Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol

Equality and Social Justice Committee

26/02/2024

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Altaf Hussain
Jane Dodds
Jenny Rathbone Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates
Sarah Murphy
Sioned Williams

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Cheryl Salley Cyfarwyddwr, Meithrinfa Darling Buds
Director, Darling Buds Nursery
Dan Stephens Prif Gynghorydd Tân ac Achub ac Arolygydd Cymru
Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser and Inspector for Wales
Dr David Dallimore Ymchwilydd Polisi Cymdeithasol a gyflogwyd gynt gan Brifysgol Bangor a Sefydliad Ymchwil Cymdeithasol ac Economaidd a Data Cymru
Social Policy Researcher formerly employed by Bangor University and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data
Hannah Blythyn Y Dirprwy Weinidog Partneriaeth Gymdeithasol
Deputy Minister for Social Partnership
Hayli Gibson Pennaeth Blynyddoedd Cynnar, Gofal Plant a Chwarae, Cyngor Sir Penfro
Head of Early Years, Childcare and Play, Pembrokeshire County Council
Jane O’Toole Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs
Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids' Clubs
Janet Kelly Cadeirydd yr Ymddiriedolwyr, Sparkle Cymru
Chair of Trustees, Sparkle Cymru
Liz Lalley Cyfarwyddwr Risg, Cadernid a Diogelwch Cymunedol, Llywodraeth Cymru
Director, Risk, Resilience and Community Safety, Welsh Government
Sarah Coates Cymdeithas Genedlaethol Meithrinfeydd Dydd
National Day Nurseries Association
Sarah Mutch Rheolwr y Blynyddoedd Cynnar a Phartneriaethau, Cyngor Bwrdeistref Sirol Caerffili
Early Years and Partnerships Manager, Caerphilly County Borough Council

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Roche Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Claire Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Chloe Corbyn Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Gareth David Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Rachael Davies Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Rhys Morgan Clerc
Clerk
Sam Mason Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Sara Moran Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sarah Hatherley 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 10:59. 

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

The meeting began at 10:59.

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

Bore da. Welcome to the Equality and Social Justice Committee. All Members are present. Are there any declarations of interest from any Members that they need to make in relation to either of the issues we're discussing today? No. Thank you for that. This meeting is being held in public. Interpretation from Welsh to English is available, and if you're not able to join us for the whole of today's sessions, then the proceedings are available on Senedd.tv, both instantly and after the event.

11:00
2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Papers to note

There are, I think, eight papers to note. Are Members content to note these papers? Thank you. I can't see any dissent on that. Those papers are noted.

3. Llywodraethiant gwasanaethau tân ac achub: sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda'r Dirprwy Weinidog Partneriaeth Gymdeithasol a'r Prif Gynghorydd Tân
3. Governance of fire and rescue services: evidence session with the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership and Chief Fire Adviser

We'll now move on to the first substantive item of our business today, which is the governance of fire and rescue services, and I'm very pleased to welcome the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, Hannah Blythyn. I wonder if your officials would like to just say who they are and what they do.

Yes, sure. I'll ask Liz to go first.

Diolch. Bore da. I'm Liz Lalley. I'm the director of risk resilience and community safety in the Welsh Government.

Bore da. Dan Stephens. I'm the chief fire and rescue adviser and inspector.

Very good. Thank you very much. I spent the weekend having a refresh of the Williams commission report, which was published just over 10 years ago, which clearly stated that there was a need to revisit the governance structure of fire and rescue services because it was impossible for local councillors to be delving into operational matters and that they needed to concentrate on the performance and value for money of fire and rescue authorities. Now, that didn't go ahead in the fifth Senedd, so what briefing did you get, Hannah Blythyn, when you took over responsibility for fire and rescue services, as to this unfinished business?

Can I start, Chair, by welcoming the work of the committee on this? I think it's really important and, hopefully, it should be really valuable in informing how we move forward in terms of the governance of fire and rescue authorities and fire and rescue services in Wales. You referred, in the first instance, to the Williams commission report, which predates me, not necessarily being in Government but actually being an elected Member, as well.

So, I think one of the things that was first brought to my attention in this role would've been the 2018 White Paper. Shall I touch on that? Would that be appropriate?

Yes. I think one of the things is that the governance of fire and rescue authorities has sadly been brought into much sharper focus in the past months alone, regarding, clearly, the really systemic failings highlighted with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, which highlighted the concerns there, to the extent that I used the full extent of the powers available to the Welsh Government to intervene. But as you said, Chair, in your opening remarks, there have long been concerns, but also work done in terms of how the governance of fire and rescue authorities could be strengthened.

So, the last proposed reform was back in 2018. The actual consultation, the White Paper, was out before I came into post and then I was presented with the findings of that White Paper. My understanding is that when that was conducted, in 2018, it was strongly opposed by all fire and rescue authorities. And whilst the responses more broadly to the consultation supported the broad case for change and the principles for change, there wasn't consensus on the specifics of what that change would look like, and there was extremely strong opposition to any measure of specific reform. With that in mind, any such change would've had to have been forced through in the face of any considerable opposition, and obviously change, in that context, is not just difficult, but often it can be fruitless and protracted and very painful. From my perspective, since coming into post, I've always tried to take much more of a collegiate approach, which is why I set up the social partnership fund for fire and rescue services, as well. When I came into post, in that instance, in 2018, we had a number of conversations, both me and the then Minister for Housing and Local Government, with the chairs and chiefs of the fire and rescue authorities. There'd also been work, shall I say, to that point, around broadening the role of firefighters and there'd been considerable work about, actually, what that function might look like. At that point, we took the decision to continue the broader conversation about what governance might look like, but also to focus on the function rather than the form of fire and rescue services, so to look to develop a more modern, sustainable, expanded future role for the service before establishing governance and finance arrangements that would support that model. So, for instance, if, say, the function was going to take on more of a role alongside the NHS first responders, emergency cardiac arrest on injured fallers, then, would that raise a question around what was the right level of governance? Should it just come from local authorities? Also, clearly, any governance reform has connections to funding reform, as well.

So, alongside that, we developed that detailed specification for a broader role for firefighters to actually make sure fire and rescue services had the capacity and the capability to implement those changes. The chief fire and rescue adviser has done a number of thematic reviews to make sure that there was the safe capacity and scope for fire and rescue services to do that before making progress on implementing further reforms. We have continued to progress the FRAs on that. I've already recognised that those issues of governance have very much been brought to the forefront again.

11:05

But all these partnership arrangements and conversations that have happened over the last five years simply haven't produced the radical reform that is needed, given that it is not down to local councillors to be second-guessing what is the best operational plan. But it has to be about the performance and value for money of the fire authorities, and we are now faced with a crisis. So, obviously, you have taken prompt and radical action to call a halt to the current deplorable situation that we find ourselves in with the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas. Five years is a long time to deliver the sort of governance arrangements that were needed, and now we're faced with, obviously, a lot of people who've had to suffer abuse at work and matters that have not been rectified. So, in terms of how we're going to go forward on this, what information were you getting from your officials in terms of concerns being raised in other fire authorities in England? This seems to have been a systemic problem, as it has been with other male-dominated organisations. What information did you have about unacceptable behaviour until it broke at the end of December 2022?

Diolch, Chair. Just in the first instance, you were referring to the report by ITV that broke in December—

So, with regard to those specific allegations, we were not aware of them before the ITV report came forward. As I've said in the Senedd Chamber before, as soon as that came forward, I met with the chief and the chair of the fire and rescue authority in south Wales to urge them to implement a full, independent review, which they then did do, and then we've acted on the findings of that review and will be working on that, moving forward.

In the terms I think you referred to, clearly, we know there's an endemic, societal issue that is particularly reflected, potentially, in male-dominated workplaces. I think it's something that doesn't just happen within the fire and rescue authorities. It has to be said, we're tired of talking about it, we've seen it far too many times, and, sadly, many of us have experienced it ourselves as well. But in respect of the fire and rescue service itself, we know that, prior to the allegations that surfaced in the ITV report into south Wales fire and rescue service—. And, again, Chair, I must pay tribute to the bravery of those that came forward. They shouldn't have had to do that for action to be taken. Ordinarily, you would expect a well-functioning organisation, certainly one that provides public services, to have had the correct processes and systems in place to provide support in these instances and act appropriately on them.

But, we know, more broadly, prior to that, that there were concerns raised with regard to fire and rescue services in England, and there was a recommendation report from—I’m going to get the acronym right now, because there are far too many acronyms—His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services in England. So, once that report was published, I did actually write to all FRA chairs back in May, indicating that even though that applied specifically to England, we would expect some learning points with some action from that here in Wales, and to make sure that the measures were at the very least as robust as those recommended by His Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in England. I was also seeking confirmation and assurance that our FRAs here accepted those recommendations addressed to chief fire officers and would set out details of actions that they proposed to take in order to implement each of those recommendations.

So, in response to that, the FRAs did provide a detailed response to me, and then we have actually discussed that report with the fire and rescue social partnership forum. Back in October last year, I believe—I’ll double-check the dates—we provided the members with a summary of those responses to the report, and we agreed that the forum would assist with monitoring progress. It was also made clear to the fire and rescue authorities that we should provide the chief fire and rescue adviser for Wales within an anonymised list of all current gross misconduct cases and the action that the FRA has taken on this, and these are supplied on a six-monthly basis. I don’t know whether, Chair, you’d like me to just bring Dan in on this.

11:10

Well, I’d very much like to hear from Mr Stephens, because, clearly, the Minister has told us that she wasn’t aware of these causes for concern prior to the ITV report. Obviously, it’s your role to advise the Minister on this, and as somebody who is a professional in this field, were you not aware of some of the causes for concern that have since been revealed by the report headed by Fenella Morris?

So, Chair, the processes that the Minister has described are those that had been put into place following the ITN report into south Wales. There was also, you may recall, prior to that, the London Fire Brigade had commissioned an independent review. The new commissioner of the London Fire Brigade commissioned a review following the suicide of a firefighter. That’s what precipitated and gave rise to their review. So, that was around the same time as the—well, the outcomes of that  review were around the same time as the ITN report. HMICFRS in England, in response to that, commissioned a backward-looking review of discipline cases in the English fire and rescue services, so I replicated that exercise in Wales with our three fire and rescue services, and I was able to then provide a report to our Minister that set out the findings of that analysis.

Okay. So, you weren’t aware of any of these problems prior to the end of 2022?

No, Chair. And if I may say, I wouldn’t routinely be—. The focus of the thematic inspection work that I’ve undertaken since being in post has looked at, predominantly, operational matters.

So, I’ve undertaken three inspections. The first was to consider the extent to which the three Welsh fire and rescue services had acted on the findings of the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 recommendations. The second was to look at the capacity of the fire and rescue service to undertake a broader role in support of health, as the Minister’s already spoken about. And then, following on from that, because that highlighted some concerns for me in respect of operational training, that was the next review I did. So, the focus of what I look at is predominately in the operational space.

Okay. Liz Lalley, just before I pass the questioning on to other Members, what was your role in advising the Minister on potential issues arising from the failure to have reformed the governance structure when Hannah Blythyn came into post?

11:15

So, we—the officials—have an ongoing role in trying to ensure that the fire and rescue service across Wales operates in the best interests of the people of Wales. So, we would do our best to ensure that the governance structures as they exist currently are operating to maximum effectiveness. And, should issues like these arise, then we would advise the Minister on how to respond to them as they emerge.

But you must have been in contact with the fire and rescue services as part of your day-to-day role, surely.

Yes, we have regular catch-ups with them and discuss emerging issues, emerging policy issues, some operational issues that the adviser might contribute on, but the cultural issues that we've now become aware of didn't surface through those conversations.

Thank you all for being here this morning. I'm going to ask some questions now about the Welsh Government's response to the culture review. So, to begin with, what criteria, Deputy Minister, did you use to inform selection of the Welsh Government commissioners? And how has information about their appointments been communicated to the executive leadership and senior management and staff across the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service? 

Thanks, Sarah. So, the commissioners were chosen based on a range of experience, a balance of that experience, background, skills and independence. We wanted to make sure we had a mixture of both fire and rescue and perhaps service operational knowledge, but also an understanding of the key elements of the requirements of intervention and the strong leadership needed to achieve that very challenging and complex cultural change, as set out in the report and the recommendations, to make sure that they had that broad range of experience required, really, to drive that sustainable change to the culture and provision in the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

In respect of how that was communicated with a range of stakeholders and also with, importantly, the workforce of the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, clearly, the intervention, as we said, was unprecedented and so had to follow the correct process and take the appropriate approach. But, as you mentioned, and I said this in the Senedd statement too, there were clearly formal conversations and correspondence with the chair of the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority too, and I actually spoke directly on the phone to the chair of the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority before I made the statement on that day, on 6 February, and I know that one of my officials also spoke to the south Wales monitoring officer immediately following the statement to the Senedd.

Alongside, ready for me to make the statement, after the announcement, a letter was issued. I wrote to all trade unions, so, those that represent both operational and non-operational staff. So, that would include the Fire Brigades Union, but also the likes of Unison, GMB and Unite as well. And I was also keen to find a way, to the best of my abilities, to communicate directly with staff, with the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, obviously recognising that it would be an extremely uncertain and worrying time for them, and to provide the assurances that we could, to the extent of my ability at that point. So, actually, a communication from me, a letter, was issued through South Wales Fire and Rescue Service with a view to being disseminated to all staff. And also one of the commissioners was actually then on site at the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority headquarters the following morning, in order to speak to senior managers and staff as well.

Thank you very much. And how will you ensure that the commissioners are accountable and how will you monitor their progress? For example, one of their first actions was to appoint Mr Millington as interim chief fire officer for South Wales fire and rescue, who is facing an employment tribunal himself shortly. And at an emergency meeting of the Fire Brigades Union in south Wales, they agreed that they had no confidence in Mr Millington as interim chief. So, can I ask: what conversations have you had with the commissioners about how they are going to deal with this?

Thanks, Sarah. So, I think the first thing to say is that, if we look at the terms of reference for the commissioners, there's a clear, coherent set of terms of reference for them to work to, and one of them was to establish and oversee a senior management team, and one of them was to appoint a chief fire officer and, as necessary, other senior staff who appear most likely to contribute fully and effectively to the FRA's recovery. It is for them to make those decisions now.

Management is one of the things that when they went in, the current chief has left the post now, and there was an operational vacuum that needed to be filled and they therefore went through the process of recruiting an interim chief fire officer. They are now keen to move forward with the recruitment to that substantive post for a chief fire officer, but also around another interim role to actually manage change and transformation. Because we recognise there's not just an operational role within the organisation, but there is a clear, very challenging and, as I said, very complex job of work to actually manage that change within the organisation, and also to bring the workforce with them as well.

