, the type of accommodation and providing accommodation across all different cohorts that are actually requiring accommodation at this time.

Diolch, Naomi. Cyn i ni fynd at Anne, dywedoch chi rywbeth difyr iawn ar y cychwyn fan yna, i fy meddwl i, o leiaf, o ran diffyg data—bod data ddim yn cael eu cadw efo rhai o’r rhaglenni yma, y supersponsor, fel oeddech chi’n dweud, a Homes for Ukraine, a dydy awdurdodau lleol ddim yn gwybod pwy sydd yn dod mewn. Pwy sy’n gyfrifol am hynny? Pam bod yna ddim data clir yn cael eu cadw?

Thank you, Naomi. Before we go on to Anne, you said something very interesting at the start there, for my mind at least, in terms of the lack of data—that data isn’t kept with some of these programmes, like the supersponsor and Homes for Ukraine, and authorities don’t necessarily know who’s coming in. Who's responsible for that? Why is there no clear data being kept?

11:05

There is clear data on the Homes for Ukraine scheme and the Welsh Government's supersponsor scheme; that is shared from the department for levelling up to Welsh Government, who share that then with local authorities. There is no data that's available about people who arrive under the family visa scheme. So, local authorities don't receive information around people who have had successful visas in their area or who may have arrived in that time. Some authorities become aware of that because people are going to the authorities for help and support, but generally there is no data available, as we understand, that can be shared with local authorities for those who arrive under the family visa scheme. 

A beth ydy'r sblit o ran y niferoedd sy'n dod i mewn yn y sgîms gwahanol yma? Faint sy'n dod i mewn efo family visa schemes a faint sy'n dod i mewn efo'r Homes for Ukraine scheme?

And what's the split in terms of the numbers coming in under these different schemes? How many come under the family visa scheme and how many come in under the Homes for Ukraine scheme?

I haven't got the figures to hand. I think, when I was looking last, it was about 2,000 under the Homes for Ukraine scheme in Wales, and about 1,000 under the supersponsorship scheme. But, again, we don't have any figures whatsoever on the number of people who have arrived under the family visa scheme. 

Thank you very much. I don't really have much to add to what Gaynor and Naomi said on the homelessness issue, except that later on perhaps we'll come to a question around the wider pressures on councils and other cohorts of people that we're looking to support and the impacts on those schemes following our need to respond to Ukraine, if that's okay. 

Ardderchog. Diolch. Mi ydych chi wedi codi'r pwynt bod nifer o bobl sy'n dod yma hwyrach ddim yn dymuno bod yng Nghymru; maen nhw eisiau bod yn Lloegr, neu ddim yn dymuno bod mewn ardal wledig. Ydyn ni'n glir, felly, fod y llefydd rydyn ni'n eu cynnig yn addas i bwrpas, ac a oes gennym ni ddigon o noddwyr ac o dai yn y llefydd sy'n fwyaf addas ar gyfer ffoaduriaid o Wcráin? Gaynor. 

Excellent. Thank you. You have raised the point that a number of people who are coming here perhaps don't wish to be in Wales; they want to be in England or don't wish to be in a rural area. Are we clear, then, that the places that we do offer are fit for purpose, and do we have a sufficient number of houses and sponsors in the places that are most suitable for Ukrainian refugees? Gaynor.

Shall I come in there? Diolch. In terms of the property list, the sponsor list that we have coming through to us as local authorities, as I said, we work through the list. Obviously, Pembrokeshire is a rural area, so we do have a number of offers that have come from rural locations. We definitely don't rule those out. We do still continue with determining their suitability, but not only from a standards perspective in terms of that property condition, but also in terms of its accessibility: is it on a bus route? If it's not, again, it's not necessarily ruled out. We have that conversation, then, with the sponsor to understand what support is available to those families who might be placed there—or not necessarily families, households who might be placed there. And if we are satisfied that there is sufficient support that is being made available to them, then there definitely is a consideration of putting it forward as a potential suitable sponsor route. 

We have had a number of offers for a certain community in a rural location, for example, in Pembrokeshire, and that community has come together to arrange, to decide between them, that they would be running coffee mornings, they'll be available to provide transport for these individuals. So, it's definitely not something that we turn away, if it's an offer from a rural location, we just make sure that we do investigate and do a bit more digging around, really, in terms of exactly what is available from an accessibility perspective for those who might be placed there. We've also got an active community hub in Pembrokeshire as well and a network of community organisations. So, obviously, we're drawing very heavily on that network to actually provide the support that we need. Sorry, Naomi, I saw your hand up. Thank you.

It's okay. Just building on that, obviously it is important that no one area is overpressured in terms of some of those responses to the broad schemes that we are looking at. So, as Gaynor was saying, a lot of it is around the conversations, looking at people's aspirations, what they're looking for. And certainly, through the Afghan scheme, people wanted to go to some of those rural areas. So, what we need to do is actually make sure that we're giving information about areas to people—what the assets are, what the transport links are, employment opportunities—so that we can, if you like, have people accommodated all across different parts of Wales, rather than just expecting some areas to provide the majority of the accommodation. But again, that does require us to work together collectively so that we can very much highlight the benefits of all areas of Wales. 

11:10

Diolch am hynny. Dwi'n gweld llaw Anne i fyny. 

Thank you. I see Anne's hand up there. 

I just wanted to summarise what was said here. I think sustainable placements are at the forefront of all of our minds, and we certainly had a conversation on that today with a very big audience of councils and other public services around how we can achieve that. So, those are some of the things that we'll be looking at during this pause. And I'm just minded of a conversation I had with somebody who's done a lot of work, who's actually Romanian but he'd been out to Ukraine in recent months, and he talked about the need to build communities of people following the example of the second world war. I'd really like to hear more from Ukrainians living in Wales about how we can best support them. Thank you. 

Oes gennych chi syniad beth ydy'r diffyg yn y nifer o noddwyr neu nifer o dai sydd eu hangen arnom ni, o gymharu efo'r niferoedd o Wcráin sydd am ddod neu sydd angen cael eu croesawu yma yng Nghymru? 

Do you have an idea of what the shortfall is in terms of the numbers of sponsors or the numbers of homes that we need, compared with the numbers from Ukraine who do want to come or who need to be welcomed here in Wales? 

Do you want me to cover that? I'm sorry that I have to talk about it from a local perspective, but just to give you perhaps the scale from a local authority perspective, within Pembrokeshire we have 130 households in temporary accommodation for homeless people. We're already welcoming between 50 and 70 households from Homes for Ukraine, and then the allocation through the welcome centre supersponsor scheme will be above that.

Obviously, we have to overlay, really, in relation to what happens after six months as far as those placements are concerned, both under Homes for Ukraine and for the supersponsor scheme. So, you can very quickly see where we might be well into the 200 mark, really, in terms of potential units of accommodation, if not more, that we are needing to look at sourcing, just for Pembrokeshire.

So, these are some of the figures that we are grappling with, because it is a bit of crystal ball gazing at the moment because we don't know how many will want to remain in Pembrokeshire. So, it is very difficult for us to gauge at the moment, but I think we are looking at those sorts of figures, then, obviously, times 22 across the region.  

Mabon, I think we'll have to move on. Time is, as ever, limited. Jayne Bryant.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you all for coming in today to give us evidence. What you've given us so far is a real insight into what's happening. I was just firstly wondering about how significant an issue safeguarding of Ukrainian refugees is, and how is that being monitored. Naomi, you've mentioned about the different schemes already this morning, and the difficulty with that. Perhaps you can just say a little bit about the safeguarding and not having all the information of all the families that are here in Wales. 

