Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Jayne Bryant
Joel James
John Griffiths Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Sam Rowlands
Vikki Howells Yn dirprwyo ar ran Carolyn Thomas
Substitute for Carolyn Thomas

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Altaf Hussain Aelod o'r Senedd dros Orllewin De Cymru
Member of the Senedd for South Wales West
Amelia John Cyfarwyddwr Dros Dro, Cymunedau a Threchu Tlodi, Llywodraeth Cymru
Interim Director, Communities and Tackling Poverty, Welsh Government
Jane Dodds Aelod o'r Senedd dros Ganolbarth a Gorllewin Cymru
Member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales
Jane Hutt Y Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol a'r Prif Chwip
Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip
Joanna Valentine Dirprwy Cyfarwyddwr, Is-adran Llety Trosiannol—Wcráin, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Transitional Accommodation Division—Ukraine, Welsh Government
Ruth Meadows Cyfarwyddwr Dros Dro ar Ymateb i Wcráin, Llywodraeth Cymru
Temporary Director for Ukraine Response, Welsh Government
Sioned Williams Aelod o'r Senedd dros Orllewin De Cymru
Member of the Senedd for South Wales West
Stuart Evans Pennaeth Hil, Ffydd a Chred a Pholisi Sipsiwn, Roma a Theithwyr, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Race, Faith and Belief and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Policy, Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Era Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Catherine Hunt Clerc
Llinos Madeley Clerc
Osian Bowyer Ymchwilydd

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

May I welcome everyone to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee? Item 1 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We've received apologies from Carolyn Thomas, and Vikki Howells will be substituting for her when we reach the evidence session with the Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip. As usual, the meeting is being held in a hybrid format. Aside from the adaptations relating to conducting proceedings in that way, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. The public items are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and the Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest? No. Okay.

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

Item 2, then, is papers to note. We have one paper to note, a letter from the Finance Committee to the Minister for Finance and Local Government regarding the Welsh Government's draft budget for 2024-25. Are Members content to note that paper? Yes, I see that you are. Thank you very much. 

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitem 4, 5, 6, 7 a 10
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from items 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 of the meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitemau 4, 5, 6, 7 a 10 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 3, then is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 of this meeting. Is committee content to do so? Yes. Thank you very much. We will then move into private session.  

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:02. 

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:02. 


Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 13:33.

The committee reconvened in public at 13:33.

8. Cartrefi i ffoaduriaid o Wcráin - Tystiolaeth gan y Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol a’r Prif Chwip
8. Housing Ukrainian Refugees - Evidence from the Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip

Welcome back, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. Let me welcome Vikki Howells, who is substituting for Carolyn Thomas today and joining us remotely. And I also welcome Altaf Hussain and Sioned Williams, who are also joining us remotely, both of whom are members of the Equality and Social Justice Committee. It's very good, I think, to see our two committees combining and working together on these important matters of scrutinising the Welsh Government and the Minister for Social Justice and her officials on housing Ukrainian refugees and on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller issues here in Wales. So, welcome to you all.

We've reached item 8, then, on our agenda, which is housing Ukrainian refugees and evidence from the Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip. Minister, would you like to introduce your officials for the record?

Yes. Can I introduce Ruth Meadows, who is the interim director of our nation of sanctuary, focusing specifically on Ukraine, as we are today? And Jo Valentine, who is—I'm not sure what your absolute title is—deputy director or director of housing.


Obviously, my colleague Julie James's official is joining us, because it's very cross-Government, like cross-committee, which is great. 

Absolutely. Thank you very much. Perhaps I might begin, then, Minister, with an initial question with regard to your update on the future of the Ukraine schemes. On 19 September, I think you were due to meet with the UK Government Minister Felicity Buchan. I just wonder, assuming that meeting went ahead, what the outcome was and what you would have stressed to the UK Government in terms of what needs to be prioritised in relation to Wales.

Thank you very much, Chair. Can I just say, in opening remarks, how pleased I am that you're following up your really important and robust inquiry report on how we're responding to the plight of Ukrainian refugees? We have regular meetings with the Minister. In fact, I meet with Felicity Buchan, the Minister for housing and homelessness, who's got this in her responsibilities for the UK Government. We met with the Scottish Government Minister, who joined us at the last meeting, which was actually on 21 September. I think these meetings are crucially important, because of, obviously, the responsibilities, particularly of the UK Government, but they're very constructive, they're very much about collaboration and sharing responsibilities.

I think what the Scottish Government Minister and I were particularly keen to raise with Felicity Buchan were the issues around the possible extension of the Homes for Ukraine visas, because, obviously, we're now 18 months on from the flight of so many people from Ukraine. So, we did ask specifically about the extension of visas, as they will run out in 2025. Obviously, she said she was also raising this issue, but I went to meet with some Ukrainian guests living in Caerphilly only two or three weeks ago, and that's the first thing they asked me. I'm sure you've had the same questions, colleagues, as well. So, we raised it, that's the important point for the record, and they said that they would follow that up.

We also always share lessons learned at these meetings about how we're helping guests to settle, integrate and also the challenges of move-on accommodation. Just to say, Chair, whenever I meet a UK Government Minister, I always raise the issue of local housing allowances, and the local housing allowances have stuck at where they were in 2020. They're far below the private rented sector levels. And she always says, 'Yes, I'll share that with Treasury.' But we also, at that meeting, said, and we've done this with the previous Minister, 'If you want any information for Treasury on how we're managing the costs, how we're managing just in terms of budgetary needs, how local authorities are managing, we'd be very happy to share our experience of funding needs with the Treasury.' 

Thank you for that, Minister. In terms of the extension of visas, would you have discussed the possibility of extending them in time, or indeed allowing Ukrainian refugees here to remain permanently in the UK? I guess it's difficult, Minister, but does the Welsh Government have any sense of whether Ukrainian refugees here would like to have that ability to not just stay longer in Wales and the UK, but perhaps have the option of residing here permanently, or is it a matter of looking at what's happening in Ukraine in terms of the war and when it's safer to go back home and practically doable to go back home that people will want to exercise that option? Obviously, there'll be a variety of views, but is there any sense of that?

I've mentioned the meeting I had most recently with Ukranian guests in Caerphilly and actually some came from other parts of south Wales to that meeting. I think they feel very uncertain, because they feel uncertain about whether they’d want to go back to Ukraine, but many have now settled, I would say, integrated and settled, in Wales, so I think as you say, it's very hard for us to make any kind of judgment about this. But clearly, the war is going on; there’s no sign of an end to the war. In fact, in some ways, it’s worrying that it’s sort of not so much perhaps on a big public political agenda as well.

I think there is a recognition that there are Ukrainian refugees who are now resident in Wales who will want to stay, establishing in schools, families, relationships; I think that’s all part of it, isn’t it? So, I think that your question is really important about visas, because that will have a bearing on what people think. They think, ‘Oh, have I got to go back? Should we think about going back now, because we won’t have a visa?’ And of course, there is a different arrangement for Ukrainians to other refugees. So, they're also mindful of that.


Diolch, Cadeirydd, and good afternoon, Minister. In your update you said that you would be exploring the feasibility of more hosts and guests converting appropriate placements into commercial lodging arrangements if 'thank you' payments were not available in year 3. Can you provide some more details on that, and how it would work in practice, and also what this would mean practically for Ukrainian refugees?