Just more broadly, the commissioners are tasked with overseeing the recovery from the failings outlined by Fenella Morris KC and those that have been identified in previous thematic reports as well. They would be expected, in their roles now, to exercise the normal leadership and scrutiny functions of the FRA in respect of this service. Officials are in regular contact with commissioners, and then there will be a mechanism for me to have that ministerial update and contact as well. I believe the terms of reference have been published; if they haven't, we can make sure they're circulated to the committee and to Members.

The other point, perhaps, to make, Sarah, is that officials are establishing an intervention oversight board that will be chaired by the director of risk, resilience and community safety, and made up of Welsh Government officials. So, they will meet monthly to consider progress against the terms of reference of the commissioners.

11:20

Okay. Thank you. And just my last question, just in terms of resource and budget. What will be available to the commissioners to carry out their responsibilities and how will this compare to the resources and budget available to the fire and rescue authority?

Thanks. So, the budget for—. Actually, one of the tasks that was before the commissioners when they came into post was the need to set the budget for this year because the deadline was looming for that. So, the budget for South Wales FRA was set by the commissions on 12 February, on the advice of the FRA treasurer and based on the draft budget that had already been consulted on prior to the intervention taking place. The commissioners don't have a specific or separate budget to carry out their work and all costs will be met from the FRA budget, which was set on 12 February.

Diolch. Byddaf yn gofyn fy nghwestiynau yn y Gymraeg. Jest eisiau mynd nôl yn gyflym at y pwynt roedd Sarah wedi'i wneud ynglŷn â phenodiad Mr Millington. Ydych chi'n derbyn pryderon yr FBU ynglŷn â hynny, ac ydych chi'n derbyn ei fod e ddim yn edrych yn dda o ran ceisio adfer hyder y gweithlu a'r cyhoedd yn y mesurau radical ŷch chi'n eu cymryd?

Thank you. I will be asking my questions in Welsh. I just wanted to return briefly to the point that Sarah raised on the appointment of Mr Millington. Do you accept the concerns of the FBU on that, and do you accept that it doesn't look good in terms of restoring the workforce and the public's confidence in the radical steps that you are putting in place?

Diolch am eich cwestiwn.

Thank you for your question.

In my response to Sarah Murphy, obviously, the decision needed to be taken on an operational basis for an interim chief fire officer to cover operational need, and I'm sure the chief fire and rescue adviser can advise on the rationale behind that. It was a decision for our commissioners to take and we are looking to recruit a substantive chief fire officer as soon as possible.

In response to the questions you raised on the unions: clearly, I'm very keen that the workforce is part of this. The workforce need to be part of the process to achieve that cultural change too, and I've reference the terms of reference of the commissioners earlier too, and that does really point out the need to do this in social partnership and, aside from the work that the commissioners are doing in engaging with the FBU, but also I think it's going to be really important with the broader workforce too, those non-operational, non-uniform workers. Because one of the things that—well, one of the many things that struck us as part of that devastating and damning report, and one of the things that perhaps I don't think was picked up on as much in the media or in the Senedd, was the way in which some of those non-operational or non-uniform staff feel they've been treated differently in the past. So, I think there really is a job of work for the commissioners in terms of workforce liaison, working with those unions.

And just separately, myself, what I did when I wrote out to the respective unions and staff representatives following the intervention, I set out that the next meeting of the social partnership forum would look directly at these concerns that were raised as part of the review, because it is going to take a collective effort to challenge the biggest cultural changes and I don't think, you know—. Sadly, like we said previously to the previous question from Sarah, there are very few organisations that are going to be immune to some of these challenges and I think there really is a role for our trade union colleagues as part of that too. I'm due to meet this week, myself, as part of that, following up on that offer, both the FBU and Unison. I'm very open to others because I think there is a collective job of work to do—and I say this as somebody who's worked in the trade union movement previously—because, sadly, those organisations aren't immune to it either.

11:25

Ond roeddech chi yn ymwybodol, cyn i'r cyhoeddiad gael ei wneud, ynglŷn â phenodiad Mr Millington, ac roeddech chi'n fodlon gyda phenderfyniad y comisiynwyr yn hynny o beth.

But you were aware, before the announcement was made, of the appointment of Mr Millington, and you were content with the commissioners' decision in that regard.

As I said before, the commissioners needed to act to seek an interim chief fire officer. That decision was made and then Welsh Government officials were informed.

Felly, a gawsoch chi wybod ar ôl i'r penderfyniad gael ei gyhoeddi, neu cyn i'r penderfyniad gael ei gyhoeddi?

So, were you informed after the announcement was made, or before?

Iawn. Dwi jest eisiau mynd nôl ynglŷn â'r pethau rŷn ni wedi bod yn trafod o ran yr angen i ddiwygio, a mynd nôl i 2018. Yn gyntaf, i siarad am y fframwaith cenedlaethol gwasanaethau tân ac achub—mae hwnnw bron yn 10 mlwydd oed erbyn hyn. Ac ym mis Ebrill 2022, mi wnaethoch chi sôn y byddai'r fersiwn nesaf o'r cynllun yn cael ei chyhoeddi erbyn diwedd y flwyddyn ddiwethaf. Pam nad yw hyn wedi digwydd, a phryd gallwn ni ddisgwyl i'r cynllun gael ei gyhoeddi?

Okay. I just want to return to some of the issues that we've been discussing in terms of reform, and going back to 2018. First of all, if I could refer to the fire and rescue national framework, that is almost 10 years old now. And in April 2022, you mentioned that the next iteration of the plan would be published by the end of last year. Why hasn't this deadline been met, and when can we expect publication of the plan?

Diolch. The current framework, whilst we are due for the next iteration of the plan, has stood the test of time well and remains broadly fit for purpose. The intention was for the next iteration of the fire and rescue national framework to reflect those plans for a modern, safe and efficient fire and rescue service, in line with the ambition we've had previously and as I set out in the answer to the Chair's initial opening questions with regard to the broadening of the role of firefighters as well. In order for us to set that framework in line with that, then we would need to see further progress on the implementation of the chief fire and rescue adviser's recommendation. So, the delay in developing that has been to allow that further work with the FRAs, giving them every opportunity to meet the chief fire and rescue adviser's recommendations, to help shape that new framework, to make it fit for the future but also to reflect that modern service that we want to create.

Rŷn ni wedi trafod yn barod y ffaith na wnaeth y Llywodraeth weithredu ar yr ymgynghoriad yn 2008 a oedd, fel dywedoch chi, yn cefnogi'r achos cyffredinol yna dros newid. Ydych chi'n derbyn bod y diffyg gweithredu efallai wedi arwain yn rhannol at y sefyllfa rŷn ni wedi gweld yn codi yn y gwasanaeth tân yn ne Cymru?

We've already discussed the fact that the Government didn't act on the consultation in 2018, which, as you said, did support the general case for change. Do you accept that that lack of action has led partially to the situation that we've seen arising within the fire service in south Wales?

I think the situation in south Wales shines a spotlight on—. I think, ordinarily, you wouldn't have expected the FRA to be responding to incidents of misconduct or inappropriate behaviour in the workplace; that should be for the chief fire officer and the management structures of those organisations in place. As I said before, the failings of south Wales highlight significant concerns, not just on a systemic and operational level, but actually on the capability and the capacity of the fire and rescue authority to oversee the sustainable change that's needed.

I think if you go back to 2018, like I said to the Chair, whilst there was broad support for the principle of change, it was what would that change look like in practice, and this is why I very much welcome the work both of this committee now and the work that Audit Wales are doing in terms of what governance might look like in the future. I really hope this will shape not just the work more broadly of Welsh Government, but also one of the things that we tasked the commissioners with, when they hopefully should complete their work, was on actually what does sustainable governance look like for south Wales in the future.

I think in terms of when we look forward, one of the things we went back to then again—and I don't want to repeat what I've said already but I think it is an important point—was around looking at actually what the function was, and then the form that sits behind it, because one of the things that I saw from that process is that, actually, you've got to get the function right but you have to have the form that backs that up, because if we're going to look at a broader role that covers a health perspective, then, actually, what will the governance look like that most accurately holds that to account? And I really very much welcome the work that the committee's doing in terms of what could more effective governance look like in the future.

Now, in that 2018 report, there was a proposal for—. At the moment, I think North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority has 28 members, and the proposal was for local authorities to perhaps just have one member per local authority, and for that to come from the cabinet. The FRA strongly opposed it. There was more nuanced opposition, perhaps, from local authorities in terms of the concerns they might have that that'll make for capacity and pressures on those cabinet members, but there was also the proposal around potentially having a balance between local authority and potentially non-executive members. Now, one of the conversations I've had—and this is not a formal conversation, but with colleagues—is actually, 'What role, potentially, in the future, would there be for—?' We talk about social partnership a lot. I don't just talk about it because it's in my title; I talk about it because it is the right way to do things. What opportunities are there in the future, perhaps, if you were looking at a change in the governance model, for there to be appropriate roles for work representation through their trade unions as part of that? But clearly you'd have to look at how those functions operate now to make that work in the best and most appropriate and relevant way.

11:30

Diolch. Pan wnaeth yr adroddiad cynnydd gael ei gyhoeddi yn 2020, fe wnaethoch chi, fel y Dirprwy Weinidog Tai a Llywodraeth Leol ar y pryd, ddweud eich bod chi, yn gyffredinol, yn fodlon bod yr awdurdodau tân ac achub yn gwneud cymaint â phosibl i werthfawrogi a datblygu'r gweithlu—un arall o flaenoriaethau'r fframwaith. Ar ba sail, felly, wnaethoch chi sicrhau bod hynny'n digwydd?

Thank you. When the progress report was published in 2020, you, as Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government at that time, said that you were overall satisfied that the FRAs are doing as much as possible, that they can, to value and develop the workforce—another of the framework's priorities. On what basis did your reassurance at that time come from?

Thank you for taking my memory far back to a different role and a previous iteration. That written statement at the time was on the back of and supported by a more detailed report that looked at the capacity workload and sickness absence of firefighters, and it also referred back to, I think it was, the 2017 or 2018 CFRA review into—I think Dan Stephens referred to it previously—learning lessons from serious incidents and how they will then be applied to operational training. So, what I said in that written statement related to that more detailed assessment that did indicate that whilst firefighter injuries were generally low, there were some concerns around sickness, absence rates, particularly with regard to stress-related absences, that needed to be monitored closely. But I think one of the things I would say is it's important to note that the framework progress report is just that, it's a report on how far FRAs have acted in accordance with framework priorities. It's not a comprehensive assessment, audit, nor inspection.

A jest i fynd nôl yn gyflym iawn at yr undebau llafur, rydych chi wedi sôn am bryderon yr awdurdod ynghylch gwahanu'r swyddogaethau craffu oddi wrth y rôl weithredol, a beth oedd eu pryderon nhw, ond beth am yr undebau llafur? Beth oedd eu pryderon nhw ynglŷn â hyn, a sut wnaethoch chi ddelio â'r rheini? A sut, ymhellach, ydy'r undebau llafur—? Rŷch chi'n sôn rŷch chi'n mynd i fynd i gwrdd â nhw, ond sut ydyn nhw wedi cael eu cynnwys yn yr holl drafodaethau dros y blynyddoedd diwethaf ynglŷn â diwygio?

And just to return very briefly to the trade unions, you've mentioned the concerns of the authority in terms of separating the scrutiny functions from the operational role and what their concerns were, but what about the trade unions? What were their concerns about this, and how did you address those concerns? Furthermore, you mentioned that you'll be meeting the trade unions, but how have they been included in all of the discussions and open negotiations on reform over the past years?

So, I think in the first instance you're referring back to the 2018 consultation again. So, my understanding at the time of the 2018 consultation was that unions would have been invited to respond as part of that and then responses from both Unison and the FBU—. I think Unison broadly supported reform but had concerns about disruption to front-line services. The FBU—. Sorry, I'll put my teeth back in. The FBU's overarching view at the time of the consultation was that there was no need to amend the structures for fire and rescue service governance in Wales and they opposed more power and responsibility for the fire and rescue service governance being given to the Government and what was then the National Assembly for Wales. One of the things they recommended was to strengthen the fire and rescue consortia forum, which was then a non-statutory discussion chaired by Welsh Government officials. I think, when I first picked up this responsibility, there were regular meetings with the chiefs and chairs of the FRAs and the fire services, and occasional meetings with the FBU, and I was keen to make sure that not only did I have those meetings with the chiefs and chairs, but also with the unions too, which is where the social partnership forum came from, which I think does well. With hindsight, it would have been nice if that was in existence when I came into post in 2018, but I think it does offer us that platform to move forward and it has offered a platform to look at some of the challenges within the service already in the future, and I think, for any further reform, clearly that has to be done in full social partnership.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Minister. I'm going to ask about the role of the fire and rescue authorities, if I may, starting with the concerns that may have been expressed by fire and rescue authorities around the separation of scrutiny functions from their operational role. Have concerns been expressed, and to what extent have any concerns contributed to a lack of reform? Thank you.

11:35

Thanks, Ken. Diolch, Ken, for that question. Yes, so, on the back of those previous consultations and conversations, the fire and rescue authorities have been opposed to any reform of governance arrangements, but have not offered any detailed reasoning behind that. I would expect that the committee would be getting in the various fire and rescue authorities for scrutiny, and I think it might be a question that is best addressed to them.

Thank you. That's very helpful. Thanks. And what are the key changes that are needed to strengthen the governance role of the fire and rescue authorities?

Thanks. A short question without the simple answer, I suspect, but, hopefully, the work of this committee will be able to contribute constructively to that. Depending on what form that changes might take, we may need primary legislation to make significant change, and particularly to improve accountability around performance and expenditure. Like we said, with any change to governance, they may need a change to funding to sit alongside that, to best and appropriately reflect that governance. So, things around—I know, these days, there is now growing support for a precept, but some changes will need legislative change; some change could be done in the interim, to actually get us to that point as well without having to take that legislative change. But without primary legislation, there is still work that can be done. There can be work to be done to perhaps better equip members to discharge their scrutiny in leadership roles and hold management to account. Local authorities may wish to reflect on actually who they nominate for FRA membership, and look at the terms, the skills, experience, knowledge of those issues. And like I said previously, in terms of change for the future—I think I alluded to it, in my response to Sioned Williams—previous consultations and conversation looked at, actually, whether there be an option for having a kind of more blended form of governance, so whether that still has that connection to local authorities, to have that connection in terms of the funding arrangements and the relationship, but also whether there is scope to bring people in to have those who perhaps are experts, by their own experience, whether that's through representatives of the workforce or the trade unions, or other areas of expertise as well.

Thank you. So, what's your position on the potential of giving a greater role to police and crime commissioners?