Thank you. I would say that safeguarding has been a significant concern and source of discussion amongst Welsh Government and local authorities right from the start of our discussions around this scheme. It is something that we haven't necessarily done at pace and scale previously across the UK. So, ensuring that people were safeguarded on their arrival has been subject to significant conversations, particularly given that—. I think it's an estimate that about 80 per cent of people who've arrived are women and children. So, safeguarding has been an underpinning consideration, and something that authorities have taken very, very seriously, erring on the side of caution, it has to be said, here. So, if there were any queries or concerns around safeguarding, they were followed up. It wasn't, 'We'll just see how that goes'. They were addressed, they were fed into discussions with Welsh Government or other colleagues around how we can ensure the safeguarding in individual circumstances. Because I think that's the other point to say: every single person who's arrived and their families have individual circumstances that do need to be taken into account in terms of safeguarding. 

So, Welsh Government has put out its guidance and advice, and, again, engaged with authorities in the development of that, and it has been revised and reviewed as we learn and our experience tells us of different issues that we need to address. Welsh Government—. There's also training for hosts in terms of online training in terms of safeguarding from their own point of view, and I know some authorities also provide direct training around that for hosts, and avenues and information for guests in terms of who they are to contact if there are any safeguarding concerns. So, it's not to say that they won't arise, but I can guarantee there has been significant concern.

That does lead then to the concerns—and we have written, the WLGA wrote to the UK Government—around the family visa scheme and the lack of data or information that flows to local authorities from that scheme. Because, in the way that local authorities are proactive in their safeguarding checks for those who arrive under the supersponsorship scheme or the Homes for Ukraine scheme, we cannot undertake the same safeguarding checks for those that arrive under the family visa scheme.

So, it is a concern to us. There is no information that flows, or data, but there's also no funding that flows to authorities or public services for that support, even though most of the support that's required will be very much the same. We only discussed—. As Anne said, we have a meeting with all the local authorities and Welsh Government every Wednesday morning, and this morning we had somebody there from the Disclosure and Barring Service, just explaining and going through some of the processes and the contract that's been put in place now so that we can try and speed up those DBS checks. So, they are a source of constant discussion amongst local authorities and Welsh Government in ensuring that we maintain those high standards of safeguarding.

11:15

Thank you, Naomi. I'm just wondering—. You just mentioned about the DBS checks and the issues around trying to speed that up, really. Can you just say about the amount of time that's taking at the moment and if those home visits are taking place, and if there are any other ideas that you'd have about how to improve that side of it, to ensure that safeguarding is really absolutely right at the forefront of everybody's minds?

I'll hand over to Gaynor, if that's okay, particularly from that local authority experience point of view in terms of working through and with the DBS service.

Okay, thank you. On those safeguarding and DBS checks, I think we've developed a process—. Powys County Council, for example, are undertaking the DBS checks on our behalf. They are the regional lead on it, and in fairness to them they have been doing an admirable job. The process has sped up, so it is a matter of days now that we are able to get those checks pushed through.

As far as our internal safeguarding checks are concerned, we have got a panel that meets. For example, when we have identified any matters of concern, then we have a panel approach in terms of escalating those in order to decide whether that sponsor arrangement should actually proceed or otherwise. So, we do have instances where we have actually turned down sponsor offers.

From a property check perspective, again, we are undertaking—each and every one of those visits are undertaken. We've again looked at having a consistent approach across Wales in terms of ensuring that it's a relatively light-touch approach as far as those property assessments are concerned, to make sure that those properties are safe for Ukrainians to be placed there, but we're also mindful that it is somebody's home in very common areas as well. So, obviously, it is that balance of respecting that, but making sure that those placements are safe as well in terms of any hazards within the homes. 

So, in relation to after those placements have happened, as I say, we do monitor placements as well. We do have the caseworker role. So, in terms of that communication with Ukrainians and sponsors after they've been placed, we have got that line of communication that does happen. So, when we do see scenarios where we're not concerned either from a safeguarding or from a property safety perspective, we do have that escalation mechanism in place, so that we can make sure that those placements are safe. So, that's about it. Thank you. 

11:20

Thank you. We know that many young people have been in limbo, really, in Ukraine, waiting for visas, and there are reports that the UK Government are likely to allow under-18s to come to the UK unaccompanied if they have written permission from parents or guardians. And I was just thinking about the safeguarding issues around that as well and what sort of measures you be putting in place, anticipating that that is likely to happen.

We've been involved in some discussions with Welsh Government over the past, I don't know, 10 days, and there's still some more detail—there isn't the detailed guidance yet about how the scheme would operate in practice. [Interruption.] Sorry, my eye is watering.

Safeguarding will be the main concern there with unaccompanied minors as well. There are some steps that are being discussed around how they will be safeguarded, having a notarised note, for example, from parents or guardians, and making sure those checks are done, enhanced DBS checks.

But, I think, until we see the detailed guidance, it's difficult to comment without knowing exactly how the scheme will operate. But, again, safeguarding will be the main concern there. And it's not just around checks for people arriving, but making sure that there's ongoing engagement between those children and young people and local authorities and other public services. 

And, again, making sure that they, probably, have good access to advocacy services as well. So, I think, from our point of view, we certainly would want to make sure that any unaccompanied minors arriving in Wales have a very structured, well organised and understood process, with safeguarding at its heart. 

All right, Jayne? I think we might have to move on at this stage. 

Thanks, Chair, and thanks, all, for your time this morning. You've probably answered a bunch of the questions that I was going to ask around support for sponsors. But, in a written response from the Minister to this committee around support, the Minister said that the Welsh Government are working with the third sector to provide information sessions, training and peer support sessions for hosts. I'm just wondering whether you're seeing much evidence of that, and whether it's fulfilling the needs that you think hosts have at the moment. 

Do you want me to come in on that one?

Well, just to say I am aware of the commitment of Welsh Government to provide that training for hosts, but I'm not aware of the extent to which that's been rolled out. I'm sorry about that. I know that sessions have been made available by various different charities, including Reset, and they've had fairly wide take-up, but I can't comment on the extent to which Welsh Government's support processes have been rolled out yet. I think it's the really early days of that. 

It may be that these do differ as well at the local level, in terms of the arrangements local authorities would have had in place, and how the third sector will work with them and complement that. I think one of the issues—. Well, one of the things that I think is very positive is the work that local authorities and the third sector did together around the shielding scheme, and that set great store in being able to look at the assets and the values of what local authorities were undertaking and how the third sector support and provide other wraparound support around that. 

I know, through the WLGA, we have met with the local authority lead officers for the third sector, and we meet weekly with the Wales Council for Voluntary Action as well around those types of issues. So, I know there's some plans now to roll out, over the next couple of weeks, some of the work that they will be leading on. And, again, just going back to the previous issue, for the work from the third sector as well, safeguarding is one of their key concerns, and, even in terms of things like the activities that they want to arrange for people, being able to ensure that safeguarding is addressed in there, in informal and formal ways, is also a concern for the third sector as well. 

Thanks. I'm conscious that time is going, so I'm just going to canter through a couple of other bits. So, in terms of that partnership working, yes, with local authorities, with third sector, but also around health services, in particular, for mental health support and trauma support as well, are you seeing much evidence of that access into our health services being made available to support refugees that we're welcoming?

11:25

I'm aware that, in all of the welcome centres, and when people arrive in authorities, well-being assessments are carried out and the appropriate referrals are made into mental health or other services. How long people may have to wait for support, I'm not entirely clear.

Can I just come in on that as well? Because I think some of—. Gaynor mentioned some of the capacity issues local authorities are experiencing, and I think there are some issues with health as well, in terms of some of their capacity to provide some of the screening services. There have been some concerns, because, obviously, some children, I think above the age of 11, will need to be screened for TB before entering school. And again, I know there was concern in some areas around the time that was taking, because the children are so keen to join schools, and, with the TB, if that was delayed a bit, the parents were getting a bit frustrated and the children were getting disappointed.

