Y Pwyllgor Cyfrifon Cyhoeddus - Y Bumed Senedd
Public Accounts Committee - Fifth Senedd09/03/2020
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Delyth Jewell AC|
|Gareth Bennett AC|
|Jenny Rathbone AC|
|Mohammad Asghar AC|
|Nick Ramsay AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Rhianon Passmore AC|
|Vikki Howells AC|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Adrian Crompton||Archwilydd Cyffredinol Cymru, Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Auditor General for Wales, Wales Audit Office|
|Alan Brace||Cyfarwyddwr Cyllid, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director of Finance, Welsh Government|
|Andrew Slade||Cyfarwyddwr Cyffredinol, Grŵp Economi, Sgiliau ac Adnoddau Naturiol, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director General, Economy, Skills and Natural Resources Group, Welsh Government|
|Dr Andrew Goodall||Cyfarwyddwr Cyffredinol Iechyd a Gwasanaethau Cymdeithasol a Phrif Weithredwr GIG Cymru, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director General of Health and NHS Chief Executive, Welsh Government|
|John Howells||Cyfarwyddwr, Newid Hinsawdd, Ynni a Chynllunio, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director, Climate Change, Energy and Planning, Welsh Government|
|Mike Usher||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
|Neil Hemington||Prif Gynllunydd, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Chief Planner, Welsh Government|
|Nick Selwyn||Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru|
|Wales Audit Office|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Claire Griffiths||Dirprwy Glerc|
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.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:04.
The meeting began at 13:04.
I welcome Members to this afternoon's meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. Can I also welcome our witnesses? As usual, headsets are available for translation and amplification. Please turn off any phones. In an emergency, follow the ushers. We have received no apologies today and, therefore, no substitutions. Do Members have any declarations of interest they'd like to make? No.
Item 2 and a couple of papers to note. First of all, the regeneration investment fund for Wales, RIFW. As I received the last update on RIFW in May 2018, I've asked the Welsh Government for an update on the legal proceedings. As you'll note, these are still ongoing and the Welsh Government are unable to comment further at this moment. So, if we can note that correspondence and the clerks will advise the Government that we wish to receive a further update in January 2021, unless the issue has been resolved by then. Okay?
Secondly, following the evidence session held on 10 February, Mr Harris, who attended the round-table session on 27 January—this is in relation to the effectiveness of local planning authorities, our current inquiry—has provided some points of clarification to a series of questions—well, extensive questions—asked around the effectiveness and future of section 106 agreements. We simply need to note that paper. Okay, that's noted.
Item 3, and I can see Andrew has arrived. That was very timely.
Good morning—or, afternoon, even, Chair. Sorry, that's the state of how the day is going.
Very timely, Andrew. I understand that you were tied up with an important meeting, so thanks for being with us.
Item 3: the effectiveness of local planning authorities in Wales and our current evidence session with the Welsh Government. Can I welcome our witnesses? Would you like to give your name and position for the record?
Yes. I'm Andrew Slade, director general for economy, skills and natural resources and, on my left—.
John Howells, director of climate change, energy and planning.
And on my right—.
Neil Hemington, chief planner.
Great. Thanks for being with us. We've got a number of questions for you, and I'll kick off with the first ones.
Witnesses in earlier evidence sessions have consistently noted that local planning authorities do not have sufficient resources to implement and deliver the statutory requirements of the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. How does the Welsh Government intend to address this resource challenge and ensure that local planning authorities deliver what they are expected to deliver?
Well, first of all, Chair, if I may say, we're very grateful to the Auditor General for Wales for his report on the effectiveness of local planning authorities. There's lots of useful material in here, which we are working through, including in relation to the specific recommendations that are for us. We view planning as one of the key policy delivery instruments for delivering effective and sustainable places. It's one of the things that we spend a lot of time working on within Government centrally, and we regard this very much as a shared endeavour with other parties in the planning system. We recognise that there are lots of challenges and that there's quite a lot of complexity in the system, and we may want to unpack some of that as we go through the session, because I know a number of your other evidence givers have talked about those sorts of issues.
I've worked both in an English context and in a Welsh context and there's a lot about the way we do things in Wales that is lauded by other parts of the UK, and we're working with other devolved administrations and with English authorities on some of the experiences that we've had. What we're trying to do is to bring things together in an integrated way in Wales. I think the other thing to say is that we have tried as far as possible, although we recognise that there are legislative challenges, to bring the suite of legislation together that underpins all this work, and I'll say a bit more about that in a moment.
The only other thing I wanted to say, just as we go into a session dealing with planning, which is a sensitive issue for lots of people—for Assembly Members as well as local council politicians—is we can't comment on live applications during this session. I know you know that, but I think it's probably worth while just putting that on the record. There'll be a number of things that are out there in the system at the moment but we can't comment on any specifics in this session.
So, to your particular point about how we underpin the work that goes on in local planning authorities and make sure that they're properly resourced, the starting position is: have we got a joined up national approach to the way that we're tasking local authorities and how we're working with them from a policy perspective? I would argue that we have. There's more to be done in that respect, but the three principal Acts of this Assembly that I think of when I think about the planning system from 2015 are the Planning (Wales) Act 2015, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 were all designed alongside one another to complement one another in terms of the outcomes that we were trying to achieve and to do so in a sustainable way, aimed at promoting the well-being of all of the citizens of Wales—
Which is all part of the idea of these Acts fitting together—
Exactly so, Chair.
And the well-being of future generations is at the centre.
Yes, and there's more to be done, and we'll talk a bit more about that, I'm sure, in terms of delivering the various priorities under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and how we make the goals come together in a really meaningful way. But a lot has been done already, including latterly with 'Planning Policy Wales', to make those direct links between the legislation and, as you say, the way that things were set out at the beginning. And the Act provides a series of frameworks in respect of the planning Act: the framework for strategic development plans, for local development plans, and everything that sits underneath those, and a whole range of provisions that we can expand on in a bit more detail, as you wish as a committee.
The second area, then, is in relation to funding. So, we support a range of work to underpin the activities of local authorities, including work on studies and expertise. Neil might perhaps give us some examples in a moment of key things that we've done with particular local authorities, or groups of local authorities. I think about the work we've done on the built heritage and biodiversity particularly in that regard, but that's about providing advice and tools for local authorities to have so that they can concentrate on the things that matter most in the most effective way.
You'll be aware that we've gone out to consultation on a proposed increase in planning application fees, a 20 per cent increase, which on the face of it ought to bring in, I think, about £3.5 million into the system. We'll be introducing those new fee levels later this year—I think in the summer. We've developed tools, not least the one where we funded the Royal Town Planning Institute to look at work on the value of planning to the system as a whole, and the economic benefit of planning, which we think on the most recent study is somewhere around just under £2.5 billion. So, this is an important point for local authorities to understand the overall value that the planning system can have.
And then, of course, I would not be forgiven if I didn't mention the fact that, in the local government settlement for this year, there was a substantial real-terms increase for local authorities worth, across the piece, about £185 million, and all local authorities will benefit from that. I can't remember the exact figures—a four point something per cent uplift for all local authorities. And that money can be deployed as local authorities see fit, including into the local planning authority. So, there's a suite of things that we're trying to do to support local planning authorities.
Rhianon Passmore has a brief supplementary before I continue.
I totally understand the comments that you've just made. In that regard, is there a best practice pro rata local authority planning department in terms of what is optimum? Obviously, every local authority is different in terms of its demography and size and population base. But in that regard, bearing in mind the constraints on local authorities—despite the mitigations and despite the additional £180 million that you've mentioned—in terms of oversight and management of a local authority planning department, is there anything that's coming now to Welsh Government in terms of saying, 'This is your optimum size for a department'?
There's a lot of work going on in this area and, as you rightly say, we have to be a bit careful because a one-size-fits-all approach won't work for the different natures and sizes of the authorities, and also the burden and the opportunities that each have in respect of the planning system, but I'll invite Neil to say a bit about what we've been doing to support colleagues.
Certainly. One of the projects we've been looking at is, actually, what does full cost recovery look like for a planning authority. We've been looking at that since 2015. The issue we face there is there's a huge variation in costs between authorities, so that's fairly clear. We gave a grant to the planning advisory service to actually collect the data from local authorities, and try and work out how much it costs to process an application, how much it costs in terms of time.
Sorry, if I can interrupt, I think I wasn't clear in my question. What I'm saying is in terms of human resources of a planning department in terms of personnel, rather than the work that they're undertaking.
In terms of personnel, the two are linked, because one authority may have a lot of small applications, another authority may have quite a few major applications. You need to understand the sort of workloads that they're dealing with to understand the sort of resources they need. What we're also finding is that applications are becoming more complicated, so they need the technical and scientific support behind them as well. So, actually saying, 'You have 2,000 planning applications a year, you need x number of people'—I don't think there is that direct correlation between the two. It's understanding the caseload that authority has and the types of skills it requires to address that caseload. So, we can't come up with that simple conclusion.
Okay, thank you.
Great. The Planning (Wales) Act 2015 gives Welsh Ministers the power to mandate collaboration and to merge planning authorities for the sake of efficiency, I assume. I understand that a request from the Minister for 13 local authorities that hadn't yet submitted their LDPs to do so on a joint basis in compliance with that legislation was rejected, or at least was not greeted enthusiastically. Were you disappointed with that? Do you think that it shows, really, that the legislation might be well-meaning in practice, but if the local authorities aren't going to play ball then it's not going to have the teeth it needs?
Well, the legislation, as you say, Chair, sets out some areas where Ministers can mandate particular types of action, and the view has been taken up until now that mandating it is not a productive or collaborative way to go about this. We firmly recognise the importance of local democracy in the determination of planning decisions consistent with national and local policy, and I think Ministers have traditionally taken the view that going into that space and forcing people to operate in a particular way can be unproductive. And we also need to watch out for—
So, no forced mergers. That's still not the way the Government wants to go.
We might come on in a minute to talk about the local government and elections Bill, because within that concept of the corporate joint committee we are proposing that CJCs should pick up a mandatory responsibility for preparation of a strategic development plan. I think though, through that—and I might invite both Neil, from a planning perspective, and John, from a placemaking perspective, to say a bit more about this—the importance of the SDP, in my view, is that you bring everything together in an integrated way: your transport thinking, your housing thinking, your economic development thinking, your travel-to-work footprint. Some of our local authorities are quite small; expecting their LDP to cover everything in terms of how that local area functions is probably asking for too much to be bitten off by one local document. So, I think there's a range of things that we're trying to do through the SDP and we're trying, as far as we can, or have done hitherto, to do this collaboratively. We don't want the SDP to be something that becomes a burden. It's not meant to be an additional layer of bureaucracy or planning; it's meant to set the framework within which LDPs can properly fit and, with that, placemaking at a local level.
Just following up on that point, a lot of the work on the planning Act was linked back to a piece of work done by an independent advisory group, and they looked at the first round of local development plans and commented that the cross-border issues were not being dealt with particularly well. So, that's where the proposal for the strategic plan and also the letter that the Minister sent came from. We're particularly interested in the outcomes that the planning system delivers, and it's clear that you can deliver better outcomes by working together than working individually. So, to take an example: you might have one authority that has a need to grow but only has greenfield sites available, whereas a neighbour has a surplus of brownfield sites. Surely, it would make sense for them to work together and come up with options and a solution, rather than going along with individually? So, that was the—
So, why don't they? They don't want to. They've received an invitation to work together in this way, and it's quite clear that they're still saying, 'No, that's not the way we want to go.' How can that be addressed?
I think a lot of that is probably down to the politics of individual authorities not wishing to share in that way. We can see how, by sharing, we can arrive at better outcomes than by working individually. That was the conclusion of the independent advisory group as well. So, that's where the legislation has come from. It's all about what's the best solution here. How can we join up the places where people work, they live, and how they get between the two in the most sustainable way? That's what we're going to have to do if we're going to be successful in delivering the well-being of future generations Act with the planning system.
I think we need to recognise there is a natural tension as well between the pressures to share, take a regional strategic look at various issues facing local authorities, and the continuing desire to reflect a sense of place and the importance of towns in larger plans. And so I'm sure that local members are concerned not to lose sight of the importance of those local issues that drive development, transport, education provision and housing in relation to individual towns. So, there's a difficult balance to be struck, which I think, the truth is, authorities are still coming to terms with.
Okay. Delyth Jewell.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I want to ask you about section 106 agreements. We've heard evidence that local planning authorities don't have the capacity or, in some cases, the legal expertise to make the best use of them. So, I'd like to ask what the Welsh Government could be doing alongside them to make sure that they're made the best use of, and whether you think there is a place for mandating collaboration specifically for 106 agreements, to make sure that they actually are carried through, because of the very beneficial impact they can have on the well-being of communities if we actually see the fruits and the promise of what they are meant to deliver.
Section 106 agreements under the 1990 Act are a key instrument, as you indicate, in terms of how benefits can be delivered, and they are probably best delivered in a joined up and integrated way. This takes us back into the planning framework: we have a plan-led system, you need your strategic approach and then your more local approach, and you need to set that out for developers who are coming in to engage with you as a local planning authority. I think there's plenty of evidence that suggests the more you get this right upfront the easier some of those conversations are, and that includes the behaviour of the developers too.