So, that was an option that was expressly ruled out in the earlier consultation in 2018. You know, from a Welsh Government, from a devolved, perspective, that wouldn't be a practical option, because, ultimately, it would mean a devolved service being controlled by non-devolved office holders. And, actually, the other practical consideration, as part of that, is that in Wales police and fire authority boundaries do not align, apart from in north Wales.

Ah, true. Yes. And finally from me—and I think Jane Dodds may have a few more questions in this area, subsequent to this one—what status does the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority now have? Is it expected that they'll resume responsibility, once the commissioners have completed their work, and do you envisage there being the same elected members being reappointed?

So, in essence, the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority remains in existence as a corporate entity, but with the intervention that's been made, it means its functions are exercisable only by the commissioners or by staff that act under delegated authority from those commissioners. So, as things stand, members of South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority technically remain in office but are not exercising those functions. There'll be some work to do with the commissioners about what that looks like in terms of currently, but in terms of your question, Ken, around what would happen in the future, so one of the things we set out in the terms of reference is that, actually, part of the commissioner's role is to look at what sustainable governance would look like, for them to then hand over the reins once their work is hopefully completed. I think, if it was a nomination of members from the constituent local authorities, then I would say that that would be a matter, in terms of democracy, for those local authorities in terms of who they would nominate for the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority.

Thank you. I just wanted to pick up on your remark that there's a need for a blended form of governance, because, at the end of the day, whatever governance structure there is in place, people who serve on it have got to be corporately responsible for the outcomes for that particular body. So, I wonder if you can pick up on that, and I know that Sioned Williams also had a question maybe related to this.  

11:40

Sorry, Chair—'blended' might not have been the best word to use, but what I meant by that in terms of the what the potential options for the future might be is some of the things that have been looked at previously that can then perhaps be augmented for the future. I totally take on board that there have to be those levels of accountability and transparency but, actually, whether one of the things to improve that level of accountability or the scrutiny of the fire and rescue authorities is to actually bring people in—so, not just have local authority representatives, I meant. 

Roeddwn i jest eisiau dod nôl ar un o'r cwestiynau yna gwnaeth Ken Skates ofyn ynglŷn â'r prif newidiadau allweddol sydd eu hangen i gryfhau llywodraethu. Beth am rôl y Llywodraeth yn hyn? Hynny yw, gwnaethom ni glywed bod yna catch-up chats yn digwydd, ond wnaeth y materion sydd wedi dod i'r amlwg drwy'r adolygiad ddim, yn amlwg. A oes angen cryfhau oversight y Llywodraeth yn hynny o beth o ran swyddogion, o ran y Dirprwy Weinidog, a hefyd o ran y prif gynghorydd tân?

I just wanted to come back on one of Ken Skates's questions on the key changes that are required to strengthen governance. What about the role of Government in this? We heard that there were catch-up chats happening, but the issues that have emerged through the review clearly weren't known. So, do we need to strengthen Government oversight in that regard in terms of officials, the Deputy Minister and the chief fire adviser? 

Shall I touch on the—? Yes. So, I think, in terms of—. You talk about, perhaps, the audit and inspection scheme as part of how fire and rescue authorities as public bodies are held to account. The way things—. The regime is proportionate to the relative scale of the fire and rescue services in Wales, where the chief fire and rescue adviser has the flexibility to undertake those inspections, thematic inspections, in response to any emerging themes that we have heard about previously today. That's closely co-ordinated with Audit Wales to ensure there is no duplication.  

Audit requirements could be strengthened in Wales. Maybe it's something that Audit Wales would look at, but that would obviously come at a cost at a time of significant pressure on public expenditure. I don't know whether any officials wanted to pick up on that point.  

I would just say there's probably an opportunity to take a look across the whole piece at what good governance would look like, and then therefore what Government's role is within that. I couldn't give you that answer now, but I do think it is worth a consideration. 

Just to add to that, there is now a process in place specifically to deal with matters of discipline, where, as the Deputy Minister advised earlier, any instances of gross misconduct are reported on a six-monthly basis, but equally by exception, as and when they occur, to me, and then I brief up then to the Minister. So, just in respect of the cultural issues, that is something now that a process does exist to report on. 

So, are you saying that you weren't aware of them before that process existed? 

Sorry, Chair. I go back to my earlier response. Routinely—. So, the focus of my inspections—the thematic inspections I've undertaken—are very much in the operational space. It's not something—. The cultural aspects of a service are not something that a chief fire and rescue adviser would routinely inspect for.

Okay. Well, maybe that's something that needs looking at, because, clearly, there has been stuff going on that hasn't been flagged up in the way that it should have been. Jane Dodds. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi am ofyn cwestiynau yn Gymraeg, os gwelwch chi'n dda. Dwi eisiau dilyn i fyny, os gwelwch chi'n dda, y cwestiwn gan Sioned a hefyd gan Ken. Yn gyntaf, gan Ken, roeddech chi jest wedi cyffwrdd â rôl cynghorwyr lleol ynglŷn â'r gwasanaethau tân ac achub dros Gymru. Rydym ni'n ymwybodol eu bod nhw'n cael taliad ychwanegol iddyn nhw fod ar y bwrdd. Felly, beth ydy'ch disgwyliadau chi ynglŷn â'u rôl nhw, a hefyd pa fath o hyfforddiant rydych chi'n disgwyl iddyn nhw ei gael i wneud y rôl rydych chi'n disgwyl iddyn nhw'n ei gwneud, yn enwedig ar ôl beth sydd wedi digwydd? Diolch yn fawr iawn.  

Thank you, Chair. I'm going to be asking my question in Welsh, if I may. I want to follow up the questions asked by Ken and Sioned. First, from Ken, you touched on the role of local councillors in terms of fire and rescue services across Wales. We're aware that they receive an additional payment to be on the boards. Therefore, what are your expectations in terms of their roles, and also what kind of training do you expect them to receive to undertake that role, particularly given what's occurred? Thank you very much. 

Diolch am eich cwestiwn, Jane Dodds. 

Thank you for your question, Jane Dodds. 

I think it's one of the things we've touched on previously in terms of when local authorities are nominating members to be on the fire and rescue authority, whether there are adequate processes in place to make sure that people are—. The expectation of them and of the role, and what that role involves, and what training and support is in place—Liz can come in, but I certainly think from my perspective there is room for improvement in terms of what fire and rescue authorities or services offer in terms of what, essentially, the job description is, and the expectation, but actually also the support that’s given to people to provide the adequate scrutiny as well. 

11:45

Thank you, Minister. I would just add, I think to reinforce a point that’s already been made, at the moment we can set the framework, the legislative and policy framework, within which FRAs operate, but nothing further than that. So, the Deputy Minister’s made the point there may be an opportunity there to look at consistency and at training et cetera, but, at the moment, our remit has a definite boundary. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi’n synnu, braidd, fod yna ddim disgwyliad bod yna hyfforddiant sydd ar lefel, a dweud y gwir, sy’n cyrraedd y safon. Felly, diolch am ddweud efallai y byddwch chi’n edrych ar hyn. Gaf i hefyd dilyn i fyny ar ôl Sioned ynglŷn â Mr Millington, os gwelwch chi’n dda? Ydych chi’n derbyn bod yna efallai prinder hyder nawr mae’r wybodaeth wedi dod allan ynglŷn â Mr Millington? A beth ydych chi’n ei wneud i sicrhau bod yna hyder yn yr holl broses yn y gwasanaethau, nid jest yn ne Cymru, ond dros Gymru, hefyd? Mae pawb yn siarad am hyn. Hefyd, beth ydy’r effaith? Ydych chi’n gallu jest dweud tipyn bach mwy ynglŷn â’ch disgwyliadau chi ar ôl clywed y wybodaeth ynglŷn â Mr Millington, os gwelwch chi’n dda?

Thank you. I'm a little surprised that there is no expectation that there will be training of a certain level provided. So, thank you for saying that you'll look at this again. Could I also follow up on Sioned's question on Mr Millington? Do you accept that there is a lack of confidence now that information has emerged about Mr Millington? And what are you doing to ensure that there is confidence in the process in the services, not just in south Wales, but across Wales? Everyone is talking about this. What is the impact that it's having? Could you just tell us a little more about your expectations having heard the information about Mr Millington?

Sure. I'll ask Liz to come in initially in terms of the commissioner's role in south Wales, and then if I pick up more broadly about those assurances as well for north Wales and mid and west. 

Thanks. So, as the Minister said, the commissioners appointed Mr Millington. I think it wouldn't be right for me to comment on the levels of confidence around him. There is, I think, a process that will happen, and there will be a natural justice outcome of that. It is not for me to pre-empt that. I think it’s really important to note that the commissioners are doing some really good work to support and to lead the fire and rescue service in south Wales through Mr Millington, and I think that sort of impetus for change is a really important context in which we look at where Mr Millington is right now and what he’s trying to achieve. I hope that helps, Minister. 

Yes, and I think if I'd refer back to perhaps—. I can't remember, sorry, which Member it was now, but I think we should be under no illusions about the scale of change and the complexity of change. I go back, and I'm not beating the drum of my own intervention, but, actually, the intervention was unprecedented, and it was a series of systemic failings that led to that intervention. I'm sure Members here know of people who've come forward who shouldn't have had to come forward because there should be those processes in place, and they should have felt that they'd had justice within their own workplaces when they've come forward. I'm sure I'm not the only Member, because I'm the Minister, who has received correspondence from people who have now reflected on their own experiences in the past and seeking that kind of justice in the future as well. 

I think one of the things I would say when we were talking about previously in terms of strengthening perhaps those governance and audit arrangements, I think one of the things to say, actually—. An adequate and working, effective whistleblowing policy I think is a key component of identifying issues, and I think it's one of the things that I would say is worth exploring further within our social partnership forum with both the employers and the unions, about actually what effective whistleblowing arrangements would look like across the fire and rescue services, perhaps with a view to what that could look like right across the public sector in Wales too. It's about having those processes and the systems and the support in place as well. I very much recognise that the attention in particular—. As you said before, it's not just the fire and rescue services. We've seen problems exposed and revealed in other organisations and other sectors as well, and I think we very much recognise the focus of that, and I think pay tribute to those firefighters who work hard day in, day out to support us, and the other operational staff who work within our fire service too, who probably feel that they are under the cosh from these revelations in the reports, but actually want to work with us, and work with their own authorities, to actually achieve the change we want to see.

So, I go back to the point, Jane Dodds: the importance of the workforce being part of this too, largely through the staff associations, or recognised trade unions and why, for me, the partnership forum is central in terms of the broader approach across Wales, but, specifically, within relation to mid and west and north Wales fire and rescue services, because I know the focus on what's happening now will also draw a focus on other services too, and the need to seek assurances, to not just assure the workforce, but public confidence and assurance as well. 

One of the things I said previously in the Siambr, after the Fenella Morris KC review reported, was that I contacted formally, in writing, the chairs of the other two fire and rescue authorities, seeking their assurance on the six key areas outlined in the review. I've since met both the chiefs and the chairs of mid and west and north Wales fire and rescue authorities to discuss the steps they have already taken, but also, actually, that need for further independent assurance, both for their workforce, but for the public as well. So, we're going to continue to work very closely over the coming days, weeks, to make sure that is put in place, to give that assurance. My preference is to actually work with those authorities to get to where they need to be, and where we need to be as well.

11:50

Diolch yn fawr. Jest i ddychwelyd yn gyflym iawn i Mr Millington, mae'n anffodus, onid ydy, fod y stori rwan am Mr Millington, yn lle bod y stori am obeithio bod pethau'n newid ac yn gwella. Gaf i jest ddod yn ôl yn fyr efo'r Gweinidog i ofyn i chi beth ydych chi'n meddwl? Oes yna gyfle i ailedrych ar hyn, achos mae'n bwysig, onid ydy, fod hyn yn digwydd yn iawn a bod yna ganlyniad da? Ac mae'r stori rwan wedi symud i Mr Millington. Diolch. Ac wedyn fe wnaf i symud ymlaen.

Thank you very much. Just to return to the issue of Mr Millington, it's unfortunate, isn't it, that the story is about Mr Millington, rather than being a story about things changing and improving. Could I just return briefly to the Deputy Minister to ask you what do you think about this? Is there an opportunity to look at this again, because it's important that this does happen properly and that there is a good outcome? The story has moved on to Mr Millington. Thank you. And then I'll move on.

I agree with Jane Dodds that the focus needs to be on the work of the commissioners and the change that is needed to take place within not just South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, but across the piece as well. The commissioners have, as we've seen, an arduous and complicated task, and need to be able to get on with that work and to continue with the changes that are already taking place. I'm more than happy perhaps to update the committee following this in terms of a further outline of the work the commissioners have taken to date, and I would expect the—. Not that I would ever endeavour to indicate to Jenny Rathbone to suggest what to do, but I would work on the assumption that the commissioners will come in as part of this inquiry as well. But I would endeavour to update on the steps that have been taken, like you say, because the focus has been on one area—the work that has taken place as well. Particularly, I think, I referenced earlier, around—. An advertisement has gone up now for—

—somebody to come in to look at that more and focus on the transformation and the cultural change that is really needed, not just to actually be able to tick off against the recommendations of you, but make sure that is embedded and sustained for the future as well.

So, it will be somebody who's appointed by the commissioners. They have identified that there's an opportunity for a fixed-term transformation director—I think that's the title—to implement some of the change.

Jest un cwestiwn arall, os gwelwch yn dda. Ydy hynny'n iawn?

Just one more question, if I may. Is that okay?

One more question.

Ynglŷn â'r intervention ac oversight board—roeddech chi jest yn sôn am hynny, Gweinidog—allech chi jest esbonio mwy am hynny, os gwelwch yn dda, yn enwedig pa mor annibynnol ydy o o'r Llywodraeth, a hefyd o'r gwasanaethau tân ac achub, os gwelwch yn dda? Diolch. Dyna'r cwestiwn olaf.

About the intervention and oversight board that you just mentioned, Deputy Minister, could you just explain a little bit more about that, particularly how independent it is of the Government, and also of the fire and rescue services? Thank you. That's my final question.

Thank you. So, it will be a board that is, really, a formal mechanism to help us understand the progress the commissioners are making in delivering the objectives set out in their terms of reference. It's not so much about independence, really; it's a governance piece for us to ensure that the commissioners are doing the work that we have asked them to do, and then it will help us understand the likely timescale of that work as well.

11:55

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Minister. My area of questioning is about the next steps. On 6 February, you said that you had written to the chairs of both north Wales and mid and west Wales fire and rescue authorities to seek an urgent and detailed assurance on the six themes that arise from the review. Is there any feedback from those discussions and what reassurance were they able to provide?