So, there is a framework for the health services in terms of that. I think there are capacity issues for the health service to ensure that they can provide services in the timely fashion that people do require. But, again, it's about that communication and working together. And I think what has been really helpful is that weekly engagement with Welsh Government means that those issues are regularly fed in from an operational point of view, for the Welsh Government to take back and address. So, I know the issues around some of the capacity across other public services are already being picked up as well.

And now, just really quickly, and perhaps a brief response as well, part of my concern, of course, is that, very sadly, the war out in Ukraine is continuing and is likely to continue for a long time. So, have you had an indication from Government as to the length of the support that they will be providing to local authorities to provide the support that's needed for refugees? I don't know whether, Naomi, you're best placed to respond to that; I don't know.

At the moment, the funding is only confirmed for a year. That is different to some of the other refugee schemes, where you had a tariff that has been for a number of years, even though it declines in future years. But, at the moment, there is only funding that's confirmed for the first year.

Okay. Thanks. Thank you for attending today. My question was about funding as well. So, just in your opinion, is the funding from both Governments—UK Government and Welsh Government—sufficient, and do you believe that it's being used adequately as well? And is it any different from other settlement schemes?

No, you go first, Naomi. You can give the overview.

Sorry. I think it is difficult at the moment to say whether the funding is enough, because we're still learning and we're still developing these services, but, again, we can have those conversations. As I said, the tariff is only there for a year, so there's £10,500, then, additional funding for education, but £200 of that tariff is to be given to each refugee on arrival. There is flexibility with the tariffs; we haven't yet had the full written details, the funding instructions. We've had some aspects, we've had conversations, we understand some of Welsh Government's expectations around this, but we still do need some of that final clarity, if you like, particularly when—. Because, if people are moving across local authority areas, that tariff will likely move with them as well. So, it is difficult to look at what's available when you don't know the flow of what is coming in over a given time. So, it's difficult to say whether it's sufficient.

The long-term implications would be the same as with any other growth of population. There will be an increased call on schools, housing, health services, as we've picked up. There are issues around English as second language. Some people are arriving with good English language skills, some aren't. But also, learning from previous cohorts, with Afghans, people are also keen to learn Welsh. So, we want to make sure that we're offering opportunities to learn both languages within Wales. And only this morning—. Even in terms of some of the capacity that local authorities have put in, in terms of case workers, people are finding they're needing to recruit more, because the work is increasing and the complexity of the cases, again, recognising that people are arriving with trauma, which doesn't always come out straight away; this can happen over time. So, these are support packages that need to happen over time. But I think we are having those conversations, but we still do need to wait for the detail. Sorry, Gaynor.

11:30

It's okay, thank you. The only thing I'd add to that is covering off the Homes for Ukraine £350 per month payment for the sponsors. What we have found is that, from an upfront perspective, that hasn't been quite enough for some sponsors because of the investment that they need to do to make sure that their properties are ready and furnished et cetera for the arrival of Ukrainians. So, that is one of the feedback items that we've had from sponsors—that that £350 per month doesn't go too far. We've also had an example of a potential breakdown as well because of the escalating cost-of-living costs, in that that £350 to cover additional food and heating costs et cetera to accommodate Ukrainians isn't going far enough. So, it is leading to a tension, then, as such, really, potentially in some of the placements that we do have. So, that's the only additional, then, in terms of that £350. That, often, is not quite enough to start off, but could possibly be, then, as you're moving on.

Okay. Carolyn, I think we'd better move on swiftly to Joel, if that's okay.

Thank  you, Chair, and thanks, everyone, for coming today. It's been absolutely fascinating so far. I just wanted to pick your brains, really, about the existing schemes. So, when we talk about the Afghan and Syrian resettlement schemes, to what extent have they been impacted by the Homes for Ukraine scheme? Has there been best practice that they've picked up, if that makes sense?

Sure. Do you want me to come in on that one?

So, it's a two-part question. So, one was around best practice and then the impact. Yes, a lot has been done. We've been doing large-scale resettlement in Wales, which began a few years ago now with the Syrian scheme and all 22 councils have participated. So, there's been a lot of learning and good practice over time that's been applied very definitely to this scenario, and also, learning from the pandemic, what happened in Penally and the Afghan bridging sites, for sure.

So, there has been an impact on the other schemes from the response to Ukraine. The migration agenda has become much more of an all-Wales effort than it ever was and councils are now being asked to respond to both the Afghan scheme's full dispersal policy, which means that all councils will be expected to take asylum seekers, and of course the transfer of unaccompanied children is mandated now to all 22 councils. So, I know for a fact that there has been a slowdown in property offers to, for example, the Afghan scheme. We've got several families, a lot of families, still in hotels in Wales. We're looking for longer term accommodation for them. The UK Government Minister is about to write to chief executives across the UK to ask them to recommit or re-pledge to support the resettlement programmes. The problem is, as Gaynor and Naomi have both said, housing teams are incredibly pressurised and the challenge for us in Wales is how we deliver a place-based approach that provides equitable support to people arriving under any of those schemes. It's not going to be easy. So, the short answer to your question is that there has been an impact and we are struggling to find properties.

Thank you very much for that, Anne. Joel, I think we'd better conclude matters there for this particular evidence session, because I'm afraid we've run out of time. Thank you all very much, Naomi, Anne and Gaynor, for giving evidence to committee this morning. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:34 ac 11:36.

The meeting adjourned between 11:34 and 11:36.

11:35
6. Cartrefi i ffoaduriaid o Wcráin—sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
6. Housing Ukrainian refugees—evidence session 2

We've reached item 6, then, on our agenda today, and our second evidence session on the committee's inquiry into housing Ukrainian refugees. I'm very pleased to welcome here in the Senedd with us Reynette Roberts, chief executive officer for Oasis, and the Rev Aled Edwards, chief executive for Cytûn—Churches together in Wales. Our third witness joining us remotely is Natalie Zhivkova, volunteering policy officer for the Wales Council for Voluntary Action. Welcome to you all, and perhaps I might begin, then, with a first general question or two.

So, firstly, then, the support that's available in Wales for Ukrainian refugees—in your view, is it working well at the moment? Are there any gaps that we ought to be made aware of? Is, for example, the welcoming centre model effective? Who would like to begin? Aled.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, ac fe roddaf i fy nhystiolaeth yn Gymraeg. Dwi'n credu, i'r rhai ohonom ni sydd wedi gweithio yn y maes ers cyfnod maith, dŷn ni'n sylweddoli bod yr her o gartrefu cymunedau o Syria, o Affganistan ac Wcráin yn aruthrol, a dwi'n siŵr bod yna nifer o feysydd lle y gallem ni fod wedi gwneud pethau yn well. Ond mae'n rhaid imi ddweud, o safbwynt cymunedau ffydd a'r eglwysi yn benodol, mae cael cydweithio, er enghraifft, efo sir Benfro, yn achos Penalun, wedi gofalu bod hwnna wedi bod gystal ag yr oedd o ac wedi bod yn aruthrol, a bod y drefn yna o weithio mewn partneriaeth wedi bod yn eithriadol a rymus ac yn brofiad braf i fod yn rhan ohono fo. A hynny, os caf i ddweud, mewn amgylchiadau lle'r oedd yna, yn achos Penalun, nifer o heriau penodol yn nhermau cyd-ymwneud cymdeithasol. Roedd hynny yn ddigon anodd.

Y fraint fwyaf i ni fel cymunedau ffydd, dwi'n meddwl, ac yn arbennig yn Cytûn, oedd cael cydweithio efo'r Urdd ynglŷn â gosod pobl yn y ganolfan yma wedi cwymp Kabul. Mae'n rhaid imi ddweud, mi oedd cael cydweithio a chyd-drafod efo awdurdodau lleol—yn benodol, yn yr achos yna, Caerdydd—wedi bod yn gwbl allweddol fel yr oedd modd inni roi sefydliadau a threfniadau mewn lle a oedd yn gwbl arloesol ar lefel ryngwladol.

