Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd

10/03/2021

In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. A Plenary meeting held by video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are noted on your agenda. I would remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting today.

1. Questions to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs

So, the first item on our agenda is questions to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, and the first question is from Jayne Bryant.

Fly-tipping

1. What plans does the Welsh Government have to combat fly-tipping in Newport West? OQ56410

Thank you. Welsh Government funds the Fly-tipping Action Wales programme, led by Natural Resources Wales. The programme continues to support Newport City Council in tackling fly-tipping. This includes supporting them with investigating and prosecuting fly-tippers. Work is ongoing to identify solutions to stop fly-tipping at particular locations within the Newport area.

Thank you for that answer, Minister. I know you will be aware that I've raised the serious situation with fly-tipping in the Marshfield and Duffryn areas of my constituency on many occasions. The infamous 'road to nowhere' is a hotspot for it on an industrial scale—hundreds of tonnes of rubbish stretches as far as the eye can see, and it recently featured on the BBC's Panorama programme 'Rubbish Dump Britain'. These scenes are a national embarrassment, and the proximity to the M4 means this spot is used by those firms who claim to get rid of rubbish legally but instead dump it illegally. The criminality is shocking. Local groups who are intent on cleaning the area have found evidence of waste from areas such as Bristol, the midlands, other parts of Wales, and much further afield. Dedicated local residents have formed a group to try and tackle the problem, and it features interested parties. However, progress is painfully slow and the scale of what's happening means that local government is stretched. The pollution caused and the sheer amount of dumped rubbish means that the clear-up costs will be high, and they need Welsh Government support. I'd urge the Minister to please look again at what intervention the Welsh Government can do at the 'road to nowhere' to clean up the area, and I'd urge the Welsh Government to work with Newport City Council and residents to find a purpose for the land, which is the best way of protecting the environment and preventing this from happening in the future.

Thank you, Jayne Bryant, for those comments around Newport City Council and the unfortunate level of fly-tipping. You'll be aware we did meet last year in relation to this. My officials have spoken again with Newport City Council regarding the 'road to nowhere' site. I think the last site partnership meeting that was held was in January. And it was very clear from that meeting that Newport City Council had made some good progress in identifying some of the criminals who are involved with tipping waste at the site, and they were undertaking various enforcement actions, such as vehicle seizures, and they were issuing fixed-penalty notices also for small-scale tipping. They were also preparing prosecution cases for court. But I appreciate that the site does remain vulnerable to further tipping. The council are the owners of the land, so I would urge them to take further steps to ensure further tipping doesn't take place there.

As I mentioned in my opening answer to you, the Welsh Government funds Fly-tipping Action Wales, and I know that they've offered Newport council the use of surveillance equipment, and also to have some training on legislation and investigative techniques, at no cost, to try and help prevent further fly-tipping at this site and others in Newport. So, I would encourage Newport council, and all other local authorities, to fully utilise the tools and support that are available to them. You mentioned a local group was also working with the local authority, and I think it is absolutely essential that we all work together, so that we can protect our environment and our communities from these terrible crimes.

I'd 100 per cent back what Jayne Bryant has just said, actually. Local campaigner, Michael Enea, has also raised the issue recently, about this particular site—the 'road to nowhere' near the Celtic lakes. The 100 tonnes of rubbish is a sight for sore eyes—it's an appalling state of affairs, and it really needs—. I was just wondering when it's actually going to be cleared, and how you're working with the local council to ensure that's done soon, because, at the moment, it's not safe.

There are also hotspots coming up all over South Wales East at the moment of fly-tipping, which has been made worse during the pandemic. So, I was just wondering also how this Government is going to make sure that it works with councils, and maybe a future Government, to make sure robust measures are in place and a framework is in place to ensure this sort of thing doesn't happen again, and also to clear it up as soon as possible if it does happen. Thank you. 

13:35

Thank you. I mentioned various ways that we have worked with the council in my earlier answer to Jayne Bryant, but I would really encourage, as I say, all local authorities to fully utilise the tools and support that are available to them from Fly-tipping Action Wales, or make sure that they fully utilise the legislative tools that we've recently provided, such as the fixed-penalty notices that I mentioned that Newport council had brought forward—several of these—for small-scale fly tipping. 

I think it is disappointing that the national fly-tipping statistics that we recently published still show that there's a significant number of local authorities in Wales, and that does include Newport, that have not prosecuted any fly-tipper in their areas. You referred to increased fly-tipping during the COVID-19 pandemic, and obviously the last figures that we published were for 2019-20, so that didn't include, obviously, or didn't reflect any potential impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. The fly-tipping figures from April 2020, when we first went into lockdown, are still being gathered from local authorities, but it will be very interesting to see if there has been an increase. But, as I say, I would just urge all local authorities to use everything that we've provided in support and legislative tools in the first instance. 

The Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021

2. What support is the Welsh Government offering to farmers who are likely to be affected by the Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations 2021? OQ56386

Thank you. A range of support will be provided, including guidance, nutrient management planning and record-keeping templates, Farming Connect services and a dedicated helpline, operated by the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service. This is in addition to the £44.5 million of capital funding that has so far been committed through the rural development programme to support farmers in Wales.

As you know, and as I said in the debate last week, Minister, I've had conversations with the National Farmers Union, with the Farmers Union of Wales, and with farmers in my constituency, and there are, undoubtedly, regardless of merits of the regulations, concerns that they have—very deep concerns that they have—about the impact, and particularly in those small farms. And I raised in my speech last week the issue of a farm, for example, with 75 dairy cows, who would then have to build technology to contain slurry that might not otherwise have been used. I did have some reassurance from the Welsh Government, and I was hoping you'd put it on the record in your speech last week, but perhaps now is the opportunity. What reassurance can you give to those farmers with regard to nutrient management plans? What reassurance can you give to those farmers who are concerned about having to bring in consultants to deal with complex forms? And with all that in mind, how will the Welsh Government wish to—and obviously there's an election coming up—review the regulations in the period in which they are phased in? How are you going to introduce that review and ensure that those farmers, like the small ones in my constituency, are not unduly affected?

Thank you. As I say, in addition to Farming Connect services, we've got a dedicated helpline now operated by ADAS, and significant capital funding. So, this is all done and there to support farmers. We will be issuing guidance documents shortly, and that will take farmers step by step through the requirements of the regulations. And I think, once people have access to that guidance, hopefully that will reassure them and certainly allay many of the concerns that you referred to. 

There will be simple templates that can be used for nutrient management planning. I think the difference between existing slurry storage requirements and the new requirements, for most people, will be minimal. So, there are a number of actions you can take to reduce the rainfall that goes into the stores. That again may help address storage shortfalls. And many of these schemes have already been supported by Welsh Government over the past couple of years, through grant schemes, such as the sustainable production, and obviously our farm business grant schemes too. 

The closed periods do not apply to manure with low readily available nitrogen, and that includes farmyard manure, which, again, is much more common in smaller farms, such as the one you referred to, and the regulations also allow farmyard manure to be stored in field heaps. 

I've mentioned in the couple of debates that we've had in the Chamber that there will, obviously, be a transitional period and financial support will increase there. As a result of introducing these new regulations with those transitional periods, I'll be able to support farmers to achieve compliance with the new standards, whereas previously I could only support investment above to the regulatory requirement, and the ability to do that will go on until July 2025. There is a review of the regulations in four years. It was really important, I thought, we had that in. But, obviously, as we go through the next four years up until 2025, the monitoring will be undertaken. 

13:40

The truth is, of course, that the amount set aside by the Welsh Government to implement these measures has been identified by farmers, farmers unions and the whole of the farming industry as totally inadequate. Now, whilst I have great respect for the AM for Caerphilly, his reason for not voting against the Government last Wednesday does not cut ice when he says there are two large polluters in his constituency—he lays bare the Minister's arguments for punishing the whole industry. Intervention should have been targeted. So, Minister, why did you go against all the agricultural sector's advice and implement such a potentially disastrous blanket strategy?

Well, the truth is, David Rowlands, that, as I say, there's £44.5 million of capital already been assigned to this, plus further funding for the next financial year, which obviously we can only do on a one-year basis because the Welsh Government only has a one-year budget from the UK Government. But I've always made it very clear that support would be available to the farming sector in relation to these. 

What you don't seem to understand is the regulations are targeted. We can't do it on specific areas because the number of agricultural pollution incidents we're seeing are all over Wales. But the regulations will be targeted, and the majority of farms are already coming up to that baseline requirement. This is about having that baseline requirement to improve and reduce the number of incidents, which I'm sure you will agree are an embarrassment to the agricultural sector. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Llyr Gruffydd. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, do you regret the fact that the rate of installation of new renewable energy capacity has fallen every year under Labour in Wales since 2015?

I think we've done a huge amount of work to support the installation of renewable energy schemes. I've worked very closely with anyone who is happy to bring forward the schemes. Tomorrow, I'll be meeting with developers and looking at new schemes. You must appreciate that we have put significant funding in also, but we really need developers and we need to work with the UK Government to make sure all levers are used in relation to new installations. 

But that doesn't change the fact that renewable energy development in Wales is slowing down under Labour's watch. Declaring a climate emergency should mean a ramping up and an acceleration in the rate of development, but you haven't delivered that. Now, maybe we shouldn't be surprised, given that you cut support from the hydropower sector, for example, in Wales, leaving many of those schemes facing financial ruin, and your decision probably has zapped the confidence of others as well who were considering developing similar new energy schemes.

And that slowing down of renewable energy development in Wales under your watch isn't the only matter, of course, that you should regret. Plastic waste is another one. It's a scourge that we all want to see tackled with a huge ramping up of interventions to get to grips with the problem. I was elected to this Senedd in 2011 and, at that time, there was talk of action on a deposit-return scheme. Ten years and two Labour Governments later, we're still waiting for those interventions to materialise. Are you not embarrassed that we still don't have a deposit-return scheme in Wales? 

This is something, as you know, that has recently come back into my portfolio, and I have had several discussions around a DRS. I think the most important thing for me is to make sure there are no perverse outcomes from a DRS, because, as you know, we have made fantastic strides in relation to our recycling. We've hit the target of 65 per cent recycling. I think it's a year ahead of the target that we had, and that is down to three things: it's down to leadership from Welsh Government, it's down to leadership from local authorities, and it's down to the people of Wales, who have embraced recycling. Now, we need to move to the next stage, and that's why I've recently launched the circular economy strategy. 

If leadership is having 'several discussions', to quote what you just told me in answer, I mean, crikey, you've had 10 years' worth of several discussions, Minister, as a Government, and you've gone from leading the UK on this agenda to playing catch-up. Those aren't the actions of a Government that's taking the plastics crisis seriously. And you can ask your own constituents, because I know of a group—the Wrexham Litter Pickers—who recently collected over 1,000 bags of rubbish and plastic waste, underlining again the need for more urgency on this matter.