Diolch, Altaf. I think we touched on it briefly previously. I said in my statement on 6 February that, whilst there were particular serious and systemic problems in terms of mismanagement and misconduct in South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, which is why the case for intervention and why the intervention were made, nobody here is naive enough to presume that challenges won't exist elsewhere. So, as I've set out previously, I sought and received from the chairs of both north Wales and mid and west fire and rescue authorities urgent and detailed assurance over the six key themes arising from Fenella Morris KC's report. That was around inclusiveness and non-discrimination, staff satisfaction, staff engagement, promotion arrangements, grievance arrangements and the roles of the authority and senior management. I've also followed that up with meetings with the chair and chief fire officers just last week, to further discuss the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service review and the implications both for them and for the services as well. Both services are already undertaking significant work, and I'm committed to continuing to engage with them on that to make sure that we make the progress or they make the progress needed, as I said to Sioned, to provide that all-important independent assurance not just to their workforce, but that public assurance and public confidence as well.

Thank you, Minister. In your statement you also said the commissioners will remain until the work is finished. So, what does a finished job look like?

Diolch. Altaf. As we said, the commissioners have an arduous and complicated job ahead of them but one that is incredibly important as well. One of the things I said previously is that they would remain in post for as long as necessary, and until all the appropriate recommendations have been implemented and that staff morale and motivation improved significantly, and, all importantly, actually sustainably as well. The Fenella Morris KC report actually set out an 18-month framework for those recommendations to be implemented. So, as a starting point, we're working to those recommendations—to that framework, sorry. At this point, we could say it will be likely that we'll in a position where we'd be able to confidently withdraw commissioners when all those recommendations from the chief fire and rescue advisers have been fully implemented, when workforce inclusiveness and staff morale and satisfaction have been not just demonstratively but sustainably improved to an acceptable level, but then also, going back to the inquiry of this committee, when arrangements have been put in place for the FRA to be able to provide appropriate leadership and to hold a stable and effective senior management team to account. And, as I said previously, in my updates to the Senedd, I will continue to keep the Senedd updated, but I am happy to continue to keep this committee updated as you go through your inquiry work.

Thank you. There have been several notable cases in national institutions and public sector bodies involving cultural issues, misogyny and discrimination in Wales recently. Is this symptomatic of a broader, systemic problem? How does the Welsh Government intend to tackle the underlying issues? And how will the Welsh Government ensure those working in senior positions within the public sector are not complicit in misogyny and discriminatory behaviours?

Thank you, Altaf. As we've previously discussed here today, and in the Senedd Chamber, sadly, many of the abhorrent incidents and behaviours that were shone a light on in the south Wales fire and rescue culture review are reflective of behaviours elsewhere and ones that are systemic and endemic across society and life. But that doesn't mean we should tolerate or accept it, and that's certainly not what we're doing with our intervention with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. But, as I said in the Chamber, it raises lessons not just for south Wales, not just for other fire and rescue services, but across society and across the public sector, because I think we have to think as a Government and as a Senedd where we have the levers, where we have the ability to make that biggest difference. Now, that could be—. It goes back to the things we do with an inclusive curriculum in education and also in terms of what we can do pan-public-sector in Wales. So, whilst I can't update the committee on the detail at this stage, I want to provide assurance that there is some work going on across Government about, actually, the lessons learnt from those other examples that Altaf references, and what more can be done to strengthen those arrangements in terms of expectations and tolerance and how things are dealt with and responded to at not just senior levels, but throughout public sector organisations, as well.

12:00

Okay. I just want to come back to the fire and rescue services. You've spent considerable time, over the last five years, trying to take people with you on improving the governance arrangements in fire and rescue services. In the meantime, the culture review has exposed some really serious failures of governance, which also reflects the lack of efficiency and effectiveness in the governance arrangements. There are two issues that arise from that. One is: are these exclusive to south Wales or do they also extend to the other two authorities? You've said that you've been having discussions with the chairs and chief executives of those other two authorities, but how do you know whether whatever assurances they've given you stand up?

As I said, we know that the impetus, shall we say, for why we're having this conversation today is what has happened with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service and the intervention that was made there in response to those serious and systemic management failings there in terms of the processes and support that was in place. But, like we said before, we can't pretend that such problems could never exist elsewhere. So, you referred to the correspondence and the meetings that I've had with the chairs and chiefs of the other fire and rescue authorities. I've said on the record in the Chamber before that I'm certainly not prepared to be complacent about what needs to be done elsewhere, but we're trying to work with those authorities to make sure that that independent assurance is in place. I think that's very, very important, having the independent assurance in place. And that work is going to continue, and I hope to be in a position to give more detail and a further update to the Senedd very soon.

Okay. And would you accept that, after five years of your involvement and at least 10 years of concerns being raised about the governance structures in fire and rescue services, no change is not an option?

I would absolutely think that there is a strong case for change. The position that we're in now—and I don't think it's just because of South Wales Fire and Rescue Service—and where, perhaps, local authority partners are now, and the WLGA, there is a moment now where we can work in that way, actually. Because, if you're looking at significant change, then, actually, Chair, you said it yourself, about bringing people with you, and I think we do have an opportunity now to bring people with us, to engage them in this change and actually to get meaningful change not just in terms of governance, but potentially around how we fund our fire and rescue services in the future.

Allaf i jest ofyn, o ystyried y problemau posib gall fod mewn awdurdodau eraill o ran yr angen i adfer hyder y cyhoedd a hyder y gweithluoedd, a hefyd rŷn ni wedi gweld achosion tebyg yn digwydd yn Lloegr, fel y soniwyd ynghynt, pam nad ydych chi o blaid cynnal adolygiad annibynnol o'r ddau wasanaeth arall yng Nghymru, yn yr un modd ag a wnaed yn ne Cymru?

Could I just ask, given the possible problems that could exist in other authorities in terms of the need to restore public confidence and workforce confidence, and, also, we've seen similar cases in England, as has already been mentioned, why aren't you in favour of holding an independent review of the two other services in Wales, as was done in south Wales?

We haven't ruled out an independent review of other fire and rescue authorities or other services in Wales. I think it goes back to the balance between actually making sure that we do have that assurance, and I absolutely recognise that we need to have that independent assurance not just for the workforce, but for the public as well. And going back to the point the Chair made about trying to do that in a collegiate way, the work that we're doing with the other authorities is for them to take that step to do that work and provide that assurance, to build on the steps that they already are taking, and I think it's an opportunity for them to demonstrate the steps that they have taken on the back of these reports already—the one from England—and the process that they've started to put in place. But, actually, it's for them then to say, 'We want to make sure we do have that independence that people feel, and that our workforce and the public are assured.' That's something that I am working very closely with them on to achieve the ends that you're referring to, Sioned, but to actually work with them to do it.

12:05

Ac ydych chi'n edrych ar beth sy'n digwydd yn Lloegr? Sut mae'r drefn o adolygu yn wahanol i'r hyn sydd wedi digwydd yn Lloegr?

And are you looking at what's happening in England? How is the review process different to what's happened in England?

I think the action that the Minister has taken, as she's stated previously, is unprecedented and is, indeed, to the fullest extent of the powers that are available to any Minister across the UK. So, I think, in that respect, Wales is leading the way in taking really assertive action to tackle the issues that have been highlighted. I think, in that respect, and by way of giving advice, I'm not sure I could—. The Minister has taken on board all of the advice that officials have given in terms of taking the action that is most likely to be effective and to deliver the outcomes that I think everyone is expecting to see, and setting some leadership there for the rest of the public sector.

I would agree with Mr Stephens. Minister, you've already said, in response to Ken Skates, that it's not appropriate for a role for the police and crime commissioners in the future of the fire and rescue services, not until and unless policing were to be devolved to Wales. But what about viewing emergency services in a wider aspect around, for example, the ambulance service? If I'm having a heart attack on a country road, I don't really care who's coming to save my life, whether it's somebody from the ambulance service or somebody from the fire service. Given that the ambulance service is very much devolved, what thought has the Welsh Government given to having a broader emergency service that, obviously, would exclude the police for the time being?

On the point around a broad emergency service in terms of the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust and fire and rescue services, to my knowledge, there hasn't been consideration of that as a whole-scale change, if, Chair, you're talking about things like mergers or things like that. I think that would be, perhaps, for a future First Minister or a future programme for government, because a change on that scale would probably need to a democratic decision on it. But there are things that have been done and can be done without a change on that scale, and that links to, like you say, absolutely, if you're having a cardiac arrest, it's whoever is best placed geographically, but with the skills and expertise to be able to respond to that and, hopefully, save your life, which is why the focus has been, previously, on the function of the fire and rescue service in terms of broadening that role. One of the key elements of broadening the role is responding to cardiac arrests, and we know there have been, particularly in mid and west Wales—. Dan might be able to expand on that in terms of the work that they've done in responding in that way as first responders too.

Of the three Welsh services, the mid and west Wales fire and rescue have an extant service level agreement with the Welsh ambulance service trust to undertake responses to certain incident types alongside the Welsh ambulance service trust. So, to be very clear, they're not going instead of them; they're going alongside them to examples such as out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and also to non-injured falls.

Okay. I understand the south Wales fire and rescue service and WAST jointly manage community responder services. Could you just explain what that involves? That was a reference in the Williams report.

Sorry, Chair, the only—. Back in around 2016, there was a national trial under the auspices of the national joint council, which I believe the three fire rescue services in Wales were involved in, which did involve the response to out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, but it's only the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service that have maintained what is essentially that service level agreement with the Welsh ambulance service trustFootnoteLink. To be clear, that is predominantly delivered from their more rural stations—so, areas where the Welsh ambulance service trust wouldn't routinely have the same level of presence that they would, say, in the more built-up areas, say, for example, Swansea, Neath Port Talbot.

12:10

Of course, you do have instances of the shared control rooms, and also the co-location of stations. Thank you, Chair.

Yes, sorry. Given that we've got a little bit of time, just following up on that issue about mid and west Wales, for example, I just wonder why there isn't consistency across the three fire authorities to look at the opportunities here, given that we know that the Welsh ambulance service is really stretched. I've seen it in action here as well, and it does seem to work. So, what are the options? I know it doesn't form part of our scrutiny here.

And I've just got one really quick follow-up, which is that we've got three fire and rescue authorities across Wales, and I'm assuming that there is no intention to have one fire and rescue authority, that you're not looking at merging all three in the future. Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Yes. On the first point in terms of—. Jane Dodds makes a really salient point around the three fire and rescue services in Wales and mid and west doing certain things and what's happening elsewhere. And this is the work that we've been trying to do to get that agreement around what a broadened role would look like, to have consistency across the services across Wales as well, and at the same time, like you said, actually then support some of these pressures on the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust. We've had those formal conversations with partners to get to a point where we had, prior to the Senedd election, support for, in essence, the kind of scope of what the outline would look like for broadening the role. Clearly, there's going to be a challenge now in terms of the cost of what that might look like in the future, and to press ahead with that, then we would need to have, as you would expect, the appropriate negotiations, discussions with the representative trade unions as part of that.

But just anecdotally, when I've—. I try my best to get out of Cardiff Bay as much as possible, and to meet with the services, but also to meet with front-line staff as well. I met not too long ago with a group of relatively new recruits at Rhyl fire station, and they wanted me to talk a bit about the work of the Welsh Government. So, I talked about the ambitions of broadening the role with them, and those new recruits were all very enthusiastic about what that would mean for them; they would embrace that. But I also think if we think about the long term—. We're talking about governance here and the governance structures and rightly making sure that there is accountability and transparency, but also if you're thinking about the long-term sustainability of the service, then actually that kind of broadening of the role has to be part of that as well.

And to finish on Jane Dodds's question about a merger of the three fire and rescue services in Wales, I think if you go back to look at some of the readouts from earlier consultations on changes in governance and reform, one of the main bugbears in the fire and rescue authority's response—because it came out, I think, around the time that a similar merger was taking place in Scotland—is that they thought the Welsh Government had a hidden agenda to create one fire and rescue service in Wales. I think that wasn't on the cards then and, to my knowledge, it isn't now, but it's for the committee to look at what they think would be best moving forward.

Okay. But has the Government ruled out radical reform on the grounds that it would need to be tested at the ballot box before you did it?

So, I think at this point, I think—. As I said to you, I very much welcome the work the committee's doing, and that of Audit Wales in terms of the governance, but also looking at the function as well as form, and then the funding of fire and rescue authorities. At the moment, I would say that reform of that scale isn't on the table, because of where we are in terms of actually going back to, Chair, what you said about working collegiately and bringing people with us as well, so that is off the table, but also in terms of where we are in terms of the pressures on the public purse as well.

Okay. Clearly, no change is not an option, whatever is decided and is considered the best option. Thank you very much indeed for your contributions today. We're clearly going to be taking evidence from a great many other stakeholders, and hopefully that is going to inform our recommendations on what the next steps need to be. But, whatever the next steps are, they need to happen and they need to happen fast. That's what the public will be wanting. Thank you. You'll obviously get the transcript of your contributions, and you're obviously keenly encouraged to ensure that they are accurate. Thank you very much for your attendance today.

12:15
4. Cynnig o dan Reolau Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix) i wahardd y cyhoedd o’r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitemau 5, 8 a 9
4. Motion under Standing Orders 17.42(vi) and (ix) to exclude the public from items 5, 8 and 9 of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod ar gyfer eitemau 5, 8 a 9 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 5, 8 and 9 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

I want to just ask, now, Members to exclude the public for items 5, 8 and 9 of today's meeting. Before we do that, I just want to remind the public that we are going to be taking evidence to follow up our childcare inquiry, starting at 1.30 p.m. So, anybody, obviously, is very welcome to join us for that. In the meantime, would Members agree to enable us to exclude the public from items 5, 8 and 9 of today's meeting?

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:16.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:16.

13:30

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 13:33.

The committee reconvened in public at 13:33.

6. Ymchwiliad dilynol ar ofal plant: sesiwn dystiolaeth 1
6. Childcare follow-up inquiry: evidence session 1

Prynhawn da. Welcome back to the Equality and Social Justice Committee. I've had apologies from Altaf Hussain, otherwise, all Members are present.

So, this afternoon, we are starting our follow-up childcare inquiry and we particularly want to try and identify elements of good practice that we ought to be considering why we're not adopting them, rather than dwelling overly on the issues that are ensuring that it's not working at the moment for parents. And, thank you, we've had several written papers, including from Dr Dallimore. Dr Dallimore is joining us online, who used to work at Bangor University and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research. Welcome. We've got Hayli Gibson, head of early years, childcare and play from Pembrokeshire County Council. Welcome. And Janet Kelly, chair of trustees for Sparkle Cymru. Welcome as well. Thank you, all three of you, for making yourselves available. I wondered—. Since we did our last inquiry, which we published at the beginning of 2022, what key changes have occurred that—? Obviously, there have been the cost-of-living pressures. Apart from those challenges, are there key changes that have occurred to improve the childcare situation? I don't know who would like to go first. I don't know, Hayli, would you like, as the grass-roots representative of a local authority, to perhaps start us off on that one?