Dwi'n gweithio yn y maes ers cyfnod maith, a dwi ddim yn gwybod am unrhyw wlad arall lle mae eu prif fudiad ieuenctid nhw wedi rhoi eu prif adeilad nhw a'u staff gorau nhw i ofalu am ffoaduriaid, a dwi'n credu bod y trefniadau hynny efo'r Urdd a dinas Caerdydd a'r trydydd sector wedi bod yn gwbl allweddol. A dwi'n credu ein bod ni wedi sefydlu patrwm yn fanno o fod yn uwch-noddwyr cyn i'r term gael ei fathu, oherwydd dyna beth wnaethon ni. Ddaru ni roi—y term roeddwn i'n defnyddio yn Saesneg oedd 'wraparound plus', oherwydd mi fedrwch chi roi bwyd, dillad a gofal i deuluoedd, ond mae eu cael nhw i fod yn hapus ac yn gartrefol, i gefnogi tîm pêl-droed Cymru, tîm rygbi Cymru, mynd i eisteddfodau, a theimlo'i fod o'n nhw, yn rhywbeth cwbl arloesol. Dŷn ni wedi addasu'r profiadau yna i lefydd eraill yng nghyfundrefn yr Urdd.

Mi oedden nhw'n mynd i bob math o wersylloedd i ddechrau, ac yn y gorllewin erbyn hyn. Mae'r systemau yna yn gweithio yn dda, ond fel dŷn ni eisoes wedi clywed, dŷn ni'n ymwybodol bod yna heriau yno ynglŷn â bod yn gyson, gofalu bod yna ansawdd da i'r hyn sy'n cael ei gynnig. A hefyd dwi'n credu yr her fawr o hyn ymlaen ydy rhoi pobl sy'n eithriadol o alluog ac yn dalentog mewn cartrefi a chymunedau a gadael iddyn nhw, os mynnwch chi, lywio dyfodol eu hunain.

Ac i gloi, yn y darn cyntaf yma, i mi dwi'n credu mai un o'r pethau rhyfeddol glywon ni yn Eisteddfod yr Urdd eleni, yn y trefniant bod yna deuluoedd o Affganistan yn dod i'r ŵyl ac yn mwynhau ac yn dathlu, oedd un o'r plant bychan yn dweud wrth adael yr eisteddfod, 'Hwn ydy diwrnod gorau fy mywyd i.' Ac roedd hwnna'n allweddol. Ond dwi'n credu bod gennym ni heriau, yn nhermau gofalu, yn arbennig yn achos Wcráin. Efallai caf i roi drosodd i Reynette ac eraill i sôn am hynny.

Thank you very much, and I'll give my evidence in Welsh. I think that for those of us who have worked in this area for a long time, we realise that the challenge of hosting communities from Syria, from Afghanistan and from Ukraine is huge, and I'm sure that there are a number of areas where we could have done things better. But I must say, in terms of faith communities and churches in particular, having that co-operation with, for example, Pembrokeshire, in the case of Penally, that's been as good as it has been, and that's been very special, and that partnership working has been very powerful and a great experience to be part of. And if I could say, in the situation in the case of Penally, there were a number of specific challenges in terms of community engagement. That was hard enough.

The biggest privilege for us as faith communities, I think, and specifically Cytûn, was working with the Urdd regarding placing people in this centre after the fall of Kabul. I must say, having that co-operation and that negotiation specifically with local authorities—Cardiff, in that instance—was vital so that we could have arrangements in place that were very progressive on an international level.

I've been working in this field for a long time, and I don't know of any other countries where their chief youth organisation has given their main building and their best staff to take care of refugees, and I think those arrangements with the Urdd and the third sector and Cardiff Council have been vital. I think that we established a pattern there of being supersponsors before that term was brought about. I think that's what we did—we put that wraparound plus model, because you can give that care to families, but having them to be happy, to feel settled, supporting the Welsh football team, the rugby team, going to eisteddfodau and feeling at home is something that is progressive. We've adapted those experiences to other places in Wales in the Urdd regime.

They went to all kinds of places to begin with, and to west Wales by now. Those systems were working very well, but as we have already heard, we are very aware that there are challenges about being consistent and making sure that there's good quality to what is offered. And also I think the great challenge going forward is getting the very able people and talented people into homes and communities and letting them shape that future for themselves.

And I think, for me, one of the amazing things in the Urdd Eisteddfod this year was to have an arrangement so that there were families from Afghanistan coming to the eisteddfod and enjoying and celebrating, and one of the youngest children telling us in leaving the eisteddfod, 'This is the best day of my life.' And that was key. But I think that there are challenges in terms of caring, especially with regard to Ukraine. Maybe I can hand over now to Reynette and others to talk about that.

11:40

Okay, I'll concentrate on Cardiff and Oasis Cardiff and what we know. So, in general, our collaboration with Cardiff local authority has been excellent, because we're already working with them with the Afghans. So, regarding the welcome centres, it's been really positive. It was a very quick response to a changing situation on the ground. Needs assessments were done with the council staff and this enabled us to design an effective and timely response, so approximately 40 people have been supported over the past seven weeks. We feel that this welcome centre model has been effective and has given people accessing the services stability and a sense of belonging after their tumultuous and traumatic experiences.

Oasis Cardiff has provided informal English language provision, engagement with the local community and orientation at the welcome centre. Those Ukrainians accessing the Oasis Cardiff centre in Splott—mainly hosted families and individuals—have engaged in support services, women-only sessions, as well as English sessions, which have been very high in demand. So, in Oasis Cardiff itself, we have approximately 35 people, not including children, who have been supported over the last four weeks, and this is increasing on a daily basis.

Oasis Cardiff are also providing UK mobile SIMs through our partnership with Vodafone. In total, over 100 SIMs have been given to Ukrainian refugees in the past six weeks. We have concern about the upskilling of the hosts to support their clients and their hostees effectively, lack of volunteering and employment opportunities because they're unsure about timescales and ability to commit, and we hope to work to do more about this. The decision to host the Ukrainian refugees in Wales has been noted by other refugee groups, raising questions about what types and quality of support they get. There is a concern that this has created inequality and discrimination within the resettlement asylum processing system.

Thank you very much, Reynette, and we'll come on to many of those matters in due course. Natalie, did you want to add anything at this stage?

Yes, please, if I may. Of course, as the umbrella body for the whole sector, we're not experts in refugee and settlement in particular, but to us the approach so far seems reasonable and logical. We particularly welcome the welcome centres, because they represent an opportunity for our sector to engage with incoming refugees. It's the first point of contact very early on, which we have seen has been very beneficial down the line to prevent some forms of exploitation, perhaps, or putting them in dangerous situations. I think to some extent it's a bit too early to judge how successful our approach in Wales has been, but I think this does represent an excellent opportunity for Welsh Government, when we have more evidence, to really review how this system was implemented, and perhaps help us build future systems for new refugees coming in as a nation of sanctuary.

Okay, thank you very much, Natalie. That's great. Just one further question from me before we move on to other committee Members. The Welsh Government's decision to pause the supersponsor scheme—is that a decision that you think was the right one? If so, what actions do you think might follow during the pause, and do you have a view on how long the pause should be for?