Now, I could point to other areas of your responsibility where you've not produced the goods. We know about the clean air Act. That's something Plaid Cymru has been advocating for many, many years—something you eventually agreed with us is necessary, but still a painfully slow response from the Government means, once again, that you haven't delivered, and it's going to take a new Government and a new Senedd to finally get this life-saving legislation in place.

But I have to say, maybe the biggest disappointment for me is your failure to ensure the highest standards of energy efficiency in new homes. I remember, six or seven years ago, Labour passed new standards to be incorporated in the Part L building regulations. Now, Plaid Cymru called at the time for higher energy efficiency standards. You voted that down, insisting on more modest standards, but you did so—Labour did so—saying that you'd address that in this Senedd. And now, of course, we know that, six years later, you failed to do so, and with that failure, of course, you've locked in the higher level of energy inefficiency in new Welsh homes that a future Government will have to address through retrofitting and other costly interventions in years to come. So, why is it that this Labour Government has broken its word on so many of these issues? And, frankly, why should the people of Wales believe anything you say in future, given your failure to deliver on your promises?

13:45

I should declare that I am a member of the Wrexham Litter Pickers that Llyr Gruffydd referred to—we must remember that it's not Government that litters; it's people who litter—and I would really like to praise the work that they've done. And you'll be aware of the new litter and fly-tipping plan that I mentioned in an earlier answer to Jayne Bryant.

This Government has done a huge amount in relation to energy efficiency and many millions of pounds have been spent on homes. We have a very old housing stock here in Wales and I think my colleague Julie James has done some fantastic work in ensuring that we're not building homes now that will need further retrofitting in years to come. And I think what we're seeing here is not you showing the failures of this Government, because I don't recognise the ones you are, but just the Plaid Cymru manifesto.

Diolch, Llywydd. Firstly, Minister, as this is the last spokespersons' questions of this term, I just wanted to thank you. We've had some lively and robust scrutiny and challenge and just to thank you for your answers along the way. Thank you, Lesley.

Now, according to the White Paper on the clean air (Wales) Bill, we may not see regulations set until spring 2024—that would be a quarter of a century into the life of this Welsh Parliament, despite the First Minister telling this Chamber in May 2019 that the debate had been ongoing for a decade, that he had already at that point had discussions with you and that at that time, preparation inside the Welsh Government had begun about how a clean air Act might be developed. Almost two years on, this Welsh Government has failed to deliver on the First Minister's leadership promise—and I quote—to

'Develop a new Clean Air Act to ensure that our children can go to school, be active and play outside safely without fear of respiratory problems, such as asthma, because of pollution levels in some of our towns and cities.'

In September 2019, you told this Chamber that you were continuing to make progress towards the introduction of a clean air Act for Wales. Do you now regret some of the Welsh Government's failure during this Senedd to deliver this Act or even a draft Bill and full regulatory impact assessment? Thank you.

Thank you. I would have very much liked to have brought a clean air Act through this Government. As you say, it was part of the First Minister's leadership bid back in December 2018, so just over two years ago. And what has happened in those two years? I think you can recognise why there has been so much pressure on the legislative programme for this Welsh Government and, unfortunately, we didn't have the capacity to bring forward a clean air Bill and then an Act during this term of Government, which I do regret and I know the First Minister regrets. However, I don't think there's any Member in this Senedd who can't understand the absolute use of our legislative programme in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and, of course, leaving the European Union and the pressures that's put on our legal capacity and, as I say, our legislative programme.

However, what we have done is launch the clean air plan for Wales, which I published back in August of last year. That sets out a range of actions to deliver those improvements in air quality across Wales that we all want to see.

You don't necessarily need legislation for everything, so I think that clean air plan has brought forward some of the improvements we want to see. I also published the consultation on the White Paper on a clean air (Wales) Bill on 13 January. As you're aware, that will close on 7 April, so that in the next term of Government, the Government can then be in a place to take forward the Act, as it wishes. 

13:50

Thank you. Whilst you rightly admitted to the Senedd in January that you would have liked to have brought the White Paper on the clean air Bill forward sooner, there is no escaping the fact that quick legislative action would have benefited public health. The long-term mortality burden attributable to air pollution exposure is between 1,000 and 1,400 deaths in Wales each year. More than 57 health centres, 54 GP practices and three hospitals are above the latest World Health Organization limit for PM2.5.

Even you stated that, like COVID, air pollution disproportionately impacts the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society. Despite air pollution being acknowledged as the world's largest single environmental health risk, and your existing RIA estimating that the monetised health impact is £950 million per year, you have chosen to prioritise legislation on agricultural pollution, which, according to your own explanatory memorandum, will have a negative impact on mental health and well-being.

During a health and climate emergency, do you acknowledge that you should have focused the mechanics of Government on assisting people's health through legislation on air pollution, rather than negatively impacting public health with the Wales-wide nitrate vulnerable zone? You rightly pointed out the pressures that the Government have been under with legal and other advice to take forward legislation. You failed on the clean air Act, but yet were prepared to betray the farmers with the NVZ. How do you reason with that, Minister?    

Well, I am not betraying the farmers. What I am trying to do is reduce the number of agricultural pollution incidents that are having a massive negative impact on our air quality, as well as our water quality. So, I'm afraid the argument that you put forward doesn't stack up at all. And let's just be clear: this is not just NVZs. It's not just nitrates. This is around phosphates. This is around ammonia pollution incidents as well. So, it's not just this NVZ that I keep on hearing about.

In relation to mental health, of course, you don't want anything that would be detrimental to anybody's mental health. I put significant funding into mental health support services for our agriculture sector, because I do understand that it is a difficult time. But, the one thing that's caused, I think, the most angst to farmers in this term of Government and my time in this portfolio is leaving the European Union, and the uncertainty around that. 

Now, further evidence of the lack of prioritisation that you have given to air pollution is the budget for 2021-22. You admitted to our Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee that there is still no detailed cost estimate of the clean air plan that was published seven months ago. The £3.4 million revenue funding and £17 million capital funding allocated for air quality action actually remains unchanged from the previous year, and therefore represents a real-terms cut.

In fact, I know that this is not the first time that this has been raised with you, as you were scrutinised on the matter during committee in January, blowing the concerns about funding to one side by informing us again that you have competing priorities in the budget and, of course, the impact of COVID-19. As you know, I acknowledge that challenge, but I still need you to explain why there is no detailed cost estimate for this plan, and what led you to make a political decision to deprioritise the health crisis caused by air pollution by delivering a real-terms cut in funding.

Well, you know, you do have to make decisions around your budget. There is only a certain pot of money and, of course, you do. There are lots of calls on that budget, and it's about making sure that there is ample funding for everything. But, clearly, it's not always the case that you are able to increase funding in places where you would wish to. It's about making sure that you cover as much as you can. What the clean air plan did was, as I say, set out the range of actions to deliver improvements for the benefit of public health, as you referred to, and biodiversity, and, of course, help us with the climate emergency. And I'm trying to ensure that there is enough funding. We're coming to the end of this year's budget and, believe me, trying to manage the underspend and the overspend is quite a difficult feat that, fortunately, officials are there to advise me on. So, I don't think we did deprioritise this. And, obviously, as we take the Bill forward for a clean air Act, there will be significant evidence around the budget that can be scrutinised. But I do hope it's recognised that we have very difficult decisions to make—every government does—and we do our best to ensure, and certainly when I look back at this year, I think everybody within different parts of my portfolio has had the funding that's been necessary.

13:55
The Farming Industry

3. What action is the Welsh Government taking to support the farming industry in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire? OQ56390

Farmers within Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire have received basic payment scheme payments in 2020 totalling over £27 million. Our Farming Connect service has continued to support farmers, providing advice and online training, whilst also having the ability for support on the phone during the COVID-19 crisis.

Minister, we all know that we do need to tackle the polluting of our countryside by outdated farming practices, and the best way of doing this is to ensure that the farming industry is on board with any regulations and changes that you introduce. And in my view, the NVZ regulations passed last week have managed to achieve the opposite, and they've been roundly condemned by farming unions, farmers and many in rural communities. The First Minister last week claimed, in voting against the regulations, that we would be voting in favour of continued pollution, which, to be honest with you, just shows how out of touch, I think, he is with the farming community.

Farmers are the backbone of our nation, many farm incredibly responsibly, and you and I have had much correspondence over the years about, in particular, one really bad super farm in my area who constantly pollutes, pays the fine, and then carries on doing exactly the same. So, it's been this 'punish all for the sins of a few'. So, what can you say to the Welsh young farmers' clubs who've highlighted this issue over recent years? Because it's vital to ensure that the young people in my area feel that they're entering a profession that is valued and respected. What can you do to reassure young people looking to get into agriculture, that they will be valued by the Government and not used to deepen the political gulf between rural and urban Wales?

Well, I would say to the young farmers' clubs, as I would say to anybody in the farming sector or anybody with an interest in our farming sector, that these agricultural pollution regulations are there for their benefit. They are there to stop the number of agricultural pollution incidents that we have seen year after year after year. I don't think the First Minister's out of touch with the sector. I don't think I'm out of touch with the sector. And whilst I appreciate there's been a huge amount of media focus and noise from the farming unions, I wish I could share the number and pieces of correspondence I've had from farmers who absolutely are in agreement with these regulations, because we only hear one side, really. We don't see and hear the other side. They don't make the noise, perhaps, that some others do.

But what I think is really important is this Government is absolutely on side with the sector. I've had a very good relationship with the farming unions. We've disagreed on this, and we've disagreed on other things, but it's always been very robust. But the one thing that I know they recognise, because they tell me this, is that Welsh Government is absolutely on their side, and we've done everything we can to support them through the very difficult and uncertain times we've had leaving the European Union, which by their own admission—. I remember my first Royal Welsh Show where everybody wanted to tell me that they voted to leave the European Union and how good it would be when we did. I'm afraid that view changed over the ensuing years, because we saw the mess the UK Government made of it.

Evidence-informed Policy Making

4. How does the Minister use evidence to inform the Welsh Government's policy decisions relating to the environment? OQ56392

The Welsh Government is committed to evidence-based policy. To enable this, I have commissioned a range of evidence programmes, including the environment and rural affairs monitoring and modelling programme, and my officials engage with research partners across the UK, including actively influencing our shared research and development budget with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

14:00

Thank you. Minister, I'm truly surprised to hear that answer, and I refer in particular—apart from the fact that I'm repeating so many other people—here to your mystifying decision on NVZs. I had meetings, as many others did, with the farmers unions a few weeks ago, and they reported that evidence and recommendations were provided in a report to you by the NRW Wales land management sub-group in April 2018, and a weighty 102 pages of evidence was presented to you in late 2019. It's not often that I agree with NRW, as they have made some bad decisions in the past, since they were formed, but, on this occasion, their report should have been listened to. So, if, as you say, your decisions are based on evidence, what was the evidence that you found so compelling, and why was the NRW evidence effectively thrown in the bin? Thank you.