We've produced standard contractual arrangements and clause-negotiating packages to help inform what local authorities do, and quite a bit of work goes into this in terms of providing guidance. It's something that comes up on a regular basis when we bring local planning authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association together. In terms of other specifics—
I think what we've found is that it's not uncommon for the commitments given when a development plan is prepared to then not be delivered by the subsequent planning applications that come forward. So, what we've attempted to do there is introduce much more front-loading into the process. So, for example, when local authorities are preparing development plans now, we're expecting them to demonstrate the viability of that particular scheme and to give an indication of the amount of affordable housing that can be provided. The whole rationale behind that is to try and ensure that the policy has a consequence for land value. So, if there's a clear policy framework, the landowner has a better idea of the value of their land, and we can feed that into the plan-making process, and hopefully then we will not see the sort of negotiations that we see at the moment where the affordable housing gets negotiated away.
Thank you for that. Do you think that there is a case, with regard to section 106 agreements, to mandate collaboration in some instances?
So, one of the examples we have of collaboration—and actually collaboration we have supported—is work that is ongoing at the moment in south-west Wales to develop a viability model for the local authorities to use. So, they have an understanding of the viability process of where land values and the other section 106 contributions impact, which will enable them to actually negotiate better with developers. So, yes, they can collaborate in that way, collecting that source of information. They tend not to collaborate to the same degree when it comes to the planning application side of things, because they are dealing with specific applications. Some of them have worked together in the past in areas like having section 106 officers—people who are specialists in that area. So, it's an area where collaboration is possible, but so far, it's taking place more at the plan-making side of things, rather than the application side.
So, do you think that that collaboration, in some instances, should be mandated?
No, because we'd be forcing it.
I don't think so, at this stage. I think it's more of a case of best practice and support. For example, the financial support we've given to a piece of work in Swansea.
A successful section 106 negotiation will involve a range of disciplines within a local authority. I think that's another thing. We tend to focus immediately on planning colleagues and what they do and are capable of, but you're going to need lawyers in the mix, you're going to need to understand the economic development prospectus for the place, you've got to think about housing and dwellings and community transport infrastructure and all of that. So, it is back to this integrated approach thing. You need a number of players to be genned up for that negotiation.
Okay. Thank you. Diolch.
Diolch, Delyth. Much of the local planning system is shaped by the national policy set out in 'Planning Policy Wales' and the various Welsh Government statements and circulars. Evidence to the committee has highlighted that the constant change made to the planning system in recent years has made it difficult for planning authorities to deliver on those responsibilities. How could you lessen the burden on local planning authorities by—? Well, the accusation is that the Welsh Government is regularly changing guidance, policies, circulars, and we know we've had various technical advice notes over the years. Do you think it's a legitimate criticism of the Welsh Government that things are changing so fast, it's very difficult for local authorities to keep up, and often very expensive, and could you make it a bit easier for them?
I don't think I would accept the criticism as such, Chair, but I would accept that it is complicated, and I would accept that there's a lot for local authorities and local planning authorities to have to contend with.
So, if I think about the number of things that I've come and talked to you about as a committee over the course of the last few years, many of the policy imperatives that have underpinned the things that I've been talking to you about have developed and changed over the course of the last few years. We now know, and, indeed, put a lot more attention—across the whole of the UK and globally—on climate change, both mitigation and adaptation. We know more about building standards, and we know more about public health impacts from what we do, and that drives policy changes, and indeed, many of those policy changes come from this place.
Many of the policy updates and changes that we make are actually driven by local authorities asking us, 'Do you think you could do something about this? We're not sure that this bit of guidance, or this particular circular necessarily reflects where the state of play is at and what we're collectively trying to achieve in policy terms.' So, there are a suite of things like that that are happening all of the time. We are, first of all, conscious of that, and we do try to minimise the burden wherever possible, and certainly not to change things for change's sake. We try and brigade things in as coherent and as collaborative a way as we possibly can; again, to help with local planning authorities getting their heads around what's required. There's a lot of guidance that goes out; there's a lot of training that's provided; there's a lot of work that we do with the WLGA and other bodies.
And then, there are a couple of things that I think we can fairly claim to have done in order to help simplify things a bit. The first is our new approach towards developments of national significance, the so-called DNSs, where basically, we've lifted large and complicated things away from the local authority environment, and we now process and determine those applications at a national level here within Welsh Government. And the other thing is the work we've done in respect of permitted developments for private dwellings, houses and also what we're trying to do in respect of renewable energy, where, again, you increase the range of things where you don't have to get into the full suite of planning application and determination work. So, those are two practical examples of where we've tried to streamline things or come up with different approaches to help manage the burden falling on local planning authorities. I don't know whether John or—
Jenny, did you have a supplementary question?
Yes. I wanted to come on to the link between planning and the climate emergency. I don't know if I can ask that now.
Well, I don't know if there was anything else on lifting the burden for colleagues, or helping with the complexity.
Yes. If we can just stick to that for the moment, because that does tie in with the next set of questions. Lifting the burden first.
I think probably one of the most significant things that we've done is actually to look at 'Planning Policy Wales', and the interpretation of it for the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. That was a conscious piece of work to try and help local authorities understand how they should be implementing the well-being of future generations Act through their planning, plan-making powers and their decision making on planning applications. Not just how they can help achieve the goals, but also the ways of working as well, so you will see that throughout 'Planning Policy Wales', because it means that we can interpret it once and they can apply it 25 times, rather than trying to interpret in 25 different ways. So, that's a clear example.
Another one we've got, probably more on the legislative side, is the ongoing work we've got to consolidate planning legislation into one piece of legislation for Wales. If anyone wants to have a look at planning legislation, it is a lot more complicated than planning policy, and it doesn't change quite so frequent in Wales, but it certainly has a habit of changing quite frequently elsewhere.
So, there are things we are actively doing. We're not trying to make it difficult for people, but I think it's fair to say that there is an ever-increasing number of things that we're being asked to help deliver through the planning system, climate change emergency being one; the environment crisis, the nature crisis being another; and affordable housing being another. So, the days when we had, if you like, a red line around a boundary and a planning application has long since passed, because, quite rightly, communities and you, as politicians, want more from the planning system than we used to provide in the past.
You touched on this earlier about the way that you've got planning legislation, the well-being of future generations Act and the intentions of the Government all fits together. Before I bring Jenny in, do you think that local authorities do feel that they're getting enough guidance from the Welsh Government as to how they can make sure that those two are interlinked? I know of numerous examples—well, a couple from my own local authority—where there have been some issues arisen because the well-being of future generations Act hasn't been taken into account at an early stage.
Well, sometimes, and back to the point you were making earlier, we get criticism from local authorities that there's too much guidance rather than not enough. But as we've described, we do try and brigade things and do it in a sensible way.
There is definitely more that we can do to get the embedding of the well-being of future generations Act through everything that we're doing. But I would say that in terms of the way the original legislation was framed and then in terms of what we've done through 'Planning Policy Wales' and everything we're doing now, in a sequence, to update our guidance, our circulars and our general advice for local authorities, we are working through that process.
Okay. Jenny and then Rhianon.
I just wondered, regardless of what you're doing to update the planning guidance, what about using the planning guidance that we've already got? I mean, TAN 6 was instituted in 2011, and that was reflected in 'Planning Policy Wales' in 2016. I'm particularly interested in the One Planet Development that is in section 4. I understand that there have only been 32 projects taken forward under that rural framework, and there simply isn't one for urban situations. So, could you explain why that hasn't been a priority?
So, the One Planet Development policy was a policy that was developed alongside a separate policy to facilitate things like transfer of farms to younger people. So, there was a package that we looked at at that time.
The policy is dependent on people coming forward with the proposals. So, alongside the policy itself, we did a lot of work around supporting local authorities to understand the process. We produced practice guidance. I think it's fair to say that the policy has been taken up more in some areas of Wales than others, particularly in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire and parts of Ceredigion—there are clusters of One Planet developments because there is a particular interest there. There were already some developments at that time taking place. So, we have the framework there; we have the supporting guidance there, but what we don't have is people coming forward with significant proposals for One Planet development.
But nor is it something that is promoted or talked about. I should imagine most people simply aren't aware of it, and it's not something the planning authorities are promoting and saying, 'Why don't you think of this as a way of approaching this piece of land?'
Yes. I think it's very much more that, within particular communities, it's well-known and they are promoting it quite actively. So, we are seeing those clusters grow. The guidance, actually, I believe I'm correct in saying, does address issues like One Planet Development on the edge of settlements as well, so, not purely urban. The policy framework is designed to allow developments to take place in rural areas where there would normally be a presumption against residential developments. So, it's an enabling framework.
So, you don't think it's necessary to have a separate framework for urban developments.
So, with an urban area, the expectation would be that a residential development of that type would be appropriate anyway. This is more about using agricultural, rural land with an element of housing on it.
Briefly, Rhianon Passmore, before we go back to Jenny Rathbone.
Very brief, and it's just a simple 'yes' or 'no'. I mean, bearing in mind the perception from local authorities around too much planning guidance, the ever-increasing workload in terms of the future generations Act, in terms of the environment, in terms of affordable housing, your drives around codification to simplify planning legislation and the importance of it strategically for Wales, surely the biggest possible aid for any local authority would be for some simple guidance to say, 'These are your minimum staffing levels'. Yes or no?
Well, as you know from my dealings with you over the last few years, I rarely give a 'yes' or 'no' answer for careful reasons. I think the reality is that it is very dependent on the type of authority and the type of application that you're getting. So, we could give recommendations about the types of expertise that you need and how you might go about doing things in a better and a more streamlined way or a more efficient way, but I think coming up with something that says, 'This is it' for a planning function would be very difficult to do.
There are other ways to do it. I'll park that. Thank you, Chair.
Okay. And now back to Jenny Rathbone. More 'yeses' or 'noes'—or maybe not. [Laughter.]
The auditor general's report concludes that the reduction in funding, as well as the complexity of the planning system, has resulted in local planning authorities taking longer to decide on planning applications. What is your view as to whether it's the process of applying or the managing and assessing of planning applications that's too complicated and therefore leads to decisions being very long-drawn-out?
It's down to a number of factors, I think. We've talked a little bit about funding already. We very deliberately, through the block grant and what we do through business rates, don't say to local authorities, 'This is what you must spend your money on.' We don't hypothecate in that sense. That is a decision for councils or for authorities to make for themselves.
I suppose, going back to my general point from a few moments ago, the value of the planning system to all of us is huge. It delivers massive outcomes for Wales. It has the potential to do all sorts of really important things for the people of Wales. Get it wrong, and it does the reverse. I've made the point about this being a shared endeavour at the outset, but I do feel that this is something where we want to work with local authorities and other partners to do right for the whole system.
So, why do we end up with delays? Some of this is about not getting the messaging right and the planning arrangements right, the plan for the plan, upfront. It's Neil's point about the more you do this upfront, the better the chance of getting a planning application through the system swiftly, or in an efficient way, because then everybody understands what you're trying to achieve, what you want from a place and what you're expecting of developers and so on. We have put in place standards about what we expect in terms of timing for determination of applications, and we've given remedies for developers, so the potential to come back and effectively appeal against non-determination, or to come back and seek the return of their fee if target times are not met. And we've done what we can, again, as I mentioned a few moments ago, to take things out of local authorities' hair where we can do that, to free them up. So, the developments of national significance is one area, permitted development is another one, where we're trying to lessen the burden on local authorities. There will be other things that we can add to that list.
Yes. I think we have seen less resource, so the caseload has gone up per officer—I think that's undeniable. I can't comment if the system is more complicated, so you're reliant on other people to provide inputs, so people like Natural Resources Wales, but, critically, actually, other local authority departments as well. So, if you look at lots of planning applications, they will be delayed, or awaiting comments from their highways people, for example.
We have put remedies in that would allow developers to challenge. What we generally find is that most developers do not want to undermine the relationship they have with that planning authority. So, things like return of planning application fees haven't really happened in Wales. Appeals against non-determination haven't happened. They value the relationship they've got.
We've made changes to allow extensions of times, so where there's an agreed extension of time, it does not count towards a delay. What we've seen is that virtually all applications, when they go beyond the determination period—very quickly, you will get a letter saying, 'Do you agree to an extension of time or not?' What we've been told is that they value the outcome more than the speed of the process.
Okay, well, that, I agree, is the most important, because the cost of undoing poor projects is obviously huge. But we've heard quite a lot of evidence, however, that, because planning departments are under-resourced, the developers are really in charge and walking all over planning authorities, and know how to game the system, which I think is a cause for concern, because if planning authorities are simply not in a position to ensure that the proposal is going to meet the objectives, then we will end up with lots of poor planning applications being approved. So, it goes back to the issue of collaboration, if planning authorities have had resources cut, then why not collaborate in order to ensure that the impact of developments is going to be fully understood?
I think you can collaborate up to a point. So, you can collaborate in terms of some of the specialist skills you need. One authority may not have an urban designer, they might borrow an urban designer from next door, but you still need the base load of people who can process those applications. Collaboration won't increase that number of people. So, in terms of specialist areas, that helps, but we still need to have a certain number of people there, available to undertake that particular piece of work, to process those applications and to see them through the process. So, collaboration is part of the answer, I think, there.
In terms of actually making the process work, the key to this—and we're very clear in Wales: we have a plan-led system. So, having an up-to-date, relevant local development plan with the right policies in it helps to unlock those developments. What we're not interested in, and we have taken steps to resist, are speculative developments outside of the plan. So, you will be aware of some of the changes that we've made to things like technical advice note 1, where we're consulting on whether we keep that particular document or not. Because in that case, the lack of a five-year housing land supply was being used to unlock what could be unsustainable sites. So we've made some policy changes in that area to strengthen that plan again. But the key to actually having a robust planning system that everybody has confidence in is having up-to-date and relevant local development plans. We're generally in a good position in Wales because we have—what is it now—22 out of 24 plans in place and a number are starting to go through the review process.