11:45

Fy marn bersonol ydy dwi’n creu ein bod ni wedi dysgu, bellach, yn y sector Cymraeg i fod yn ymarferol ac yn bragmataidd. A dwi’n credu ei bod o’n ofynnol i ni ofyn sut fedrwn ni ddarparu yn gymwys ar gyfer y rhai sydd eisoes yn ein dwylo ni. Ac, oherwydd hynny, mi fyddwn ni’n fodlon ymddiried yn y penderfyniad i wneud y gohiriad yna. Dwi’n credu bod gennym ni bartneriaethau a thrafodaethau mewn lle sydd yn ddigon llyfn ac yn ddigon eofn inni allu newid cwrs. Dwi’n credu ei fod o’n well inni ddisgwyl am y dystiolaeth a gwell inni ddisgwyl am y storïau ar lawr daear cyn i ni roi unrhyw amser ar hwnna. Ond, dwi’n credu y byddai yna drafferthion enbyd pe byddem ni’n derbyn cynifer o bobl oddi fewn i’r cynlluniau uwch-noddi yna heb gael y modd i ddarparu ar eu cyfer nhw yn yr hirdymor. Mae o’n gydbwysedd anodd yn foesol ac yn ymarferol, ond dwi’n credu y dylem ni gael ein harwain gan y dystiolaeth, a dwi’n credu ar hyn o bryd fod y dystiolaeth yn eithaf cadarn.

My personal opinion is that I think that we have learned now in the Welsh sector to be practical and pragmatic. And I think that we have to ask how can we provide for those who are in our care. And, because of that, we can trust the decision to pause. I think we have partnerships and negotiations in place that are smooth enough and bold enough for us to be able to change course. I do think that it's better for us to wait for the evidence and to wait for the evidence from people on the ground before we go on. But, I think there would be terrible problems if we were to receive so many people within these supersponsor schemes without having the provision for them in the long term. It's a difficult balance to be struck, morally and practically, but I think that we should be led by the evidence, and I think, currently, the evidence is quite robust.

Yes. I think it gives an opportunity for the sector to regroup and evaluate the services currently offered. And we would ask that, when it's restarted, it will be communicated to third sector organisations a little more in advance, because, when things are done with a very short time, it leads to confusion and quick decision-making regarding the support, and that can have a detrimental effect on our other services as well.

Yes. I would echo what everybody else has said already. I believe that, with the evidence that we do have in terms of the number of applications and the people who are already in the welcome centres, from what I understand, most centres are currently either at full or almost full capacity. So, a bit of a bottleneck is happening, because very few people have actually been resettled into more permanent accommodation, which then causes further stress on the refugees themselves, statutory services and voluntary sector services. So, from our point of view, if we can use this pause now to really regroup and make sure that this process, especially the resettlement process, is more streamlined so that we can offer support alongside, that would be great.

I won't be able to give a view on how long the pause should be. I think it would really depend on how quickly we're able to move people into more permanent accommodation.

Okay. That's fine. Thank you very much. We'll move on, then, to Mabon.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Bore da i chi i gyd. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi i gyd am fynychu’r bore yma a rhoi o’ch gallu a’ch gwybodaeth i ni. Rŵan, roeddech chi’n sôn yn fanna am letyau sydd ar gael a hwyrach ei fod o’n ddoeth i gael rhyw atal dros dro ar y broses yma oherwydd bod angen inni ddeall lle dŷn ni arni o ran yr adnoddau sydd gennym ni. Y prif adnodd, wrth gwrs, ydy lletyau ar gyfer ffoaduriaid. Oes gennym ni ddigon o letyau yma yng Nghymru ar gyfer ffoaduriaid o Wcráin—y niferoedd dŷn ni am eu croesawu yn y tymor byr ac yn y tymor hir? Reynette.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning to all of you. Thank you very much to all of you for joining us this morning and sharing your expertise and knowledge with us. Now, you spoke there about the accommodation available and perhaps it's wise to have that temporary pause on this process, because we do need to understand where we are in terms of the resources that we have. The major resource that we have is accommodation for refugees. Do we have sufficient accommodation in Wales for refugees from Ukraine—the numbers we want to welcome in the short term and in the long term? Reynette.

I would say that housing is an issue across the board; it doesn't matter where you come from, whether you're a refugee or you were born in the UK and in Wales. I know that Cardiff Council have said that there's an increase in pressure on them, and I know that private landlords are beginning to sell properties. So, it's quite a long-term issue, but I think it is something that needs to be looked at carefully and over a long time, because human lives and safety are more important in the short term, I would say.

Pan fydd llywodraeth leol yn dweud wrthym ni eu bod nhw'n wynebu heriau aruthrol o ran digartrefedd, mae hynny’n gwbl gredadwy ac mae’r dystiolaeth yna i ddweud ei fod o’n her ar ein cyfer ni i gyd. Dwi'n credu, yn sgil beth sydd wedi digwydd, yn arbennig efo Affganistan a hefyd Wcráin, ei fod o’n ysgogiad i ni efallai i ofyn cwestiynau mwy egwyddorol ynglŷn â beth sy’n digwydd efo’r tai sydd gennym ni yng Nghymru, a bod hynny’n golygu symud egwyddorol o'r radd flaenaf i ofalu ein bod ni yn darparu anheddau ar gyfer yr angen yn hytrach na'r defnydd sy'n cael ei roi ar hyn o bryd. Ac mae hwnna'n gofyn cwestiynau mawr yn nhermau polisi ar lefel Llywodraeth Cymru, ac mae'n gofyn am symud enfawr, ddywedwn i, yn y ffordd yr ydym ni'n gweld yr adnoddau sydd gennym ni. A beth fyddwn i'n dweud—trio bod yn ysbrydoledig yn y pethau yma—ydy, oes, mae gennym ni ddigon o dai ond dydy'n tai ni ddim yn cael eu defnyddio'n bwrpasol ac yn fuddiol ar hyn o bryd, ac yn fanno mae'r symud egwyddorol yn gorfod bod. Dydy o ddim yn fater o jest adeiladu mwy o dai; mae'n golygu bod rhaid inni gael, fel cymdeithas, ffordd gwbl newydd o weld tai a sut yr ydym ni'n eu darparu nhw, nid yn unig ar gyfer ffoaduriaid, ond pobl sydd yn fwy cynefin mewn ardaloedd.

When local government tells us that they are facing huge challenges in terms of homelessness, that is very credible and the evidence is there to show say that it's a challenge for us all. I also think that, as a result of what's happened, especially with Afghanistan and also Ukraine, it perhaps leads us to ask more ethical questions about what's happening with the housing that we do have in Wales, and that means a principled shift to make sure that we do provide housing in response to need, rather than its current use. And that asks questions in terms of policy at Welsh Government level, and it asks for a huge shift, I would say, in the way that we view the resources that we do have. And what I would say, in trying to be inspiring in these things, is that, yes, we do have enough housing, but our housing isn't used in a purposeful and beneficial way, and that's where that principled shift has to be. It's not just a case of building more houses; it means that we have to, as a society, have a new way of perceiving housing and how it's provided, not only for refugees but also local people in their own areas.

11:50

From our perspective, I'm not able to comment on whether there is sufficient houses, as it's not really within our expertise, but, where our sector is concerned is, we know that a lot of people have come forward offering their homes in the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but some of those have been found to be inappropriate, perhaps insufficient space, or there might have been some safeguarding concerns there. It takes time and resource for local authorities to go and do those DBS checks and placement checks, and I think, at this stage, it might be a bit difficult to assess whether it's a genuine shortage of housing or we just need them to process all the different applications we've received from individuals.

Diolch. Oherwydd, yn y dystiolaeth flaenorol dŷn ni wedi'i derbyn, dŷn ni'n clywed nad yw, hwyrach, llety sy'n cael ei ddarparu ar hyn o bryd gan rai westeion yn addas i bwrpas, nad ydyn nhw'n ddigon agos i wasanaethau hwyrach, nad oes yna drafnidiaeth, eu bod nhw'n rhy wledig i rai. Ydych chi'n meddwl bod yr hyn sy'n cael ei gynnig gennym ni yng Nghymru ar hyn o bryd, yn y tymor byr yma, yn ateb y galw, a beth yn fwy y medrwn ni ei wneud er mwyn sicrhau bod y lletyau sy'n cael eu cynnig yn cwrdd â galw'r ffoaduriaid?