This is something, as I said, where we’re looking at all ways in which we can help Ukrainians stay in safe housing situations, but also recognising that the hosting families arrangement—. I mean, many have gone beyond a year, which is incredible, and we have also obviously encouraged some more to become hosts. So, at the moment, officials are working with local authorities and third-sector organisations to look at how you could convert, if it was wanted by all parties, appropriate placements into more forming formal lodging arrangements. And that’s something where, then, rent would be paid—a whole different set of arrangements—and probably formalised footing; I think that’s where we’re looking at. This is the sort of thing that we’re sharing, again, at these UK-wide meetings to see what other arrangements Governments are making. It’s very much local authorities having to engage on this kind of work. Many want to carry on, but financially, it’s not easy for the host families. I'm not sure whether Ruth or Jo want to comment on this, but I think it’s ongoing, and we’re very happy to feed back to you about how it’s going.

At the moment, we're in discussions with local authorities. There are a small number who are looking to develop some pilots around this, and again, something we'd want to share wider then with other local authorities. That arrangement might not suit everybody, but without that certainty at the moment from the UK Government about support for hosting, it's another avenue that we're looking to explore to see how we can maintain stable housing and keep the pressure off local authority housing services.

Yes, absolutely. That would be good to keep in touch with, Chair, wouldn't it? Diolch, Cadeirydd. 

Thank you. Thanks, Minister. Minister, in your response to the committee report in March, you emphasised the temporary nature of initial accommodation. However, nearly 500 people remain in this accommodation. What is preventing them from moving on to more permanent accommodation, and what actions are you taking to ensure refugees can be moved from initial accommodation as soon as possible?

Thank you very much, Altaf. Of course, I've given many statements about the work we're doing with Ukrainians and also the local authorities, and, indeed, in my written evidence updating you on this point. Actually, I was just checking with officials what's the number now, and I understand as of today—it was just under 500 a couple of weeks ago—it's 357 in initial accommodation. So, that's a very good sign I think that there is this continual progress with move-on, because, obviously, we've always wanted to have this as a very initial—. We called them welcome centres, if you recall, and we call it initial accommodation for people then to be moved on. 

I suppose—and this is where it's good to have the cross-Government representation here today—the challenge for local authorities and the challenge for our Ukrainian guests is being able to move on into private rented sector accommodation, which is costly and scarce, as you will all know. And we have to bear in mind, of course, that we have, and local authorities have, many other families in housing need as well. I think I made this point in my 'nation of sanctuary' statement a few weeks ago.

If I could take the opportunity, Altaf, and Chair, to say that at the meeting I had with the UK Government, I just recall that we were actually congratulated on the ways in which the Afghan refugees have been moved from the hotels, particularly in Cardiff and the Vale. As you know, the UK Government put a notice to quit and stop the contracts with those hotels in July/August, and the good news was, as I said, that all of the Afghan refugees have now moved on, except perhaps just a very small number with more complex needs. But this is local authorities across Wales—it's very much team Wales—recognising they also have their housing needs as well; up to 10,800 people in temporary accommodation in Wales is very challenging. 

It goes back, and I'll say it again, to the fact that the local housing allowances don't help, but there is important funding that the Minister, Julie James, is making available to prevent homelessness. I don't know, Jo, whether you'd like to say something about how that money can be used, for example, to help people when they move into private rented accommodation in terms of bonds and guarantees.


Yes, Minister. We provided move-on funding to local authorities in order to help them support households to move into local accommodation in their areas. Local authorities are taking a range of different approaches in doing that—paying bonds and deposits upfront or providing support in terms of furnishing housing—so that they can help provide that support to households. And that's alongside the transitional accommodation capital programme that's been set up to help bring forward more longer term accommodation for everyone in housing need, recognising some of the challenges that the Minister referred to there in terms of the wider housing pressures.

I think what's been good is that some local authorities have been very active, and I'd like to pay tribute, not just to Cardiff and Vale, which helped with the Afghan refugees, but also Blaenau Gwent council, which had a welcome centre and was very successful in helping people move on. We established a national move-on taskforce in July to work with local authorities, and the team in Blaenau Gwent took very much a leading role in this. And also, again, it's local authorities working together to support guests into accommodation.

Okay. Thank you, Minister. Altaf, is that okay? Thank you. Could I ask, is refusal of move-on accommodation much of an issue at the moment?

We do have this refusal policy—it’s called the offers of accommodation refusals policy. We developed this earlier this year and piloted it with local authorities. This is something you don’t want to have to use. The pilot, I think, was very helpful. I can’t remember which authorities—. I think Monmouthshire might have been one of them. And also, inevitably, you have to look at this in terms of circumstances and behaviour issues sometimes being a factor. Local authorities really have worked very closely with us on this, haven't they, Ruth? 


They have, yes, and it's a policy that has developed and iterated over time as well, because I think the policy—. Well, Jo, do you want to talk more about the refusals policy in detail?

Yes, I'm very happy to do that. So, it's very much something that has come about in partnership with local government, responding to some of the challenges that they were facing with looking to support guests into longer term accommodation. So, the policy was developed very much to set out national expectations that guests would engage with move-on expectations and to ensure that there was a nationally consistent approach across different local authorities, and also to introduce an administrative charge where two or more appropriate offers of accommodation were refused, recognising the additional administrative impact that that had on local authority staff seeking to find those accommodation offers. And following six months of piloting that approach with local authorities, we've recently just made some further changes to strengthen that, again in response to their feedback in terms of how it was working and how it had supported that engagement process. So, that came out earlier in August, and we're working with local authorities to support them in applying that.

Yes. It's not a particular issue at the moment, then, in terms of refusals, Minister, is it? 

Fortunately, in a way, it's thanks to the local authorities—. Everybody has had a huge amount of casework engagement. Perhaps I could take the opportunity to thank all of those housing support officers on the front line—and you've all got them in all of your constituencies—who are working tirelessly to help each family move on. And sometimes that involves other host families. So, I know of—and I don't have to share confidential details, but I know that there are people who have been concerned about where the offers of accommodation have been because of, for example, children being in a school. And a lot of work has been done, then, again, to help find a solution for that family. And sometimes, it has resulted in a host family being found, rather than perhaps the next step of private rented accommodation. So, the flexibility, the commitment of local authorities—it is local authority officers on the front line who have been tremendous to try to avoid that point. 

As we've said, and it has been piloted, there can be a charge that's involved in this, which is about hopefully a carrot-and-stick approach, really, to say, 'Well, look, we've jut got to be realistic about this.' But I think, going back to Altaf's point, you can see the numbers coming down, and the numbers of welcome centres have come right down from 40 now to 10, which shows, I think, that people are moving on, with the support of local authorities and, I have to say, with the support of communities as well. 

Thank you, Chair. 

Prynhawn da, Gweinidog. Dwi jest eisiau eich holi tipyn bach ymhellach ar hynny. Ar wahân i'r dystiolaeth fwy anecdotaidd yna dwi'n siŵr sydd gyda ni i gyd o'n hardaloedd lleol ni, pa ddadansoddiad mae'r Llywodraeth wedi ei wneud am y rhesymau dros wrthod cynigion i symud ymlaen? Rydych chi wedi sôn am lefydd mewn ysgolion yn fanna; ydy'r Llywodraeth wedi gwneud dadansoddiad o'r rhesymau, o'r themâu cyffredin, a pha lais oedd gan y ffoaduriaid eu hunain yn hyn?