13:35

Yes. Since 2022, we've now moved forward from those recommendations to the Flying Start expansion, so we've seen the introduction of that from September last year, and that has definitely made an impact for those families. I know we don't want to look at the difficulties. I think the expansion is slowly rolling out for different postcoded areas, and definitely we can see the increase of those places being taken up.

That's good, but obviously it's a very fragmented picture and quite difficult for parents to understand what they are or aren't entitled to. How does Pembrokeshire help the individual family understand what they're entitled to and what might be available for them locally where they live?

For us in Pembrokeshire—. And I must say every local authority is very, very different. But in Pembrokeshire I'm the head of an integrated team. Across the country it's been set up very differently, but, for Pembrokeshire itself, we have Flying Start, the non-maintained, which is the early education, the non-funded childcare, the early years ALN, family information service and the childcare offer. They all sit underneath myself. So, we're all working as one team, and, as part of that, I have one grants officer. She overseas both the Flying Start grant, the foundation learning grant and the childcare offer, so she has that information wholly to herself. When she's going out, she gives that information to parents, and we're working with parents from the beginning. So, I would say the difficulty is the three different elements. It would be easier if we had one funding stream from two-year-olds upwards. But, because of the situation we're in, she's there to help those families centrally navigate which funding is available for them.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi am siarad yn Gymraeg—gofyn cwestiwn yn Gymraeg. Dwi eisiau jest dilyn i fyny ar hynny, os gwelwch chi'n dda. Dwi'n cynrychioli sir Benfro, lle gwledig iawn, felly gaf i ofyn ichi sut mae'n gweithio yn ymarferol? Ydy rhieni jest yn dweud, 'Mae angen inni gael lle i fy mhlant i neu fy mhlentyn i,' a dŷch chi'n dweud, 'Wel, dyma'r opsiynau'? Dwi eisiau jest deall dipyn bach sut mae'n gweithio, yn enwedig mewn lle mor wledig fel sir Benfro, a dwi'n cynrychioli gorllewin a chanolbarth Cymru. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Thank you. I'm going to speak Welsh—I'll ask a question in Welsh. I just wanted to follow up on that, please. I represent Pembrokeshire, which is a very rural area, so could I ask you how does it work in practice? Do parents just say, 'We need a place for our child or children,' and you say, 'Well, these are the options'? I just want to understand how it works, particularly in such a rural area as Pembrokeshire, and I represent Mid and West Wales as well. Thank you very much.

It depends on the child's age, I would say. Most parents, especially if they've got babies, have entered already or might be using a day nursery or a child minder, but those—. There are two different cases: whether a child is already accessing childcare and the parents have made that decision from when they're very, very young, so they've entered a day nursery or a child minder; or, if they're looking for childcare, then they come through to ourselves, which is a family information service, and we will give them a list of childcare provisions with which ones have funding, which ones don't have funding attached, because some settings have to go through the accreditation. So, for example, in Pembrokeshire, we have 72 registered childcare providers with Care Inspectorate Wales—that's playgroups, cylchoedd meithrin and day nurseries and after-school care—and we have then 52 child minders. Not all of them deliver the foundation learning. Not all of them deliver the childcare offer—even though it's on offer to them, some have decided not to take that up—and, again, not all of them deliver Flying Start, whether its the existing or whether it's a Flying Start expansion, because those settings need to be within a pram-push of the family. So, that's why not all settings are included. But our cylchoedd meithrin are mainly in the rural parts of our county, and all bar one deliver foundation learning there. And the families, to get that information, access our website. We also have radio adverts, for example, with west Wales radio, and bus et cetera. So, we do a lot of marketing, and it's my grants officer that carries that out.

13:40

Ie, jest un cwestiwn byr: felly, mae i fyny i rieni, i ddweud y gwir, i wneud y gwaith—ydy hynny'n wir? Ac os ydy o'n wir, oes yna system arall dŷch chi'n meddwl bydd yn gweithio fydd ddim yn dibynnu ar y rhieni yn gwneud y gwaith?

Just one brief question: so, it's up to the parents, in truth, to do the work—is that true? And if it is true, is there another system that you think could work that wouldn't rely on the parents doing all the work?

I think it's down to parental choice. So, parents need to choose. Some parents may choose to have their childcare provision where they live, but some parents may choose to have their childcare provision where they work, so, again, spend more time with the child in the car travelling. So, I wouldn't want us to tell parents where they've got to have their childcare; I really do think it's down to parental choice, for them to make that decision, and for them to go and visit the settings, because you do get a feel. What you read in an inspection report of one of the inspectorates is very, very different than that feel that you get when you walk through the door and you know that setting's right for you, and mainly for your child.

Yes. Those are absolutely crucial, that families can decide based on their personal circumstances. But, obviously, some people don't have a car and therefore it's much more challenging for them to take their child to where they're working. And if the child has got additional learning needs or other additional health needs, how much does the local authority support families who are probably even more busy and stressed than any family with small children? How do they get to find out about the specialist provision that will ensure that their child gets the early education childcare?

It's very different, again, for every local authority, but, in Pembrokeshire, I do think we've got it right. So, for us, we have notifications from health, so, if there's a child with an emerging need, we may get a section 64 in, so we would know—

It's a notification from the ALN code. So, that's a notification from health to the local authority to say that this child has an emerging additional learning need. So, if we've got those, we might be working—. We have those very early on, from notification—some of them, they're not, and that might be because health's not involved with them at that stage. It can also come from a parent or it can come from any other professional as well, working with that family. So, it's notifying the local authority. We then, once we've received that, have a person-centred meeting around the child, to meet that child's need. So, again, we do have a list. We can't direct a parent to go to that setting, but we would have a list, most definitely, of where those children would be accommodated, looking at their needs as well.

We have set up one specialist provision within the county, but that's down in the south of the county, and it can be very, very difficult, but the money for local authorities is very, very restricted around ALN. So, for example, we've got the Flying Starts and we have the foundation learning and we have the childcare offer, and they have some element of award towards support, then, for a child with an additional learning need or disability. But we've also got children who are not in that non-funded catchment, but Pembrokeshire do still capture those children and provide exactly the same support to those children as it would be whether it was a funded child or not. But I can't say that's the same across the whole of Wales, and maybe that's something that does need to be looked at, that there's a set system for any child anywhere they live in Wales.

Dr Dallimore, I know you wanted to come in. Was this on special needs, because if—? Fine. I'll come back to you in a minute. Janet Kelly, obviously Sparkle is an excellent centre for good practice for people with additional needs. How do you liaise with local authorities to ensure that the children and the families you serve are getting a service that's appropriate for that child?

13:45

Jenny, just can I say straight off that we're not a childcare provider as such? When you stated when we first came in that you didn't want to talk about what goes wrong, I guess I bring more evidence of what parents tell us, as opposed to—. Because we're not childcare providers. We provide leisure activities, which I think you're aware of, and enhanced leisure clubs. And we have got—I've got a report here—

After-school facilities, which is childcare in some ways; it's not childcare childcare, but it is childcare. It's 1.5 hours' childcare for parents who want to go and shop or take their kids somewhere else or get their hair cut or do something else. So—

Okay. [Laughter.] So, what would you like to hear from Sparkle? 

Well, I think it's really: how does the excellent provision that you have for people with additional needs, or children with additional needs—? How do you liaise with your local authorities, because you're on the cusp of two? 

That's a really good question. I'm not sure if you're aware that recently we've run into some funding difficulties. Like many other charities—ours is a small charity—we rely 99 per cent on donations and grants, mostly grants. Most of the local authorities don't give us any funding at all for the services that we run, and we've had to cut some of the services that we provide recently because of our funding challenges. Newport gives us some funding and Caerphilly has recently given us some holiday funding, but the huge range of clubs that we run in term time, Monday to Friday and at the weekends, are purely funded from non-statutory funding. 

So, we have approached our local authority colleagues, and often the response is that the Families First funding is either spent for the next couple of years, or they have integrated facilities in the community that our children are welcome to join. But one of the key reasons why we've run into some financial difficulty is because the numbers of children that we're able to see have dropped because of the level of complexity of the children that we do see. And therefore it's costing us more to see fewer children. 

So, we have many, many children who come to see us who have 1:1 or 2:1, and who could not—. And we've lots of anecdotal evidence from parents of having tried local authority provision but their child just wasn't able to sustain it because of behavioural challenges, often, or specific health needs that weren't able to be catered for. We cater for—. We have contact with over 900 families. We provide services for over 200 children on a weekly basis. We've got 160 children on a waiting list at the moment. So, if leisure is childcare, then there are 160 children in Gwent who are not accessing leisure for the little bit of childcare that it might give their parents if they were able to drop them off at a club.

And lots of parents—. We have very powerful stories from families who tell us that most families can drop their child off on a Saturday to football and then they can go for a couple of hours and they can do their shopping or do whatever they have to do. Well, our parents really struggle to do that, and often the local authority provision that is there requires them to stay with their child, and they don't want to be in a provision where they have to stay with their child; they want to be in a provision where they can leave their child. Obviously, with Sparkle, they can leave their child for an hour and a half fully confident that their child is understood and will be well looked after and cared for, and not just cared for but enabled to learn skills and participate in meaningful activities by leisure support workers who are extremely highly trained.

So, our liaison with our local authority partners is less than we would want it to be, and, as I say, Newport is the main local authority that gives us funding for—. I think it's four clubs that we run, the funding comes from Newport. 

Yes, we cover all five local authorities for Gwent, but—. 

Okay. Fine. Thank you very much for that; that's very useful information. Dr Dallimore, the service that Janet Kelly has described is quite unusual and not widely available, and your paper indicates that you're not happy with the way that the current roll-out is happening. So, I wondered if you could just elaborate a little bit more on how it could be done differently, given that we don't have an endless pile of money, unfortunately, with a much-reduced budget in the coming year.

13:50

Yes, and I think that's the elephant in the room. It is immensely challenging to be able to change the system as it is. However, what we’ve got at the moment, and what Hayli described very effectively from a local authority perspective, in terms of them being able to give parents advice, is this piecemeal funding approach, which is just really complicated for parents. We know that it makes it difficult for them to understand what they’re entitled to claim and what would be best for them financially. The eligibility criteria also make this very complicated, because some elements of funding are based on income, some on working status, some on the age of the child, as Hayli said, and that can extend to residential status as well. And then, with the roll-out of Flying Start, obviously we’ve got a geographical scheme that, until it becomes national, will be geographically based and will ultimately be a bit of a postcode lottery.

I think the notion of parental choice is something that we also need to be quite wary of in terms of this field, because certainly not all parents have choice. The availability of childcare and early years services across Wales can be quite patchy, and certainly my own research a number of years ago, which focused on informal childcare, highlighted the fact that lots of parents fall back on informal childcare. So, it’s usually grandparents that are taking up the slack, because it’s too complicated, or because they don’t have the services available in their locality, where they actually need them. And it becomes quite tricky, because the more that parents use informal care, the less incentive there is for providers to come forward and set up businesses to meet the demand, because the demand just isn’t there.

So, I think it’s the complexity of funding that could be sorted. Certainly, I’m very keen on the expansion of Flying Start, because that’s a model that can be built upon that provides higher quality services, because of the way that Flying Start eligibility for providers is constructed, and does focus on a child-centred approach and also a multi-agency approach. I think that’s critical to think about in your discussions, where we talk about the long-term impact that really good co-ordinated early childhood services can have on children and young people’s adult opportunities.

If we’re talking about tackling poverty, then in the longer term, the early years is the place to start. I think there was a Public Health Wales report that was highlighted this week, saying that international evidence suggests that a good multi-agency integrated approach, such as we have in Flying Start, is the way to go. I suppose the challenge is how Flying Start can be rolled out in time to benefit families and children in the short term, because with challenges around funding, obviously that’s going to be difficult. But it’s about filling this gap between the end of maternity pay and the start of fully funded education where Flying Start has the potential to fill a big hole, and also to perhaps reduce some of the piecemeal funding approach that we already have in Wales, where some of it is devolved, and some of the levers are still maintained by UK Government.

Thank you. Well, it's very good to have on the record that endorsement for the expansion of Flying Start, and particularly the requirements for providers to meet certain standards, because that's absolutely crucial.

Can I also just add on that? Just on Flying Start, there is some misconception perhaps around some of the intentions as to why Flying Start has been expanded as opposed to putting money into other types of setting, and that comes from really strong evidence from other countries in Europe where universal provision has been developed. And what has been found is that, rather than targeting children from deprived areas, for example, or who are living in poverty, actually, children benefit the most from integrated provision. So, that means that children from all backgrounds come together, and that benefits the most deprived children the most. If they are just with other deprived children, the research has been shown that they benefit less. And so, again, that's a really good reason for developing a universal service, such as Flying Start, that can cater for all children.

13:55

Thank you. That's really important. Shall I bring in Sarah Murphy, at this stage, because we want to continue this line of discussion?

Thank you all for being here this afternoon. I'm going to ask some questions now about breaking down barriers to accessing childcare. To start with—to ask you all, really—to what extent does childcare provision meet the needs of the families from different socioeconomic and demographic groups? And which groups do you think are particularly disadvantaged in accessing childcare, and how could this be addressed? Who would like to go first?

Can I just say, we had a recent event—well, it was in the summer—with Jayne Bryant, and it was the Children, Young People and Education Committee? And we had the most parents I think I'd ever seen in a room in Serennu. We offered to host the event, and we had somewhere between 30 and 40 parents. It was a huge turnout. A lot of the meeting was about education and about childcare, but there was a huge focus from our disabled parents who were there about not being able to work because they had disabled children, and not being able to access adequate childcare for their children. And there were some really heartbreaking stories of families who were promised that a nursery would be able to accommodate their child, they'd arranged to go back to work, and the day that they were due to go back to work, the nursery said they couldn't cope with their child and they had to take them home and look after them.

There were parents in the room who said that they were highly qualified parents, who'd held down really professional jobs before they had a child with a disability, and that their lives and the lives of their whole families were completely changed because of the lack of childcare opportunities, and the difficulty with accessing appropriate childcare for children with significant levels of disability. I just wanted to get that, on behalf of that group of parents, that—

—accessing childcare is a particular issue.

Absolutely. I was going to come to that as well. Would you be able to tell the committee, then, what approaches would help most in widening access to childcare for children with disabilities?

I'm not a childcare provider, and it's not the angle that I come from. My experience is working with children and families with disabilities. I do think that, from our perspective, some—. You said that leisure is childcare, and we're in the business of providing leisure. It might not be enough childcare for some families, but, for some families, it is the childcare provision that actually makes the difference between coping on a day-to-day basis and not coping on a day-to-day basis, and families have told us that. We also take children away for residential two and three-nighters, so that is childcare on a longer term basis.