Thank you. In the previous evidence that we've received, we've heard that accommodation currently provided by some hosts aren't appropriate, that they not sufficiently close to services, that there is no public transport, that they're too rural for some. Do you believe that what is being provided by us in Wales currently, in this short term, does meet the need, and what more could we do to ensure that the accommodation provided meets the needs of refugees?

O'm safbwynt i, beth fyddwn i'n ei ddweud, beth sy'n allweddol ar hyn o bryd—ac mae tystiolaeth ein bod ni yn ei wneud o eisoes—ydy ein bod ni'n arolygu yn gyson. Hwnna ydy'r peth allweddol—ein bod ni yn cadw cofnod o beth sy'n digwydd a beth ydy'r trafferthion. Mae rhai ohonon ni yn y trydydd sector wedi lleisio'n gynnar yn y broses, oherwydd y dwyster a'r anawsterau fan hyn, y byddai yna broblemau ynglŷn â diogelwch, mi fyddai yna broblemau ynglŷn â darparu yr hyn sy'n addas, a dwi'n siŵr hefyd byddai'r brwdfrydedd yna i roi cartrefi a lle i ffoaduriaid yn raddol yn dod yn realiti, lle mae pobl yn gorfod gweithio pethau allan yn ddwys iawn, a weithiau'n gorfod bod yn onest i ddweud doedd yr hyn yr oedden nhw'n bwriadu gwneud ddim yn bosib ac nad ydy o'n gweithio. Fel roeddwn i'n dweud gynnau, yr unig ateb i hwnna, dwi'n meddwl, ydy ein bod ni'n arolygu'r sefyllfa yn rheolaidd a'n bod ni'n dysgu a'n bod ni'n ceisio'n gorau. Ond does gen i ddim unrhyw ddiniweidrwydd bod posib inni fod yn gwbl llyfn yn y maes yma.

From my perspective, what I would say is, what's key, currently—and there's evidence that we already do it—is that we do regularly review. That's the key thing—that we keep a record of what's happening and what the difficulties are. Some of us in the third sector expressed early on in the process that, because of the intensity and difficulties here, there would be a safety issue, there would be a suitable provision issue, and I'm sure that eagerness to provide housing and a space for refugees would soon become a reality, where people have to work things out and sometimes have to be honest and say what they were intending to do wasn't possible and it doesn't work. But as I said earlier, the only answer to that, I think, is that we do review the situation regularly and that we learn and try our best. But I'm not naively saying that we can be completely smooth in this area.

I would say that the Welsh communities have been amazing in that they've offered up their homes to refugees, but there will be challenges. And I think the ideal situation is different from the reality, and I think having some Ukrainians in a real situation will work for some but not for others, and I think there's a danger of people who are isolated, who spend all their time thinking about what's happening back at home, and if they're traumatised, if that is all in your mind, it can be detrimental to their mental health and well-being, and also, then, to their hosts. But I think, as Aled said, it's something that needs to be reviewed and looked at regularly. Also, there'll be excellent practice, but there will also be not such good practice, but it's dealing with human beings.

I think, from our sector's perspective and from what I know, our sector tends to get involved once there might be a problem. So, if there is already a problem in the house or there is a safeguarding concern, obviously we have a duty of care to report anything that's been relayed to service users that might've shared that with a volunteer or staff of a charity. I know that there are particular localised charities that have been working with local councils when a breakdown is about to happen in a placement, which, of course, tells us that there might have been some placements that weren't ideal. I'm not able to comment more broadly if that's a common occurrence or not.

11:55

Thank you, Chair. Thank you so much for coming in today to give us evidence. I'm just going to concentrate on safeguarding. We've heard how it is absolutely crucial and has to be right at the forefront of everything. I was just wondering what your assessment is about how big the issue of safeguarding is of Ukrainian refugees and how it's being monitored. We heard in our last evidence session about some of the differences within the schemes—for example, the family visa scheme is unknown to the local authority, of people coming on that. I'm just wondering if that's your experience and if you have any connections there.

We don't. We only know the ones that come to our centre. All our staff and volunteers are DBS checked and go through a process. But, externally, we don't have any—.

From our point of view, we have been aware that there have been safeguarding issues from the beginning. Experience would dictate that when you get vulnerable women and children, some unsavoury elements will try and control that scene. I think all the authorities are aware. We frequently discuss trafficking issues, and that will be difficult. But I think we've tried our best, and certainly in the third sector we would be bound by good practice and safeguarding procedures, and if we were aware of anything being untoward, then we would, obviously, escalate that.

If I may, very briefly, I think some of us are concerned about this mix of schemes and mix of vulnerabilities. It is a great concern to us particularly when you take in what we would still call 'spontaneous arrivals' and they are at their most vulnerable, because they don't have the protections of those new schemes. It's not for me to be forwarding an agenda here, but, particularly in the light of this morning's announcement around the bill of rights, we have had a framework in Wales that has had a democracy informed by equal opportunities, sustainable development and human rights. This institution, may I remind you, was created on the understanding that it would be constrained by human rights requirements. It was further empowered in 2011 by a democratic mandate to have that further empowerment, and I think it's going to be an interesting question for us. I served as an adviser to the 2011 Commission on a UK Bill of Rights, and some of you may recall that the reason why that commission did not come to a conclusion was because the likes of Philippe Sands QC and Helena Kennedy QC raised the issue of human rights being embedded within the DNA of our democracy here in Wales. We certainly highlighted that.

Now, I'm asking questions at this point as we are entering into a new phase of conversation around these things. When Ukrainians and Afghans who are very competent, able people experience wrongdoing or injustice or something that falls well short of what is required, what redress do they have within our constitutional framework? I would encourage this institution and other institutions that we should never lose sight of how we call Governments and institutions to account when they overreach and when they fail to provide the frameworks that vulnerable people need to have. I would implore you to consider, as a committee, how we respond to that ongoing development, particularly in the light of legislative consent and enforcement. I think we cannot, at this stage, have a constitutional arrangement that may weaken people's rights—I raise that as an issue in direct answer to your question—particularly when it comes to the most vulnerable at the 'spontaneous arrival' end of the conversation.

12:00

Absolutely. Incredibly powerful, I think. I don't know if Natalie wants to say something in terms of her experience. You mentioned safeguarding in response to the last question.

Yes, please, if I may. I think there are massive concerns in our sector in regard to safeguarding. Specialist organisations that work within the area are, of course, hearing a lot of international examples of human trafficking and sexual abuse. There are a lot of very, very bad examples happening already outside of Wales, and the aim of the sector is for us to not have a plethora of examples of our own here.

So, I think the main message is prevention is better than cure. So, I think one of the main strong messages that we have is that sufficient time needs to be given, sufficient resources need to be given to local authorities to perform background checks before placements happen in the first instance. The sector is working together with local authorities and with Welsh Government to provide expert advice and advice about the services that are offered to people who might have fallen victim to one of those things.

Aside from that, there is definitely going to be a role in terms of the general public, volunteers and community members as well. It is going to be more of a secondary role; of course, the primary responsibility does lie with the state and local authorities. But, if somebody has gotten to know a volunteer or a community member, they might feel comfortable sharing information with them that they wouldn't feel comfortable sharing with an institution or a stranger. So, in that sense, we want to raise awareness and make sure that everybody is really alert and aware of signs of abuse, and of the quickest and fastest way they can report it so that it gets to the right authorities. Civil society and community is going to have involvement in that, but, at this stage, I think our main concern is to make sure that—. By the time it comes to our sector, usually it's too late—harm is already done or it's imminent. So, if we can prevent that from getting to our sector in the first place, that would be the ideal solution, from our perspective.