Well, certainly, the evidence wasn't thrown in the bin, as you state. Any evidence that we take, we look at, and that forms part of the decision. The report that you referred to, I think, if I remember rightly, it had about 45 recommendations. And, again, if I'm remembering it correctly, every single recommendation was for the Welsh Government; none of them were for the agricultural sector. So, I think you can see why we needed the agricultural sector on board and why I went to great lengths to try and work with them, when they said that voluntary methods would help. And, unfortunately, we did not see a decrease in the number of incidents.

So, where did I get my evidence from? Well, as I say, we did obviously use the evidence there, but it's also the Climate Change Committee, which, I think, again, every Member in this Senedd—or maybe one or two sceptics perhaps not—would appreciate that the independent advice we get from them is something that we take very seriously and helps us with our policy.

Minister, can I widen out this question as to the way in which you use evidence in policy decision making? You'll know that the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales has called on the Welsh Government to be more transparent in showing the carbon impact of all Government policies and spending decisions. How have you responded to that? Do you keep accurate figures in terms of the carbon footprinting of policy decisions and of budgeting, for instance? And do you think there's a way that you could be even more transparent in making those public and allowing the public to see exactly what that carbon footprint of the Welsh Government is?

Well, obviously, we work very closely with the future generations commissioner's office, and I've certainly attended meetings with her and her staff, and with the First Minister—I can think of one specific one—particularly around aligning our carbon budget with our fiscal budget, because I think it's very important that we are able to demonstrate it. I personally think we are very transparent, but anything we can do to improve that transparency I'm sure will be taken on board.

Greener Fuels

5. Will the Minister make a statement on the use of greener fuels in Wales? OQ56391

Thank you. We have committed Wales to ambitious net-zero emissions targets. This requires transforming how we fuel our cars, heat our homes and generate our electricity. Hydrogen has great potential to be an important part of the decarbonised energy mix, and we are working to understand and demonstrate its potential. 

Thank you. Well, in last week's UK budget, the Chancellor announced more than £93 million of investment to turbo-charge a green recovery in Wales and accelerate the creation of nearly 13,000 jobs here. This includes accelerated funding for the north Wales growth deal, which includes the Morlais tidal demonstration zone off the coast of Anglesey, and extra funding for a new hydrogen hub at the port of Holyhead, being managed and developed by Menter Môn, the social enterprise behind the tidal demonstration project, whose managing director said:

'This is excellent news and a huge boost to the project in Holyhead.... With the increasing focus on decarbonisation the aim will be to create green hydrogen from renewables including from Morlais, our own tidal stream energy project off the coast of Holy Island.'

The UK budget also included millions for the development of both energy storage technologies and new technologies and products that will feed into the establishment and roll-out of the floating offshore wind industry. How is, or will, Welsh Government engage with these projects to maximise the opportunity for Wales that they represent?

Thank you. Well, we were certainly very pleased to see funding directed towards the Holyhead hydrogen project that Welsh Government has been supporting in the UK Government's budget on 3 March, and I certainly look forward to continuing to work with Menter Môn to maximise the opportunities for hydrogen in Holyhead, and building on, I think, the exemplary work that has already been carried out there. 

Welsh Government published a hydrogen pathway for Wales on 18 January for consultation, and again we are seeking responses to strategic questions relating to any future proposals for hydrogen development in Wales, and I would encourage Members to forward responses by 9 April and to encourage anyone they think would be interested in this. Obviously, then, the new Government can publish a summary of responses. That will then inform the proposed hydrogen pathway, along with an integrated impact assessment. I have to say, I think offshore wind is really exciting, and, over the last couple of years, we have seen a great deal of interest, particularly in north-west Wales, from developers. And tomorrow I am—. This is a meeting I'm having tomorrow with my colleague Ken Skates, again, meeting with people who are very interested in bringing this technology to Wales following the Crown Estate's recent announcement.

14:05

Minister, while it's vital that we decarbonise our energy and transport infrastructure as quickly as possible, it's also equally important that we don't create other problems in our bid to cut carbon emissions. While biomass is carbon neutral, it can also create problems with air quality due to increased release of particulates. The move to electric transport will both tackle rising carbon dioxide and air quality, but will lead to an increase in e-waste and demand for metals, which are mined at a huge cost to our fragile ecology. Minister, what steps are your Government taking to ensure that decarbonisation does not lead to ecological damage elsewhere? Diolch.

Thank you. Caroline Jones makes a very important point. It is always really important that, when you look at how we decarbonise, not just our energy or our homes—. It's completely a cross-Government issue, and I meet regularly with my ministerial colleagues to ensure that whatever is in their portfolio that can help us reach our net-zero carbon targets is the correct way to go. You'll be aware that we have recently received advice from the Climate Change Committee on how we can reach net zero by 2050, and last month I laid regulations in the Senedd to formally commit Wales, for the first time, to legally binding targets that deliver the goal of our net-zero emissions. So, we have to reduce our emissions across all sectors, and, again, the Climate Change Committee, in its advice to me, highlighted the importance of improvements to fuel efficiency, for instance, in their scenarios, through cost-effective technologies and design improvements.

Animal Welfare

6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve animal welfare? OQ56379

Animal welfare and the responsible ownership of animals are priorities for the Welsh Government, and we are committed to ensuring high standards of welfare are maintained. We are proactively involved in a number of different initiatives to further support and reinforce these standards in the short and long-term future.

Can I thank the Minister for that response? How we treat animals is an indication of the type of society we are. Whilst the Welsh Government has made substantial progress in ensuring an improved version of Lucy's law is brought in this month, what proposals does the Welsh Government have to ban the owning of primates, bringing CCTV in for abattoirs, and improving the welfare of rabbits and horses?

I'm pleased Mike Hedges referred to Lucy's law, although I do keep saying that we are going beyond Lucy's law; it's the third-party sales of puppies and kittens, and we will be debating that in the Senedd in the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, many of the policy development work streams within my portfolio in relation to animal health and welfare have had to take a lower priority over the past 12 months, for obvious reasons, with the COVID-19 pandemic and leaving the European Union, but my officials are working closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on a number of areas where it may be beneficial to have a UK approach. So, you mentioned CCTV in abattoirs, for instance. My stance on that is the same: I recognise the potential benefits, and it's not been ruled out. I am confident that we'll be able to bring forward new regulations on licensing of animal activities in Wales, and that's been the right priority focus at the time. We do have statutory codes of practice for many species of animals in Wales, both farm and domestic, and they are regularly reviewed and updated. 

14:10

Minister, in your response to Mike Hedges there, you didn't mention the welfare of animals in zoos and animal attractions around Wales. You'll be familiar with the fact that I've been calling for some time now for a zoos support fund in Wales. They've got them in other parts of the United Kingdom and, indeed, elsewhere in Europe, but Wales is yet to establish a zoos support fund in order to ensure that animals in our zoos during this lockdown period can get the high-quality welfare that they deserve without those organisations having to raid their reserves or their savings, which they put aside for investment in their businesses. Can you tell us what your latest thinking is on whether to establish a Welsh zoos support fund, particularly given that the fund would also ensure the important work that zoos and animal attractions do with regard to conservation and breeding, which is also now being affected as a result of the lack of a fund here in Wales?

Well, we don't need a specific zoo support scheme in Wales, because our zoos were able to access funding from the economic resilience fund, which, obviously, was unique to Wales. So, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the zoos applied for funding from the ERF and were obviously successful. So, whilst I appreciate other countries in the UK had a specific zoo support scheme, I think, if you actually look, our zoos probably—some of them, certainly—had more funding than they would have got if it had been a support scheme in another country.

Lucy's Law

8. Will the Minister make a statement on Welsh Government regulations to outlaw third-party puppy sales, otherwise known as Lucy's law? OQ56407

The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (Wales) Regulations 2021 will be debated on 23 March. I will not be making a statement prior to the debate.

I'm grateful to the Minister for that, and I think many of us in this Chamber will welcome seeing this on the order paper, albeit in our last week of this Senedd. In terms of taking forward the agenda that Lucy's law symbolises, there needs to be a holistic approach to policy, and we need to certainly put in place the regulations that are on the order paper, but we also need to ensure that we take a more comprehensive approach to not only banning the third-party sale of puppies and kittens, but also that we ensure that there are far better and far higher welfare standards for those animals. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline how she sees a comprehensive approach building on the basis of Lucy's law, which would include, but not be limited to, public information, new regulations in planning law to ensure that breeders are licensed, that include rescue and rehoming centres, and to ensure that there is a regulation of sanctuaries as well, where there is considerable public concern about some of the conditions in which animals are kept.

I mentioned in my earlier answer to Mike Hedges that the regulations we'll be bringing forward in two weeks' time go beyond Lucy's law. I am really desperately trying to get away from that phrase, because we've done a huge amount of work with the local authorities. We've had the local authority dog enforcement project, which was a three-year Welsh Government-funded project covering all local authorities in Wales, which began last year, and that will be the vehicle where we take forward these regulations, because I thought it was really important—. Because when we started looking—. When Lucy's law was first mentioned to me, probably about three years ago, it was really important to use the powers that we already had, because I think, when we looked, local authorities weren't using the powers that they already had. So, rather than rush to bring forward regulations, it was really important to look at what barriers were there that had been barriers to enforcement, if you like, that local authorities weren't using. They required enhanced training, and we provided that. They needed better guidance, and we provided that, and we needed to improve the use of resources within local authorities. Unfortunately, with reduced budgets to local authorities, sometimes it was this part of their portfolio that didn't have the attention it had, so I think it's really important. How I see it playing out over the next three years is that we work with local authorities to ensure they have the tools that are needed.

I think the point you raise around sanctuaries is really important, and I would have liked to have done further work in relation to sanctuaries in this term of Government. But, as I said, the capacity, unfortunately, hasn't been there to do everything and all the work streams and strands of work I would have liked to have done, but I do think that is something that a future Government, certainly if I was part of it or the Labour Party, would want to look at.

14:15

Question 9 [OQ56404] has been withdrawn. Question 10, Siân Gwenllian.

The Arbed Scheme in Arfon

10. Will the Minister provide an update on the Arbed scheme in Arfon? OQ56387

Thank you. A meeting with Fortem Energy Services is scheduled for 15 March to finalise details for contacting 393 households fitted with external wall insulation under the Arbed scheme in Arfon. I set out the process for householders to resolve claims in my letter to you of 8 March.