I do think, and we do, as a charity, feel that more structured commissioning arrangements with our local authority colleagues to run a wider range of groups and clubs for the children who are sat on the waiting list, and for the children who cannot access integrated local provision, would be really helpful. Because we can employ as many and train as many leisure support workers as we have money for, and we can run as many groups as we have opportunities to do so, and we know that parents really value that, not just for their child, but for themselves as well.

So, we do believe that, and this latest financial crisis, this challenge that we've hit in funding all the—. We need to bring in about £800,000 a year to run all the activities that we currently run. We've reached a position where we were losing £50,000 a month, which was, obviously, unsustainable, which is why we had the consultation. But if we had more sustainable funding, if we had more commissioned arrangements—. Because our belief as well is that these children are entitled to that leisure facility, and I can't believe that they're not being discriminated against if they can't access something in the community that is good enough to meet their needs, where a parent can actually walk away. We've got so many stories from parents who say that, after their experience of trying to integrate their child in a community leisure facility, for weeks they would sit in Sparkle, in Serennu, waiting for their child until they were absolutely confident that they could walk away and that their child was in really good hands, and that it wasn't the same provision as they had tried to access in the community.

So, that would help, if you count leisure as childcare, for us to have more structured commissioning arrangements with the local authorities. I hope that answers your question. 

14:00

Thank you very much. Yes, that's a really helpful suggestion. Dr Dallimore, would you like to come in on this as well, looking at the particular groups that you feel are disadvantaged, and how that can be addressed?

Yes. I think I touched earlier on the geographical disparities that there are, and particularly in rural areas we know that it's difficult for parents. And again, coming back to the rates of use of informal childcare, we find that in more rural areas, amongst Welsh-speaking communities, for example, and amongst some other groups, rates of informal care are much, much higher and quite often that's to do with both accessibility, but also a preference by some parents for informal care, particularly those who want to transmit the Welsh language, where they perceive that, actually, their child being cared for by a Welsh-speaking grandparent will give them an advantage in terms of language acquisition.

So, there are issues such as that which complicate things, but certainly the geographical disparities that there are across Wales. And we've seen over the last few years quite a significant drop in the number of child minders, and they tended to be the bedrock of support in some rural areas where it's difficult for full day-care provision, for example, to be developed. And that gap is quite concerning, I think, for some in those areas.

We've got some limited evidence around the take-up of childcare by children from ethnic minority groups. That tends to be quite focused—or the evidence that we have certainly is focused—on more urban areas, Cardiff in particular, and the difficulties that some of those groups have in accessing provision. Although I would probably say that their experience isn't too removed from that of other people living in those areas that are not from minority groups. 

Tackling this, I think, is where universalism—which I've talked about before—is really the key and that we have to have a universal offer in the early years to make it accessible. And that has to be accessible across geography and across different socioeconomic groups.

Thank you very much. Can I also ask Janet as well about the Sparkle Cymru report? You raised direct payments as a potential option, but also then highlighted that becoming a potential employer also creates challenges for families. So, it would be helpful for the committee to understand what support should be offered to families to make direct payments a more attractive option in cases where this would represent the best solution.

I think that's a really good question and I'm not sure I have the answer to it, but I think families need support. Families find it a minefield. What most families report to us is that they often don't know where to start, or they're in the middle of something and they don't know how to continue. And I think that if you're going to have direct payments—. Because families are really stressed. I think that's the one thing I really feel about families with children with disabilities is that they are more stressed than even we think they are, or even we know that they are. And often, the idea of employing somebody is just an extra stress.

A lot of our leisure support workers sometimes take up the offer of direct payments from families because they know that that leisure support worker knows that child, or they know and trust that if they come from Sparkle they're well trained. So, I think our leisure support workers do make good direct payment workers for those children on Saturdays and Sundays. And I know we had one family who had an extremely difficult 16-year-old who said the only people who could manage their young person, who had extremely challenging behaviour, were these very young leisure support workers who were just so experienced and just treated this young man as a young man who needed some outside-of-his-own-home kinds of experiences. 

So, I think what families often describe is that the offer might be there, but how to access it, how to manage it, I think, is often really difficult. And sometimes it's just that step too far for them. So, I think they need support. I think these families need more support than we think they do. 

Thank you. And Hayli, you've heard there lots of different questions and I was wondering what your thoughts were on all of this, and how do you address them in your role?

14:05

I want to come in on both sides, actually—one for practitioners and then one as the local authority. I think, for practitioners, it's a fear of getting it wrong. When they have a child with an additional need that's being presented to them, it's a fear that they don't know fully how to manage those children, even though that support is going to be there to support them. Staff shortage—again, there is a staff shortage across the childcare sector completely, whether it's Welsh medium or English medium, and also trying to get somebody in with those qualities to support children with additional learning needs is extremely hard. I also think that a lot of the childcare provisions are in very old community halls, so the environment might not be right for a child with, maybe, social communication or with hearing aids, where they've got radio aids as well—so, the acoustics within there. I also think it's down to funding and money. So, for example, the ALN code is in place for nought to 25. As local authorities, as I've said, we only receive funding for those childcare funding streams, which is from Flying Start.

We have had a case in Pembrokeshire of a working parent who is in education herself and a teacher, and she has a young person with cerebral palsy, visual impairment and feeding difficulties. We have no money to fund that child, but we put into place an individual development plan. But there's no funding for the local authority against that, but we have provided it. But that child's in childcare for 30 hours plus. We haven't got that funding. That parent is then paying for the other 20 hours additional childcare, but she's also paying for a one-to-one out of her own—. And that then puts that parent in work in poverty. We wish we could pay for more hours, but, unfortunately, financially, we don't have any funding as a local authority for children under two. 

Thank you very much. That's all very, very helpful and enlightening. Thank you, Chair. 

Could I just add that this is a story that I've heard numerous times from providers themselves? I was with a provider in the Cynon valley recently, where they are very accepting, they're very inclusive and they have quite a significant number of children with additional needs, and, partly, that's because they've gained a reputation for being able to do that. But it's getting to the point where it's actually affecting their business model, because they need to recruit or they need to fundraise—they are a voluntary organisation—and they need to fundraise to recruit and support extra staff or volunteers, and that has a cost, and that means that they're having to pass that cost on to all parents. And there comes a point where they were saying that it becomes unsustainable for them. Even though they want to continue to be very inclusive, they find it very hard.

Yes. Thank you very much. I visited Cerebral Palsy headquarters recently, and they told me very much a similar story. So, thank you very much. Thank you, Chair. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi am ofyn yr un cwestiwn i chi i gyd, os ydy hynny'n iawn. Mae'r pwyllgor yma, y prynhawn yma, eisiau clywed atebion. Rŷn ni eisiau clywed syniadau sy'n gallu ein helpu ni i symud yr agenda ymlaen, ac rŷn ni'n gwybod bod gennych chi i gyd brofiadau gwahanol. Felly, a gaf i ofyn i chi beth ydy'r rhwystrau sy'n ein stopio ni rhag cael system sy'n gweithio, yn gweithio i'r plant, yn gweithio i rieni hefyd? A beth ydych chi wedi ei weld sydd wedi dweud wrthych chi fod hynna'n gweithio? Er enghraifft, dwi'n gwybod, Dr Dallimore, eich bod chi wedi gwneud ymchwil i'r system yn Nenmarc a Sweden hefyd. Felly, a gaf i ofyn yr un cwestiwn i chi i gyd? Beth ydy'r ateb, os oes gennych chi—. If you've got a blank sheet, fel beth fyddai o'n edrych? Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dwi ddim yn gwybod pwy sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf. Efallai, Dr Dallimore, eich bod chi eisiau mynd yn gyntaf. 

Thank you very much. I'd like to ask you all the same question, if that's okay. This committee, this afternoon, wants to hear solutions. We want to hear ideas that can help us progress this agenda, and we know that you all have different experiences. So, could I ask you what are the barriers that prevent us from having a system that works for children and that works for parents as well? And what have you seen that has told you that that works? I know, Dr Dallimore, that you've done some research on the Danish system and the Swedish system. And so, could I ask you the same question? What is the solution? If you have a blank sheet of paper, what would you write on it? I don't know who wants to go first. Maybe, Dr Dallimore, you'd like to go first. 

Yes, I'm happy to. Diolch. We need to have some clarity of vision and purpose, first of all. For me, that's easy to do. It doesn't cost any money, but it's something that's sorely lacking in this field at the moment. I always find it ironic that, in Wales, we have a phenomenal record on children's rights. We've adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and, in many ways, we do take a very holistic view of childhood, but when it comes to the early years and childcare in particular, that doesn't seem to be there. A lot of the evidence that you will hear in this committee is around childcare for working parents, but that's only really a very small part, and it's almost, I think, a by-product of what a good early childhood system should be providing.

We have some quite fundamental divisions and splits within our approach to the early years—the fact that we have two regulators, that we still have split ministerial responsibility across care and education, and we don't seem to be able to have a vision for how we perceive childhood in many ways. That is, perhaps, the biggest difference between our approach in the UK and the approach of some of the Nordic countries, where childhood is valued in, perhaps, a different way and where children start school at a much later date, at a much later age, and the early years are valued as an intrinsic time for children to be children and to be valued as children, not as supporting the economic activity of their parents. Although, if we had a really good system that was able to support them and be able to allow children to be nurtured and encouraged and develop in ways that we know the early years can facilitate, then we could please everybody. But it's that clarity of purpose, I think, that is missing, and also some kind of discussion around what we're trying to deliver for children. I fully believe that, by getting caught up in just talking about childcare, we're kind of missing the point here, and the value—again, coming back to the value—of investing in the early years as a means of tackling lifelong disadvantage, not just short-term poverty issues related to employment.

14:10

I'm just happy to come in and agree with Dr Dallimore. For me, we've got two different policy agendas—there's the quality of the childcare and early years, and then we've got the working economics of the parents. For me, Flying Start has been sector leading and a real flagship for Wales, but what I think has happened over the last couple of decades is that different early years policies have been coming in, and, if I use an analogy that we use, it's like a football and you keep adding something on and eventually that ball will stop rolling because we've got so many add-ons. And actually, the early years policy, the whole of early years, needs to be put back into a pot and we need to restructure it and relook at it to make sure that it's working for early years practitioners, local authorities and parents, but most of all for the children, and that we're getting it right. But I do think that it needs a very good overhaul and we need to be working from the same developments, as well, because, as Dr Dallimore said—. We've got an integrated team here within Pembrokeshire, but, actually, I report to three different directorates within the Welsh Government, so it's very, very broken down.

I couldn't agree more with everything that Dr Dallimore has said. Clarity of purpose—I think he's absolutely right. I do think we lack clarity of purpose and it's all become very fragmented and disjointed and I think that's what parents experience. And that's what the experience is for those children. I do think we talk a lot about being child and family centred and I think we're not. I just think we're not. It's such an easy thing to say and such an easy thing to write, and I do not believe, fundamentally, that we are child and family centred.

The other thing is, as well, we don't collaborate enough. You know, the fact that we can't collaborate in Gwent with our own local authorities because their budgets are tied up in different ways and they don't—. If a local authority tells us that they haven't got any money to spend on our clubs, then you have to take them at their word that they haven't got any money, but not to sit down and collaborate and talk about it and say, 'Okay, we have a group of children who are in need of provision. How can we solve this problem together?'—. We'd love to have those kinds of conversations but we never do, because everybody has put the money barrier up, everybody has put up their, 'We've got other pressures and we don't want to be faced with yours'. So, I don't think we talk enough. I don't think we collaborate enough. I don't think we're child and family—. And, therefore, that all leads to the fact that we haven't got clarity of purpose. And I do believe that we could solve—. I wrote in my submission, and I wasn't quite sure if it was okay to write it, that I'm Irish, but I've lived and worked in Wales most of my working life, and we can do better than this. We absolutely can. It's a small country, and we can make our children with disabilities, in particular, the focus of what we do. I've got a nephew who has got quite significant autism who lives in Switzerland, and his experience growing up and where he is now are worlds apart from most of the experiences of children with autism in this country. When I visit him and I look at how well he's done, I just think if they can do it in one country, surely we can do it here as well.

14:15

Diolch yn fawr iawn. That's really helpful. That's all I really wanted to ask. Diolch.

Okay. Let me just pick up on some of the issues that you've raised. Hayli mentioned that staff are anxious about getting it wrong if they've got a child with additional learning needs. Isn't that a training issue that is resolved by giving people the support?

Yes. So, we've put on training, but the difficulty there is that we can put on training, and we've come up with ideas ourselves as a local authority. We have a specialist early years provision that's for children from two to four. It would be great if we could take those children from those community settings and put them into the specialist provision, even for a week, to get that training, but it's actually the backfilling. So, it's backfilling—if I take a member of staff from the cylchoedd meithrin, who is going to go in and fill that place for that person? We haven't got the money to backfill that person to go in there, so they'd have to be paying two staff settings. So, we do training, but they need more in-depth training than a half-morning workshop or a day's training. It needs to be something that's embedded, that they can see in operation, that they can actually access. So, we've come up with a great idea—we could take those, put them into our specialist provision for a week or two, get that training from those specialist people, but it comes down to the money again for backfilling.

Okay, and that's a specific issue, but looking at it from the child's perspective, you mentioned that you've got some specialist provision in, I think you said—

—southern Pembrokeshire. But if the child in need is some distance away, surely the provision's got to be developed with the needs of child X in another community, where there is already childcare provision, so they can—

But, again, it gets tied up with grants. So, the south of our county is majority Flying Start, so it goes down to postcode. I can use those grants to set up that specialist provision. Elsewhere in the county, again, it comes down to local authority money. But what we have done is, from that specialist provision, to make sure, because I believe each child deserves to go to a setting in their community, whether they have medical or complex ALN, they should be going to a setting in their community. So, we have two outreach workers that come from our specialist provision and go to the rest of rural Pembrokeshire to work with the setting and those staff that are working with that child to make sure that we're putting what's correct for that child in there. But I would love another specialist provision, but, again, it's tied up to funding, unfortunately.

Okay, but it really does beg the question of what is the purpose of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 if it doesn't apply to children who are not in the statutory sector? For the child in the statutory sector, if governors aren't providing it, they can be taken to court.

Exactly. Also, what would help, in any revision, is looking at the travel policy. At the moment, the statutory travel policy is for school age. Nobody has included early years. So, again, it might be looking at the travel policy that we've got here in Wales to include early years.

That would help, again, for travel.

There are, but that's why we put those outreach workers from the specially provision into our rural settings in the north of Pembrokeshire, then.