Good afternoon, Minister. I just wanted to question you a little further on that. Now, apart from the more anecdotal evidence that I'm sure we will have all heard from our own localities, what analysis has the Government made of the reasons for refusal for move-on accommodation? Now, you've mentioned school places there; has the Government carried out an analysis of the reasons or the general themes, and what voice did the refugees have themselves in this?

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned. I think this is something where it hasn't needed to be used very much, so there are very small numbers. But I think it's something we could take back and perhaps we can look at that and come back to the committee. If we got to the point where there were sufficient numbers to actually come up with any themes or analysis—. I think it's there, but it has not been used to that extent in terms of the numbers. 

Sorry, I didn't quite hear the question, but in terms of the refusals charge and the numbers there have been—

Well, it's the reasons. Are there any themes coming out? Could we look at this, or have you done so already, Jo?

Yes, we've done some analysis in terms of when we reviewed the policy and why. Some of it is that people have wanted to be in very specific areas that perhaps haven't been affordable for them, and they've been offered properties within the same local authority area but not, perhaps, in that specific area. There have also been some expectations in terms of the specific nature of accommodation that might be provided. But there have also been some occasions where families haven't wanted to leave initial accommodation, particularly where they don't want to make, perhaps, a longer term commitment, because they want to have that flexibility to return to Ukraine if they can.


Those are quite good—. I mean, they're not anecdotal, but there are obviously some quite good reasons that we can—. And I'm sure we'll get to the point where we can give something a bit more evidence based.

Okay, Minister. Diolch yn fawr. Jane, just in terms—. Minister, in terms of the Wrexham welcome centre and the Marine Holiday Park and those remaining open until summer or early autumn next year, I think new arrivals is something like just one per week at the moment. I just wonder why there's that need for those centres to remain open for that period of time.

I'll ask Ruth to answer specifically about those two named—. You've named two centres. I've been to one of them, in fact, myself, to visit. I've just given you the breakdown, that we've gone from 40 to 10, but this partly is to do with contracts and location. Can you explain those two particular centres, Ruth?

Yes, absolutely. The reason why we're keeping the Marine Holiday Park and the Wrexham welcome centre open the longest is: they're probably one of our more cost-effective initial accommodation centres, but primarily it's because, as we're closing down hotels, welcome centres et cetera, we need accommodation for those people who perhaps aren't ready, quite at that stage, to take that step into independence or private rented sector, or perhaps there's no hosting that's suitable or available. So, the Marine Holiday Park is really there because it can house families, and quite large families as well. We do have quite a number of those in the system at the moment. And the Wrexham welcome centre is very much a single accommodation as well. So, we've kept two accommodation sites that we know that we'll be using slightly longer. But then, as we're looking to try and move people on from those, we will have that national approach again on how we can secure people with PRS or with hosting, to make sure that we can move them into longer term accommodation.

Thank you, Chair. Thanks ever so much for coming in this afternoon. If it's okay, I just wanted to touch upon something that the Chair mentioned about the refusal of move-on accommodation. Apologies if you've already answered this—my thing is playing up a bit today. I'm keen to know a bit more about the Welsh Government's commitment. You made the commitment to provide accommodation for six months. What happens, then, after that six months, then? I just want to get a better idea of that.

I think that's a really important point, because it is about timing, isn't it? I mean, one of the issues has been—and I think you said it, Jo—that some have remained in temporary accommodation because they've been hoping they'd be able to go back to Ukraine, and so not wanting, then, to put roots down here, which you feel you do once you move into more permanent accommodation. I think we'd moved from—. In the summer, really, when we'd had accommodation centres that had been full for quite a long time, we needed to see a way to help them move on, and this was the move forward. But, I mean, we're not going to say, hard and fast, 'It's got to be this number of months or that number of months', because we've got to have the flexibility to work with those families, but I don't know whether there's anything more you'd like to say, Jo, about the time limit issues.

Yes, thank you, Minister. I mentioned that we'd recently reviewed the refusals policy in line with local authorities. We're now working with them in relation to the behavioural policy and how that can be strengthened in order to support the messages around expectation of engaging with those longer term accommodation options, because that is our priority, to support people into more settled accommodation where they can live more independent lives. We're also looking at other levers that we have that can support people, for example where, perhaps, affordability might be more of a barrier, so targeted English for speakers of other languages and employability to support those households to move on as well. 


Thank you. Well, I suppose I just want to talk, then, about the management of initial accommodation. I know, back in July, there was a freedom of information request, and it transpired that the Welsh Government used Corporate Travel Management to source a lot of that initial accommodation, because it needed the skill set that the company had, that the Welsh Government didn't have at the time, I think. And I just wanted to get some idea about that, because I think that cost about £32 million—an initial estimate there. And I just wanted to know if that figure has increased, and what level of involvement they have at the moment in sourcing this accommodation. 

Well, we are aware of that FOI, and, obviously, you've drawn attention to it, but do you want to answer the question about what it's meant in terms of finances with that particular contractor?

Thank you, Minister. So, our contract with CTM actually came to a natural close in September, and we have transitioned now to another accommodation provider through the Crown Commercial Service framework, simply because the level of our requirements, I suppose, with our initial accommodation now moving down to only 10 sites, is different. So, we're now in a contract with a company called Calder World of Travel, and that's gone live quite recently. The FOI, you're right, that covered off the period up until July. We are in the process still of reconciling invoices around the CTM work, but we anticipate that that will come in at around £35 million, but happy to update committee once that work is complete. But, yes, at the minute, like I say, we've moved to a different contract, and we are still working through exactly how much we've paid CTM. 

Okay, perfect. Is there a possibility of having that figure, then, when it is worked out? Would that be possible?

The other question, then: obviously, CTM have been in the news lately because of the UK Government's involvement with them. And I'm reminded of the asylum barge off the coast of Dorset, I think—the Bibby Stockholm—and I'm just wondering if the Welsh Government had a view on that, if that makes sense. 

I think probably, Joel, you know our view on that, but I'll say seriously, first of all, we're no longer in contract with CTM, as has been said, but we would not use barges or vessels or ships. And, actually, this option was before us way back at the beginning, wasn't it, back when we were looking at how we were going to manage this accommodation, and we discounted it. And we worked with local authorities, and they discounted it as well. 

Thank you, Chairman. Good afternoon—I almost said 'Good morning' then, but time flies when you're having fun, doesn't it? [Laughter.] Thank you again for your time this afternoon. We've probably touched on a few of these points in terms of the move-on accommodation, but specifically around the transitional accommodation capital programme, I think when we saw you last year, Minister, you were hoping that around 900 homes would be made available as a result of some of that money. And I think, specifically, in the evidence, or written evidence you gave at the time, you outlined that money was also to include housing needs for Ukrainians, specifically. I'm just wondering how many Ukraine refugees have benefited as a result of that specific funding pot. And also, within that, was the modular housing ambition, I guess. I'm just wondering how many modular homes have been provided. 