However, talking about my own local authority, we've had major housing developments approved in areas where there simply aren't any appropriate public transport links, both in Cardiff West and to the north of Cardiff, which are clearly going to make the already super-congested capital city even more congested. So clearly the planning authorities don't seem to be in charge of understanding the things that would need to be in place in order to have a sustainable proposal approved, because they're just allowing these things to go ahead even though they're clearly not sustainable.
I suppose to be fair to planning colleagues out in the different LPAs, something like that is again a whole-authority question even if the planners need to be at the heart of it. But that, as you say, brings you to your transport infrastructure, your environmental management, what you're trying to do in terms of the development of the economy and so on, and requires all parts of the organisation, much as it would within our own, in Welsh Government—it's about having a joined-up approach led collectively and driven forward, working that through. And it will be about a range of different disciplines and expertise being brought to bear on that type of problem.
Okay. But even if local authorities the size of Cardiff—
Jenny, before you go on, I think you may be straying into some of Vikki's questions.
Oh, okay. I apologise if I'm doing that. Could I just ask you about the Planning (Wales) Act 2015? It gave clear guidance that local people need to be involved at the pre-planning stage. What evidence is there that developers are really grasping that in an effective way rather than just ticking boxes?
We have guidance for how that should be done. Neil might say a bit more about that in a moment. And we might want to talk a bit more about communications generally. It's my own personal experience, never mind my professional experience, that people engage with the planning system most readily when it's absolutely the sharp end on their doorstep—'So and so wants to build something near me. I now want to engage with the local planning authority.' Getting people engaged at an earlier stage—there are lots of players involved in this, not just the developers, but the willingness of the community and indeed the authority to engage in that process.
In terms of the guidance that we give to developers pre-application—
In terms of pre-application guidance, yes, we have produced some good practice guidance for developers to use. What we've legislated for here is actually a statutory minimum rather than what could be an enhanced version, because of the range of different schemes this applies to. It can apply to quite a small development, so there's flexibility there to allow that to happen.
We have been doing some work in this area. We have been talking to the Royal Society of Architects in Wales and the Royal Town Planning Institute, and I think the feeling is that, actually, because we require for consultation at that stage virtually a full planning application and everything that goes with it, developers are unwilling to make meaningful changes afterwards. There's some interesting work, actually, which I think Savills have done, looking at the process. They've identified a number of examples where, virtually the day after the pre-application consultation closes, the planning application is submitted. So the question then becomes, 'Was that a meaningful consultation or not?'
So there is undoubtedly more work that we need to do in this area. Whether we can legislate for it, I don't know. It will have to come much earlier in the process. It's probably more linked to how you would deliver your development plan, because one of the things we're trying to do is get local authorities into the space where they starting thinking about, of those sites in whatever authority's area, 'How am I going to deliver these? How can I actually work with developers to develop those? Do I need to master plan them? Do I need to think about them in a different way?' There does tend to be a tendency at the moment to allocate the site in the plan and then just leave it to the market to decide what happens, and there needs to be more engagement at that level as well in terms of getting the community involved in the plan, what the site allocation actually means and what it looks like, and then moving on through the planning process later. So it's trying to join up that engagement piece, right from the plan-making process through.
Our experience is that communities can feel disenfranchised, because they want to comment at the planning application stage on the principle of the development, and what you'll normally hear at that point in time is that the principle of development was written in the plan over here somewhere. So they feel totally excluded from the process, and I think a lot of the angst we have around the planning system is to do with that. People aren't actually engaging when they need to earlier on.
So what's your solution for getting local authorities more engaged in that pre-application stage with communities?
It needs to be a process that starts from, if you like, really early on, when you're talking about the preferred strategy for a plan, right the way through to actually developing that site and the planning applications that go with it. So it's getting people engaged at those stages as you go along through the process.
We are looking at that area of work, because if you look at engagement in the planning process, this goes back basically to 1969 and something called the Skeffington report in 1969, which set out the standard we have for engagement in planning now. So we are starting to look at how we can get people better engaged in the plan-making process, what are the appropriate tools—
The holy grail.
The holy grail. People always like to moan about the planning process, but becoming positively involved is more difficult, isn't it?
They moan right at that end, when it's too late, when you're discussing the colour of the bricks, rather than whether it takes place or not. So, we need to try to shift people to that end of the process.
There is a lot more work that needs to be done here. We completely recognise that.
I'm aware that time is moving on and we've still got lots of questions, so I want to bring Vikki Howells in.
Thank you. If I can start off by asking you about major planning applications and the efficiency of the decision-making process there. If we're thinking about things like major infrastructure projects, for example, sometimes the start-to-end time for those types of applications can take years, rather than months. We have come across some concerns that delays in that area can hold back what's seen as desirable investment. What would you say about that? How could the efficiency of that kind of decision-making process be improved?
I think it's back to some of the points that we've touched on in various questions already in the session: getting the plan approach right upfront, getting that as well communicated as possible, because that helps the planning authority, it helps developers, it helps the community; linking that to what we're trying to do around placemaking, because that's what should be driving the decisions that go into the planning process anyway; making sure that we've got clear timetables and deadlines and expectations around what will be delivered by when and, as Neil was mentioning earlier, remedies for when that doesn't happen; and then, again, trying to lift out from the process those bigger types of applications, the strategic ones, the developments of national significance, where those are best determined at the whole country, the Welsh Government, level. I think those would be the key points I would make there.
The only one I'd add to that, really, goes back to the point you made earlier on. Quite often, you'll find that, in principle, you can agree a major application quite quickly; it's negotiating the section 106 agreement that takes a long time afterwards. So, it's actually trying to get that process streamlined, so it's back to the skills, it's back to having the legal resources to help with that.
Okay. Thank you. Moving on to the planning committees, the auditor general's report highlighted some concerns with the capability and the effectiveness of planning committees. Do you think planning committees are working effectively?
Planning committees get a bad rap. I think it's really difficult being on a planning committee. It's a tough thing to be part of the determining of a planning application, particularly when you get more contentious or sensitive things coming before you. I think we feel as a team that planning committee performance has actually improved since the Act came in in 2015. I don't think we have any whole-council committees, which I think probably created bureaucracy or added bureaucracy, and made consistency of decision making more tricky. So, numbers of people on committees are smaller. I think training for members has improved, and I think delegation rates have improved in terms of planning decisions, but I think there's more that can be done there.
There are areas where we've still got concerns. Diversity of planning committees would be one area. Again, the guidance offered at a local level and training can be, I wouldn't say patchy, but variable, anyway, and we quite often get high levels of turnover. So, it's important that when somebody comes off the committee that the individual replacing them gets the same level of training as well, and we need to keep on top of that. We work closely with local authority colleagues on that area as well.
But fundamentally, having a role on that sort of committee—and many of you will know about this from your own personal experience—you need to be able to weigh up a series of factors, you need to be able to analyse what's in front of you, form a balanced view about what's in the best interests of the community, and do all that in a way that comes with a degree of leadership. That's an important set of skills. You can come from all sorts of backgrounds and have all sorts of personal experience to bring to bear, but those are the kinds of key qualities that we're looking for in committee members.
And pulling those things together, then, when we're looking at the proportion of officer recommendations that are overturned by planning committees, that's still considered to be fairly high. What's your view on that? Is it necessarily a bad thing, or what should be done to address that, if anything?
Neil knows far more about this than I will ever know, but I think if you see an authority where that's happening a lot, there probably is an underlying issue, and it's worth the authority coming together with itself as a collective to work out what's going on, because I think that sends a bit of a worrying signal to us, as well as, I would imagine, potentially locally to the citizens of that community. We're always going to have decisions overturned—it's in the nature of the thing; it's set up in town and country planning from the get go, and the opportunity to make decisions that reflect the community and reflect local democracy, that's an important part of the system.
On rates and our support for—.
I think the important thing to remember is that town and country planning is an art rather than a science at the end of the day, so there is always going to be an element of interpretation around the policies in the development plan. I think the important thing is, actually, the quality of the advice that you get from your officers, but also the quality of the decisions that members make. So, where you have a problem with either of those, you can start to see overturn rates starting to happen. I think it's fair to say that, generally, rates are not high in Wales; there's probably one or two authorities that skew to one particular side, and that's been a historic and longstanding issue in terms of member overturns of recommendations.
Okay. Thank you. Moving on to planning appeals, then, just over a third of planning appeals are dismissed with the local planning authority's decision being overturned. Given the reduction in resources, which we've talked about at length, lost appeals can obviously reduce capacity further. So, what areas do you think need to be looked at within that context?
You need an appeals mechanism is the first thing; it's a matter of natural justice and an important part of the system. The last time I looked, I don't think the rates for Wales were very different from England. So, broadly speaking, in other planning authorities that's the sort of level we're seeing. We keep an eye on this through the annual performance framework, and authorities use that—we've been talking about that recently—both longitudinally, to look at what's happening over time in their own patch, as well as comparing what they're doing with other local authorities, and there's a lot of learning that can go on.
We were talking about particular authorities; I think, is it Wrexham that are doing a bit of a review of where they've got—? There's resultative data coming through the annual performance framework of what's gone on in respect of some of the decisions that they've made; maybe that's about appeals. But that prompts a kind of dialogue within the LPA about what's best and what might need changing.
Appeals tend to be upheld when either the authority has overlooked its own local policy or ignored national policy. So, what you'll tend to find is that most authorities will have appeals decisions on their next planning committee to understand why the appeal happened, and what was the particular issue in place at that time. Generally, appeal levels are quite low. We don't see lots of appeals. The bulk of the applications are dealt with by local planning authorities without any recourse to appeal; it's not a large area of concern. Where we do see most appeals, again, it's because there's isn't a plan there, or the plan is out of date. So, we will see housing schemes coming forward if there isn't housing land supply or if you haven't got a development plan. They're probably the most contentious ones.
Okay, thank you. My final question is around enforcement, which is an area that residents feel very strongly about. And, again, this has to be seen through the prism, really, of austerity and the cuts to planning departments, obviously. So, the auditor general's report highlights that the time taken to carry out enforcement investigations has remained static. The range of performance across Wales is variable, widely variable, and positive action following investigation is poor. So, I've just got a few questions around that really. My first one is: how often do you receive complaints about planning enforcement work?
I was going to say that Neil's team deals with the letters that come in. We get a lot of correspondence about planning issues. It's one of the top topics that Welsh Government Ministers get. I think the proportion, actually, in relation to this though is—
It's relatively low. We do see correspondence, but I would not say that it's the most significant area of correspondence that we see. Saying that, there are probably some longstanding cases that have been around for a while that probably haven't been resolved to the satisfaction of the person writing the letters to us. So, it's probably skewed by one or two cases that have been with local authorities for quite some time.
And from the correspondence that you do receive then, are you able to identify any patterns of areas of policy guidance and regulations that maybe local planning authorities are not following?
I don't think there's any particular pattern there. I think it's coming back to the point you made earlier about the resourcing of the enforcement service. I think, generally, most local planning authorities put most resource into administering planning applications and preparing their local development plan, and less into their enforcement service. That just seems to be the pattern. And we don't seem to have as many enforcement specialists as there used to be. Much more, a development management officer will deal with enforcement as well. When I started in planning, virtually every enforcement officer was either ex-police or ex-army. They would go around and they would police their patch in that way. That's not the way it works now. It's much more about something that is added on to, probably, a development management role in most cases.
And, in your opinion, is that the right way for the system to be working, with a lower priority, really, for that enforcement work?
I think it depends on how it's done. So, if you have a development management officer who knows their area very, very well—
Mind you, you couldn't get a higher priority than an ex-army officer or police, could you? [Laughter.] So, we've improved. [Laughter.]
So, I think it depends on how it's done. If you've got a case officer who's specific to a particular area, they get to know their patch, so they can be quite proactive. But if they've got a heavy caseload, because there isn't the requirement for them to take enforcement matters in quite the same way as the requirement to determine applications, it's probably something that is done when there is some time to do it. What you tend to find is that if applications tail off, enforcement picks up because people are swapping into important work.
My final question, then, is that enforcement powers are mostly discretionary; in your opinion, should those powers become compulsory now, so that local authorities are compelled to provide a minimum standard of enforcement service?
I think it's important in terms of investigating complaints. So I think it's important that, yes, there's a minimum standard there, and the performance framework drives them in that direction. What I don't think is necessary to do is, if you like, criminalise enforcement. Because what we always try to achieve is we try to use enforcement to put right the wrong that's happened. So if we can regularise it through a planning application or planning conditions, we will. Of course, if you have an enforcement notice, and then you ignore that enforcement notice, you are in the criminal end.
That's a different matter—yes.
That's a different matter.
Okay, thank you.
Thanks, Vikki. Delyth Jewell.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. We've spoken a bit already about how local communities can be more or better engaged in the planning process. And you've mentioned already, Neil, how people—well, actually, a number of you have mentioned how people tend to get involved when they are angry about a proposed development, when it's already quite advanced. And so people tend to find out late in the day, and when they are angry. How do you think that could be improved—how planning authorities will be communicating with the public? Not just communicating, actually, because that implies one-way traffic; engaging in a really meaningful way early on. We've had some suggestions that, maybe, planning authorities, or local authorities generally, could be doing more to celebrate good stories. How do you think that that could be done? Do you think there's a role for the Welsh Government in encouraging that, and almost a change in culture, so that it isn't just that people talk about things when they're controversial, but actually, celebrating how a development could actually benefit a community? I know it's a very large change that would have to happen, dependent on resources as well, but what do you think about that?