Okay. So, how do we raise the quality and competency of our existing workforce? Is this a qualifications issue? Is it about investing in the backfill to release people? Clearly, we want all our childcare providers to be centres of excellence, because all our children deserve that, but also it is bridging the attainment gap as well for those who—

I don't know if it's a qualification, because, as Janet was talking about the five counties in Gwent, in Pembrokeshire—which comes under me, because I cover play as well—we have that provision, which the local authority run. So, we have a holiday play scheme, which is registered with Care Inspectorate Wales, but unfortunately, I can't operate that this Easter, because the workers for that don't have a playworker qualification. They are highly qualified in complex and additional medical needs, but I can't run it this Easter coming, because they don't have that playworker qualification, and because we operate for six hours a day, we have to be registered with Care Inspectorate Wales. I understand why play is most definitely valuable—I cover play as well—but it needs to be taken into consideration. Actually, is play more important for that additional learning and complex needs holiday play scheme, or actually is it understanding about how that child's PEG fed and how to change that, their medical needs that they need? So, we are faced by difficulties. It might not just be training; it might be through other regulations that are in place.

14:20

We've fallen foul of that as well, particularly with one of our local authorities—I don't want to say which one—who have said that they may be able to make more money available to us to run more clubs if we were CIW registered. For us, that's a huge ask. We already have a workforce of over 120 leisure support workers who handle the most complex children, physically and behaviourally. A bit like Hayli was saying, we have the experience, but we don't have the qualification, and that, for some local authorities, is a barrier to accessing funding.

They have the childcare qualification, it's just that they don't have the playworker qualification.

Dr Dallimore, your paper highlighted that high-quality settings across the UK are those where staff have higher qualifications. That seems to be slightly at variance with what Janet and Hayli are saying, which is that they've got people who are highly qualified to support the needs of individual children, but they don't tick the box. Could you just comment on that?

I think my comments were very much general, without focusing on children with additional needs. The evidence is that on most measurements of children's outcomes, if they attend settings with higher qualified staff, or certainly the presence of higher qualified staff, then their outcomes are better. And I would suggest probably that's the same for children with additional needs. However, I think there is also, as Janet and Hayli have both said, benefit in recruiting a volunteer workforce that is willing and able—and not being paid, to be fair—to provide services such as those that Janet is providing. However, if we were to look at registered settings, we have significant barriers in place because of the regulation for that to be at an extent where working parents can be supported if they have children with additional needs, and those settings would have to have both qualified and experienced staff to be able to care for those children.

How much are we applying different standards to different types of settings? In a school, where a child has identified additional learning needs, it's normally a teaching assistant, who is less qualified, who will be looking after those individual pupils, either on a one-to-one basis or a higher ratio, which works fine as long as you've got the early years teacher supervising the activity that's relevant and appropriate for that individual child. So, how much of this is to do with having the additional qualifications—that somebody has them, but not everybody has to have them?

You're quite right. Some early years settings certainly do that; they will recruit specific one-to-one workers to work with children with additional needs. But in schools, the cost of that compared with a teacher's salary is very low, to recruit a teaching assistant, who are quite often paid not that far above the national living wage. The problem in early years settings is that the national living wage is pretty much what qualified staff are paid as well. So, there's not that cost saving that you might find in schools, where it is relatively cheap for them to employ assistants to be one-to-ones working with children with additional needs. So, for many early years settings, there is no economic benefit to that, I suppose, if they can recruit enough qualified staff. Also, within settings, they are bound by the ratios that they have to adhere to by the regulator as well. So, actually, if you have somebody who is working as a one-to-one, they wouldn't be counted, they would be supernumerary.

14:25

I'm going to pass over to Sioned Williams in a second, but just one last question from me. A lot of local authority budgets are tied up in children's social services, where, for one reason or another, there are causes for concern, and they can end up becoming really expensive problems if they're not dealt with. Why are we not spending more of that budget on ensuring that children are supported, and, by extension, their families?

[Inaudible.]—local authority, it will cost about £350,000 a year, and I think those costs are rising. What we struggle to understand is the lack of collaboration with the local authorities, because parents tell us that, though what we provide might feel like a little to us, it can make the difference; it can be the make-or-break for parents—that balance, that careful balance that they have if they're child is happy because they go to a club that is suited to their needs. They make friends, they learn skills, and sometimes that is the difference that keeps a family on the straight and narrow. So, with the difference between what that costs and what it would cost if a child was to go into care because a family can't cope, it doesn't make any sense not to collaborate and talk about more preventative services that are about leisure and that kind of family-focused club and activity.

Hayli, does that conversation go on with children's social services in Pembrokeshire?

I sit within the education directorate, so, solely, that's where early years sit—

Diolch. Cyn symud ymlaen at rai cwestiynau ynglŷn ag integreiddio'r ddarpariaeth, liciwn i jest ddod nôl i ofyn un cwestiwn arall ynglŷn â'r gweithlu, achos mae nifer ohonoch chi wedi sôn am hyn o ran yr heriau sydd yna o ran recriwtio, o ran sicrhau y math iawn o berson yn y lleoliad iawn. Beth all Llywodraeth Cymru ei wneud? Un ateb amlwg yw talu mwy, ond o ran pethau fel cymwysterau, o ran pethau fel y math o reoliadau sydd yn rheoli pa weithiwr sydd i fod ym mha leoliad, oes yna rywbeth y gall Llywodraeth Cymru ei wneud yn hynny o beth i helpu recriwtio, i helpu i sicrhau bod modd llenwi tu ôl i bobl sydd angen hyfforddiant, ac yn y blaen?

Thank you. Before moving on to some questions on integrating provision, I would just like to ask one further question on the workforce, because a number of you have mentioned the challenges that exist in terms of recruitment, in terms of securing the right individual at the right setting. So, what can the Welsh Government do? One clear solution is to pay more, but in terms of things such as qualifications and the kinds of regulations that regulate which staff members should be in which setting, is there anything that the Welsh Government could do in that regard to help with recruitment and to ensure that you can backfill those people who need training, and so on?

I think for me, Sioned, it is the rate of pay. That's what the sector are telling us. Again, the national minimum wage, or the living wage, is going up, and all the practitioners have said to us, 'Unless there is an increase to the funding streams that are coming to us, we may have to remove ourselves as a setting from that.' And unfortunately we, as a local authority, have no control over that whatsoever; it's directed to us. 

I would say that some of the qualifications—. I'm aware of practitioners who have been to university, have done a three or four-year degree, but they're actually not recognised within Social Care Wales's qualification framework. And I understand why; there might be differences in modules, et cetera. But I do feel that the qualification list here in Wales is a lot narrower than it is if you're looking at Scotland or Ireland or England. Possibly there could be a revision of the qualifications that Social Care Wales recognise for early years practitioners. I know of somebody who has been studying for three or four years, and they can't hold that position because it's not on the list. 

When Sparkle started to run its leisure services, going back 10 years, what was envisaged was that we would see a group of children—it was early in the days for us learning how to provide the kind of group and bespoke leisure activities for children with increasingly challenging needs. But the idea at the time was that those children would move through a specialist provision like ours and out into local community provision, and that's never happened. And increasingly, as those children have become more and more complex, what's happening is they're coming the other way—they're coming back from community provision, looking to have a place at Sparkle.

One of the things that we've talked about as a way of generating some more income that would help us to run the activities that we do is that we could be a training provider, because we have got the experience and the expertise. We could provide training in leisure clubs. We could follow a child out and we could actually—. We haven't got the funding to be able to do that. One of the things Dr Sabine Maguire—who should have been here today, who's our Sparkle researcher, but who's away on holidays—says is if we had 12 months' funding or some kind of grant to invest in developing a programme, which would skill up—. Because of course we want those children to be in the community where they possibly could be; we'd much prefer that. We're only providing the services that we're providing because they're not being provided out in the community. So, that is another angle from our perspective.

We do know that in terms of direct payments and employing somebody, when they come from that Sparkle cohort, they make a good person to do that one-to-one Saturday or Sunday or evening provision for your child. So, it would give that extra pool of people who are qualified because they've got that kind of experience.

14:30

Just to give a direct answer to Sioned's question, I think Janet and Hayli are right, it's fundamentally about the money, but there may be things that could be done in terms of the qualification levels and ratios based on what we now have in terms of evidence. I mentioned earlier on the impact that a highly qualified practitioner can have on a setting, on those other members of staff. What we have at the moment is a requirement, according to the legislation, for a certain proportion of all practitioners to be qualified to either level 2 or, more commonly, level 3. We don't have any recognised qualification or requirement for a qualification higher than that. What evidence is suggesting is that if settings were to employ or were led by a highly qualified practitioner, there may be some flexibility in terms of either increasing ratios, which would then save settings some money in terms of wages, or actually reducing the qualifications of other staff as well. It's a very fine balance and we have to look at the evidence and see what's done in other countries where that is the case. For example, in Denmark, settings are generally led by graduates, but, commensurately, they are very highly paid. We don't have the funding to do that at the moment, but there are some perhaps imaginative things that could be done without reducing the quality of care and services that children are being provided with in the early years, and that has to be our overriding concern.

Can I just add to that? I'm not naive when I say this; I have worked for a health authority for 30 years at quite a senior level and I have seen a lot of how big organisations like Aneurin Bevan work. I don't think it's about more money, I think it's about doing better with the money that we already have.

Diolch. Rŷn ni wedi cyffwrdd arno fe'n barod o ran sut mae'r holl ddarpariaeth addysg blynyddoedd cynnar wedi integreiddio. Beth ddylai Llywodraeth Cymru ei wneud i gynyddu'r integreiddio? Achos rŷn ni wedi trafod ac wedi adnabod ei bod hi'n piecemeal, fel dywedwyd, o ran sut mae'n cael ei ariannu, sut mae'n cael ei ddelifro a sut mae rhieni yn dod ato fe. Felly, oes modd i chi rhoi unrhyw enghreifftiau inni o arfer da sydd yn bodoli a sut y gallwn ni sicrhau bod mwy o integreiddio'n digwydd? Rydych chi wedi rhoi un enghraifft o sut mae Sir Benfro yn gweithio, er enghraifft; oes unrhyw enghreifftiau eraill?

Thank you. We've already touched on how early years education is integrated. What should the Welsh Government do to enhance that integration? Because we have discussed and identified that it is piecemeal, as has already been said, in terms of how it's funded, how it's delivered and how parents access it. So, can you give us any examples of good practice that exists and how we can ensure that there is greater integration? You've given us one example of how Pembrokeshire works, for example; are there any other examples that you can give us?

For me, I think it's going back to what I initially said, which was about one funding system. It would make it easier. I have to sit under different criteria for different grants, et cetera, with different reporting systems. So, it would be about one system for all, I think—revisiting the whole of the early years within Wales, whether it's Flying Start, whether it's the childcare offer, whether it's foundation learning. I just think it needs to be all stripped back and relooked at, because it's starting to get clunky.

14:35

Un peth—roeddwn i'n hoffi'r trosiad yna oedd gyda chi ynglŷn â'r pêl-droed, so rhywbeth sydd newydd ddigwydd, un ffocws newydd sydd wedi dod o'r Llywodraeth, yw'r ysgolion bro. Felly, oes gyda chi unrhyw farn ynglŷn â sut dylai ysgolion bro chwarae rhan o ran yr integreiddio yma a sut gall Llywodraeth Cymru weithio gydag awdurdodau lleol a phartneriaid eraill i wneud hyn?

One thing—I liked what you said about football, and one thing that's just happened, one new focus from the Government, is the community-focused schools. So, do you have any view as to how community-focused schools could play a greater part in terms of this integration of provision, and how can the Welsh Government work with local authorities and other partners to deliver this?

Again, I think it's very different across the country. There is no—. So, besides it being a different early years system and putting that all together, I think it needs to be collaborative working across the country, because every local authority is very, very different in how it's set up and how it's run. We've started to do that, so we are in the very, very early stages. We've got one primary school in Pembrokeshire, where a Welsh-medium has now been built—a Welsh-medium school. That was a bilingual school, so the Welsh-medium are moving out, and they've left surplus spaces, but actually they are now going to be setting up and running from September, registered with CIW, the whole wraparound early years. So, they have Flying Start there. They will now offer the childcare offer and to paying parents as well. So, they've completely embraced that, and more and more schools are taking that on and seeing the benefits that childcare provision can bring. So, we've started on that journey most definitely in a couple of cases within Pembrokeshire. I can't speak if that's across the country.

When I was a working therapist, we worked with a lot of children with really complex needs who needed very specialist seating, and there was a seating model that talked about—. So, you take this child, who to all intents and purposes has got no sitting balance and needs to be highly supported, and you sit them on a box. And then you decide that, well, actually, they can't sit on a box so you need to put some blocks here, and then you decide that, well, actually, they don't do too badly with those blocks and if we had a little bit here, actually they'd manage quite well. What you discover is that they probably don't need as much as you thought they did when you wheeled in this fancy electronic wheelchair. I guess the moral of the story is that, in some ways, it's about the stripping back. We've become so overloaded with what's available that we struggle to see the wood for the trees.

There was a researcher called Helen McConachie and I think what she said 20 years ago still applies today. She said you need to take a developing world approach, and you need to say, 'If we had nothing for these children, what would be the first thing we'd put in? And then once you've put that in and you can afford it, what would be the next thing that you'd put in?' And you build it back in again from the bottom up, only putting in. What you'll find is that there are probably 10 or 20 layers that people have that they never needed at all. So, I don't know, it's just something that, as a working therapist, has just always stuck in my mind. If I had the opportunity I'd love to stand back and say, honestly, people don't need as much as they think they need, but there are some people who need more, and that you just start on that basis and you start with the basics and you build it back up again. So, I do think we need to take it apart a little bit and put it back together. We probably might not spend as much money as we're spending now, and we certainly wouldn't spend any more—I'm convinced of that.

Dr Dallimore, ydych chi'n moyn rhoi barn ar hyn?

Dr Dallimore, would you like to express a view on this?

Yes. I think it's been said a number of times this afternoon that almost one of the problems that we have in the early years is that because we lie at the intersection of a number of policy areas—health, social services, education, economy, Welsh language—and we've talked about all of those this afternoon, the early years can be seen as a panacea for all of these things, but what we miss out is the focus on children, as I mentioned earlier. But because we have this large range of policy drivers and rationales that are in place, it's a very muddy, muddy situation. So, I think we need to start at the top. We need an inclusive strategy for the early years, and we need it to be led centrally from within Government. Providing integrated services under one Government department would be a really good start. In most countries, education takes the lead, but it doesn't have to. A unified system would give consistency across many of the things that we've been talking about this afternoon: regulation, funding, the workforce, children with additional needs. And it would also help with things like the new Curriculum for Wales, in smoothing out those transitions between the early years and formal schooling, and a consistent pedagogy that straddles both as well. But that has to come from an integrated approach where Government departments and local authority departments and organisations actually work together to find the solutions, the kind of solutions that Jenny was talking about just now.