Thank you for that. I would be grateful if you could confirm today that it's the responsibility of Fortem Energy Services to work to resolve this problem, or these problems, truth be told. The owners of homes should only use the guarantee as a final step if Fortem and the Welsh Government can't resolve these problems in a satisfactory manner and within a reasonable timetable. Will you just confirm that, in order to provide peace of mind to people, please? 

I am pleased that you've provided a specific date to us there. There is concern among constituents that further delays and the impacts of the May elections could see this issue continuing to be unresolved, and that isn't fair in any way whatsoever.

The problem is far more than just the paint on the external walls, and my constituents in Deiniolen, Dinorwig, Carmel and Y Fron regret that the focus of your recent letters to me focus only on that. There are a whole host of problems arising from the deficient standards of work undertaken, and all of those need to be addressed.

Thank you, and I absolutely agree with you that everything needs to be addressed. Fortem Energy Services Ltd will work with my officials to contact each home that benefited from EWI under the Arbed scheme in the places that you just referred to. A home maintenance information leaflet will be reissued and, where necessary, the company will provide copies of the guarantee that covers the external wall insulation system and the render coatings at no cost to the household. It is really important that this work continues, despite the election, and obviously it can because my officials will continue to work with the energy company. I do appreciate it is very time consuming, but it is really important, I think, that appropriate steps are taken to determine the root cause of the issues that are experienced by your constituents to make sure that we can get the corrective work done and get to those desired standards that we all want to see. 

2. Questions to the Minister for Housing and Local Government

The next item is questions to the Minister for Housing and Local Government, and the first question is from Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Home Adaptations for Older People

1. Will the Minister make a statement on the importance of home adaptations as a way of helping older people to live more healthily and independently? OQ56408

Diolch, Llywydd. Forgive me, I missed the question there. I wonder if Rhun would mind repeating it. My internet cut out.

Okay. Apologies, my internet completely cut out as you called my name, so I didn't quite catch it. 

Okay. Are you able to take it from the order paper, or do you want Rhun to—?

Absolutely, as long as I didn't miss anything else I'm more than happy to do that. 

No, he didn't stray away from the order paper. I wouldn't have allowed him to do that. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Yes, indeed, then, the pandemic has served to highlight the vital role that home adaptations, large and small, play in helping people to maintain their dignity and independence and live safely in their own home. Despite the challenges, these services have continued throughout the pandemic.

Thank you very much for that response. I will make the point that it's not only older people who can benefit from home adaptations. I applaud the Motor Neurone Disease Association for the campaign that they're running at the moment pushing for more home adaptations for people living with that condition. But looking at older people particularly, we know that older people falling is very expensive to the NHS—it costs over £2 billion to the NHS across the UK. We know that home adaptations can reduce injuries by as much as 26 per cent. Now, given that people have been spending more time at home during the pandemic, can the Minister tell us what the situation is in terms of a backlog in terms of home adaptations as a result of the pandemic, and what does the Government intend to do to tackle this, because of the help that adaptations can provide in terms of living independently and healthily?

14:20

Yes, thank you very much, Rhun. You're absolutely right, adaptations absolutely do facilitate stopping hospital admissions in the first place and they also facilitate hospital discharge and support the discharge to recover and access pathways, freeing up hospital beds and avoiding the need for step-down placements in residential care. They obviously just help people have a happier and healthier life in their own home, so we're very keen to continue the good work that's been going on. The rapid response adaptations take around nine days, on average, to deliver. 

You're right, though, that in the beginning part of the pandemic, we did have a fall-off in the rate of adaptations. Even though we were clear that adaptations could continue throughout the pandemic as one of the essential works that have always been allowed, people were understandably more reluctant to let people into their homes and so on, particularly in the first stages of the pandemic. But I'm really delighted to be able to say that work has picked up significantly in the second half of the year, and current levels of activity are similar to previous years, so there isn't much of a backlog and the average response times are pretty much back to normal now. And as I say, for the rapid response ones, they are an average of nine days to deliver; medium adaptations like stairlifts and so on are an average of four months; and the largest adaptations like extensions and so on are an average of nine months.

Minister, thank you for that response. In my colleague Nick Ramsay's short debate on motor neurone disease last week, you were talking about the 40 weeks for large-scale home adaptations, and of course, it's not just for people with MND. With COVID, having listened to Long Covid Wales's evidence this morning in the health and social care committee, it's pretty obvious that there are going to be some cases there; people who've had road traffic accidents, survived sepsis, been in intensive care; very often there are serious things that require their homes to be adapted. Forty weeks is an incredibly long time. I had one particular farmer who broke his back on the farm and because he lived in a listed house, they just simply weren't even allowed to put a steel rod in to be able to have a hoist that would have allowed him to live at home. And you talked earlier just now about just allowing people to live healthier, happier lives at home; well, actually, for some people, that's where they want to be and we're all about giving choice.

So, will you look at seeing how we might be able to liaise with the planning department in these very rare instances where people need those adaptations to be able to have a way through the entire planning system? Because the alternative if you cannot get those plans through, if you cannot build that extension, if you cannot put that hoist in and the structure that's needed for it, is that those people will have to leave their home and either go into state care or the whole family have to sell up and try and find somewhere else to live. That's a shocking disruption, and I would have thought in our society we could have said, 'Actually, occasionally people are allowed an exception to the normal rules and regulations.' I just think we should be able to put a plan in place and I'd like your thoughts on that.

Yes, thank you, Angela Burns. I wasn't aware of that particular instance, but I'm more than happy to have a look at the procedures, particular for houses that are listed; there's obviously an added complexity there. In terms of the bigger adaptations and planning in general, we do have a pathway for that, and care and repair agencies are very familiar with working with planning departments. But I'm very happy to look at any individual instances you've got where that isn't working. It may be that there's a particular planning department, or there are particular instances. I'm happy to look at that if you want to let me know specifics.

But in general, we do work with planning departments to make sure that the average times are around nine months. And 40 weeks is a very long time, you're absolutely right, but obviously, sometimes they're building a whole extension and so on, so they're very, very big adaptations. The smaller adaptations—as I say, stairlifts and so on—are around four months and the rapid response ones are around nine days. I'm happy to say at this point that, just today, I've issued a written statement because we've been able to agree the removal of the means test, which I did mention during my response to Nick Ramsay on motor neurone disease. So, I'm happy to say that we've done that as well, and that will speed up some of the adaptation response times as well.

14:25

Minister, I wonder if you'd join me in paying tribute to the work that's been done through the pandemic with some brilliant local organisations like Bridgend County Care and Repair. Despite the constraints and restrictions of the pandemic, they carried on trying to do those adaptations throughout my area. But, also, would she agree with me that this is more than that, as well? It's about things like the Cwm Taf Stay Well at Home service that we funded several years ago through the integrated care fund, bringing together Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr and Cwm Taf University Health Board with a service that brings together social workers, therapists, physiotherapists, therapy technicians, in order that people, rather than going into hospital and staying in hospital, can be rapidly discharged and then live at home and recuperate at home, where they want to be. So, I just ask, Minister, will you recognise the amazing work that's gone on through this pandemic, even with the additional constraints that they've faced, and just join me in thanking them for what they've been doing?

Absolutely, Huw Irranca-Davies, I would very much like to join with you in thanking everyone who, despite all the challenges you've outlined, have worked to ensure that those who need them continue to get the adaptations they need to live safely, avoid hospital admission and make a timely return home. You know as well as I do that the Princess of Wales, Royal Glamorgan and Prince Charles hospitals all participate in the Hospital to a Healthier Home scheme, in partnership with Bridgend and Cwm Taf care and repair agencies. I'd just like to tell you that, in the 10 months to the end of January, 739 patients received an adaptation that assisted their safe discharge, saving over 4,500 bed days. Eighty-six of those patients were helped to access additional benefits as well, with an annual value of around £420,000, so you're absolutely right, the working together of the various agencies has resulted not only in safer, quicker discharges, but additional income and support for people who need that support to be able to live a happy, healthy life at home.

Home Adaptations for People with Disabilities

2. What progress has been made in delivering home adaptations for people with disabilities? OQ56399

Thank you, Nick. Even in the face of the pandemic we have continued to prioritise home adaptations where it was safe to do so. We are progressing with work to address recommended improvements to the process. Today I announced the removal of means testing for small and medium-sized adaptations.

Thank you, Minister. I don't think there's much I can add, really, to the previous questions by Rhun ap Iorwerth and Angela Burns, but I'm pleased that the debate that I brought forward to the Chamber last week has kicked the ball rolling, or raised the profile of this issue. As you know, last week I led that debate in the Senedd Chamber, and you answered very comprehensively. Something I didn't mention during the debate was a case study that I became aware of, a gentleman in the Vale of Glamorgan who, due to his MND impairment, hadn't been able to lock his front door since January. That work was delayed and the Motor Neurone Disease Association got involved and sorted it. Sadly, he's recently passed away, and I'm sure you'd agree with me that this illustrates in the case of this cruel condition, which sometimes can lead to death very swiftly, there's a really urgent need to make sure that these housing adaptations are provided as swiftly as possible. I hear what you're saying about some of the larger ones being more difficult to accomplish, but will you pledge that you will look at ways that certainly some of the smaller and medium-sized improvements and home adaptations can be rolled out as quickly as possible, so that people can get that end-of-life support that they really need?

Yes, absolutely, Nick Ramsay. I was really pleased to respond positively to your short debate, which was a really important debate for exactly the reasons that you've just set out. So, we've continued to issue COVID guidance to all providers of adaptations, advising that work can continue and that urgent cases should be prioritised for there to be no doubt at all that this work is continuing regardless of whatever the lockdown arrangements are in Wales. We've also got funding from the Welsh Government to local authorities, housing associations and care and repair agencies that has enabled them to do over 30,000 adaptations annually. As I just mentioned, today I've taken steps to ensure that the means test is no longer applied to small and medium-sized disabled facilities grants. This will benefit disabled people from across Wales, including, of course, the people you were championing in your short debate with motor neurone disease, and includes everyone, home owners, people in the private rented sector—tenure is no barrier to it. And we're increasing the Enable grant to local authorities by £400,000 to fund the change, and we'll be monitoring the impact on demand closely over the next few years as we roll it out. That is exactly for trying to accomplish the thing that you've most highlighted, and have just done so again, Nick, which is to make sure that people with life-limiting disease, such as motor neurone disease, can receive adaptations much more quickly, and at no cost, so that they can live out their lives as happily as is possible. 

14:30
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

[Inaudible.]—somebody else is in charge of the mute, obviously, and had muted me.

Conservative spokesperson, Laura Jones.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Can I first start by saying 'thank you'? Although short, it's been a pleasure holding the shadow portfolio opposite you, Minister, and I appreciate—and I'm sure Mark does—all your constructive responses.