Well, I think there's a very interesting and compelling set of challenges that we face in this area. Neil's talked about the way that, traditionally, collectively, the system has gone about this. It's not ideal, to say the least, in the year 2020. We have different channels of communication, for communicating, we have different channels for engaging people. And I think it's fair to say that these will be challenges for us within Welsh Government as well—not just in respect of planning, but how we engage with people in the decisions that we're making and the policies that we're framing, so that they've got a sense of ownership of those.
We're doing a lot, as Neil was saying—we'll come back to that in a moment—by way of a programme of activity, working with local authorities and trying to drive a series of projects, I think principally, in the first case, in respect of the LDP, to try and get new tools and new approaches to operate. I think celebrating success is an important part of that, and within that, making it clear that the planning process is such a pivotal part of what we're trying to do to develop places.
That's right. And I think, if you look at 'Planning Policy Wales', it's much more people focused, so it is trying to make that connection. And we're doing some work around trying to embed that as well. So, we've set up—well, 'set up' are not quite the right words. We have a group of people helping us with something we're calling placemaking Wales. So we're bringing together some of the key stakeholders into that process—be it some of the house builders, be it the registered social landlords or others—to try and celebrate placemaking. The first thing we have agreed—or they have agreed and have worked on—is what we're calling a placemaking charter, just setting out some principles about how we engage in the process and what developments should look like in the future. We did a little bit of this work very early on, around the 2015 Act, about place plans. So, place plans were a concept for much more, if you like, bottom-up community, 'This is how we want our area to develop', and how that can feed into a formal statutory plan. That's great, but it's really dependent on really engaged individuals within a particular community. We don't have town and community councils across the whole of Wales, in our most deprived communities in particular, so you really do need someone there who's got the energy to take it forward.
We've done work with one of our—in fact, not sponsored bodies—. We fund Planning Aid Wales to do some of that work, so they're out there helping the community understand planning. But it is trying to get that community focus back into plan making, I think. That's the important thing and actually engaging people through that process.
Thank you, and that's something that we'll come back to with other questions later on.
The Planning Aid Wales guidance, is that something that the committee might—. I don't know, have you come across this in your research to date?
The Planning Aid Wales guidance around placemaking and place plans.
I don't think we've seen that. We've spoken about placemaking, but we haven't seen that.
We can perhaps get that through to you.
Yes, fantastic, thank you. And following on from that, the specific ways of engaging with the public for local planning authorities, that's set out in Welsh Government guidance—it tends to be quite traditional. They're talking about things like leaflet drops or adverts in the local papers that might not necessarily be where most people will go to look for information, sadly. Do you think that that should be—? I don't want to ask a leading question. How do you think that is going? Should that be improved and how? And, taking account of how some people have suggested that maybe more use could be made of social media—. Of course, that tends to be targeted towards certain demographics as well. So, do you think—? Would you—? That is leading. What do you think about this situation?
No, I think it's a perfectly legitimate set of questions. We get quite a lot of pushback, I think it's fair to say, from local journals if you talk about the notion that you might get away from notices, because I think it's probably fairly well understood that that helps drive income for them. And you suddenly find yourself move from a discussion around what's best for the planning system and engaging with people to supporting local journalism and then local democracy and so on, which, although they are separate policy initiatives, they are clearly linked, to some extent.
But to your leading question—
Which I tried desperately not to be leading.
—we should be making much more use of digital tools and social media than we do, collectively. And that's why I was saying I don't think Welsh Government is exempt from that at all. We live in an age now when a lot of people—not all demographics and not all parts of society—absorb their information and engage with public services in a different way, and it's a different set of things that are required now.
Yes, I totally agree. This is an area where we need to do a lot more work, because it is very, very traditional at the moment. So, if you look at the development plan, for example, we encourage people to engage in that process. The only times they have a statutory right to engage in that process is when the preferred strategy is produced, and that's six weeks consultation, and then another six weeks when the plan is produced.
We need to look at: is there a role for things like participatory democracy in this? Are we thinking about things like citizens' juries, citizens' assemblies? How could that help inform the plan-making process? Then, right the way through to how we use social media. If the expectation is that the plan sets out how that area is going to change over the next 15 years, arguably, 12 weeks of consultation isn't enough; we need to find other ways to do it, and actually get people to understand the process and get them to buy into that process. There have to be new ways of doing things. There are some quite interesting apps and other things out there, which are starting to come forward as well, which can help with this process.
I think the demography's important. We're planning here for 15 years ahead. If we look at it now, the planning committee, some of them, one might dare say, might not be around to see the plan implemented. So, it's how do you actually get everybody who's got an interest in that plan to engage, rather than just relying on eight, nine or 10 members of the planning committee?
Diolch, Delyth. Gareth Bennett.
Thanks. Placemaking has been mentioned a few times, and this is supposed to be an integral part of the planning system now, and getting local people's input into the planning system, but place plans themselves haven't been that successful to date. The auditor general has found that there has been little progress in developing these. And, of course, there is a lack of resources and a lack of planning expertise.
Now, I know Neil just mentioned Planning Aid Wales—well, I don’t think that's cropped up before in the inquiry that we've had, so perhaps that needs to be publicised. I don't know how useful a tool that will be, but there does seem to me to be a massive gap between a concept of placemaking and the reality of the planning system when we've got stuff like what Jenny said earlier—an LDP dictating developments in west Cardiff that don’t seem to have much democratic consent behind them from local people. So, I don't know how place plans are going to find their place in the planning system, and how this is all going to work, because it doesn't seem to be at the moment.
So, back to the point I made earlier, placemaking is absolutely at the heart of all of this, and it brings a wider range of factors together, and the challenge and the opportunity is to engage communities at that early stage, both in developing the place plan, but also then feeding that into the development of the local development plan.
We have got some authorities using place plans, from memory. One of the national parks—I think the Brecon Beacons—does so. Conwy, I think, as well. So, we do have some examples out there, and we draw this process in as part of the factors of decision making for LDPs on a voluntary basis, don't we, rather than statutorily.
Yes. So, at the moment, place plans are supplementary planning guidance. They're prepared ahead of development plans. So, I think Brecon Beacons and Conwy are good examples. If they're then included in the development plan, they then get statutory status. So, you can get status in that way.
Planning Aid Wales have done a lot of work in this area. So, they've got a particular website that just deals with place plans. The Design Commission for Wales, as well, have done some work in terms of 'shape my place'. So, there are a number of resources out there, but this is highly dependent upon individuals wanting to and communities wanting to do this, and it's also highly dependent on local planning authorities letting go, to a degree, as well. Some local planning authorities are quite paternalistic and 'they know what's best for you'. So, this is an opportunity to counter some of that, and address those local issues.
Yes. I mean, there are problems associated with it in that it sounds like it's not going to happen in an uniform way—it's going to depend on local circumstances, and you pointed out earlier a lot of areas don't have community councils. The other problem seems to be that it's got to feed into the LDP at an early stage and, of course, different councils—. This came up last week, didn't it? Different councils are at different stages of the cycle. So, there are practical problems.
I think it can be—. I think that's a good point about the cycle, or the cyclic nature of it all. I think a place plan can be brought in at review stage, can it? When you—.
They are purely a local initiative, so a local community could, if it wished to, take the local development plan and create a place plan to deliver that. It could do one ahead of a review. So, this a highly flexible tool, which is really down to the local initiative and will to actually get involved in how their community develops in the future.
Okay. So, that does put the onus on the community. That's an interesting point, because in England, seemingly they're doing something different with neighbourhood plans, and there's a requirement coming in to make place plans part of the wider local plan framework. Is there a case that that approach might be preferable?
So, in England, neighbourhood plans are discretionary. There are requirements for things like referenda to approve them. If you look at some of the neighbourhood plans in England, they, if you like, stopped working when key individuals have moved away. So, they're not a panacea either. We concluded that place plans were probably a better way to go. I think you've got to remember, as well, most of our local authorities in Wales are probably smaller than a lot of local authorities in England. So, some of our local authorities aren't much bigger than authorities that will be preparing place plans.
Just before you go on, Gareth—Rhianon Passmore, do you have a brief supplementary? Because we haven't got much time.
In regard then to previous comments made also from previous witnesses around the potential importance of place plans and the limited usage so far, and the context of a shrunken planning authority base, what incentive is there, then, for putting resources into this, from a local authority's perspective? What incentive is there for them to do this rather than just not do this?
I think it's about wider community buy-in to the whole process. If you can get people engaged at an early enough stage in how a particular place works—how their place, their patch, works—you're more likely to have effective engagement on the statutory processes, you're more likely to get your upfront signal, clear signal, about what a place wants in terms of how it's going to develop in the broadest sense, and there is a value to that.
Do you see that that would make more work for a local authority's planning department?
I would probably argue it on the basis of it being an investment upfront in order to reap benefits down the track.
So, for an already overstretched department—.
I think what you'd find as well is that it might be a case of redeploying resource that we already have. There's an awful lot of place-based activity taking place already in many communities—so, you think about things like business improvement districts and you think about some of the regeneration work. Perhaps it's a case of bringing it all together in one place. One element of it would be the land-use planning element of it. So, it's about how you deploy resources as much as additional resource.
I think Neil's point about this is about the authority's wider vision, rather than seeing place plans as a narrow thing to do with one little community—if an authority's got a vision for investment in a particular part of the patch, if it's got a plan for a new school or moving a school from one place to another place, how does that impact on all of the other key services? I think there is a potentially really interesting discussion to get into there, which would benefit the authority in the long term.
But, currently, there is no real incentive, other than that wider-level vision of a more participatory, engaged—
It's got to be linked to the wider authority's vision.
Okay, back to the questions, then. Had you finished, Gareth?
Yes. Thanks, Chair.
Okay, good. Jenny Rathbone.
We talked earlier a little bit about the planning Act requiring planning authorities to integrate the principles of sustainable development, as defined by the well-being of future generations Act. I think it's quite difficult for the committee to understand how well local authorities are paying due regard to this, given the time lag that necessarily occurs between putting forward a proposal, taking it to committee and then actually having it built. Obviously, the most disastrous examples are of being allowed to build on floodplains, but I would like to hope that we haven't given any permissions for that since the well-being of future generations Act.
We can come back to that, if you would like to, in a moment. [Laughter.]
But I think, really, the question is how we can make planning authorities more aware of the need to join up all of the dots in terms of sustainable development going forward.
Well, we've got—. So, your point about lags in the system working their way through is absolutely valid. I think one of the things that we struggle with a bit, in terms of how we work with local authorities, and, indeed, other parts of the public sector in this area, is getting a suite of measures, an integrated suite of measures, that actually tell you something really meaningful about what's going on. So, you can have a glimpse of particular elements, and you've mentioned building on floodplains—that is one glimpse into the sustainability agenda and how we might measure performance, but it's just one. There's a whole suite of other things that we could be looking at to get some sense of whether well-being is properly integrated into the way that a local authority, or a local planning authority in this particular context, is operating.
You do need to have skills to do that, and I'm not sure that everyone has necessarily got the right sort of sets of skills. You do need a mindset and leadership that will drive that. You need to have, where we can provide it, good guidance to help with that. We've worked through 'Planning Policy Wales' and the things that will flow from PPW, the 2018 version. But also Neil's point about the placemaking charter and the work that we're doing there—that's a major initiative, with lots of buy-in from different partners. I think, when that launches later this month, that's a good platform to build on further. Is it worth saying more about how the well-being stuff comes together in terms of the different instruments that we're working with?
Yes. So, well-being, how we actually deliver this through the planning process, I think you've got to remember that the first round of LDPs were pre the well-being of future generations Act. We've always had sustainable development that's written into development plans and we've had a process of sustainability appraisal. We've got a key role in that process. So, we comment on all plans that are produced. We are certainly commenting on them now very clearly, looking back to sustainable development, the well-being of future generations Act—the climate change emergency as well; that's starting to figure in some of our planning decisions. So, in some of the planning decisions we've made, we've identified the climate emergency as being an important factor. So, we can do that at the plan-making stage.
When we get involved in planning decisions, we demonstrate in our decision letters how we comply with the well-being of future generations Act, so there will be a section in there about how that particular decision relates to the well-being of future generations Act. I'd expect local authorities to do the same as well. They're under the same requirement as we are. They're under the same requirement to actually report against the well-being indicators as well. So, the machinery is there; it's just making sure it's actually complied with.
The future generations commissioner, you've had her here for one of the sessions. I think she's fairly clear that, her post book, planning figures quite highly within that. People see well-being and the well-being of future generations Act as a reason to object to planning applications in many cases, perhaps rightly or wrongly. That may be the right thing to do; it may not. But I think the important thing here, again, is back to getting that plan right at the start. We've got a plan-led system here. So, if you've got the wrong policies in the plan, you're never going to get to the point you want to get to in terms of implementing the well-being of future generations Act.
Okay. And then, just going back to section 106 agreements, we've had additional written evidence from Mark Harris, who is a planning and policy adviser to the Home Builders Federation. In his supplementary written evidence, he seems to be indicating that large house builders are being very nice in contributing towards the physical works in a community, to improve the highways, the outdoor spaces and community facilities, as if otherwise people should be allowed to get away with simply dumping several hundred houses on a plot of land without any placemaking plans. So, surely that is a requirement, end of story. We can't any longer have large-scale developments without it integrating all the other things that make for a viable community.