14:40

Dr David, could you just explain, when you talk about that the state funding for care should be pulled to create a funding system that's simple, fair and affordable for parents, does that exist in England, and does that include children's social care? No. You're—

No. We have this myriad funding system, some of which are what we call supply-side funding, where things like Flying Start are paid for centrally from central Government, also from Welsh Government, and then we have demand-side subsidies, things like the childcare offer, where money goes to parents, to then pay for childcare. This funding system is overly complicated and really doesn't function well. And we need to decide how we're going to fund early years services, whether we go towards universalism, which I know the First Minister has said is an aspiration, or we continue to have this kind of patchwork that doesn't help parents, doesn't help providers, and doesn't give us a coherent system, going forwards.

This feels like groundhog day to me, because, at the end of the 1990s, I was a councillor in an English local authority, early years was integrated. It was education and social care, and they were one. It was about meeting the needs of all the children in that area, and yet—

And we could bring play into that as well, as we've mentioned once or twice this afternoon. And at a strategic level, actually Welsh Government have accepted that, and we now have this rather clunky phrase, 'early childhood learning, play and care', but it does encompass all of those things. But we don't have the structures, at Government or local level, to back that up.

Okay. So, what Hayli Gibson described as there being absolutely no—you know, a complete Chinese wall between children's social care and education, is that every local authority's approach to it?

I would say it isn't, but there aren't great incentives for those organisations to work together. Where it does happen effectively, it tends to happen informally, and other research I've done, looking at how different silos can be broken down, tend to happen from interpersonal communication rather than strategic integration. Because strategic integration doesn't exist at a local authority level, quite often, but it happens very commonly, because individual practitioners work together. And perhaps one of the benefits of things like Flying Start is that it is integrated in terms of there being health involvement and there being some input from social services in some cases, in some local authorities.

Okay. I just finally want to ask a question related to what Hayli was saying, about your teacher with a child with special needs. She presumably worked for the public sector. Supposing she was employed by a private business, what responsibility should we expect employers to have for ensuring that their employees have adequate childcare, not necessarily on site, where the business is, but to ensure they don't lose that valuable workforce, if the child has childcare needs that are not being met? Is there any conversation in Pembrokeshire about the contributions that employers can be making towards retaining, as well as recruiting, the workforce they need?

I don't think they have the money to do that.

I think the majority of employers, especially within Pembrokeshire, who are small businesses, would not have that money to make that contribution to a workforce childcare. 

14:45

Okay. Thank you. We have reached the end of our time. If you've got a very quick question. 

Yes, a very quick question. 

Jest rhywbeth, a dweud y gwir, i Dr Dallimore ynglŷn â'r hyn y gwnaethoch chi siarad am, sef universality, a'r nod yna o greu un system a fyddai ar agor i bawb, a sut byddai hynny yn gallu bod o fudd i blant o gefndir difreintiedig, ei fod e'n gymysg i gyd. Rŷn ni wedi cael tystiolaeth yn y gorffennol ynglŷn â'r arfer mewn gwledydd Sgandinafaidd, lle mae yna elfen ohono fe'n universal i bawb, ond wedyn bod hwnna'n cael ei gapio, ac mae yna ddull wedyn lle mae pobl yn cyfrannu yn ôl eu gallu at yr elfen sydd am ddim i bawb. Jest eisiau gofyn i chi: os byddai Cymru eisiau dilyn y dull yma, beth fyddai'r pethau allweddol y dylem ni fod yn eu hystyried er mwyn inni fedru symud at y dull yma dros y tymor hir? 

Just a question for Dr Dallimore. You mentioned universality and that ambition of creating one system that would be open to all, and how that could benefit children from a disadvantaged background, that all children would be mixed. We've received evidence in the past about practice in Scandinavian countries, where there is an element of it that is universally available, but that's capped, and then there is a means of people contributing according to their means. I just wanted to ask you: if Wales wanted to adopt that approach, what would be the key issues that we should consider so that we can move to that approach over the longer term? 

Yes, it is very common in the Nordic countries to have capped levels of fees. It, to me, seems a much fairer way and, yes, when we talk about universality, that doesn't mean that all parents pay nothing, and I don't think there are any countries that I know of where early years services, including childcare, are free at the point of delivery for every single parent. It is a compromise. But certainly, having capped fees is one idea that's very popular and would seem to be a much fairer use of funding. The challenge is bringing current funding streams together because they are held by different Governments, different departments, and with different ambitions for the use of that funding as well. So, we have to have some clarity of purpose first of all, and then we have to have a programme of actually how we bring that funding together, and how we best use it to support individual families. 

My final question really goes back to what Hayli was saying about the school where the bilingual provision has moved to Welsh-medium provision elsewhere, and they used that to expand the childcare on offer in that school. Even in an urban area like my constituency, there are plenty of schools with very generous spaces that could be used for childcare. How frequently is that happening and what could be done to accelerate that, given that this is already a public sector space? 

It depends how it's being delivered as well. So, the school I'm talking about, they're going to have that within their own school. They're going to set it up and they'll register it, but we've got other schools within Pembrokeshire that are going out to the private, voluntary and independent sector and asking them whether they could come in and provide the childcare. So, there are two different ways of it being run, and I would say, this term—and we're just talking about this very brief six-week term now—we've had three schools come to my team, because we've got the childcare development team as well, where they're interested in moving play groups or day-care provisions into their sites. So, it's happening more readily. Besides a small fee of making those secure—. For example, under CIW, they have to be separate, and there need to be security arrangements in place. But, besides that, there is not really a huge cost towards that. 

And we are using the early years capital grant. So, those providers that are moving in—at the moment we've got a capital grant from Welsh Government. It's been rolling for—this will be the third year coming up now, and they can apply for that to make those changes to the setting. 

So, that's a positive, and it's working. 

Good. We're keen to hear a lot more about that. Thank you very much indeed. We've reached the end of our allotted time. We'll send you all a transcript of your contributions, and please do amend it if we've captured your information wrongly. Thank you very much indeed—very, very useful.

We'll now take a short break, and we'll resume our next panel session on childcare at 3 o'clock. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:49 ac 15:01.

The meeting adjourned between 14:49 and 15:01.

15:00
7. Ymchwiliad dilynol ar ofal plant: sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
7. Childcare follow-up inquiry: evidence session 2

Welcome back to the Equality and Social Justice Committee. We're now going to have our second evidence session around our follow-up inquiry on childcare. For this session, we very much welcome Sarah Coates from the National Day Nurseries Association, which is a member of the CWLWM partnership; Jane O'Toole, Clybiau Plant Cymru, also a member of the CWLWM partnership, in the committee room; Sarah Mutch, early years and partnerships manager for Caerphilly County Borough Council; and Cheryl Salley, director at Darling Buds nursery, also online. So, welcome to all of you.

Thank you very much for the CWLWM paper and for the NDNA paper—both extremely interesting. We're going to move straight into questions, and Ken Skates is going to start us off. 

Thank you, Chair. Just a quick question and enquiry as to how serious the situation is within the sector. In the next five years, according to the survey we've been presented with, as much as 80 per cent of professionals may be out of business. Is that reflecting the true severity of this situation across the sector, do you think?

If you could raise your hand if you want to speak. Sarah Coates, why don't you start?

Just to say that it's noted within the CWLWM paper that we've provided, I provided some stats from our previous state of the sector survey that we did. We've just completed another one that's being analysed at the moment, but the headlines are about—. Sustainability is a major concern, particularly for our private day nursery providers at the moment as well. That survey shows that 91 per cent of those providers are expecting to make a loss or just break even in the next year, so that, again, is an increase on the results that we had last year. From our point of view and what we're hearing from our members, it's most definitely a major concern.

We've recently undertaken a survey with the out-of-school childcare sector, and again, that's just in the process of being analysed, but we've got some headline results. Twenty-five per cent of the respondents were unsure about their financial sustainability in the next 12 months, and of course that will directly affect working and training parents' ability to continue to earn. Twelve per cent of clubs are considering closing elements of their service. Twelve per cent are considering reducing opening times, and 70 per cent are considering increasing fees, which obviously is going to have a knock-on effect with parents as well.

Thank you, that's really helpful. How clear is the Welsh Government's approach to early childhood education and care policy, do you think, and how effective is it at meeting its intended goals?

15:05

I think the problem with what we have at the moment—and, again, it's something that we've referred to within our paper—is just how complex it is at the moment for parents and providers. We've got so many different funded approaches, and approaches that we have across Wales, it's very complex to understand. So, from a parental perspective, that provides us with issues and, again, then, from a provider's point of view, there are lots of different hoops that they jump through, different things that they need to do, depending on which different funded provision that they're delivering. So, it is quite a confusing, complex area, I think, and I think we're hearing that a lot, as more and more things come on. We've seen the expansion of Flying Start. It's not an easy space to be in, in the sector at the moment, particularly when we're fighting those challenges on top of the sustainability issues—not knowing whether you're going to be able to be open or not within the coming months. It's a very difficult time at the moment.

Hi. Yes. I would agree with Sarah in that it's a challenging time at the moment across the sector, and the landscape is quite challenging, because there are different schemes. I think that isn't helped when we have a devolved Government with different schemes here in Wales to those in England, so the messages to parents get very confusing, and we need to be clearer in how that's delivered.

In the media, we do an awful lot locally and nationally to raise the profile to families, but I think it's very challenging, because the national media will focus on the big headlines in England, and that makes it even more confusing for families and for providers here in Wales. So, there's a double dilemma, I suppose, when there are different schemes in the different counties, and different home countries.

I'd agree with that as well. Parental knowledge is severely lacking. In a recent team event within my organisation, as a childcare organisation, there were three of my colleagues, myself included, who had very close relatives that knew nothing about what was on offer—the childcare offer, tax-free childcare, et cetera. So, there's a big piece of work that needs to be done around parental understanding of what is available for them, to then continue to access those benefits.

I met with one of the childcare and play team's civil servants a couple of weeks ago, and we're going to try and access some information from His Majesty's Revenue and Customs to see what the take-up is of tax-free childcare, because there's definitely a severe lack of knowledge that it's available.

What I'm finding is every time there is a report on tv about the cost of childcare, there's never anybody saying that anybody that's earning less, they can actually claim up to 85 per cent with universal credits and tax credits, and they never ever say this on tv. They always give the negative side of the cost of childcare. I know some people can't access it because of earnings, but there's quite a lot out there who can, and they just don't know about it, because it's never said. 

Thank you. I'd just like to turn to the co-operation agreement now and get an idea of what progress you think is being made towards meeting the specific commitment to expand Flying Start provision to all two-year-olds. Do you think that there's a need to accelerate progress towards implementing this?

I think the challenge, as we're all very aware, is money. I think the local authorities are happy to work very closely with Welsh Government. They are working at pace to develop the provision. Providers are doing a brilliant job at coming on board to deliver those places. I think the challenge is: we could probably go a bit faster, but the budget constraints are really, really challenging. So, there's a difficulty with sufficient places in the sector being developed alongside sufficient money coming from Welsh Government to be able to pay for those places, and I think it's a challenge to get the balance right. We don't want to expand too quickly and not have sufficient places available.

We need to grow the workforce. We need to encourage more people back into childcare and we need to get the pay systems right for those working in childcare, because often they are some of our lowest paid workers in the system. So, we need to make sure the balance is there and I think we're going as fast we can, but there probably could be greater progress if there was more money, which we know is challenging. 

15:10

Just to completely echo everything Sarah said there. The other thing about the expansion of Flying Start is the additional things that come with it that we need to be aware of. So, if we're looking at the higher qualified staff, as we've already discussed, we're already struggling for recruitment within the sector, and with the increases that we're having in national wages—so, the wages are going up by 10 per cent, there's no Government funding rate increase to support that, but at the same time we're expecting the sector to have higher qualified staff—it's really difficult to see, from a private provider point of view, where you can show those pay differentials, when all the national living wages are increasing anyway. How do you then show that differential between your level 3 and your level 5 qualified staff, to really show that we recognise and we really support those higher quality staff members that we're looking for, in terms of qualifications under Flying Start?

So, that's a concern, as well as as we're moving towards looking at Flying Start being that universal entitlement as well. As we know, things are different across Wales in terms of how the flexibility of Flying Start looks within different areas. And if you're looking at it being that universal entitlement, as a rolled out funded provision for two-year-olds, we need to look at what the landscape is today, not where Flying Start was originally developed. Because if we're no longer looking at it just for children and families from deprived areas, it's going to involve lots of working parents as well, who are looking for provision over the whole day, not just for a small portion of it. So, I think it's those things that we need to consider as well when we look further at the expansion and how we can do that with the capacity that we've got.

And I think as far as the workforce is concerned, we've mentioned that there are significant challenges in recruitment and retention in the workforce. In our latest club survey, there were 103 that were leaving the sector completely, and 67 were moving within the sector. I think there's a big need for the public to recognise the benefit of the professionalisation of the workforce. Around public perception, there's also, as we mentioned, the cost of childcare. We need to try and flip the narrative and get the message in the media to be about the benefits of childcare for the well-being of the children. I think all of those things need to go hand in hand in order to increase the perception of the childcare and playwork workforce.

Thank you. Just one last question from me. With regard to the expansion of Flying Start provision, there have been, I understand, system challenges in all 22 local authority areas. It's a question perhaps for Sarah Coates and Jane: what system challenges have resulted from the expansion and what are the key lessons to learn from how this has been rolled out?

I would actually say, in terms of from a local authority system challenges point of view, it would be Sarah Mutch, maybe, that would be in a better place to comment on that, as opposed to me. 

I'm happy to take this question, yes. I think the challenge has been that different local authorities have different set-ups. So, it's been quite challenging for providers who, maybe, are working across different local authority areas. We have worked at pace across local authorities now to look at cross-border agreements, and it's a piece of work that we've all been doing to look at how we can make it easier for providers. I think, when we look at the difference between expansion phase 1, which was a small, full programme expansion, it's very different to when we look at expansion phase 2, which started last April. And I think, sometimes, we have to remember it was only last April we started this, and I think most local authorities have now got their messaging right to providers. There are many more childcare providers coming on board.

From our local authority perspective, we have 67 childcare providers, including day nurseries and child minders, and they all bring something different to the table and allow parents to choose the right provision to meet their needs, because, you're right, some parents need sessional provision, and that allows us to have double the number of spaces, because if you've got a group of children attending mornings or afternoons, then, if they're registered for 24 places, then you've got 48 places. However, I've got other children where parents will need full day care. So, they will take up a whole place, because the parent will pay for that extra wraparound, or they'll condense their hours into two and a half days, which we've done for some of our working families, to give them that bit of flexibility if they work part-time, a three-day week.

So, I think it's about us as local authorities talking to each other, sharing best practice and looking at how we can maximise that impact for families. So, it's probably brought us some challenges that we've been working through fairly quickly, and it's how we try to minimise those system challenges for the wide network of providers that is out there. Does that explain what you're asking? 

15:15