Minister, can you tell me how this Government is working with local authorities to ensure that, when considering sites for local development plans, they do not choose sites that score negatively in all areas after impact and sustainability assessments have been done in areas such as biodiversity, health, well-being, transport, historic development, air quality, flood risk, et cetera, and where there are no specific schools or doctors that would be able to cope with large-scale developments, specifically when those developments are on greenfield sites? It makes no sense, and it flies in the face of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. The environmental impact of building on such sites just shouldn't happen. Why has local campaigner Gruffudd Parry, and a very strong local group, had to highlight to me what Torfaen council are trying to get away with proposing in their latest LDP? Surely, your Government should have checks in place. What checks are in place, Minister, to ensure that local authorities are not going against everything that you're trying to achieve here in this Senedd?

I'm very happy to reassure Laura Jones on the LDP position. We have, as she will know, just issued 'Future Wales', the national development framework, and the reissued 'Planning Policy Wales' to go alongside it. That means that, actually, all local authorities need to review their LDP in the light of those documents—those going through the process of setting their LDP, and those who have got an existing LDP in place. I've written out to local authorities to highlight the need to do this, and they need to factor that now into their planning process. Those documents, of course, reference all of the things that she just mentioned. It's very much the centre of our placemaking approach to planning that those things are taken into account.

Of course, the planning process itself, as she has just mentioned, takes you through an examination in public, which is there precisely for the reason that she outlined—in order to enable the public to be able to probe or question or make sure that the evidence is available, to make the plan as robust as it can be. That's the whole point of a plan-led process—to democratise the process, to allow local people to have their say about it, and for others to make sure that the council is indeed doing what it should do, which is to take into account all of the various things that make a place the community that we want it to be. So, the very fact that you know about it, and that people are able to challenge it, shows me that the position is working. Of course, that's the whole purpose of the entire process of the plan, which can be frustrating, of course, because it takes quite a long time to go through, and people get frustrated the other way. But I think it's worth it in the end, because you do get a plan that the local community owns, and we don't get a one-size-fits-all approach everywhere in Wales.

Can I also say, Laura, that it's been a pleasure to work with you, and with Mark as well? I know we have our spats in public, but we've had many opportunities to work constructively as well, behind the scenes, and I'm grateful for it.

Thank you, Minister. I'm very pleased with your response just now, and I'm sure the local campaign group will be too. Because these sorts of sites shouldn't come around in the first place, in my opinion. We shouldn't have to go through all the cost of having to make checks on things that everybody knows are not suitable.

However, the coronavirus has had a major impact on individuals and families across the UK, as we know. But when it comes to children and young people in care, as we've discussed in the past, or children that have been previously looked after, these issues are obviously significantly amplified. What discussions have you had, and what consideration have you given, to long-term support for exactly the people that I've just outlined, to make sure that they are adequately supported going forward? Thank you. 

14:35

Obviously, children coming out of care are not in my portfolio, but I work very closely with Julie Morgan, with Vaughan Gething and with my colleague Kirsty Williams to make sure that we have a cross-Government plan for people coming out of care, looked-after children and so on. We work very closely with the Welsh Local Government Association to make sure that we have a joined-up approach. So, it depends on which particular aspect you're looking at. 

In terms of housing, for example, we've been making sure that we have a plan to make sure that we have a pathway for people coming out of care, that we have the right kind of housing and the right kind, more importantly, of support around that housing to make sure that where young people do go into a tenancy alone, or with a number of others, that they have the right support arrangements in place to ensure that they can sustain that tenancy. And, of course, you'll know that my colleague Ken Skates, right at the beginning of his career as a Member of the Senedd, introduced a law that allowed people to stay with foster parents and so on much longer than they had previously been able to so that they can continue to source the sort of support that people who grow up in their birth family often have well into their lives, and, in fact, if my children are anything to go by, well into their 30s. 

Thank you, Minister. Recently, Newport City Council approved a motion formally calling on the Welsh Government to carefully consider calls for a regional referendum on the M4 relief road. A poll conducted by WalesOnline found that double the amount of people supported the road than those who voted against. After restrictions were eased following the end of the first lockdown, during the summer of last year, it was alarming to see how fast traffic levels returned to the M4 motorway around Newport. Minister, what are your thoughts on the suggestion of the need for a local referendum by the council? Does the Minister agree with me that the strength of feeling in Newport council amongst councillors, and in the city, can't be overlooked, and that the next Government needs to seriously relook at the need for the M4 relief road and/or commit, like the Welsh Conservatives, to building the road, which will be beneficial not only for the city but for the whole of Wales?

Thank you, Laura Jones. Again, the M4 relief road is primarily in the portfolio of my colleague Ken Skates, but again, we work across the Government on a number of issues. If there is a call for a local referendum, then we're certainly happy to work with Newport council to see how that might be accomplished. I'm all in favour of local people having a large say in what happens in their region or area.

You'll know that we've put a regional arrangement for a strategic planning process in place via our Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021, and that puts the corporate joint committees in place. The south-east corporate joint committee is actually much more advanced than anywhere else. They are very well advanced in looking at their strategic development plan. That strategic development plan will, of course, be considering arterial routes for traffic as well as everything else, alongside the commission put in place by the First Minister and my colleague Ken Skates in order to look at alternatives to building what would be a very ecologically damaging set of concrete across protected Gwent levels. These things are never straightforward, and there is a range of opinions on all sides. I'm very aware that some people in Newport want to build the M4, but I'm also very aware that a lot of people don't want to build the M4 and wish to protect the natural environment. That's why the commission was put in place. 

Anyway, there is now a mechanism for the strategic plan to come forward for the south-east region, and I'm sure that once that process is under way, there will be ample opportunity for people to make their feelings known around the strategic transport arrangements. The CJC will also be the body that has the power to put the strategic plan in place. That will be the regional transport plan, and, of course, that will have to interact well with the strategic planning arrangements for infrastructure. That, of course, is the reason that we put that into the local government and elections Act, in order to give that regional flavour. Because it's not just the people who live in Newport county, but all the people who live around it, and, indeed, further on in Wales, that are impacted by that, hence the need for the strategic approach to it. 

Diolch, Llywydd. In opening, Minister, I'd actually like to echo what Laura has said. It's been a pleasure to shadow you in this post and to find many areas, I think, of accord. Obviously, we won't have agreed on everything, but I do extend my thanks as well. 

Turning to the questions I have, the additional protections for tenants during COVID—the ban on evictions and bailiffs going into people's homes—are due to end at the end of this month, and the next review point when you could extend those protections further falls tomorrow. There are so many aspects of life that haven't yet opened up, and the threat of homelessness still hangs so heavily over tenants' heads. All of the incremental postponements of eviction have, in fact, I think, prolonged anxiety for many tenants, because they don't have an extended period of being able to feel secure. I know you've said in a letter to the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee that you weren't minded to review this until closer to the end of the month, but I would ask whether you would consider, tomorrow, committing to extending those protections for tenants, so that we don't see mass evictions happening when we're still in the midst of a pandemic, but mainly to put their minds at ease. 

14:40

Thank you, Delyth. Again, I reiterate what I said to Laura and to Mark. It's been good to work with you. We've found a lot of things in common as well as things where we can disagree, and where we've disagreed we've been able to discuss that disagreement in a civilised way and with the evidence on both sides. So, I'm very grateful to you. It's been a real pleasure to work alongside you as well throughout this Assembly, and, now, Senedd term, which appears to me to have gone extremely quickly in the last few months as well. I can hardly believe we're here at the end of it. 

In terms of evictions, yes, absolutely, I agree entirely that we cannot have people being evicted, especially into homelessness, potentially, in the middle of a pandemic. You'll be aware that we've already housed over 6,000 people in the course of the pandemic, which shows you the real extent of the difficulty. The pandemic is making the system creak at its edges, and we certainly don't want to add an enormous number of people from the private rented sector to that in circumstances where they would be unlikely to find anywhere to go, and especially, actually, where they're in a circumstance where they could not go to stay with a friend at the moment inside the COVID rules and so on—not that that's ideal by way of housing people. 

Of course, we keep the evictions ban under review in every three-week cycle as always. I'm not in a position yet to say what the First Minister will be announcing on Friday, but, of course, it's one of the things that we consider at each three-week cycle. We continue to do that. We are very aware that the current end is at the end of March, and that is under review. I have constant meetings with my officials about what we can do to make sure that tenants are protected and kept safe during the pandemic, and, also, frankly, what plans we have in place for when the ban is eventually lifted, and what we do with the potential numbers of people who might be presenting as unable to carry on in their present accommodation at that time. So, I can assure you that we are taking it very seriously indeed. I absolutely understand the imperative to do it and it's very much part of the review process. 

Okay. Thank you for that, Minister. I'll await eagerly what the announcement will be on Friday. 

Turning to another area, the pandemic I think has brought home to all of us—not meaning for it to be a pun—how vital it is to feel safe in our homes. Too many people in Wales feel unsafe in the buildings where they live, often because cladding that the developer has refused to remove is causing them tremendous anxiety. These people are in many ways figuratively trapped in their homes, because they can't sell them, but they also don't feel safe and they face these huge costs in service charges, in bills, that they, frankly, shouldn't have to pay.

Plaid Cymru—I know that you'll know this—has, for years, espoused the need for a windfall tax on the profits of large developers to pay for correcting the problems that they caused, and I know from our previous exchanges that you're interested in this idea too. But, at present, it is probably outside the Senedd's powers to bring that in. So, until we have that power, Minister, do you think the next Welsh Government should finance the repair work with a view to getting the money back, perhaps, from a windfall tax or from other means? After all, these tenants surely can't be just abandoned to their plight. 

Indeed, Delyth. You'll know, as we've been working on this for some time, that it's fiendishly complicated. I know that it's terribly tempting for people to think it's easy, and I am often told on social media—[Inaudible.]

I think we may be losing the connection with the Minister. We'll just pause a second to see if it's re-established.

[Inaudible.]—others wouldn't necessarily give you the amount of money that you require to fix the entire building. Often there are complex ownership patterns in the building. There are complex freeholder versus leaseholder issues and so on.

I've been meeting with a series of developers. I met with another one of the big developers only this morning to understand from them what they saw as their responsibility. Many of the builders are now coming forward and saying that they will fix the inherited defects of the building. There is an issue about building owners taking some responsibility rather than the leaseholders themselves. We cannot put a windfall tax on, here in Wales. I have called on the UK Government to do so. I'm happy to do so again on the floor of the Senedd. We are looking ourselves to see whether we could make any kind of levy work in Wales. The difficulty is that not very many people build high-rise buildings in Wales already, and the difficulty is that if you did put a levy on, you'd probably just accomplish stopping them building them rather than actually generating any money from them. So, we need to find a way that actually practically works for people.