So, a section 106 contribution area is to make a development acceptable. So, if it's not making it acceptable, arguably the authority should be refusing that application. That's the bottom line. I think what we need is, again, ensuring that local development plans have clear expectations in terms of what's being sought by way of section 106 contributions. That's the only way you will impact on the land value. Like it or not, developers, I think—or I know—find it easier to negotiate down an affordable housing contribution than to go back to the landowner and say, 'Actually, I've offered too much for your piece of land'. So, that process is pushing in that direction.
Okay. So, the landowner is going off with the money that should have been spent on the public good. So, we've been told that local planning authorities simply don't have the capacity and the expertise in their legal teams to make the best use of section 106 agreements and even to make them stick. So, how should local authorities and Welsh Government be tackling this? If they're entering into a negotiation, they have to be prepared to say no.
So, one of the ways we can do it, and I think there are examples already, is back to that point you made earlier on about how we collaborate. So, there are, I believe, existing joint working arrangements in terms of legal services. So, a number of authorities will share the same legal resource. There is absolutely no reason why you cannot have a specialist in terms of negotiating—well, writing up section 106 agreements, the lawyer part of that process. The work towards corporate joint committees provides another opportunity to do that, to bring some of that together to actually ensure that that resource is there. At the end of the day, a section 106 agreement is enforceable in law. It is a contract. So, if you get the right section 106 agreement, you can enforce against that. I think the issue we found—. We were acutely aware that affordable housing contributions were going down, so we tracked a number of developments through the process and the numbers went down. You need to get that negotiation right right at the outset when that plan is prepared. As an authority, you need to be clear on what you require in terms of affordable housing, highways improvements, and everything else, and in some cases, you might need to prioritise as well, because you might have too much in terms of an ask.
Okay. But once again, Mark Harris on behalf of the Home Builders Federation is arguing that the price paid for affordable houses by registered social landlords is less than the cost to build them. Do you buy that idea, given that we seem to be able to build quality homes well within the envelope of local authority budgets?
I don't have that information, sorry.
Okay, I'm sorry. But it seems to me that that's something we need to challenge. But is that part of the experience you have, where local authorities are getting into difficulty with a developer who's kicking back on paying what they've already signed up to do?
If a local authority wants to implement its development plan—there are examples where they have accepted lower contributions to section 106 than you would have expected, looking at the policy.
Okay. Obviously, it's concerning if they're continually watering down the affordable housing element—the people who most need the housing. And just finally, in your experience, do you get local authorities charging a monitoring fee for the section 106 to be implemented, and use this to pay for specialist individuals who will make sure that they're delivering what has been contracted for?
A number of authorities do that, yes. So, I think Vale of Glamorgan is one of those.
Okay. But do you think that that's something that other local authorities need to be aware of there—that it's an option?
There is quite a lot of sharing of knowledge and expertise amongst local authorities on that sort of thing.
Okay. And just finally, the alternative approach, but you can't double-dip, is the community infrastructure levy, which obviously has been in place since the 2008 Planning Act. Could you just explain why planning authorities are going for the section 106 rather than the community infrastructure levy, because we understand that only three local authorities use infrastructure, the CIL? And what are the benefits and disbenefits of this approach, as opposed to the section 106?
So, CIL was or is regarded as a tax, so it's something that was devolved to Wales in 2017, through the Wales Act 2017. It is highly, highly complicated, so if you look at the CIL regulations, trying to find your way through them is a complete nightmare. If you think we've got complicated policy, it's nothing like CIL regulations. So, local authorities find it quite challenging in terms of the legislative framework. They find it quite costly as well, because you have things like a CIL examination, you have to produce an infrastructure plan. There's a whole host of different work that takes place and it's examined. I think it's probably fair to say, of the three authorities that have CIL, I suspect they are only just clearing their costs in terms of setting that CIL charging schedule up. So, those three authorities are RCT, Caerphilly and Merthyr, I believe. So, later authorities have, I think, decided that the return is not great enough because of the expense involved. They also feel that they can get more from negotiating section 106 agreements they can get through a standard charge. Now, this is an area of work, now that it's devolved, we are beginning to look at. If we do retain CIL, we will be seeking to simplify it, considerably, from where it is at the moment.
Okay. We're almost out of time, but I'm going to bring Mohammad Asghar in for some final questions. Oscar.
Thank you very much, Chair, and good afternoon to you all. I have a couple of questions regarding well-being and planning and local authorities. Do you think that the local planning authorities are using their land-use planning powers effectively to promote new development and improvement in their area?
There's more that can be done. We've talked a bit about how you use place plans, a placemaking approach, to drive things more generally. In terms of specifics—.
In terms of specifics, it's actually promoting them in their areas. I think we need to get away from the position where the local authority's role is finished when they produce the plan. We need to get into a place where there is more of a partnership between landowners/developer, local authority and community, to actually deliver the sorts of developments we want to see. At the moment, most local authorities feel, once they have a plan in place, that's the end of the process until the planning application comes along. So, getting much more of a shared endeavour around creating the sorts of places we want to see is the critical part of that.
Okay, thank you. There are concerns that the planning is not recognised as a key service that contributes to well-being, and is often marginalised in senior corporate decision-making structures in local government. Is this your experience?
Well, you've heard me wax lyrical today about the importance of planning to what we're trying to achieve across the whole of Wales. If you look at it in those terms and you think about it as a shared endeavour, it is a massively important contribution to how we shape the places in which we live, and how we deliver a whole suite of outcomes—environmental, social, economic—under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. So, I'm pretty passionate about it from a policy perspective, and I know Neil's passionate about it from a technical professional perspective, and John from—John is looking at climate change and energy questions now, having come across from the housing portfolio within Welsh Government. You know, it's how all these things will come together. We think it's important, Ministers think it's important. We make those points whenever we get the opportunity to do so. Training—what we can do with the profession as a whole. Working with the Royal Town Planning Institute, with the universities and colleges who are producing graduates, and the possibility of apprentices in this area—all of that capability, as well as status, I think is an important part of this.
But how can we improve it?
Well, among other things, the committee producing a report that says how much you think this is important, because that will add weight to our efforts.
Thank you. A good design can enhance well-being. Do you think that local planning authorities have the skills, experience and capabilities to design and deliver good-quality developments?
Not in all cases. Neil touched earlier on on where there's the opportunity to collaborate and share expertise on design, and we think the corporate joint committees approach could help with that. We do fund—
The Design Commission for Wales. So, since 2002 we've had the Design Commission for Wales as a wholly owned company assisting us in this area. They undertake things like design reviews—so major projects, they will review. They provide training for local authorities, they provide other support as well. They're supporting us on the placemaking work. So, we give them a small amount of money every year and they have done a lot of work in this area, helping to improve design skills and design generally.
Have you got expertise in your department in planning? Because in the private sector it's a bit different.
Yes, that's fair.
So, that is an area I'd like to see some real expertise to make sure the services are done properly and to enhance the importance and the deliverability in the area.
So, the really important thing with the design commission is that they have core staff of, I think, four, but they then have a whole series of commissioners. So, they have brought in, essentially free of charge, people who are experts in their particular field. So, they've got some people who are experts in designing stations, for example. Experts in major road infrastructure. So, we have that expertise, or the design commission has that expertise it can draw on as part of the design and review process. So, for example, the innovative housing programme—the design commission looked at those projects on behalf of Welsh Government. So, we use that resource quite extensively to help drive up design standards and help locally, where we can.
Okay, we are out of time. Rhianon Passmore had a number of questions. Rhianon, did you have a burning question you'd like to ask?
I do have one burning question, actually, Chair. I will leave the ones—we've touched on well-being with previous questions. It's just, really, to understand the wider context of this. In practice, with regard to the expediency of planning applications, how do you feel a joint corporate committee would expedite planning applications, bearing in mind that you may well have other local authorities' departmental internal determinations to await, and, obviously, then a potentially and probably another call or voice on the appropriation of section 106?
So, the proposals in the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill are around strategic planning only, not around determining planning applications. So, the only function the CJC will have is preparing a strategic development plan.
Okay, that's fine.
So they will not be—. There's obviously the ability for local authorities to use that CJC model themselves to bring together their own services, so there may be other planning services they voluntarily bring into that process.
So, there would be complete redesign around it. Okay, thank you.
Great, thank you, Rhianon. Are you okay if we write to you with any remaining questions that we haven't reached—
Of course, yes.
—because we had a lot to get through? Okay, thank you to our witnesses, Andrew Slade, Neil Hemington and John Howells. Thanks for being with us today.
I thank the committee.
It's been really helpful. We'll send you a transcript of today's proceedings for you to check before it's published. Thank you.
Okay, a short five-minute break—a tea break.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 14:35 ac 14:49.
The meeting adjourned between 14:35 and 14:49.
Great. Sorry for the delay. I had an impromptu meeting outside about some important issues. Can I welcome our witnesses and welcome you back to the committee? You are frequent attendees of this committee, so we know who you are, but would you like to give your name and position for the Record of Proceedings?
Prynhawn da. Good afternoon. I'm Andrew Goodall, I'm the director general for health and social services and the NHS Wales chief executive.
Hi. Alan Brace, director of finance, health and social services group, Welsh Government.
Great. Thanks for being with us today to discuss the implementation of the NHS Finance (Wales) Act 2014, so we appreciate this evidence session. I'll kick off with the first question, and despite what looks like a record increase in funding, your evidence submission shows the financial position of NHS Wales has barely improved, and performance, especially in emergency and planned care, is not good. Where's all the money gone?
So, Chair, perhaps if I could have a chance to draw out some areas from our evidence paper, just in response to you, which may be of interest to the committee. But if I could also just say that I welcome the chance to speak here this afternoon as well. We are usually after a financial year looking backwards, and it feels a little different to be able to be in here, albeit I know with a matter of weeks to go, in terms of being able to comment on the in-year position as well. So, just to say, it was unusual, but perhaps an appropriate change of focus for the committee as well.
We are trying, I think, Chair, to balance, of course, a real focus around the system managing within its resources at both the national level and within organisations, but also trying to make sure that we are focused on quality, prevention and outcomes. And if I could just separate out in terms of where the money is applied or not, we are also trying to balance an overall position on the main expenditure group, which the Minister has a responsibility for, alongside continuing to track some of the underlying pressures with the NHS system, and not least what has been the underlying NHS deficit.
As we've dealt with in previous evidence as well, we've tried to ensure that there has been a different feel about accountability and compliance within the NHS system over the last few years in particular, trying to balance challenge and scrutiny and setting expectations, alongside making sure that the system does have analysis, support and intervention available alongside it.
So, in terms of where the money and the focus should be this stage, actually we expect, by the end of the year, the overall MEG to balance. We do expect the NHS position to be somewhere around £92 million at the year end. It's a small improvement on where we were last year, but maintaining some material improvement that we've seen over previous years. Eight out of our 11 organisations will break even, and seven out of our 11 organisations have approved plans. Having said that, though, I am disappointed in the three organisations that have still not been able to overcome their deficit. We would have expected improvement, certainly, in all of those through this year, and I'm very happy to answer some questions about those.
What I would also say about the application of the money, it's quite right that we have seen significant funding coming into this year and that we've needed to apply that. Firstly, there are some underlying pressures that have just been covered off within the system of a material level. If I could give you an example that we set out in the evidence paper: just the pass-through costs of pay awards and pension comes to about £265 million of the money, which is really us just passing money straight on into the system.
We have tried to use the budget very differently this year, though. We have had a focus on making sure that given that we announced 'A Healthier Wales' as the 10-year plan for the health and care system in Wales, to make sure we have a budget, not just dealing with immediate pressures, but rather to actually deal with our expectations for service change and transformation across the area. So, looking to invest in areas like primary care, social care, the transformation fund and digital. We're 18 months into the 10-year plan, and I think what we've tried to do through the budget arrangements this year is to make sure that we are laying foundations, I hope, for benefits that will happen over subsequent years.
You told us in July that the residual deficit for this year, 2019-20, would be managed within the health and social services budgets. So, that's happened. How much of that has been due, though, to the drawing down of reserves to support the budget?
Actually, in terms of the reserve position, we will have ended up drawing much less reserve again this year. There was a reliance, certainly if I reflect back on my starting point here, where reserves were significantly being allocated to the NHS system. We've seen another £40 million drop in the level of reserve that's happening, and some of the reserves' money that we've accessed at this stage have been for very specific things—adjustments around prescribing arrangements that happen at the UK level. We've had some refunding of some investment that we put into warehouse arrangements around Brexit preparation. So, I think the level of reserves we've actually had to draw down on at this stage is probably the lowest I've seen, certainly, in my time. Alan, I don't know if you've got any particular comment on that.
No, only to say that when we assessed the plans for the three boards in escalation, we felt that there was a level of risk in those plans, so we covered that in the MEG through contingency. We've had to use that contingency now to cover the drift. As Andrew said, we've probably drawn down a lot less from reserves. What we have drawn down reserves for are the normal things that we would. So, prescription pricing regulation changes, a UK issue; we have got an agreement that they won't be met by the MEG, that they'll be covered outside. The only, I guess, different one this year was that, last year, we used £12 million of our MEG to fund the additional store as part of the Brexit preparations, and that money was paid back to us in the MEG this year from reserves. That would be the only unusual one.