Yes, thank you very much, Natalie. Especially when there's potential for more young people coming unaccompanied, it's likely to happen. That's what reports have said. Just making sure that those young people are protected when they come over unaccompanied is going to be really important.

I was just also wondering about your third sector role and volunteers' role in ensuring that safeguarding is taking place. As you've just said, Natalie, it's often happened by the time it comes to you. I just wonder what more could be done or how the third sector could get involved, whether that was in a breakdown in relations between a host family and refugees. I know we have had evidence that suggests that perhaps the third sector could play a role in being the first contact going to a house visit and then having that same person as the contact if there were any issues with a breakdown. I'm just wondering about your views on that.

So, we know of particular localised examples where a local authority would formally come to an agreement with a branch of our national charity or local charity where they would be involved in that process. There isn't currently a nationwide process or approach that we're taking. A large reason for that is because nearly 90 per cent of charities in Wales are locally based, so it's very difficult to mandate an approach. Also, different things might work differently, and the ecosystems between the local authority and the charities and communities in different parts of Wales work differently. Again, if it's rural or it's city based, it's really quite a different environment. So, that's definitely already happening and I know of some examples—for example, Newport Mediation comes to mind right now, who are focused on housing breakdowns more generally and they're definitely working with refugees at the moment as well. But, it's quite difficult to, on a national level, be able to provide that service everywhere uniformly. So, I think there needs to be a baseline of expectation—and there is already, to be fair—that local authorities will be responsible for that by default, and if the sector could be linked into that and if we could help, and there is the availability and capacity of the local charities to get involved in that as well, they're more than happy to do so.

Yes, I would agree with that. I think it's really important that also there's cultural awareness training for the hosts because there can be misunderstandings just because there are cultural issues. Also, in Oasis, we run Mind-Spring, which is a mental health and well-being project, which is run by refugees for refugees in their mother tongue, and we're hoping that we can roll that out to Ukrainians as well once we've had the training. And I think that is essential as well, because it gives people a bit of time to sit back and reflect on where they are and look forward and plan forward as well.

12:05

Very quickly from me, I think we've, obviously, sought to provide pastoral care to the families that have arrived, and that sometimes can be immensely complicated because, if you think that the faith scene is complicated in Wales, it's even more complicated in Ukraine. We've had to match the Orthodox tradition that may be aligned or accountable to the Patriarch of Moscow, and that's difficult, and also the ones accountable to Kyiv. And we've also got other families. It's interesting that some of the families that came were Muslim families who went to Ukraine in order to be safe. You do think those issues through.

But I think what we do—and this is the point that I think was very ably put—is we just listen to the stories and try to be as sensitive as we can. And I'm sure that we will get some things wrong, but I think the real dynamic here for the third sector is that, I guess, we will be there more than statutory bodies frequently and just to listen to people and to hear their stories. We'll try.

Thanks, Chair. Just to carry that point on, really, around the support being provided to both refugees and sponsors. Do you think that the third sector is—? Is there more capacity within the third sector to provide further support, if it was asked to, as it were? Or do you think you're about at the limit as to what support you can provide at the moment in Wales?

I'm looking at my bit. I've forgot what we're doing.

Capacity is an issue. At the moment, for us, we've got 35 Ukrainians coming to our centre, and then we're doing two classes of 20 in other centres, as well as the Afghan support. So, there's a limit on how many volunteers you can use for everything. Also, those volunteers need managing. So, there's a will, but sometimes a lot of juggling goes on to try and do the best that you can for your client group, and it does stretch. You don't want to stretch your staff and volunteers so that they have burn-out as well. So, it's very hard.

Just to go a bit further on that point there, then, in your experience is the third sector being engaged at an early enough point in terms of planning? Or is there a risk at the moment that perhaps it's a bit late in the day and you're suddenly having to deliver things at very, very short notice? I know this whole thing has been an emergency, I understand that, but we're probably in a different phase now where we have an idea of what the next few months, possibly years, may look like. So, are you engaged enough in the planning for the support, do you think?

No, I don't think we are, and I think there have been lessons learned all the way along. When the Syrian crisis happened, we learned lessons on what we did and didn't want to do. We just started getting ready. As soon as we heard about it, we started planning what support we could offer to Cardiff Council, for example, and how we could support Ukrainians when they came, in the same way that we supported Afghans.

I think Reynette makes a good point. From our point of view as a faith network, bearing in mind that we, I think, gave Wales the notion of being a nation of sanctuary, we took it to the faith communities forum. We've been in all the strategic conversations and, to that extent, we've been drivers behind the changes. So, we've been very, very well informed, and being in the room is important to us because we can then impact on policy and make things better. But I'm just acutely aware that there is then a great issue between that strategic level of framing values and being on the ground delivering and having a sense of what people need and how those change from day to day. Yes, we could plan those things better, but, in our case, we'd have to say, 'Well, yes, we were there in the room, we were complicit in some of the decisions, but I think we could always learn from talking to each other earlier', and I think that’s what we will probably need to do now when we go into that next phase of trying to provide permanent or semi-permanent lives for people in our midst.

12:10

Okay. I don't know if anyone else wanted to comment at all, Chair.

Apologies, I think I lost connection for a second. Could I come in?

So, I think the context of that needs to be discussed. In terms of the voluntary sector at the moment, it’s extremely stretched financially and capacity wise, because demands for our services have been steadily increasing ever since the beginning of the pandemic, and they haven’t really decreased now that, I suppose, that’s less of a big topic that we’re discussing, while some of the emergency funding, for example, that was available for the sector during the pandemic is now all but gone, really. So, all these demands are piling up on the sector from all sorts of different directions, and, in addition to that, of course, we have the cost-of-living crisis, which puts pressure on the sector in two ways: firstly, it creates a whole new cohort of people who need our support; and secondly, it becomes more expensive to deliver the services, as we’re affected as everybody else by the prices of things.

So, that is the overall health of the sector. We also have burn-out, as has already been mentioned, of course, for everybody that works here and the volunteers themselves. So, that’s how this crisis met us in the first place. We also have the end of EU funding, and people feel uncertain about the transition into the shared prosperity fund and, especially, smaller charities find it very difficult to plan longer term, or they feel discouraged from investing in any new services—anything but their absolute core functions. I think by default this limits the ability of charities, especially smaller ones and especially local ones, which is around 90 per cent of the charities in Wales, to engage in those more strategic discussions. So, very similar to what Aled was saying, we were there as the WCVA and we were having those conversations, but it’s very difficult to demand from smaller organisations that are very overwhelmed, and they have capacity issues, to also be at all of those meetings, thinking strategically, making sure that they work in partnership with everybody else, because of the one first things that goes when you are underfunded is this ability to think strategically and work in partnerships. It results in silo working, not because of lack of desire or trying, but just because people don’t have the staff resource to dedicate to it.

So, I think part of the issue starts in the fact that there isn’t sufficient capacity in the sector at the moment. I think there is definitely something to be said, and something for us to consider, in terms of our commitment as a nation of sanctuary, where funding for the provision of services to asylum seekers and refugees needs to be part of the regular funding rounds—it needs to be part of the rounds that we already have of funding for the sector, perhaps being ring-fenced or in some way designed so that people have time, have the resource to plan in advance, to make those partnerships, so when a crisis does happen, we’re already prepared, and we don’t just respond to it with some emergency funding, which could be helpful. I know that Welsh Government has donated £1 million to the Croeso fund, and people are able to apply and get some funding from there, but if you’re already very stretched with your services and you’re already uncertain about your future, expanding your current provision of services to something in addition might already feel like something you can’t do, because it’s a bit too late for that. So, I think that's one of the main reasons, perhaps, and one of the main things we should consider for the future is having that preparedness in advance.