I have a set of legal advisers beavering away on a range of options that we've put forward—some that have been suggested to me by you and other Members of the Senedd. Others have been suggested to me by the groups of residents who I've met with. I'm in constant dialogue with the residents as well as with the builders. So, we are trying really hard to find a way through this, and I'll say once again: we are not the repository of all good ideas here. If anybody can find a way through it, then we'd be delighted to hear from them. And I'm very pleased with the conversations that I've been having with the builders, the building industry, the Home Builders Federation and others, about the way forward and what could be done to be able to do this. And we have put some money in the budget to look at the preliminary work for this, and then I'm sure that whatever Government's in power after the election will want to do something to help the leaseholders who are in the most dreadful of plights as we stand.

14:45

Okay, thank you for that, Minister. My final question: I'd like to ask you about some of the more far-reaching changes to the planning system that our society surely needs. I do realise that planning does span different portfolios, but evidently there's a link with the welfare of residents, and the quality of housing and the communities that those houses support. Because, at present, large developers have if not all the power, then an awful lot of it and are therefore able to avoid section 106 responsibilities. Not enough residents and people living in communities understand how the planning system works. So, do you agree that the past performance of a developer should be a material consideration in whether they get awarded new jobs? Shouldn't planning laws stipulate that a development can only go ahead when the initial phases of the development have actually been completed—for example, those bits that the developers often see as the nice-to-have, easy-to-get-out-of, like playing parks for children? And do you agree with me that all new developments—all new homes, that is—should have easy access to green and, if possible, blue space as well, so that everyone can have the benefit, and the welfare benefits, that come about as a result of being able to live near natural life?

Yes, I certainly agree with some of those propositions and I agree with the thrust of them certainly. So, there are some real issues with the past performance points. I understand entirely what you're trying to achieve with that, but, of course, there's absolutely nothing to stop people setting up individual single-vehicle companies to build particular buildings and so on. You get a real problem of exactly who it is you think has the past performance problems. These things have been tried in various parts and there are difficulties with them, but I understand the point you're making and it is something we want to be able to explore.

The better way of doing it, of course, is to make the planning system work properly and to encourage people to come forward in the right democratic way and to enable them to do so—so, assisting organisations such as Planning Aid to make sure that local populations are able to engage in the planning process at an early stage and not just when they realise a development they don't like is about to, you know, have the signs go up and the notices on telegraph poles all around, but to actually get them to engage in the planning process. I'm really keen on doing that and there are ways and means of doing that through organisations, such as Planning Aid and others, which do help various communities to come forward with particular things that they'd like to see in their areas. So, I'm very pleased to do that.

There are a whole range of things that we wanted to do and weren't able to do, because of the pandemic, around building regulations, which enforce things like space standards, green infrastructure, parks, outside space and so on, which I'm sure any Government that is in power after the upcoming elections will want to take forward. The vast majority of the work has been done already by officials, but we just couldn't, because of the pandemic, bring it to fruition this side of the elections. So, I'm very keen that whoever is in power afterwards is able to take advantage of that. And that would solve some of the issues that you're talking about—about making sure that the houses are decent, quality houses for life, with outdoor space, or decent balconies and so on if they're flats. So, I'm very keen on doing that.

The last bit of that jigsaw, which is much more complex, is the issue of what you do about extant planning consents that have not yet been developed out, but are now subject to old rules. So, the example I'd like to give you is the one of the building sprinklers. My colleague Ann Jones put that groundbreaking legislation through. It was pilloried at the time; it's been proved in hindsight to have been absolutely right, but we still have new houses being built in Wales that don't have sprinklers in them because people had a planning consent that had been started and they were allowed to build it out. So, I would like very much to have the space and time to look again at the planning legislation to see if we can't do something about making sure that people build to the current building regulations and not the ones in existence at the time that planning consents started. So, absolutely, we'd like to be working on that after the election. There is a large number of people across Wales who are interested in looking to see what can be done in that space. If we're all back after the election, I'm sure we'll be able to put together a quick working group to be able to do that.  

14:50
Financial Support for Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council

3. Will the Minister make a statement on the financial support provided by the Welsh Government to Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council? OQ56406

Yes. Welsh Government provides financial support to Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council through core unhypothecated funding, as well as by specific grants to the authority for a range of shared priorities.  

I'm grateful to the Minister for that. We are aware that the current local government settlement is an extremely generous settlement, and it's one that builds upon considerable additional expenditure through the pandemic to support local authorities who haven't been able to exercise their usual funding sources in the usual way, and they've had to deal with significant additional pressures. So, this builds on a policy that has been pursued by successive Welsh Governments that protects local government, that protects local services and protects local jobs, and this is done in a way that demonstrates a real commitment to local democracy in Wales as compared with the situation across our borders.

The £6.3 billion in capital and revenue expenditure being provided to local government in the budget we agreed yesterday is something that will enable councils not only in Blaenau Gwent, but across Wales to invest in their people, in their services and in their communities. I hope, Minister, you will agree with me that this is the way in which we exercise our values as Welsh Labour—investing in local people, local councils and local democracy—and there's a very, very real comparison with the way that local government is being torn to pieces across the border in England. 

I do indeed agree with Alun Davies on that point. I was very pleased in the settlement yesterday to have prioritised funding for front-line public services. The budget overall that my colleague Rebecca Evans presented just before I presented the local government settlement prioritised funding for health and local government very much in that budget, and local government in Wales indeed has had a very good settlement. 

In terms of Blaenau Gwent, the core unhypothecated funding for Blaenau Gwent council increased to over £120 million for 2021-22, which is an increase of 3.7 per cent, after adjusting for various transfers, overall. This comes, of course, after the excellent settlement in this current financial year for Blaenau Gwent, which increased by £4.3 million, an increase of 3.9 per cent after adjusting for transfers. Within the hardship fund, indeed, we've provided Blaenau Gwent with an additional £4.57 million for additional costs, and a further £1.7 million for lost income as at the end of February, which is a total of £6.27 million in addition to its normal funding, in order to take account of the hardships that that council, like many others, has experienced due to the pandemic. 

We take the view in Welsh Government—again, unlike colleagues across the border—that local democracy is a good thing and that local people elect their council and their council should be allowed to set the council tax that it requires. Blaenau Gwent, I understand, is increasing its council tax by 3.3 per cent, which is on the high side for Wales given the generosity of the settlement, but, again, we chose not to cap the council on the basis that we think local people elect the council that they want to have and they do the good job of deciding what the council tax should be. We have, however, asked councils to look very carefully at what's affordable in their area and, of course, I'm delighted to say that we have maintained full entitlement under the council tax reduction scheme for 2021-22, and we're providing £244 million under the council tax reduction scheme in the settlement in recognition of that. So, where there is hardship and the council tax is rising, people will be entitled to claim under the council tax reduction scheme. Again, no such scheme exists over the border, as it was abolished, as you know. I believe you might have been the Minister at the time of the abolition, actually, Alun. We decided to maintain that scheme, even though it wasn't fully funded when that happened. So, I'm delighted to be able to say that, but I do believe in local democracy and we have therefore allowed each council to have the freedom to set its own council tax. They have commended the very good settlement they have had for the second year running from the Welsh Government to them.

14:55
Social Housing

4. What action is the Welsh Government taking to increase the supply of social housing during this Senedd term? OQ56395

Thank you, Vikki. We have made a record investment in affordable housing this Senedd term. The 2019-20 statistics have confirmed that, as a direct result of our investment, we will exceed our ambitious target of 20,000 affordable homes this Government term.

Thank you, Minister. As well as giving vulnerable people homes that are fit for purpose, the social housing grant has also helped regenerate key derelict, disused or empty sites, often in very prominent places in our communities. One example in my own constituency is the disused building on Oxford Street in the town centre in Mountain Ash, which Cynon Taf Housing is turning into much-needed one-bedroomed flats through the grant. Minister, I know you put on record before your commitment to continue providing social homes for rent in the next Senedd term, but do you agree with me that such schemes can also prove to be key drivers in transforming and improving our communities for all residents?

Thank you, Vikki. Yes, we're very proud of the juxtaposition of various Government policies. So, our Transforming Towns agenda goes alongside, of course, our social housing policy agenda, and we're very keen to make sure that we have good social housing, good, affordable housing, built close to, adjacent to, our town centres, and preferably, as you say, in derelict buildings or on derelict land that has hitherto been an eyesore and a detriment to the society. What it does, of course, is it brings vibrancy, new hope and optimism and footfall to the city centre, so it's a lovely combination of the ability to give people really lovely homes, which will be easy to afford and they'll be proud to live in, and which will also increases the footfall in the city centre and takes away a building that would otherwise have been a detriment. So, I'm very pleased at the way the Transforming Towns agenda and the social house building agenda have combined together to be able to have that effect in places such as Mountain Ash. I know you've been a big champion of the need to rejuvenate local towns in your area. I well remember the video presentation you did, when we were all back in the Chamber, of the various places in your constituency that required that kind of regeneration, and I'm delighted that one of them is coming to fruition, and really pleased to see that it's single-bedroom flats, which are one of the most sought-after things that we need in the social housing sector. As a result of the pandemic, you'll know that we've already housed over 6,000 people. We are very clearly driving now to build the permanent homes that people need in order to prevent them experiencing that kind of homelessness again.

Minister, do you agree with me that we need to see in the 2020s a social housing renaissance, building at, or preferably above, historical trends? And are you, like me, particularly concerned with that new group: people in their 30s and 40s on good incomes but having no family wealth and that cannot access the market to purchase family homes, to the great detriment of their children?

Yes. I absolutely agree with that, David Melding. We have been very keen to extend, for example, the Help to Buy schemes. We're very keen not only to help younger people, from my perspective, who are in their 30s and so on, just with their families, to access good-quality homes, but we're very keen to help our building industry build them in circumstances where they occasionally need Government help to do so. I'm also very keen, though, to use the leverage that that Government funding brings to build the right kind of homes in the right kind of places and to the right kind of standard. I've been very straightforward with the house building industry here in Wales that we want to see the houses built for the future that people continue to be proud to live in, they don't experience fuel poverty in, they are carbon-passive or carbon-neutral where at all possible, they have the space standards necessary for people to be able to adapt to the changing conditions of their life in those houses. I know you agree with that agenda as well. I'm working very hard to ensure that we will have a continued Help to Buy system in Wales, that we continue to have a rent-to-own scheme in Wales, which has been very successful in very large parts of Wales and which allows people who perhaps don't have a deposit nevertheless to get a foot on the housing ladder, and to have a range of shared equity, shared ownership, co-operative ownership and community land trust-type schemes around Wales, as well as, of course, building the necessary amount of social housing so that people can access social housing should they need to and not be driven into perhaps sub-standard private rented sector accommodation.