Thanks. I realise I've meandered into Gareth Bennett's area. Gareth, I asked your question there, did you have anything you wanted to add?
I'll bring you in later. Okay, if we move on to question three and Delyth Jewell.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. You mentioned that you would have liked to have seen improvements in the three health boards that had deteriorated. The forecast for those three health boards deteriorated significantly, I think, between months 9 and 10. Can you give us an assurance that that won't be seen in months 11 and 12, and why do you think the situation is as it is?
Well, certainly, as we started the financial year and as we were giving our previous evidence, we were reflecting on an assessment process that we'd been through with the whole of the NHS but actually with these three organisations. So we feel that our control totals that are set are pretty robust. They are stretching and challenging, and I accept that, but it's quite clear that organisations haven't met our expectations. As I said, I am very disappointed. Through the year, organisations do have to ensure that we are aware of concerns they have. They have to use their board governance machinery to make sure that they're tracking the finances. It may be worth Alan just outlining—. What we have been doing ourselves, of course, is not just waiting for a declaration by the boards, we've wanted to intervene earlier this year. I don't think we'll now have any surprises as we get to the year end. So, I think that the positions we have declared will be as they are by the end of March.
I just wonder if it's worth talking about the process we deploy to make sure that we do track these numbers and that we have intervened ourselves, Alan.
Yes. Again, by way of context, what we did this year in setting the control totals, we looked at the level of resources we were allocating to the boards. Through the work of the finance delivery unit, we've got an opportunities framework, which is about opportunities for improvement. So we looked at the boards through that lens as well and, increasingly, through the value-based healthcare lens, particularly in the areas of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer, we can see opportunities to improve outcomes by spending money differently, rather than reducing costs.
So, we did our assessment, we set the control totals, and the boards then produced their plans based on that evidence and their own internal plans for delivery. The finance delivery unit assessed the quality of those plans, I guess, more pessimistically than the boards. They felt confident that— . And the reason for that was that we felt there was still too high a level of unidentified savings going into the new year, and some of those were back-ended to the last past of the year, which has been, I guess, a repeated criticism from the Wales Audit Office.
We allowed Hywel Dda University Local Health Board to run for a month. When we looked at their month 1 position, that confirmed that the risks were material and not going to be dealt with, so we pulled a specification together to look at grip and control, opportunities framework and delivery, and delivery arrangements and strengthening those. We put that out to tender. KPMG won that. That was at the beginning of June when that went out. Abertawe Bro Morgannwg going into Swansea Bay University Local Health Board, we felt that, again, there was risk in their plans: a lot of back-ended savings. They felt confident that they could get at those early. We gave them the first quarter to do that and then, in August, we put out a similar specification that we did for Hywel Dda for them. Those two reports are now in and the boards are producing their action plans, so we probably have lost a couple of months now, I guess, in terms of some of the capability to deliver.
And then Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board was in a different position. We'd already been working with them. They commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers, who completed their work at the end of June, to try to give them a little bit more of the year to deliver. So that's a little bit, I guess, of the context that we set control totals within.
Thank you for that. That's really helpful.
Do you think that the deterioration will be seen again in months 11 and 12, or do you feel confident that that's happened now and that—?
No, I think because our assessment has unfortunately proved to be correct, we've been tracking those numbers with a fair degree of confidence. We've just had the day 5 position, so five days into the new month we get the previous month's reported position and all of the boards are on track to hit the forecast deficits that we're now working towards.
Okay. Thank you. Looking specifically at Swansea bay, you told us last year as a committee that that was a risk, and you've just referred to that. I wanted to ask when you became aware that they weren't going to break even. Was that in August, that you said? Was that the first time that you would have known that?
No. We assessed their plan as being high risk going into the financial year. The board was far more confident in their plan. It was the back-ended nature that was worrying us as well, so we wanted to see the pace and scale of their delivery in the first quarter, and then we decided that, actually, those risks were material and we then set about the commissioning work for KPMG to come in.
It is a balance because, having been a health board chief executive myself, it's not just simply about landing an end-of-year number and, certainly, when you're trying to improve your finances, you need to have a sense of some ambition for the organisation to improve. I do think that Swansea bay had had a good year for the previous financial year. They had come within their control total. That was quite an important principle to be established, and they've had quite a lot of change, I know, around their table at this stage. But it was also important that what they had to declare was their concerns about their deficit position as part of their own board governance. I know the board has been reviewing these things at a level of detail. We have at least been able to manage the change in their financial forecast, again, within the overall ministerial budget, so we can, I think, judge to make some sense of that at this stage. But whatever we were tracking ourselves, the board itself had to declare what its position was, and that's part of our formal reporting arrangements.
Okay. Thank you. And you mentioned that there have been changes around the table there. I think that they've had a new chair and chief exec. Do you feel confident that, under the new leadership, that will be enough of a change to get a grip of the situation and turn things around?
If I look back over the last year and a half or so—it's two years if you involve the chief executive—there have been a number of appointments around their executive team table that I think helped them positively to move on; some key roles like the medical director and the nurse director, for example. I think we do see the leadership focused on the right issues. I know that probably they will be frustrated themselves that some of their approaches for the longer term, focusing on the right sorts of issues, outcomes for their communities, isn't quite translating into perhaps some of the short-term savings that we would expect at this moment in time.
I think that we have to keep pressing them to see a translation into some of the performance areas, but if you were trying to judge where we are on our tone with them, I had to write back to them after the last set of our tripartite reflections, indicating to the team that we were disappointed that we'd not had the chance to reflect on whether they were starting to approach some level of de-escalation. So, that's probably more my tone at the moment. I know they're disappointed about where they are this year, but we are disappointed, too. I think we still have an ongoing responsibility, though, to make sure that we give the right support and intervention, but ultimately this is a board that needs to still make its own decisions and balance our expectations for quality alongside managing within resources.
Okay. Thank you. And finally from me, what effect do you think it had when Bridgend was transferred into Cwm Taf Morgannwg? Do you think that that played a part in the deterioration financially for Swansea bay?
My opening comment would be, as I think we reported in our last evidence session, importantly, they actually got to the transfer and that happened, and that was able to be done without impacts. So, services carried on and there was the overall administration. On the financial side of things, Alan, perhaps you want to give a view on your take, because we were looking to reconcile the two boards.
For Swansea bay, actually, financially there was a benefit to the transfer, and that was probably for two reasons. There was a transition board arrangement between the two organisations. Late in March last year, the two finance directors agreed that of the £10 million ending deficit for ABM, £7 million of that related to Bridgend, so a £7 million deficit actually transferred to the new Cwm Taf Morgannwg. So, that should have improved the position in the new Swansea bay. The other element, particularly in the first transition year, was that there were certain economies of scale that Cwm Taf would benefit from—it was moving to a much bigger organisation; it had all of the allocation for Bridgend—and there were some diseconomies of scale left in Swansea that they would need to deal with in the sense that they were a smaller organisation. The two chief execs and finance directors got together and worked together, and agreed that that was about £2 million that needed to transfer from Cwm Taf Morgannwg back into Swansea bay, and that has been actioned. So, to some extent, there shouldn't be any residual issues associated with Bridgend that has caused any deterioration in Swansea bay's financial position this year.
Okay. Diolch. Thank you.
Thanks, Delyth. Rhianon Passmore.
Thank you, Chair. Firstly, I welcome the stated comment around the drop in the usage of reserves that you've highlighted earlier, and also the emphasis around refocusing of spend around preventative service change and digital. Going back to the health boards with regard to the eight break even, the seven approved, and the three deficit, with regard to the positions of Hywel Dda and Betsi Cadwaladr, with regard to their ability or otherwise to meet their control totals—and that expectation is not good—what is your view on their position in that regard?
Alan, do you want to start off? I may just give a personal view on it as well, but do you want to start?
Hywel Dda first. I guess if you look the products for the KPMG work, that's probably a good insight into where their current challenges are and where they need to address. So, there were aspects of grip and control that they needed to address, and I guess that's quite unfortunate; you would expect most of those to be dealt with now—they've been a board that's been around for 10 years. They clearly were struggling to translate all of their opportunities for improvement into delivery. So, there was a lot of work to, I guess, badge those opportunities up into the here and now, and what they can do in the medium term. And then, the last thing that they've got to get to grips with is their delivery arrangements through their structure—they need a lot more development and tightening up—and aspects of that are to do with the way they've structured themselves, as well as some of their accountability arrangements.
So, with regard to the more long-standing issues around the board, obviously, there's clarity and sight of that. What actions are taking place in that regard?
They are now producing both their action plans, and then reflecting that in a number of versions of plans that are going through the finance delivery unit at the moment.
Okay. And Betsi Cadwaladr—
And there is a link to the broader plans for the organisation as well. So, what Hywel Dda gives, however, is some progress on some other areas. It was really important that, as an area, they did pin down a clinical service strategy for the future, so they're able at least now to know where they are looking to head for the future. For a number of organisations, when they're improving, often our challenge isn't what we think it's going to look like in 10 years' time; it's what the milestones are for the next three years. So, I think the board is probably still working its way through some of those choices, and Hywel Dda, actually, irrespective of the financial context, has actually given us some good levels of performance on both quality and some of the traditional measures. So, it's been doing really well on referral-to-treatment times and diagnostics, for example, and it's generally at the higher end of some of the unscheduled care system performance. So, it shows this kind of balance between how you deal with quality, performance, and then also to do it within the finances within the system.
But there are some overriding issues on top of any thematic subject areas that are actually more important, to some extent, in terms of the health of any organisation, but I take your point.
With regard to Betsi Cadwaladr, what's your position and view around that?
On the finance side, there's obviously a broader range of issues in Betsi. I think they certainly benefited from PricewaterhouseCooper intervention. It's a shame that that took until the end of June to complete. They've certainly got the highest level of savings declared this year across all health boards in Wales. So, they are an organisation that has, certainly in the current context, at least increased their level of savings.
Is that a good thing in this regard?
Yes, given the opportunities that they've got, I think that's good, in the sense that they've got there; there's probably further that they could have got to. They've also managed to be £16 million above their original plan in terms of savings. Unfortunately, with some of the other pressures that have hit them in terms of spend, they haven't really seen the benefit of that come through in terms of their control total. But they've certainly benefited from the various intervention work in terms of level of savings, and increase above some of their original starting plan.
Okay, thank you. With regard to the key lessons from Cardiff and Vale's efforts to improve their financial position, and now they're obviously on the break-even keel, what is your perspective around that?
I do think we have lessons from Cardiff on how it translates into finance, but also, I think, some messages about how they've balanced planning and given a confidence in their delivery generally. We also have seven other organisations in Wales that give us the confidence that they can manage within their resources, so it's probably broader than Cardiff. But I do think that for the organisations that are in escalation, and there is an association with finance, we do ask them to look at the Cardiff experience. I remember two years ago a moment with Cardiff, where you could see the intent from the team and from the organisation, but they were really struggling to work their way through. And I do think one of the significant moments was when they were able to give clear milestones for the 12 months, two years and three years ahead. They could show that they had grip immediately, and they could show that they had a great plan for the future for 10 years. But they were really struggling over that time frame, which is the planning time frame that we work to. But, yes, we are looking to share those messages. I know, Alan, you've done that through some of the financial mechanisms. It's a bit broader than just the finances, though; it's about sharing some of the planning lessons as well, and we've got various mechanisms and events through our networks that allow us to do that.
So, in that regard—and you've anticipated the next question around lessons learned—they are very different issues, and there are some similar issues, in the three that I've mentioned here in these questions, but they are obviously very, very significant issues, and the ability to be able to disseminate that good practice, and have the tools, and I know, in terms of the new executive, we're working in that direction as well—how are you going to spread them? You've mentioned one or two new initiatives or—
Yes. There are planning mechanisms that we have in place. So, we have learning events, and we are trying to make sure that this progress has happened. I think we did try to promote Cardiff's position on the escalation framework, because often there was a focus on organisations going into it—
But, through the Chair, those planning mechanisms have already existed, and, obviously, there has not been that measure of sharing that good practice.
It's probably worth using the financial delivery unit mechanisms on how we've tried to create a value and efficiency framework for Wales, because it allows us to distill those lessons, and it turns it into products. So, on anything where we've learned it, we're able to issue it. So perhaps a reflection on that, Alan. Thank you.
And specifically on Cardiff, I guess—just to explain some of the sharing that we've done—on the non-financial side, but it did impact, I think Cardiff certainly benefited from a much more stable performance in unscheduled care and planned care. They've done a lot more learning, they've got a lot of work going on with Canterbury in New Zealand—I think that's helped. And they've certainly lifted their heads and looked forward on the financial side. So, some of their work on prevention with partners, their active travel work, probably is starting to show that they are starting to think a little bit more strategically about their finances. On the financing specifically, though, they had a very experienced finance director who did turn-around in Yorkshire—I think they benefited from that. They had a very strong pipeline of savings, and they were quite religious about what was classified and what wasn't, to try and accelerate the pipeline into delivery. And they put a lot more rigour into some of their investment decisions, their business cases, benefits realisation. So, that was probably the Cardiff stuff.
In terms of how we share that, and not just for Cardiff, I've probably got three avenues, depending on what the issue is. I've got the finance delivery unit, which is much more in the mandating space. So, if I take the Cardiff example, we thought that there was merit in the way that they were running their savings pipeline. We shared that with all of the health boards, they were all in agreement, so we actually made that a monitoring requirement. So, that was almost mandated, that everybody—
So, what happens if it's not agreed to be a monitoring requirement? Because, essentially, what we're talking about is we can share as much stuff as we want; unless there's an ability to be able to require that to be taken up, people are autonomous to a greater or lesser extent. So, how do you reassure me that we know what 'good' looks like, and that it is being delivered on the ground?