Well, it was very important that we did move forward to find ways in which we could help Ukrainian guests who were in our welcome centres and initial accommodation for the next step, whether it was to be more permanent accommodation in the private rented sector, or, as the Minister for Climate Change then initiated, this transitional assistance capital fund. And that has been very important for local authorities to know that this fund has been available. And, in fact, the modular housing is being developed now with funding; local authorities can bid for that funding, and it has now resulted—. And I think you might have seen some of the publicity in the summer in Cardiff. Cardiff is particularly a big beneficiary of this; they've got the Cardiff gasworks site, and they're already using that accommodation. But also, in my own constituency, I have to say, in the Vale of Glamorgan, we've got modular housing that's now being constructed in Llantwit Major, and it specifically was for Ukrainian guests and families. Now, I'm not sure—and, Jo, you can probably help us as it's in the Minister's portfolio. I mean, that transitional assistance capital fund was available for everyone in housing need, so that's important. We've mentioned Afghan refugees, we've had Syrian refugees, and now Ukraine, but we have families in housing need as well. So, I think, at this moment, as far as I can recall, we've got 156—. Is that in Cardiff?


That's in the gasworks site, yes.

Right. So, do you want to say anything more about the ways in which local authorities have used this money, Jo?

Absolutely. So, just to return to the Minister's point about who these types of properties have been for, we haven't put any specification on that; it's been very much that the only requirement is that they are to support everyone in temporary accommodation to have long-term accommodation, and the decision around that has been left to local needs and circumstances, in line with their allocation policy. But, as a new grant scheme established last year, we've done an annual return process to understand how that has been allocated, and we're working through the process, the returns from that, at the minute, so we can provide that information to the committee later, once we've analysed it.

So, there was £76.5 million, I think, in the last financial year for that. So, within that annual return process, I guess, unless you already know it, how much of that £76.5 million was spent?

That was the total spend: £76.4 million was the amount that was provided to local authorities and registered social landlords last year.

And it was all spent—do you know? Because it might have been provided to them, but whether they actually spent it or not is a different matter, isn't it?

It was for projects they were taking forward, yes.

Okay. Great. Thank you. Just one more point, if I may, Chair, because I think, probably, the questions I had around the local housing allowance, Minister, you probably touched on those already in those conversations you're having with the UK Government, and I certainly want to support you on those as much as possible. But, just more broadly, we're coming up to winter again now, and we perhaps saw last year what happened in Ukraine where things got worse over the winter time. So, I just wonder how confident you are in the responsiveness of the systems you have in place in Wales if there is a need to support more refugees over this winter period.

Well, I think it is a challenge. That's where, in a sense, we're entering wider policy areas in terms of the ways in which local authorities are working, and Ruth, taking the lead on this as director, looking at dispersal arrangements and schemes for refugees and sanctuary seekers coming to Wales. I was asking earlier on, actually, how many Ukrainians have applied for the supersponsor route into Wales and haven't yet come here, because, as you recall, we paused our supersponsor scheme in June because, at that point, we'd already had several thousand and we were just at capacity. As an indication, we don't think that many will be coming, but what was the latest figure?

So, in terms of visas that have been issued but haven't yet arrived, we've got around 1,300 that are still in the system. What we do have, though, through a service that we established with Cardiff Council, is a contact centre who are in touch with people to understand what their intentions are. At the moment, they have had a kind of positive response from around about 500 of those visa holders that, at some point, they might be considering travelling, but they're held up because of various reasons, like restrictions on travel from Ukraine, et cetera. We keep in touch with those people, because we want to be able to be prepared if people are looking to travel to Wales, and at the moment it looks as though it's in the low hundreds of people who are intending to travel at some point. But, yes, like I said, we keep in touch with those people on a regular basis, so that we are prepared and we can put those systems in place.


Thank you, Chair, and good afternoon, Minister. I've got a question regarding funding for Ukrainian refugees. And I know that, in June, the Minister for Finance and Local Government told the Finance Committee that the £40 million that was allocated in 2023-24 to support Ukrainian refugees seems adequate for the plans that we have. Would you say that this is still the case, and also, will the £8.2 million allocated by the UK Government be in addition to this amount?

Thank you very much, Vikki. And it's useful to have that feedback as well from the discussions that have been held in Finance Committee. I think it is useful just to clarify the funding that is going to local authorities. You mentioned the £8.2 million. Actually—and it goes back to move-on—we have supported local authorities with a £1.5 million grant to support move-on. What happened earlier this year is that we developed a population share, and this was worked out with all local authorities, that we would allocate, with their agreement, obviously, a share of Ukrainian guests that we would expect them to help be accommodated. So, this £1.5 million has helped them support their meeting that population share. I mean, that share has been revised as well and based on the needs and circumstances of local authorities.

We were pressing the UK Government hard for funding and, in fact, they came up, eventually, with £150 million UK funding pot. Because we lost, if you recall, the year 2 tariff for the Ukrainian scheme, and we'd been pressing for a year 2 tariff. They were declining to extend that from the first year, but gave £150 million, and we got £8.2 million, as you said, of that funding. And that's been made available to local authorities. We've already made some payments of that funding to them. And in terms of the allocation in our budget, that £40 million, considering we are under such pressure financially, this was quite a big decision to make for the Welsh Government to allocate that. We hadn't anticipated—. You know, two years ago we would never have believed we'd be putting £40 million into just one scheme, to help the desperate plight of Ukrainian people. But we did see this as a priority. It's our money—Welsh Government money—and it certainly has been well used.

But, as we move people on, as the numbers coming reduce, we can look at that funding and see where's the best way to make sure that we have enough funding, which I do believe we have had, as a result of the finance Minister's support for this. But also, it's how do we then, not just help local authorities, but call on the UK Government, again, to return to this tariff arrangement, which is so much more effective and helpful in terms of meeting these needs.

And can I just quickly say? Thank you very much, Sam, for saying that you support our efforts to try and increase the local housing allowance. I think that's really valuable to come from the committee.

Yes. Okay. Minister, thanks very much. Sioned, we touched on that year 2 integration and education tariff. Anything further you'd like to ask on that?

Ie. Jest eisiau bod yn hollol glir y byddech chi yn teimlo byddai fe'n well symud nôl i'r system yna o dariffau integreiddio ac addysg. Ond rŷch chi, yn y tymor byr, wedi medru, o'ch cyllid eich hunain, llenwi’r bwlch yna. Ydw i'n gywir?

Yes. I just wanted to be entirely clear that you would feel it would be better to move back to that system of tariffs for integration and education. But, in the short term, you've been able, from your own budget, to fill that gap. Am I right in saying that?

We would like to—. The tariff is a much better way of funding this initiative, which is a UK-wide initiative, in terms of our response to the plight of Ukrainian citizens. And, actually, of course, local authorities have been in a very difficult situation as a result of the loss of that tariff. I would say, for example, in terms of education, particularly, it's hard to quantify in terms of the loss of that tariff for education, but it's certainly fewer teaching assistants and learning support for arrivals from Ukraine. And the tariffs also, they did help the teams at local authority level, and many of those, the staff numbers have had to be reduced. We believe it's a net loss, actually, the tariff, in year 2, of £34 million to Welsh local authorities. And then, for year 3, it would be a further £28 million. So, local authorities have been in a difficult position, and that's why we've had to come in with our budget support.


Ond mae yna'n dal i fod bwlch. Hynny yw, dŷch chi wedi rhoi, fel roeddech chi wedi sôn, degau o filiynau o bunnau i lenwi'r bwlch sydd wedi cael ei adael gan y diffyg tariffau yma, ond mae yna'n dal i fod bwlch—dyna beth dŷch chi'n ei ddweud.

But there is still a gap. That is, you've contributed, as you said, tens of millions of pounds to fill that gap that's been left by this lack of tariffs, but there is still a gap—that's what you're saying.