15:00

Minister, while your Government is on track to meet its affordable homes target for this Senedd term, do you accept that this target was woefully inadequate? I congratulate you for doing more than previous Welsh Governments, but I'm disappointed that you have failed to address the real need that exists for social housing. The new homes that have been built had been snapped up before the first brick was even laid. Families are still waiting years to get a home; far too many children are living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation; and far too many people are still sleeping rough or sofa surfing. Do you accept that your target was not ambitious enough, and should you be returned to this Parliament and be part of the next Welsh Government, will you please pledge to do more? Because in the twenty-first century, it is morally reprehensible that people are still homeless and that they're still living in unsuitable accommodation for their needs. Diolch yn fawr.

Well, Caroline, I'm a little bit astonished that you can make such a dismal fist of something that we're really proud of here in Wales, and I have to say that I don't agree with virtually anything you said, apart from the two sentences right there at the end.

We're incredibly proud of our record of having made our 20,000 affordable homes. Of course, we were only able to up our council house building in the last two years, once the Conservative Government finally saw sense and took the caps off the housing revenue accounts so that, two years ago, we were able to start ramping up our council house building. We've done incredibly well over that. Our latest provisional statistics show that, in 2019-20, a total of 2,940 additional affordable housing units were delivered across Wales, and I'm delighted that that not only builds on our previous success, but sets a new record. There's an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year and the highest annual total to date since records began.

Of course, because of the impacts of COVID-19, we haven't exceeded the target at the levels we would've liked to have done. I have to say, we're not working towards the 20,000 affordable homes; the official statistics show that we have met that target now. I'm disappointed that, because of the pandemic, it slowed down and we weren't able to go as fast as we would've liked to, but we've also got an incredibly proud record of how we've managed homelessness throughout Wales. I'm incredibly proud of the people in local authorities and third sector organisations, housing support services right across Wales who have absolutely gone the extra mile—5 miles—in making sure that people are housed throughout this pandemic, in stark contrast to the Conservatives across our border. We have not had a pandemic of people sleeping rough on our streets during the crisis, and we are very, very proud indeed of the fact that we have housed over 6,000 people. We've invested over £137 million in social housing grants in 2019-20, and over £25 million in housing finance grants to support the provision of social housing in Wales. And we're investing £71.5 million in revenue funding under the affordable housing grant programme to assist local housing authorities to build new council homes. So, I just do not accept at all the premise that she based her question on. Llywydd, we are very proud indeed of this Government's achievements in the social housing sector, and I very much hope that we will be able to continue that for the next five years.

The Planning Process

5. How is the Welsh Government making the planning process in north-east Wales more responsive to residents? OQ56389

Thank you, Jack. National planning policy, 'Future Wales' and local development plans collectively create a framework to ensure that communities are able to effectively and meaningfully engage in proposals that impact on their areas. LDPs have several statutory and informal stages where communities can directly shape and influence the future of their locality.  

Minister, thank you for that answer. Can I thank you and your Deputy Minister for meeting with myself and Penyffordd Community Council at the beginning of the year? I think what is clear is that the council and the community—the residents within the community of Penyffordd—and with justification, I might say, feel let down by the Planning Inspectorate for Wales. Despite significant projects being passed by the inspectorate, local politicians and residents in the community don't even get the courtesy of a reply. So, with that in mind, Minister, what consideration have you given to reforming how the Planning Inspectorate operates, to ensure that the voices of communities like Penyffordd are listened to?

15:05

Thank you, Jack. It was a pleasure to meet with you and the community council alongside Hannah Blythyn. It was a very useful and lively conversation, I'm sure you remember, about how local people—and community councils in particular—can have their voices effectively heard in the planning process. So, I was delighted to take on board much of what they said, and I'm also very pleased to say that Flintshire local development plan, which we were discussing on that occasion, has now resolved to submit their plan for examination. The hearing sessions are due to commence in April. I know that the community council will be taking the opportunity to make their voice heard once more in that process, which of course is the entire point.

In terms of the inspectorate, you will know that we wanted to sever the Welsh element of the inspectorate away from the England and Wales inspectorate overall, for a variety of reasons—not least that we would like them to be able to look more carefully at the policies that we would like to see implemented in Wales. Unfortunately, the pandemic has got in the way of us being able to do that, but I am very much looking forward to getting that plan back on track when we have a Welsh Government immediately after the election. I know that you are working towards that aim as well.

Priorities for the Housing Sector

6. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government’s priorities for the housing sector in Preseli Pembrokeshire? OQ56383

Yes. Thank you very much, Paul. Affordable housing—and, more specifically, social housing—remains mine and this Government’s top priority for the whole of Wales. Our aim is to build them better, build more of them, and build them more quickly. This is recognised by our record £2 billion-worth of investment in affordable housing in this Senedd term.

Thank you for that response, Minister. I have received representations from local residents who have set up a community land trust, who want to create desirable, affordable housing for local people in Roch in my constituency. I'm sure that you would agree with me that it's important that community land trusts get the right support to deliver affordable housing in their communities, and that it's therefore crucial that they receive the right grant funding, and that they are able to work in partnership with housing associations and local authorities. Otherwise, it is sometimes difficult for these community land trusts to deliver much-needed homes in their communities.

Community land trusts can play a key role in delivering new affordable homes as they are set up on behalf of communities to deliver for local communities. Therefore, can you tell us what the Welsh Government is doing to support community land trusts in Wales? And, can you also tell us what discussions you and your officials are having with local authorities and housing authorities about the role that community land trusts can play in developing affordable homes across Wales?

Yes. Thank you, Paul. I entirely agree with that. I think community land trusts are a very important part of the landscape of development of community-led housing solutions in Wales. Co-operative housing and community land trusts are pivotal in that. I really welcome the creative use by some local authorities of powers to stimulate the better use of stock in areas and utilise additional funding to underpin housing plans and the development of affordable housing.

I'm really pleased that Pembrokeshire County Council is utilising gains from the second homes tax to support its community land trusts. I would really encourage all local authorities to think creatively about their support to all types of affordable homes in the way that Pembrokeshire has. We do want to see more community-led housing in Pembrokeshire and beyond, and I would welcome more proposals from local authorities, housing associations and community groups.

We are very happy to support the further development of community-led or co-operative housing where there is a registered social landlord partner, through our social housing grant. It is something that we have done in the past, and we are really keen to do it again in the future. I agree with you entirely that co-operative community-led housing empowers Welsh citizens and provides locally driven housing solutions for local communities.

I have met personally with a number of community land trust groups in Pembrokeshire, and I know that the officials are in constant touch with a number of them. Pembrokeshire has a really good record, as you and I discussed in my last oral questions—another good record in Pembrokeshire, in Solva, there, that you drew to our attention. So, Pembrokeshire has a really good record in this regard, and I'm really pleased that they are looking again at community land trusts.

Paul, if there are any particular issues that you want to draw to our attention that you think we could unlock to help that go forward, I'm more than happy to look at them specifically. My understanding is that the officials are engaged with the councils and are looking very proactively at assisting community land trusts to come forward, as we do support those and a large number of other co-operative and people-led housing options.  

Planning Policy

7. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's intention to revise planning policy in Wales? OQ56384

Yes. Thank you, Russell George. On 24 February, I published a new edition of 'Planning Policy Wales' and our first national development framework, 'Future Wales: the national plan 2040'. Taken together, they provide a comprehensive suite of up-to-date national land use planning policies for Wales.

15:10

Thank you for your answer, Minister. Last week, the Minister for the environment published the Welsh Government's 'Beyond Recycling' strategy to make the circular economy in Wales a reality. Now, within that strategy, the Welsh Government says it will place a moratorium on any future large-scale energy-from-waste developments. Now, I very much welcome this. This is something, as you know, I myself and Welsh Conservative colleagues have been calling for for a long time, in the Chamber and in writing. Can you confirm, Minister, that this moratorium will come into effect immediately and that planning policy will be revised accordingly? There are large-scale developments from waste incinerator developments in the pipeline, such as the one in my constituency in Buttington. An application for that was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate on 26 February. So, can you confirm, Minister, that this moratorium will mean that this planning application will not proceed any further?

Thank you for that, Russell. I'm aware that my colleague, the environment Minister, has announced a moratorium on future energy-from-waste plants, or incinerators as they're colloquially known. I'm afraid, because it's not in my portfolio, I'm not aware of whether it's immediate or not. If you want to write to me asking what the status of the planning application is in the face of that moratorium, I'll make sure that my officials treat that as a matter of urgency. I'm afraid I don't have that information to hand.

Finally, question 8, to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, and to be asked by Janet Finch-Saunders.

Supporting Local Economies

8. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales on efforts to encourage local authorities to support local economies in north Wales? OQ56412

I regularly discuss the role and work of local authorities in supporting local economies and their communities with the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales and colleagues across Government. 

Thank you, Deputy Minister. Tourism, of course, as you will know, is usually worth around £900 million to the economy of Conwy county annually. That resource has been almost completely wiped out, and Conwy county has seen one of the highest furlough take-up rates in Wales. On the ground, the economic situation is even worse, with hospitality businesses now heavily in debt, and extremely concerned as to the amount of time it will take to make bank repayments. My point is that even when Conwy county opens up its tourism sector to the UK and the world again, those hospitality businesses, which are essential to the local economy, could require years of financial incentives and rate relief. Bearing in mind the economic reality in Conwy county, and the knock-on effect this will have on local authority revenue, could you explain why you've only given the Conservative-led county local authority a 3.6 per cent settlement increase, instead of other examples of 5.6 per cent, such as the Labour-led Newport authority? Diolch.

Diolch. There's no question whatsoever that the tourism, hospitality and events sector is continuing to be significantly impacted by the pandemic and the necessary restrictions that are still in place to keep us all safe. We all recognise, I think, how difficult it is for these sectors and how difficult it will continue to be. Various financial support packages will have helped, but I know it continues to be a worrying situation, so I'm really pleased we've been able to extend things like the business rates holiday for another 12 months, and also that we've now got the range of ERF support specifically for leisure, tourism and hospitality sectors open.

I know that this is an area that the Member feels incredibly passionate about, particularly supporting the tourism sector, and talked a lot about the need to support and sustain coastal communities. I'm sure she'll be pleased to know that the Welsh Government will be continuing to support our coastal communities fund, and I'm sure she'll also be as disappointed as we were when we discovered that the UK Government has decided not to continue with the coastal communities fund in England. That means, as a consequence, that the funding that we would have got from the UK Government for the best part of the decade to support our previous round of the coastal communities programme—we won't be having it. But I'm really pleased, despite that, we're able to step up and put in additional funding to support and sustain our towns and coastal communities in north Wales and right across Wales, and I look forward to being in a position next week to announce the details of this additional funding to help those towns and communities to not just come back better, but to build back better post pandemic.