So, I guess that's why I said it was more mandated in the finance delivery unit. So, the monitoring requirements are a requirement. We also issue Welsh health circulars on certain issues of savings and—
But you said—to interrupt you—that those had to be agreed to be a monitoring requirement.
No, we shared them first. Everybody agreed—
What if they didn't agree? Because that's the issue, surely.
This will come to another aspect of the finance delivery unit work. We've also used the finance delivery unit to look at best practice financial management. So, in looking at savings, they are also looking broader on a UK basis. So, we probably know that the Cardiff aspect was also reflective of good practice somewhere else. So, to some extent, it's good that we can get consensus; if we can't, then probably that's good practice. So, unless somebody's got better practice, we expect it to happen.
Yes. So, that's the finance delivery unit arm, but I've also got the finance academy—
There's more. [Laughter.]
That's more developmental. So, for example, whenever we do interventions—. So, when Deloitte did their financial governance reviews of all of the health boards, we asked Deloitte to come and do a masterclass for all senior finance people on the reflections and learning. KPMG will do the same, and we also intend that the finance director from Cardiff, as we're running those masterclasses, gives—. So, we'll have a KMPG perspective and then we'll have a more internal perspective from the finance director of Cardiff. So, we'll run a series of masterclasses around the learning.
The other thing that we're doing is—obviously, part of the ability for Cardiff to deliver savings was really good multidisciplinary team working to get their savings done with clinical teams. We run a lot of work through the finance academy. We've got 11 clinical finance partnerships running where a clinician and a finance individual are running development courses to see how they can deliver improved outcomes from money. We've got a partnership with Rolls-Royce finance academy on what we call business partnering, so how to work in a multidisciplinary team environment to drive better decisions. So, we use the finance academy for those type of developments.
And then, lastly, we've got the national value-based healthcare work, which is much more about identifying where we can drive better outcomes and spend our money differently.
Thanks, Rhianon. Mohammed Asghar.
Thank you very much. Good afternoon. My first question is about the saving plans in the NHS. I've just been going through the papers and found there was 11 per cent less saving this year, rather than the previous 79 per cent, to just 68 per cent now. Why are NHS bodies collectively forecasting substantially lower savings this year than last year? And how much of a concern is the significant fall in recurrent savings in Wales?
So, just an opening comment from me. It is really important that we do track the balance of recurrent and non-recurrent savings at the system level, but actually around individual organisations. And I know that, again, in my own experience, when we felt that we had financial stability within Aneurin Bevan University Health Board a number of years or so ago, we could just see that the board was able to be much more confident about the level of recurrent savings that were happening in individual years. I think it's the same principle to operate at the national level. But, Alan, perhaps if you could talk through what the savings profile is telling us at the moment.
There are probably two issues on the level of savings. I think there's clearly an issue of focus. I think, as Andrew said earlier, we allocated a lot more money over lot broader areas this year in terms of investment. I've just got a feeling, in terms of focus of the boards, that perhaps that's impacted a little bit on the level of savings.
The second issue is probably more deliberate, and what I touched on earlier, in that one of the things that we did through the monitoring returns has really tightened up the classification of savings, and also how long boards could run with unidentified savings. So, I think that's impacted, certainly on the reporting of savings this year—that's probably a good thing. And we will need to sort out through plans now, to make sure that the level of savings against the new criteria actually continues at a level that we expect. I think over the last sort of nine years, we've delivered over £1.5 billion pounds-worth of savings, so I think the level is still good.
And then on the recurrent and non-recurrent split, I think for this year we'll probably end the year with about two thirds recurrent and about one third non-recurrent. I'm not overly worried about that just in any one year, because it will change as years go on, depending where the non-recurrent opportunities are.
I think the other issue, which we're working hard on on the plans now—. There does seem to be a tendency for some of the boards to almost recalibrate things on 1 April with their new plans. When you look at some of the savings, the levels of recurrent savings really should be higher, but you almost feel that sometimes they go back a little bit and look at it too much on an annual basis. So, I think one of the things that we're challenging a lot with the boards plans at the moment is, 'Why isn't the level of recurrent savings going into next year a lot higher, based on what they've achieved this year?'
Thank you very much indeed, Alan. Just within this meeting, you mentioned two very, very large finance houses: KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers. You mentioned those. Is there any specific area in the NHS where these two big, giant finance houses are looking after the interests of public funding in the NHS, where they're actually employed to look after the—? Because they're two different finance houses. So, you just mentioned earlier that they're helping the NHS in different areas, so what are those? Where is the line drawn between those two?
Well, obviously, in terms of any procurement exercises that are done, that goes through the appropriate mechanisms and procedures. We do have a responsibility to organisations that are struggling and have an escalation label on them, that, as well as challenging them about what needs to be happen, what we are discovering, of course, is that they also need assistance and support, and some of that needs to be deployed through external perspectives. I think what we try to do through all of those mechanisms is, whilst there is something in the analysis for the individual organisation, there is an opportunity to broaden out a bit more, but they are judgments to try and bring in quick capacity and intervention support at the moment.
I think, positively, from where we stand at this stage, and this is in my own view—Alan, you may feel different—we've been able to use, I think, the role and function of the finance delivery unit to make sure that we do maximise the value of those sorts of contributions as they come through. And that was a mechanism that didn't exist a number of years ago. So, we are retaining some of that expertise when it's transferred and passed on.
Yes, I think, particularly through the finance delivery unit, we draw up fairly detailed specifications. We put those out in the normal way to procurement, and then we evaluate who we think has got the most capability and the most experience to meet the broad range of the spec. So, if you look at the KPMG work—that was very much a grip-and-control opportunities framework and delivery. They seemed to have far more capability and a track record based on the submission of their tender to do that work. The work in north Wales was slightly different with PricewaterhouseCoopers—we felt that they had more experience in the areas and theirs was the stronger submission. And in the past, we've used people like Deloitte on financial governance. So, there does seem to be a mix of where some of the firms are working, and where there is the strength in the teams and where their experience is.
Thank you very much. You've answered my question, anyway. You have already previously explained that you would rather bodies reduced their overspends, [Inaudible.]— repeatedly, than take decisions that impact on patient safety and service quality. What assurance can you give us that those bodies that have actually improved or sustained their financial position this year have not done so at the expense of service levels, quality and patient safety?
Alongside the monitoring returns and, obviously, the level of contact that we'll have with organisations in targeting the intervention, for example, we do have the opportunity to broaden out our discussions, and it is a really difficult balance. It's not to defend, necessarily, the deficit itself. When we do our early assessments in the financial years, we do have a realistic sense of the fact that we can see that organisations could have improved.
But our approach to looking at the deficit management over the last few years—and it would include this year—is also to make sure that boards don’t end up making the wrong decisions. So, I can say, for example, that we've seen some really good improvement on areas like infection control, and the outcome measures that we track there in Swansea bay, irrespective of the fact that they still have some underlying concerns on finance. I think a good example is actually Cardiff was the organisation that came out of the escalation framework and went back into normal monitoring, because I felt that part of their improvement wasn’t just that they'd picked out measures that we were only monitoring under the escalation framework—I think they were able to give us a really rounded view of the fact that they had made progress on a whole series of quality areas.
So, probably one particular point of learning for the whole of Wales at the moment is to make sure that organisations just need to systematically be able to capture patient experience within the system. I've been really pleased to see, in Swansea bay still, there is a pretty high level of satisfaction from the public on some of the patient experience measures that we monitor, and we do have expectations that that is being done across all the different organisations.
Thank you. With this coronavirus coming to this country, I am just concerned we're saving on one side, but we have to protect the public on the other side. So, how prepared are you in NHS Wales to make sure that we are tackling that problem very quickly, efficiently and effectively?
Well, it's, obviously, a really broad area for us to get into. The Minister has been making a series of regular and routine statements, along with the chief medical officer, including to Assembly Members. We were talking to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee about some of the underlying preparations last week. I think in this context, it's important to note that the UK is working together. We do have a consistent approach to a range of actions that are under consideration. Clearly, we are not just at the preparation stage. You'll be aware of the number of Welsh cases that have been reported just over the last few days, and that includes over this weekend and into today.
Just this morning, I was having the latest national call with the NHS and the service system. Our advice, if I look at it through the lens of the resources, is that we need organisations to sensibly plan for the right issues, early at this stage. We have some flexibility within the system where, albeit the early signs of this are probably still issues that can be broadly accommodated within the ministerial budget—. But you might have seen the Minister also announce counter measures just this morning. He's just announced about protective equipment and clothing going out to every GP practice in Wales. That's because we have access to supplies in warehouses that we've set aside for such pandemic-type scenarios and we're able to deploy those at this stage, but the UK Government commitment is that it will be looking and reviewing the extent to which funding is made available, and, of course, there will be an expectation for us to do that from a Welsh Government perspective. But my advice to the services—and that was the nature of the conversation this morning—is to plan on the right issues. We'll look at the funding implications of it, but at least to get all of the preparation in at this time. But it will clearly be a really significant set of events and continuing so over the forthcoming weeks.
Thank you. Thank you, Chair.
Thanks, Oscar. Rhianon Passmore, very briefly, and then Jenny Rathbone.
On this particular topic, with regard to longitudinal planning around finances and the good plans that seem to be worked up around pandemic planning, and, obviously, you've got the Brexit issues—. Just very quickly, if I may indulge the Chair, how do you build in these types of hugely costly issues in terms of general core spend? Enlighten me.
Perhaps, Alan, you could describe a normal year and how we access flexibility within the system and the boards having their own contingencies, and then perhaps I could just speak about these more exceptional events.
Very quickly, otherwise the Chair will tell me off.
I mean, as Andrew said—. Obviously, coronavirus is slightly different, isn't it? But, normally, we would expect a lot of boards to have a certain level of contingency planning in what they do. When I was a finance director, I always had a contingency fund set aside, and normally, that wouldn't be specified. It was more of a contingency in case something happened in-year that would give you the flexibility to deal with in-year pressures. I mean, certainly, from a Welsh Government point of view, we would broadly do similar. We would create a contingency both against NHS risks on financial delivery but broadly against other issues. I think, when they escalate to a certain level, we would probably have conversations about either accessing central reserves, or if there was a UK decision to release money, our consequentials of that.
Okay, thank you.
Thanks, Rhianon. Jenny Rathbone.
As this subject has been raised, I'll just slightly rejig the order in which I was going to ask things. I wanted to go back to Cardiff and the Vale's decision to really focus on the planning that took place in Canterbury, New Zealand, because the chair and the chief executive have often talked about this. Obviously, what they say is that it was what enabled Canterbury, New Zealand, to manage the 2010 earthquake in New Zealand. So, I just wondered what parallel learning we could draw from the ability of an organisation that put a huge amount of focus on community services rather than centralised in hospitals to enable Cardiff and the Vale or any other health board to manage the coronavirus emergency.
I mean, obviously, beyond Canterbury, there are other international examples we use. I think we've spoken in here before about the district nursing approach, the Buurtzorg model. So, there are different experiences across Wales. I mean, certainly, I think what Canterbury gives you is a bit of insight into what a system can do; this ability to shift from a traditional hospital-centric system into something that can support people to be as close to the home environment and to avoid the normal hospital admission process.
I think we've captured that outside of the Cardiff context. I think the 'A Healthier Wales' vision that we've established and our description of our intentions for future services are absolutely moulded in that way. We have tried to step up our perspective, going back to the budget investments this year that have been made. They are to try to ensure that we're able to create these community alternatives. The level of the transformation fund investment that's gone in, the fact that every part of Wales has a level of a frailty system in place—. They may call it slightly different labels, but basically, it allows us to focus on our most vulnerable to try to provide support as close to the home environment as possible.
I think, when we were going through the Brexit preparations, one of the things we were having to think about was the resilience of that broader infrastructure. So, this underlying investment has been important, but, absolutely, in terms of how we respond to coronavirus, the use and access to community services is going to be a really important part of the system, because the hospitals will have their own role to play within this as well. So, positively, I think Wales has been growing those services over these recent years. This will be more of a test of it, of course, under these rather exceptional circumstances.
So, just going back to the three health boards that don't yet have approvable three-year plans, what transferable learning has there been in terms of Cardiff and the Vale's success to enable those health boards to be able to identify the actions that they ought to be able to?
Again, whilst there is other learning, looking at it through Cardiff, because I think that just shows that you can drop down the escalation framework, and that's quite an important message, I think, for organisations, firstly, there is potentially a conflict between trying to manage the here and now, but still having a really clear plan for the future. In my experience, I think it's perfectly possible to do the both. In fact, it's an essential requirement. And I think that, whilst on the one hand, Cardiff has started to give us the confidence of grabbing certain delivery measures—probably allowing their organisation to feel more confident as well as at the same time—they've put a lot of effort into what the long-term, more holistic view of services should look like, to the extent that as 'A Healthier Wales' came out, they have a plan that is very aligned with that. What I would say is that as we created 'A Healthier Wales', of course, we were able to look at where we thought there was good practice generally across Wales. So, some of the Cardiff experience would have helped influence that, along with other organisations too.