It's a pressure—it's an absolute pressure. One of the positive things that we have done with the UK Government and Scottish Government is to engage in an English for speakers of other languages scheme, which you probably are aware of. In fact, I think I've updated you in the written evidence on this. And the ESOL scheme is—. There are small ways in which we are trying to address this. This is an ESOL online scheme that's being run, which adults are signing up to. I met some refugees just recently, and they told me about this. But in terms of move-on, the crucial thing is to have funding for local authorities to help them be flexible with the problems with local housing allowance, to help them move on, and to also fund their teams. So, I think that, particularly for us, it's housing that is the sharp end of where we need more funding.

Okay. Diolch yn fawr, Minister. Diolch yn fawr, Sioned. Okay, at this point, Minister, I think that concludes our evidence session on the Ukrainian refugees matters. I know that you will need to change your officials for the forthcoming item, on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller sites, Minister, so perhaps we could have a very short break of just five minutes while that takes place. Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:17 a 14:22.

The meeting adjourned between 14:17 and 14:22.

9. Darparu safleoedd ar gyfer cymunedau Sipsiwn, Roma a Theithwyr - Tystiolaeth gan y Gweinidog Cyfiawnder Cymdeithasol a’r Prif Chwip
9. The provision of sites for Gypsy, Roma and Travellers - Evidence from the Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip

We've reached item 9 on our agenda today, the provision of sites for Gypsy, Roma and Travellers, and it's a further evidence session with the Minister for Social Justice and Chief Whip—this time, Minister, accompanied by different officials. Would you like to introduce them for the record, please? 

Thank you very much. If I could introduce Amelia John, who's the director of communities and tackling poverty, and Stuart Evans, deputy director in the same division.

Minister, in terms of the provision of sites, obviously the committee prioritised this as an issue in producing the report. Part of the reason for that, I think, was a fairly long, prolonged history of lack of progress with the provision of sites and lots of issues that go around that, and the feeling of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community that they weren't getting a fair deal, so to speak, which we certainly found to be the case in our work and the evidence we took. Obviously, that's reflected in the report and the recommendations we made. It seems at this stage there hasn't been the sort of progress either the committee or, I'm sure, you would have wanted to see, Minister. Would you like to address that at the outset in terms of the Welsh Government's position on the need to make urgent progress with these matters, working with local authorities and others? 

Thank you very much, Chair. I think you've come to the absolute priority, not just the priority in terms of what was laid down in legislation. Can I say, again, that I welcome the opportunity to give this update? In my written evidence to you as a committee, again, site provision was absolutely at the forefront of my response—the duty to identify and meet the need for appropriate accommodation, as laid down in that Act. We were both there, weren't we, John, in passing that legislation. As I said in my written statement, although well over 200 new pitches have been either created or refurbished, there's been very slow progress. It hasn't been sustained in every part of Wales. We've introduced the legislation, we've provided significant funding, but plans have not progressed. I just want to say as the Minister responsible I'm strongly committed. This is about improving the situation for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and communities.

I actually met with some families on 13 September. They came, in fact, to Tros Gynnal Plant, the Travelling Ahead project advocacy team, and they came to the Senedd, they met me here. They came from north Wales, south Wales, and they spoke to me about the frustrations, the challenges that they experienced, and concerns about their lack of engagement with local authorities on many occasions. Also, indeed, Stuart has spent a lot of time meeting with families and Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people across Wales. So, I can say to you that this is an absolute commitment. I did actually meet this morning the equality leads from local authorities and made that clear as well, but also said that we will work with them. We need to work with them, but they also need to engage with the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people to get this right in their local communities. 


I think clearly one of the issues is staffing levels, isn't it, and staffing shortages, which you mentioned in your update. Could you say a little more about how those staffing issues have impacted on the disbursement of the Gypsy and Traveller capital grant?

Could I just acknowledge, as I did in my written statement, that there have been challenges in terms of staffing issues? But I think we have some very positive news, really, about the fact that the team has been strengthened and re-established and we've got a new head of branch starting very shortly. We can say more about that, but I think the important point you make, Chair, is actually what has this meant in terms of funding and disbursements. I think in my written evidence I did give you information about the allocation and the disbursement arrangements and what that has meant. In fact, interestingly, there were no applications from local authorities for grants in 2022-23. So, this is a two-way thing: this is only going to happen, isn't it, if local authorities are working with us to ensure that they get these applications.

We strongly feel that there will be a good range of plans for the next financial year. You'll see in the table, in fact, as I said, there were no applications for 2022-23, but what's encouraging is that there are local authorities—. I'm sure we'll be talking about the accommodation assessments and needs assessments. I'm meeting with local authorities one to one now, not just meeting them like I did today, which was very positive, and very constructive, I have to say, with Welsh Local Government Association cabinet equality leads. It was a very constructive meeting today, and I've met them before, earlier on this year. But we have got to drive this forward to get proposals not just for new sites, but for improvements. It does require community engagement, it does attract challenges to decisions, but we have an 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' with commitments to address the accommodation needs of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. So, I hope we'd have a very different table in front of you by this time next year. 

In terms of staffing, Minister, to what extent does that extend to local authorities as well as the issues within the Welsh Government? Do you have a picture of that?

I think the staffing issues aren't just confined to the Welsh Government. There have been issues in terms of recruitment. I think the time has come where we stop saying that this is to do with the pandemic, because we've had plenty of time for us all to get up to speed in terms of staffing needs and recruitment and retention. I think one of the interesting issues about local authorities is the variation in terms of their commitment to having staffing on this front, particularly in their housing departments. Some local authorities have family liaison teams engaging with communities. Others engage through housing and planning enforcement teams.

I think one of the important things about my meeting today—and Stuart, you were there with me—was that they expressed their commitment, especially, I would say—. The chair of the meeting was Councillor Mary Ann Brocklesby; she is leader of Monmouthshire, and she said she wanted all local authorities to work on this. And we're going to have it at our next meeting to follow up. But I think you would say there were staff shortages, yes, that have been in local authorities, as well.

I want to also say it's very important that we do give this funding to Travelling Ahead, the £180,000 a year to support advocacy services. They are absolutely crucial, the advocacy services: Travelling Ahead, and also not just TGP Cymru but Gypsies and Travellers Wales now, which is much strengthened. But I don't know, Stuart, if you want to say anything about where you've seen good practice in local authorities as well as challenges with staffing. 


I think it's safe to say that local authorities have experienced some similar challenges on the staffing front. But there has been some good work: some of the family liaison officers, as well as the work that Travelling Ahead and Gypsies and Travellers Wales have been doing very much in that one-to-one, face-to-face meeting with the families. There are some challenges in terms of illiteracy in the families. So, for ourselves, if we've gone through a planning application, I'd like to think that we'd have a good idea what to do, but for the families, it's quite a challenge for them. So, these advocacy services, the family liaison officers, are able to help the families understand the process, go through applications, look at what is feasible, what isn't feasible, and do that kind of face-to-face advocacy work with them. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd. Dwi eisiau cario ymlaen a dilyn i fyny ar y pwnc yma o'r disbursement rates. Rydych chi wedi sôn bod awdurdodau lleol ddim wedi cymryd y grantiau, ac rydych chi'n disgwyl i'r grantiau fynd i fyny yn y flwyddyn nesaf, hefyd. Allwch chi roi mwy o fanylion os gwelwch yn dda am sut rydych chi am sicrhau bod awdurdodau lleol am gymryd i fyny'r grantiau yma? Achos mae hi'n swnio fel bod hyn yn bwysig, bwysig iawn i sicrhau bod yna fwy o lefydd i fyw. Felly, beth ydych chi am wneud i sicrhau bod awdurdodau lleol am gymryd i fyny'r arian yma? 