Thank you. And I'd just briefly, then—I’m conscious of time running away—focus on hosts and their abilities to provide the relevant support. I’m just wondering whether you think that they are going into this role with their eyes wide open in terms of what they need to provide for any refugees in their households, or is there something else we should be doing to ensure that people are either more trained or have the right expectations going into this role of being a host?

I don’t think you can ever anticipate what it’s going to be like to house a refugee. We had an Afghan that lived with us for two years, and it was a real success, but there were challenges and there were adjustments, for a family having a stranger come into their home, to make. I think people have to adapt, and sometimes it’s hard for people to adapt. I think having training and having someone to talk to outside of their home about the issues that they’re facing, to make them realise that, yes, that’s a normal feeling, there’s nothing wrong with feeling like that—. And for the children of families that are hosting as well. It's a big shift for a family to take in strangers. 

12:15

So, are those networks available—of support—at the moment? 

Not that I'm aware of. Are you aware of—?

No. I think, in the faith world, we try our best, through pastors and churches, to make sure that people are supported. We've been inundated with phone calls from people saying, 'Well, what do I do now?' And I think—. They're very informal and they're ad hoc, but the remarkable thing I'd say is that, given the nature of this crisis, there are immensely powerful, successful stories out there. And I think, whatever we do in terms of being honest about the challenges, we may have to find a way of celebrating people's achievements of doing these fantastic things that they never thought that they would do and never thought that they could do, but, strangely, by human ingenuity and support they've done. And I think the credit's to all the mechanisms. My guess is that none of us could have planned for this last year; it's something that we couldn't do. But I think we've done a remarkably good job of it. We're all aware that there will be failings and people will fail, but I think there are mechanisms there; when breakdowns happen, there are alternatives. And I think, at this juncture, we should possibly focus on the good learning.

Yes. And sorry, just briefly on that, then, are there any themes that you're observing in terms of those breakdowns so we can celebrate more often?

Could you repeat that, sorry?

You talked about trying to reduce those breakdowns. Are there any themes that you're observing that are causing breakdowns to happen in those host families, or not?

My feeling, and it's very anecdotal, is that breakdowns happen when people possibly haven't thought the issue through and they are then left fairly isolated. What I do find is that, when people are given adequate support and help, the chances of breakdown decrease quite significantly. And I think the other thing in the background as well is that there needs to be an interchange between the Homes for Ukraine and the supersponsorship capacity so that you blend the support mechanisms. And we found that, certainly with the Afghan model that we had around the Urdd, people now just retain their own links and they support each other. And those tend to be better when people are in a community rather than being isolated. 

I was interested to hear that. So, those who are coming through, they've formed their own community, made their own friendship groups and are supporting each other, then, is what you're saying.

Yes. That's really interesting. I went to work in Italy for a little while, and it was important to have English friends there as well, because I didn't know the language when I went to work abroad. I totally understand that. 

I was going to ask you some questions about funding. Do you think that the funding from both the UK and Welsh Governments is adequate and being effectively used? You're smiling there. [Laughter.]

No, and I think we're very lucky that we can—. For our organisation, we apply to trust funds and to other funders, but it's always a struggle and it can be quite an emotive issue, especially when there are similar organisations doing similar roles and you don't want to step on each other's feet. So, it can be a minefield. 

Can I highlight, on that one, that one of the interesting conversation pieces in the sector is, where you have, for example, existing advocacy forums that work well, if you say that you're going to do something specific for Ukraine, how do you explain that to the other communities and how do you justify that that need may be needed just now? Those are interesting conversation pieces, and I think we do strive in the sector, when we inform Government decisions, to make sure that we don't duplicate. I'm not sure we always succeed.

And I would say that any Ukrainian who comes through our doors gets treated the same as any other refugee or asylum seeker. We don't differentiate between them. And they make friends across the board as well, which is really important.

I think I've already covered what my view on the funding question was. I think the sector at the moment would welcome any additional funding that we could receive, because it is very difficult for many organisations to be able to provide those services. They really want to, but they might not be able to; they might not have the capacity to. And especially since we don't know how long this is going to go on for, long-term funding is needed. Ideally, if we already had that in place and if we already had refugees and asylum seekers in mind with previous rounds of funding, that would help provide us with an opportunity to set things in place very early on. Now, perhaps some emergency funding might be a good solution to help increase capacity, in particular. It is also still relatively early days to see what the needs are going to be. So, needs might expand. They might go in directions we didn't anticipate down the line. So, I think it's one to stay and watch and see where it goes. 

12:20

And funding for refugees themselves, as well as the sponsors and for organisations, how's that working? 

From my point of observation, the funding is there. It's not over-generous and there are challenges. I think the biggest challenge is to get them to be able to use the money well, with cards and with access to cash. Those have constantly been a challenge. In fairness to them, all the local authorities and local groups that I've engaged with have found ways of getting round it, but getting cards that are usable to the service users I think is still a challenge. 

Thank you, Chair. And thanks ever so much for coming today. I just wanted to quickly ask, if I may, about something that Reynette mentioned earlier about the existing refugee organisations or societies with the Afghan resettlement programme, and then maybe the Syrian resettlement programme. You mentioned how they'd been almost not unfairly impacted, but they'd been adversely impacted by Homes for Ukraine earlier. I was just wondering if you could touch on that a bit more.   

It's what the client group that we have feel. They feel that their countries had a war, but they've arrived as asylum seekers and they have to go through the process, whereas Ukrainians have been welcomed in. And that's not been helped, of course, by the media and what they portray, and what they see on Facebook. So, they feel unsettled. They feel that they're not valued or considered on the same level as a Ukrainian. It doesn't mean that they treat a Ukrainian any differently. But we've got Russian asylum seekers in our organisation; it's really unsettled them as well, because they've had to flee because of the same issues. So, it is a challenge.  

With that in mind then, do you think that they feel that the help and support that might be given to Ukrainian refugees isn't there for them, then, or is that just a perception? 

I would say that they do feel that, and I think, with everything that the Government in London is doing, it's not helping to keep people—. Rwanda, for example, and then tags. People are very unsettled and very uncertain about their situations. 

Very quickly from me, I had a joyous moment a few days ago with four women refugee doctors that had gone through the Wales asylum seeking and refugee doctors and dentists scheme that we've had since 2002. And that awareness of the distinctiveness of avenues of approach to coming here and being here was very paramount, and we're now working with friends in north Wales to say that they can have access to the WARD scheme that we have here. It was very powerful looking at four immensely courageous women, from places such as Sudan, places such as Afghanistan, and also from Ukraine. They were there together having that conversation piece, and because these sorts of individuals are so courageous and intelligent and really powerful women, the inequalities of their systems will not go beyond them; they will understand those things.

And I think possibly for us all in Wales, and in the third sector in particular, we just have to work hard to make sure that everybody feels that they have an equal space. But what corrodes that is the sense that the mechanisms that they deploy to come here are now very different. I was reminded because, we started our scheme in 2002—Chair, you and I will remember how we started it. During those days, all of them were spontaneous arrivals. They would be regarded now as being illegal by sections of the press and the media. And I look at how they've developed—some of them have become civil servants, some have become doctors, over the years. But I think that fragmentation of how the community views itself and how it's treated is a problem. I think that's my answer, really. I think it is a problem that those distinctives have now made that sense of oneness even more of a challenge.

12:25

Okay. Well, thank you very much. Thank you all three of you—Aled, Reynette and Natalie—for coming in to give evidence to committee today. You will be sent a transcript of your evidence to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.

7. Papurau i'w nodi
7. Papers to note

Okay, then, item 7 is papers to note. We have one paper to note, which is a letter from Jane Hutt, the Minister for Social Justice, in relation to this inquiry into housing Ukrainian refugees. Is committee content to note that paper? Yes. Thank you very much.

Okay, in accordance with our earlier decision, then, we will now move into private session.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:27.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:27.