I think the second bit was then to translate that into a proper three-year plan. And as I said earlier, two years ago, I thought the team were struggling about being confident enough to say what year one, year two, year three looked like. They had a little bit of a wobble, I would say, in terms of their approach, but we tried to instigate a bit of ambition around the escalation table, and I made an offer to the team at that time that we wanted to be pushing them towards having a discussion about whether they could possibly be de-escalated if we looked at their overall performance and on the finance side.
One of the lessons learned was that at one point, we gave a bit of a financial incentive that if they were able to get closer to their control total, actually, we would try to draw in some additional funding for them. Because otherwise, you have organisations with very large deficits, and it seems that it's going to take years for them to really make a difference. We've been able to deploy, I think, some of those messages with the three other organisations as well. So, I look at Hywel Dda, and I feel that what they've got is, as an example, some balance in their performance. It's a bit like the Cardiff position: I think they've got a real clear view of what their future represents, having been through a really extensive engagement exercise. We just need to help them really clarify and translate those into the three-year plan, and translate it in that way. And each organisation, of the three with a residual deficit, have similar but a few differences, I think, in their approach as well.
But Cardiff is quite symbolic, because it's a large organisation that, under a lot of attention, was able to de-escalate. And I have to say that the balance of our time was therefore quite different with the organisation; from a very intensive contact, we've been able to step away and I do see them starting to think about things: 'How can we introduce preventative approaches?' How do they discharge an active travel plan? How can they develop their primary care clusters and hubs. So suddenly, you've got different time for strategic thinking.
Okay, so how far do you think the three organisations that are still unable to balance their budgets have got with this sort of thing? And what impact have these external consultants made in terms of enabling them to see beyond the day-to-day grind, and to plan a service that is going to be sustainable in the long-term?
If I could comment on maybe the planning side more, and then Alan might want to drop in to a couple of comments on the financial side. Although those organisations are in an annual plan cycle, we're still trying to put an emphasis to not chase down submission deadlines for a plan. It's just more important that they work their way through the planning process and complete it: bring people with them, bring their communities with them and work it through. Even with an annual plan assessment, all of those organisations have as a minimum a three-year outlook, so it may technically not be a three-year integrated medium-term plan, but they are looking in a broader context. They're not just trying to see what they can do just simply to get through the next year, and it's really important that we support the boards to lift their heads up a little bit on those sorts of processes.
I can imagine that all of the organisations—and I know it because they've spoken to me directly—are disappointed with their outturn on their finances. I'm hoping that we can allow them to still have some confidence that they can see an underlying improvement, but I think what the financial exercise that we've broken through this year gives is a clearer set of the financial opportunities for the system to chase down. The finance delivery unit picks that up more routinely, but these individual pieces of work, I think, have allowed the boards to understand how they take some momentum into the new financial year. So, whatever we do to get through this year, and the organisations declare their positions, let's take, actually, the chance of some progress into the new financial year.
Okay. So, how much do you think the reluctance is in some of these boards to actually pull together in what are, necessarily, expensive specialist units? You know, for example, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has been talking about having a single vascular unit since 2013,and again in 2016, and it was now back on the agenda at the end of last year. Delay in changing the way they deliver services is bound to have a financial impact. And similarly, in Swansea Bay University Health Board, there are plans to streamline stroke services to make them more effective and to have a single hyper stroke unit. So, how much is that dragging down these organisations financially?
Some of the service changes that are proposed are not always about saving money; they are actually focused on better outcomes for patients, critical mass for the clinicians who work in those services in sometimes hard-pressed specialities. And whilst there are some examples where, perhaps, there is better use of resources, actually, to some extent, they could end up being additional investment in the system to get the quality and the outcomes that are necessary. I think there are a number of approaches to service change and transformation. There are examples where we need to be innovative in our approach; again, we're trying to stimulate some of that with our thinking—again, the transformation fund territory is in that.
One of the dangers of the way in which the NHS works, and again I say this having seen it in action myself over the years, is often we add into the system that we have. What we don't do is remove the other alternative examples of services that maybe aren't delivering as well as they can. So, I think that there are examples across Wales, and these are captured in individual plans, where for the right intention, particularly clinical outcomes for patients and their population, they will need to move ahead and bring together services in that way. I think the area that I say I'm more interested in—but it's just to make sure that this is about bringing 'A Healthier Wales' to life as our planning strategy—is the way in which the transformation is the change of settings for patients and what they receive. So, if we could really go downstream, our approach to prevention, if we can create these alternative community settings—.
You raised about the Canterbury experience, and interestingly on their experience, the one outcome that was really visible in terms of why they were different from other communities across the world was, at a time when everybody else's demand was growing, and particularly with the number of older people and demographics changing, they were able to help stabilise the level of demand coming into the system. So, rather than just keep throwing money after the increased demand, they actually gave themselves some flexibility to really think very differently about this transformation agenda. That's what I want for Wales, that's what I would like to be captured by our delivery of 'A Healthier Wales' as well.
So, what role do these external consultants play because they obviously don't come cheap, I'm sure? What benefit do they deliver in terms of enabling health boards to see the future, as opposed to the day to day?
Well, some of this is about the capacity that we have ourselves and needing to ensure that, within our system, we have retained some of that learning for ourselves. It's why we move to areas like the NHS executive, because this is about growing capacity to be able to support and to be more different. They do provide a different role, though, from some of the mechanisms we've introduced over recent years, like the finance delivery unit, but, Alan, you know, these are intended to mobilise a quick response from organisations, rather than go on for many months and years—they're meant to be quite processes to get some return.
Yes, if you look at the Cardiff example, they had a strong strategy, but they didn't have stable enough delivery across their key performance areas, including money. Once they stabilised that, I think they started to make much quicker progress on some of their strategic ambitions. So, the use of consultants at the moment, particularly within the three escalated bodies, is to really bed down the foundations for them to do bigger changes. As Andrew said, there are some really good examples in pockets of where all of the boards in escalation are making some really tangible differences, but they're in pockets. And I think unfortunately, at times, the organisation can get distracted in the here and now delivery where it's not stable enough. So, they're either chasing a deficit, or chasing their referral-to-treatment target et cetera. So, the consultants have been brought in really to try and give them much more solid foundations in-year on performance, so they can start to focus, lift their heads a bit and get on with the more strategic change.
Okay. So, what's the role of this new NHS executive in conjunction with—with or without—these external consultants?
The role of the executive is that it's our intention to bring together planning, performance and quality capacity within the system. It's not about creating just a single organisation that oversees everything about NHS Wales. So, it is about functions that are aligned with an NHS executive.
We have delayed and deferred some of the original decisions about the timings of this, and you'll recall previous evidence that I gave here. Again, if I can just speak frankly, whilst we were going through the Brexit preparations, there was a whole series of discretionary decisions that take time to plan: special health authority arrangements, legislation, and all sorts of things that are necessary, and the Minister agreed to slow down a number of those mechanisms because we were heading for exit at the end of October and also, potentially, at the end of January. So, we have lost some time, I think, in terms of the underlying concepts. We've, at the same time, maintained some of our normal contact—the escalation processes, the way in which we have face-to-face meetings with organisations and deploying some of this, but a lot of the NHS executive is basically to try to make sure that we have the in-house expertise to support and challenge organisations on an ongoing basis. I don't want it to just be about finances, I do want it to be about understanding the planning opportunities, but it's also why examples like Improvement Cymru, which is our 1000 Lives work, which we've been undertaking in Wales over many years, is intended to shift into this organisation, because that's where a lot of our quality expertise is focused as well. So, we balance quality with performance and we get the finances lined up alongside it.
Okay. When do you expect these three escalated health boards to have approvable three-year plans?
We maintain our push on trying to get all of them in a better place through this year. At various stages, it feels that they swap around about which organisation we think could get there first on those proposals. It probably has felt that Hywel Dda and Swansea bay have been the two closer to that arrangement. I was talking earlier about our tone as we've been going through escalation discussions with both of those organisations; I think there is more work to be done around Betsi Cadwaladr in terms of the planning arrangements up there, and we are supporting them on some of those expectations, but, obviously, we have to try to get them to move into the annual plan sign-off and approval first before we get them to the three-year plan, so I don't think that's going to be happening over the next six months, for example, at this stage. I would rather be more focused on supporting them on the right discussions around that plan and, both with external support, but also in terms of the planning team support from within Welsh Government, we're having some very detailed conversations just to try to help them on.
So, you think support's a better way to go at this point, rather than being heavy-handed.
I think if we just draw an arbitrary line, make it an assessment process and work it through, we can definitely see progress around all of the organisations about where they're heading. To compare and contrast, I think Hywel Dda clearly has had the very external conversation about where their overall plans take them. I think that we need to allow Betsi Cadwaladr to work through how it will continue to engage with its population and its public. Swansea bay has actually been able to move on some of those planning discussions as well, but I think if it's just a pass or fail-type test, because it was to be submitted at the end of January, that would feel wrong at this stage. I'm very up for any organisation feeling that they've got to a point where they've got a plan ready for submission, and if it was one of these organisations after the summer, for example, saying, 'We've got a plan and we want it to be assessed', I'd be very happy to consider that, but it has to meet the criteria. The particular issue in terms of today's discussion is that they have to have a clear plan about how they're going to manage within the resources. Again, when Cardiff came through, they had not broken even in a year at the time when we chose to approve their plan, but they gave us a real confidence that, in the year ahead, they would actually get there and, actually, they were able to follow through on that commitment.
Are you done, Jenny?
Well, I just wanted to go to the investment in 'A Healthier Wales', overall.
So, on this £192 million to transform the whole of the health system, not just those who are having difficulty balancing their books, I wonder if you could just tell us—. It's a large sum of money. You talk in your paper about the Bevan exemplars, and then you talk about something called MS365, and I'm sure it's got something to do with the days of the year, but I'm not quite clear what it means. You talk about value-based healthcare, and you talk about 11 pairs of clinicians linked up with finance officers, which seems to me quite an interesting way of trying to ensure we deliver value for money.
So, Alan was talking through that buddying-up process between finance clinicians just earlier, and he can revisit that. But, yes, we've tried to ensure that the £192 million 'A Healthier Wales' money has been able to show our intentions around a number of different areas. So, investment into primary care is one example. You'll have seen a particular focus around access standards for GPs, trying to allow ourselves in conversation an agreement with the British Medical Association and its general practice committee about changes that we've introduced in the last year. Obviously, there's a very significant focus around the transformation fund, not because that's the answer to all services, but rather because it initiates a different way of working together that we facilitated through the regional partnership boards; additional investment that's gone into social care; some enhancements of the grant mechanisms in there, which has allowed us to target some pressures in adult and children's services; and recognising that digital is a real enabler, so there's £50 million to be available there. We are looking for those to make a difference.
If I was looking to translate that into, 'So, what does all of that mean?'—I said earlier that we're 18 months into a 10-year set of proposals around 'A Healthier Wales'—I think it's to show that at the same time that we're trying to manage the particular in-year budgets, we are actually trying to make strategic system changes. That means looking at the way in which we measure our system and our services, because we don't really capture well, I think, the shift into primary and community care services, through some of the measures that we're often debating in the public domain, and supporting a shift in implementation of alternative services across Wales. So, it's going at scale around something like 111 and its roll-out and implementation as an out-of-hours service, focusing on access issues but bringing that primary care focus to the table, and really utilising regional partnership boards as a mechanism for the way in which health and social care are working together on behalf of local communities. You'll have even seen that two thirds of the funding that was provided from our main expenditure group on winter pressures was actually not just going to traditional NHS solutions; a lot of the focus there has been about primary and community sets of services, continuation of the Red Cross volunteering scheme that's going on. So, there's quite a lot of change.
Okay. If I stop you just there, I'm aware that Vikki Howells has to leave shortly, so would you like to ask your questions now, Vikki, and then I'll bring in the remaining questions?
Okay, thank you, Chair. My questions are around spend on agency costs. Financial forecasts provided by health boards for 2019-20 are showing that NHS Wales is on course to record its highest ever annual spend on agency staff this year. Firstly, why are agency costs continuing to rise? In particular, can you explain to us why nursing agency costs are forecast to increase by £12 million, an increase of 19 per cent?
Our use of agency across Wales will reflect the pressures within the system and the choices that are being made by different health organisations across Wales. So, there is a justification for using agency staff; often, what it's reflecting is a need, if we're expanding capacity, to have extra workforce into the system. Sometimes, there's a view that the reason that we are seeing some of these increases in agency—I, for example, include nursing—is because we now have fewer nurses in post but, actually, even over the last year or so, on our latest figures, we've still got more nurses than ever employed across the NHS in Wales; we're now at over 33,000 nursing staff who are in post. So, I think that there are other dynamics at play here.
Certainly, if I was looking at the last two years and the growth around agency nursing, I do think that some of our need to expand capacity within our system throughout the whole of the year for emergency pressures, and particularly enhanced in the winter—that will have been a factor. Interestingly, if I was tracking through some of the agency spend and where it has gone in terms of Hywel Dda as an area, for example, probably around 80 per cent of their agency nursing spend is actually in respect of them trying to retain and have resilient local emergency care services available. So, I can absolutely understand the decisions that they're taking on that.
But I also think that, again, we've got opportunities to improve and learn on this area. Firstly, and this is a strategic decision, we shouldn't just go into every year and try to do our best. There are examples of strategic workforce decisions that we have taken over these recent years. We've materially and significantly expanded our numbers of staff, for commissioning numbers, for training—that's nurses, that's midwives, that's community-based nursing staff, and that's some of the scientific roles as well. But, obviously, we don't have the benefit of those overnight; they are a pipeline that will actually come through over the next number