Thank you very much, Chair. I want to follow up on this issue of the disbursement rates. You've already mentioned that local authorities haven't taken up the grants, and you're expecting the grants to go up next year, too. Can you give us more details as to how you will ensure that local authorities will take up these grants? Because this does sound like a very important factor in ensuring that there are more places for people to live. So, what are you going to do to ensure that local authorities will take up this funding? 

Diolch yn fawr, Jane. I've already mentioned the fact that I'm actively engaging with local authorities as a Minister. I think it's crucially important that it's Minister to cabinet member—in fact, I've met with leaders as well. We've got to address this. So, I'm quite encouraged, actually, by the work that is being undertaken. Stuart has been round many authorities in Wales where local authorities are developing projects, and so there are projects in the pipeline, and there's a lot of interest in the capital grant. These can be large and small-scale projects to upgrade and improve sites. I expect that they should, these grants—. The grants that have already been awarded should be claimed by the end of the financial year. So, we haven't got to that point where we can account for this financial year—obviously, you can see that in the table. So, I hope you will see greater evidence of action and positive outcomes for that.  

I mean, this does, again, go back to what we said earlier—and, obviously, it's very clear in your inquiry and my follow-up—the Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessment process, authorities getting this right in terms of assessing accommodation needs. So, we are working through the GTAA assessments. Because, you know, we still—. It's taken time to get all of the assessments through, and, in fact, we've got one authority that still hasn't given us their assessment. We're working with them to make sure we know when they're going to assess their GTAA, because that will clearly indicate what we've got in the pipeline.

All I can say is, again, that this is a priority for me, as Minister; it's crucial if we're going to deliver on the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan'. I'm particularly interested in this piloting of the use of private sites, because, when I met with the families earlier on in September, there was quite a lot of interest in the private site arrangements. There's also, of course, a need for transit sites, as well as permanent sites. And with the transit sites, you need some collaboration between authorities, because we know the transit will mean that families and Travellers will be moving through Wales at particular times of the year. And this can be done. So, I've also got the authorities to think about meeting regionally. In fact, the lead cabinet member for housing suggested at a recent meeting that we should be looking at that as a regional opportunity as well, particularly in relation to transit sites. So, I hope you will see change.


Diolch. Mae Sioned eisiau—.

Thank you. Sioned wants to—.

Sioned wants to ask a question.

Diolch, Jane. Diolch, Cadeirydd.

Jest ar y pwynt yna ynglŷn â'r grant a'r diffyg sydd wedi bod o ran cymryd y grant—dŷch chi'n dweud eich bod chi'n cael y cyfarfodydd yma nawr un-i-un gyda'r awdurdodau ac yn annog nhw i weithio ac annog nhw i ddod â'r cynlluniau ymlaen, ond roeddech chi'n dweud hefyd wrthym ni fod yna ddiddordeb mawr yn y grant Llywodraeth. Oedd yna ddiffyg ymwybyddiaeth o'r grant ymhlith yr awdurdodau lleol?

Thank you, Jane. Thank you, Chair.

Just on that point in terms of the grant and the lack of uptake of the grant—you say that you've had these one-on-one meetings with the authorities and you're encouraging them to bring forward plans, but you also told us that there is a great deal of interest in the Government grant. Was there a lack of awareness of it amongst local authorities?

Diolch yn fawr, Sioned. There shouldn't be, because, of course, this has come right back from the legislation that we passed in 2014. At that time, of course, it was very pioneering that we had that legislation in Wales. There wasn't anything like that that put down a duty to identify and meet the need, and authorities did respond—and you can see that just by the table that shows the disbursement over the past years.

Okay, yes, we can say there are issues around the impact of the pandemic in the last two years, but there is certainly awareness, there is certainly—not only the fact that I'm having these meetings now, as you say—. Ministers, and also predecessors and officials, this is their duty, this is their responsibility; the team is there to drive this forward. So, all authorities should be under no illusion about their duties and responsibilities and the opportunities to use this grant. Last year, I went to visit a really excellent site in Merthyr, where they were upgrading the site, and met with the residents on this site—they had been involved in the design and planning. And I think one of the things that was said to me this morning by local authorities is they still want advice and guidance on how to engage with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to get it right in terms of making the right kind of applications that will be what people want to meet their needs. So, I think it's not just a matter of, 'Here's a grant, get on with it', it's actually the steps to getting the right applications, engaging with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. It is a challenge, and we're actually just discussing how we can improve that engagement with the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities in Wales, because I think that is a challenge for not just Welsh Government, but for local authorities as well. They want to know how can they bring them in to the liaison groups, can we build that trust and confidence.


Minister, before we move on to other committee Members, could I just raise two points on private sites? Because, when we met with Gypsy and Traveller families, there was quite a lot of emphasis on private sites, and how valuable they are and how much more valuable they could be, if there were more of them, in terms of providing the sort of accommodation sites that Gypsy and Traveller families would like to see. And one issue obviously was around planning in terms of sites that are currently occupied but do not have planning permission, but also obtaining planning permission for new private sites. And it was felt that, often, the way the planning system works for these families is discriminatory, and applications were being turned down that they believe would not have been turned down were it not for the fact that they were Gypsy and Traveller families. So, I think there are issues there about the way the planning system works, both within local authorities' planning departments but also in terms of the Planning Inspectorate, and part of that maybe is culture. And I just wonder, in terms of cross-departmental working, what you might be able to do in terms of addressing those issues. And the other aspect is the criteria for allocation of capital—the capital grant—for sites and whether that might be broadened to include development of private sites. 

Thank you very much, Chair. Well, this is very relevant to discussions we had and I fed back on with the families I met in September, and they asked us about a specific recommendation in the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan', which was to have a pilot programme to provide independent trusted advice to those seeking to develop private sites, and, in fact, that is in this financial year. There are timelines for some of the other recommendations for the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan', but this is a 2023 commitment, and that is something that is going to be the first priority of the head of the branch coming in.

But I think you've touched on an important point about planning. In fact, it was raised in the meeting with the local authorities today. And I was looking back at 'Planning Policy Wales', and there's a specific section on Gypsies and Travellers in 'Planning Policy Wales'—the requirement to assess the accommodation needs, there's a detailed circular, it talks about consultation. I know it was very much this morning's discussion, but the cabinet members for equality were very keen that we worked not just across Government here—so, I'm going to talk to the Minister for Climate Change about this—but also at a local authority level with their planning colleagues. One of the cabinet members who came to the meeting this morning was actually responsible for equality and planning. So, she was able to see this very clearly. And, actually, can I just say, one point that came out very clearly, and it's in 'Planning Policy Wales', is that we've got an opportunity with the local development plans? Because the local development plans, which many authorities obviously are now engaged with—they have to include the site provision in those local development plans. So, it's very topical, and a very pertinent point to make about the links between planning and, specifically, private sites, the work that we've got to do on private sites.  

Thanks, Chair. Just briefly, Minister, you mentioned a few moments ago, on the Gypsy and Traveller accommodation assessments, that you're still waiting for one assessment to come back, and, I think, when we met previously, it was more than that. So, I guess it's better that there's only one now, but it's still, I guess, a concern that there is still one outstanding. I was just wondering why these submissions are late coming through. Do you think it's more of a skill issue or a will issue from these local authorities? 


I don't know whether you're getting further evidence from local government, actually, in terms of an update on your inquiry. It is true to say that we've now only one that's outstanding; there were five in March. It is a two-way process, it requires us to work with them, so there is a skill need there, I think. But I hope it's not a reluctance. I'm not going to name this authority today. I'm going to just say to you that there is one authority and I'm going to ask for the timescale of that submission. This is a priority for me now. But it does go back to the fact that, when I've met with these Traveller, Gypsy and Roma people, they do feel very excluded, they feel very left out, they feel that people don't want to have anything to do with them—'not in my backyard'. They feel that councillors—. Actually, they named politicians—I'm not going to name them—they named people who appeared to be anti Gypsy, Roma and Traveller, which is totally against the whole purpose of our legislation and our grant.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Un cwestiwn arall ynglŷn â’r asesiadau llety. Allwch chi roi’r wybodaeth fwyaf diweddar i ni ynglŷn â—? Rŷch chi yn y broses, rŷch chi wedi sôn, o adolygu’r rheini ar hyn o bryd, ond pryd gall y gymuned Sipsiwn, Roma a Theithiwr ddisgwyl i’r broses adolygu ddod i ben ac i’r broses weithredu ddechrau?

Thank you, Chair. One further question on the GTAA assessments. Can you provide us with an update on—? You've already mentioned that you're in the process of reviewing these at the moment, but when can the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community expect the review process to be concluded and for implementation to begin?

Well, once—. We're working on the ones that we've got; we've only got one outstanding. We now have to look at them in terms of how robust are those assessments to meet the site needs—that's where our team works very closely with not just the local authorities, but the Gypsy and Traveller communities. And then we will write to authorities on the outcome of the assessments, and, as I said, we're having these bilateral meetings. As far as I'm concerned, I want this to happen as quickly as possible in terms of the assessments, and I've asked for it to be an absolute priority for the team. But, Amelia, I don't know if you want to hazard any guess in terms of when we feel we would be in the position where we can say. It won't be the whole lot at once. I think it'll be a rolling programme of approvals, won't it?

So, Minister, they're being worked through at the moment and, obviously, Stuart has played a key role in that. We would hope, with the strengthened team, that we'd be able—. We'd hope very much that we'd be able to get the assessments done by the end of the year. That's what we're aiming for.

Diolch yn fawr. Altaf, the Minister's touched on some of these issues. Did you want to explore these matters any further?

Thank you, Chair. Yes, that's what I wanted to really talk about. As a councillor, I know that, in Bridgend County Borough Council, we had identified sites for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community accommodation, and the nasty messages I received at that time, my God, it was terrible. My question for the Minister is: how are we addressing the issue of non-integration of communities in our society?

Well, this is a very big question, isn't it, Altaf. Yesterday morning, I went on the most inspiring visit to Fitzalan High School, just down the road, actually in brand new buildings. I went there to listen to and meet the Roma choir. Fitzalan is the most wonderful, diverse school anyway, but it's done a lot of work to integrate and support the Roma students and pupils there. In fact, I invited them to come to the Senedd. I know, Chair, you and Jayne Bryant from Newport have got equally strong Roma communities who are very much engaged at school level in the communities. Cultural ways of bringing people together are very important, as you know, Altaf and colleagues. So, I think education is crucial. It's actually very much linked to the curriculum, it's linked to the fact that we've got black history and heritage as part of the curriculum now, so the pupils at Fitzalan who were engaging with the choir, the band, and just listening in to their peers, they said that international day for Roma people is something now that is part of the school year calendar. So, education is crucial, but I would hope that some of the actions we take with our 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' will help with this.


Thank you, Chair. Thanks again for coming in this afternoon in front of the committee, I suppose. I just wanted to ask you a question about your comments last year in June when you came before the committee then, and you mentioned powers of direction and that you wouldn't hesitate to use them if you needed to. I just wanted to get some idea of that threshold when you think you need to use it, if that makes sense.

It's one of those things where I've said—and I've probably said it in the Senedd, haven't I? You've heard me say I wouldn't hesitate to use powers of direction, but we do have to try and work through this on the team Wales basis. I said this, actually, this morning at my meeting with local authorities. I don't want to have to go down that route. If local authorities take their statutory responsibilities seriously, and we use the next—I think the next six months is a really crucial time to see whether we are going to have to move down into that kind of powers-of-direction route.

There are challenges being faced by local authorities in terms of implementing their plans. We understand there are challenges that they don't always know—it's the skills base again. They don't always know, as Sam says, how to do it. They've got resource constraints. We've just been talking about all the work that they're doing to support Ukrainian refugees, and we've got to make sure that local authorities have had every opportunity to deliver on the legislation and deliver on the plans—we've got the funding there for them to do so—before we go down that road.

Thank you, Minister, for that response. I suppose that brings me on to a follow-up question I wanted to ask about—. You're willing to seek affirmation of the commitments from local authorities, and I was just wondering whether that's enough in itself. Is that something that's sufficient after, say, 10 years? I think it was about 2004 when the Act first came in, and I just wanted to know if that is enough.

I've got a commitment today from the equality leads in local government, some of whom are new. What's interesting is that with the local government elections last year we had some not just newly elected councillors, there were newly elected and new cabinet members and leaders who have actually said to me, not just today, but they really recognise their responsibilities and that they've got to do something. So, it's that commitment that's going to be tested, I'd say, very clearly with local authorities over the next few months. We'll put all the effort that we can into this, and I've agreed—. The families I met, actually, did challenge me, they said, 'We're going to see whether you do anything as a result of meeting us like this today.' I said, 'I will do what I can, but we've got to have our local authorities with us.'

Thank you, Chair. Just for the record, I meant 2014 as opposed to 2004.

I take your point, Minister, that you want to work with local authorities, and it's much better to have that collaborative approach, but I guess there's interest in the Gypsy, Traveller, Roma community as to what is a tipping point, as it were, in terms of using those powers, and if, for example, a local authority is out of kilter with the other local authorities in terms of providing the assessment, for example, and that’s been overdue for a very considerable period of time. Are we getting close to that tipping point?


Well, we may well be getting close to that. I’ve kind of given the team this timeline, and in answer to Sioned Williams’s questions earlier on about when the assessments—when we can approve—end of year, we’ve said. But I think when you think of all the challenges that we have, and that I have as a Minister, this doesn’t rise to the top of the agenda, does it, in terms of the public awareness, until they need to address it themselves? So, we may well be looking at this legislation seriously now. As you say, it goes back to the fact that—you and I, John, were there when we passed this legislation in 2014, and we shouldn’t be in the position where it’s slowed right down. And also, I have to make the case for the funding every year. I don’t want to give that funding back; I want that funding to be spent. I’d like to press for more funding.

Diolch, Cadeirydd, and thank you, Minister. You’ve given a strong commitment today and you’ve been very clear in that, but you’ve also touched on the frustrations that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people have been feeling. We’ve heard from Travelling Ahead who’ve expressed concerns that not one of the actions from the committee’s recommendations or the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' relating to Gypsy, Roma and Travellers have progressed. I know you’ve said a couple of things of where you are, but perhaps you could highlight and expand on where the Welsh Government’s progressing on this with the various actions that it’s committed to undertake, and then particularly, perhaps, on the independent trusted advice service for Traveller communities.

Thank you very much, Jayne. I was so pleased that you undertook this inquiry and that you focused on the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan', and it’s two years since we launched that plan for implementation. It was co-produced with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities; their lived experiences informed that plan very clearly. I think the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' is strengthened enormously by having an external accountability group that actually includes lived Gypsy, Roma and Traveller experiences. When I met with the external accountability group earlier this year, I was introduced to those representations.

And so just to say in terms of delivering on those areas of the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan', I think I’ve already commented on the one that we have to deliver in 2023, which was commissioning this three-year pilot to provide advice for those developing private sites. I mean, most of the other actions are by 2024-25, so they are work in progress. But also, we’ve discussed the site provision—increased pitch provision is in there; it’s actually reviewing, looking at our legal mechanisms to see whether we are complying. That’s part of the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan'. But all of the actions that are in here are important, and we need to show we’re developing them. So, we are commissioning that three-year pilot programme; we are reviewing the current funding policy for Gypsy and Traveller sites.

We are also redrafting sites guidance to ensure that the needs of communities are better reflected in the document, and the important part of the anti-racist action plan is to commission a national training scheme for local authority housing options teams. This goes back to the points about skills and capacity, and, actually, there’s a huge variation amongst our local authorities; some don’t have teams, some have very skilled and committed teams. And also, in terms of training, I think that’s what local authorities need.

What’s very important about the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' is that we are held to account to deliver on it, and we’ve got 11 sub-groups for each of the policy areas and they all have to be about improving outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. So, I think I can only say that it’s vital that the ARWAP, the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan', is probably more public. It’s got more acknowledgement, hasn’t it? I’ve got lots of things on Black History Month over this month. The 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' has got that visibility. This part of it now has really got to come out. Amelia.


Only to add that we have these 11 cross-cutting groups that the Minister talked about and they've been given four areas: leadership, intersectionality, data, but also specifically each of them right the way across Welsh Government must look at the deep inequalities facing Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people as part of their sub-group discussions with external panel members, group members and also people with lived experience of racism.

Thank you. You talked as well about the importance of communication and perhaps you could expand a little bit on how Welsh Government is communicating and engaging with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities as well as the organisations that support and advocate for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller about the actions in the action plan and the progress with that. Because, obviously, it’s important that people know that things are happening and I think there’s a feeling at the moment that the wider community aren’t aware of how far along these plans are.

Yes. I’ve mentioned the fact that there’s representation on the external accountability group. And the families I met were brought together by Tros Gynnal Plant, through the Travelling Ahead project and they agreed—the people who they’re advocating for—to meet me and they came from all over Wales. One of the points they made to me, the families, was that they didn’t feel they were invited to meetings. And this was quite a simple request: ‘Why aren’t we invited to meetings? Why aren’t we invited to meetings by our local authorities?’ So, I gave them an undertaking that I would look at ways in which we could try and have more representation of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and voices.

We’ve got very strong voices on our race equalities forum, but we clearly haven’t captured all the voices, so that’s something that I’m also asking for advice and support on. Obviously, there’s a huge diversity of needs and interests amongst the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. So, you can’t say it’s one voice or one size fits all. So, that’s a really important point in terms of communications, but it’s about accountability. But interestingly, when I met the families—there were families from south-east Wales who specifically knew the recommendation from the 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan' about private sites. So, when they have the chance to engage, they know exactly what they want to call for.

Just a very quick follow-up on those issues, Minister. In terms of the advocacy and advice service, it's not to be recommissioned, is it, until March of next year—is that still the position?

Well, at the moment, Travelling Ahead—we've extended it. We extended it at the end of July to the end of this financial year, but we're now scoping and working with them. We want this to be something where we work with them, learn from them. They're very keen, particularly in Travelling Ahead, that we learn from their experiences of the contract. So, we will be, obviously, then taking this forward. We don't want any gaps in provision.

Thank you, Chair. Some questions from me on the staffing resource. So, firstly, Minister, you note in your update that you expect the policy team to be up to strength by the end of this year. Could you expand on how many officials currently work within the relevant policy team, its anticipated size by the end of this year, and whether you feel this is sufficient resource to undertake the urgent work that is required?


Well, the policy team will be up to strength by the end of this year, but do you want to add anything more, Amelia?

Yes, of course, Minister. Absolutely. I came into post full-time in mid-April this year, and it has been an absolute priority, looking across the whole directorate, to ensure we've got the staffing resource there. I will say my predecessors have tried to do this and there have been many attempts to recruit to posts without applications coming forward. But I know for Lorna Hall as well, who is the deputy director in this area, it's the absolute priority, and I'm pleased to say that we have now got a head of branch. We went out externally, and we've got a head of branch who will be starting in the race, faith and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller team by the end of the month. I'm sure that will happen. There's all the paperwork to do, as usual, but that's the plan. 

We also have interviewed for two grants officers, one of whom was dedicated to the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller grant. We got a very good field, so we're very confident about appointing to that. We're about to go out with two more posts. So, without going through all of them, what we have at the moment is we've got two people in place in the race, faith and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller team, working with Stuart, but we're having a raft of recruitment, including three dedicated staff on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller issues, and the grant manager post as well in our finance team. So, a really, really strengthened team by the end of the year. 

Okay. Thank you very much. According to Travelling Ahead, there remains no team in place in the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller policy team in Welsh Government. Why has this specific department been under-resourced for so long, and what signal does this give about Welsh Government's commitment to improving the lives of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community?

Well, thank you, Vikki. I think, probably and hopefully, Amelia's response now covered that, not just in terms of how this is a priority and that we're recruiting people at a high level and also the team, but also the fact that Stuart has stayed in this post and has been working tirelessly on it as well. And, actually, what's good about the anti-racist Wales action plan team, which is an implementation team, is that this is all part of their remit. So, they are also helping to assist on this as well. So, I think that this—. We had questions about this earlier on in the afternoon, didn't we? I hope we've reassured you, Chair and committee members, that this is the priority of the Welsh Government, and that's from the most senior level, as Amelia has said.

But also, and we haven't been able to touch on this because it wasn't part of your inquiry, really, this doesn't just relate to the social justice agenda, this relates to the work that's done in education with our minority ethnic achievement grant, and I mentioned the work I saw yesterday in Fitzalan. With the minority ethnic achievement grant, local authorities are doing brilliant work with that, which is supporting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller young people. Equally, it's a priority in terms of housing, and it is also a priority in terms of equalities and social justice. 

One of the areas that I've been working with over the past year, and we haven't had time to talk about it—meeting with Gypsy and Traveller young people as well, the Deputy Minister for Social Services has been meeting with them, but also the education Minister has been meeting with young people in a school context and on site provision—is the cultural aspect that I talked about earlier on as well. So, it is a cross-Government commitment to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.

Okay. Well, Minister, thank you very much for your evidence before committee today and that of your officials, and thanks for bearing with us. I know we've run on a little bit in terms of the allocated time. For the remainder of our committee meeting, amongst other things, we'll be discussing how we return to these matters and when, because there is a strong committee commitment to following up. So, thank you very much, Minister. You will obviously be sent a transcript in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 15:10.

The public part of the meeting ended at 15:10.