3. Topical Questions
15:15
4. 90-second Statements

So, we now move to 90-second statements, and the first of those is from Huw Irranca-Davies.

Diolch, Llywydd. This year marks the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the pioneer and social reformer Robert Owen. From humble beginnings in Newtown in Wales, he became a champion for the rights of the working classes, child labour laws, and he promoted a humane standard of living for all. To this day, the groundwork he laid helps us to construct a more equitable society, in which we are all stakeholders.

A founding father of the co-operative movement, he provided an alternative vision to the harsh realities of industrial Britain, and his tireless work in many areas led to the development of a new view of society, one in which a self-sufficient co-operative nation is held together by the pillars of universal education, free-access healthcare and the enshrinement of workers' rights. His actions set in motion a chain of events through which many progressive legislative changes and progressive institutions can be traced right back to.

Here in Wales, our nation building is characterised by the principles of co-operation and collectivism, with shared aims and values, social partnerships between business and workers, the promotion of social enterprises and worker co-operatives and so much more. So, as we note and celebrate the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Robert Owen, a son of Newtown and of Wales and the world, we note that his legacy endures, lives on amongst us and helps us fashion the Wales and the world that we see today. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Diolch yn fawr. I would like to congratulate the Wales Air Ambulance on its twentieth anniversary, which took place on 1 March. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this life-saving service over the years for their commitment, enthusiasm and their dedication to the people of Wales.

The charity's founder and first chair of trustees was the late Robert Palmer, and, from his vision, the Wales Air Ambulance has grown from one helicopter based at Swansea to what is now the largest ambulance operation in the UK, with four helicopters, including one in Welshpool, in my own constituency. Over the past two decades, it has evolved from a paramedic-led service to a consultant-led service, which takes the emergency department to the patient. Wales Air Ambulance has attended over 38,000 missions and needs £8 million every year. So, thanks to the people of Wales, our country now has the largest air ambulance operation in the UK and is one of the most medically advanced in Europe, operating 24/7.

So, to mark their anniversary, the charity is currently running a fundraising event called My20, which I hope will be well supported by the residents across Wales. So, join me in wishing air ambulance all the best for the future. Diolch yn fawr to all those who have been involved with the charity, past and present.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.

5. Member Debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv): Type 2 Diabetes

[Inaudible.]—which is the Member debate under Standing Order 11.21, and it's on type 2 diabetes, and I call on Jenny Rathbone to move the motion.

Motion NDM7552 Jenny Rathbone, Dai Lloyd, Jack Sargeant

Supported by Andrew R.T. Davies, Darren Millar, Helen Mary Jones, Jayne Bryant

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes:

a) that Wales has the highest rates of type 2 diabetes anywhere in western Europe, with over 200,000 diagnosed, an estimated 65,000 with undiagnosed type 2, and a further 500,000 at risk of contracting diabetes;

b) that caring for people with diabetes already consumes 10 per cent of the NHS budget;

c) the heightened risks of catching COVID-19 for citizens who have diabetes as a pre-existing condition; and

d) the success and cost effectiveness of the award-winning Nutrition Skills for Life programme piloted in the Afan Valley.

2. Urges the Welsh Government to mainstream the Nutrition Skills for Life programme throughout Wales as a central element of a Welsh diabetes prevention plan.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. As the motion highlights, Wales has the highest prevalence of diabetes in western Europe. It currently gobbles up 10 per cent of our NHS budget—that's £950 million of next year's health budget.

This debate isn't about type 1 diabetes, a complex medical condition that normally hits young people in adolescence, the triggers for which are complex and not linked to diet. The rates of type 1 diabetes remain largely unchanged from year to year. Type 2 diabetes is another matter. This debate is about the veritable epidemic of type 2 diabetes: over 200,000 people already diagnosed, many more undiagnosed, and even those diagnosed predicted to rise to over 300,000 people by 2030, unless we do something about it.

Wales has over 0.5 million people who are overweight or obese, who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And let's face it, that problem can only have got worse as a result of the lockdown, as we've all eaten more than we should. But the most sobering fact is that one third of all the people who have died of COVID have also had diabetes. So, what can we do about this, and what can we do to prevent people getting diabetes in the first place?

Wales is the only country in Britain not to have a national diabetes prevention programme. England has one, Scotland has one, but not Wales. And as the most obese nation in Europe, that seems to me careless, imprudent, and urgently needs to change, particularly when we have a cost-effective, award-winning, made-in-Wales solution on our doorstep. A brief intervention piloted in the Afan valley by a cluster of nine GP practices, in collaboration with nutritionists at Swansea Bay University Health Board and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, has been run for over three years and has been trawled all over by Swansea University's Swansea Centre for Health Economics to make sure that the numbers stack up.

It's cost effective because the patients are identified by their GP practice who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and they never need to go anywhere near a hospital in order to get this intervention, and, in the context of all the problems we're going to have with waiting lists for people who need hospital treatment, that's a very important fact. It's also very effective, because it's delivered by non-medical practice staff who've been specially trained by dieticians in nutrition skills, and that makes it easy to roll out across the country. It's cost effective because the brief intervention consists of exercise, dietary advice and information sheets, and costs a mere £44 per patient. If you compare that to the English intervention, run by specialist experts, that costs £240 to £290 per patient. It's also entirely cost effective because nearly two thirds of the people taking part in this programme did not go on to get diabetes. So, Swansea University has calculated that rolling out this programme nationally would save each health board over £6 million per year, and that's not counting the personal benefits to the patient of not getting diabetes and not running the risk of loss of sight, loss of limbs and early death. 

Little wonder, then, that the Afan valley brief intervention programme won the UK-wide Quality In Care diabetes award last year. This really is prudent healthcare in action. What is stopping us rolling it out? It has the multidisciplinary approach to a chronic disease where, unfortunately, we're top of the league tables for the whole of Europe. How can we afford not to be doing this? I hope therefore to hear that this is a very high priority for the Minister, given the very high numbers of people who are at risk of type 2 diabetes, and the serious implications arising from this disease.

15:20

Can I thank my colleague Jenny Rathbone for bringing this issue to the Senedd today? I think it clearly shows the importance of the issue and reaffirms that type 2 diabetes is a very serious problem across Wales. We know that type 2 diabetes impacts a startling number of families here in Wales. According to data published in 2019 by Diabetes UK, over 8 per cent of people aged 17 and over live with diabetes in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, which serves my constituency. The vast majority of these cases are type 2. In real terms, this means that almost 40,000 families are directly affected, and the true number is likely to be even higher.

Diabetes has a life-changing impact on people's lives, and we know, as Jenny Rathbone has made clear, that treating type 2 diabetes places an extraordinary strain on the NHS in Wales, not least at the present time. Not only are those suffering from type 2 diabetes more at risk from serious illness if infected with COVID, they're also placed at risk of suffering from other major health issues, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and sight loss. The difficulty of dealing with these complex problems for patients and practitioners alike cannot be understated.

But we also know that there are things we can do to ease the burden. In the majority of cases, type 2 diabetes is preventable. Encouraging people to make healthier choices is the obvious first step, but more can and must be done. I'm proud to be the chair of the cross-party group on diabetes and of the work the cross-party group has achieved throughout the Senedd term. We'll be conducting our final meeting on how mental health is impacted by diabetes next week. In this role, I've been pleased to hear about the success of the Afan valley pilot, and I'll be waiting with interest to see how these successes can be replicated across Wales. Anything we can do to ensure fewer people are left suffering from this illness for the rest of their lives is crucial. Encouraging people to understand their personal risk is one step we can all take right now. In 2018, I was proud to hold an event at the Senedd for people to understand their risk of contracting type 2 diabetes. Sadly, it's not been possible to hold a similar event in the last year, but I would encourage anyone who wants to know more about their risk level to visit the Diabetes UK website, which has a selection of tools and resources available.

I'd like to finish by quoting one of my constituents, Sarah Gibbs, who is living with type 2 diabetes. She has described the disease as 'relentless. It can affect all aspects of your life. I wish I'd had the chance and the support to prevent it.' Deputy Llywydd, we need to do more to offer this chance to people in Wales. Diolch. 

15:25

Thank you. Can I now call the Minister for Mental Health, Well-being and Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan?

Thank you very much, Deputy Llywydd. I'd like to start by thanking Jenny Rathbone, Dai Lloyd and Jack Sargeant for bringing this important debate on diabetes prevention before the Senedd today, and I'd also like to thank Jayne Bryant for the work that she's been doing with the cross-party group.

This is an important motion, and I know that diabetes is a significant problem that is growing globally, and also in Wales. We must tackle this very serious situation that has an impact on so many lives and so many individuals in our nation. In 2019-20, around 192,000 people in Wales had diabetes, as Jenny mentioned, and that's around 7 per cent of our adult population. It's also important, as Jenny said, to differentiate between the two types of diabetes: type 1, which is not preventable, and type 2 diabetes, where there is a great deal we can do to prevent the condition from developing.

Now, in the latest figures that we have, the cost of treating diabetes for the health service is topping around £126 million or 1.9 per cent of the NHS budget. If we also bear in mind those patients that are treated for cardiovascular disease and other complications arising from diabetes, then we do reach that figure of 10 per cent that Jenny referred to. So, you're quite right in noting that figure in your motion, and this highlights the importance of secondary prevention, namely preventing the complications from arising by managing the condition well—not just prevention, but also investment in those services that prevent those complications from arising.

Now, the scale of the challenge facing us has been highlighted by the pandemic. We've seen how people suffering from diabetes are over-represented in the deaths related to COVID. Although people with diabetes aren't necessarily at greater risk of catching COVID, it does appear that diabetes risk factors and complications mean that the outcomes are likely to be worse if they do contract the virus. We know that obesity or high blood pressure, ethnicity or deprivation are some of the multiple factors that contribute to the development of serious COVID conditions.

Our national approach to diabetes is outlined in the delivery plan for diabetes in Wales, and this has been extended for a further year so that we can develop a follow-on programme. What we know is that there is a clear and significant link between type 2 diabetes and obesity. And studies suggest that around 90 per cent of adults with type 2 diabetes weigh more than they should in order to be healthy, or are obese. And we also know that obesity is linked to a range of other serious health conditions, like cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Now, in addition to the significant impacts on quality of life, it has a significant impact on mental health too. And that's why it's crucial that we continue to focus on prevention and reducing the rates of obesity. Over 60 per cent of adults, and one in four primary school children, are overweight or are obese here in Wales. So, that's why today I am announcing investment of over £6.5 million to help to tackle obesity and diabetes in Wales. And the funding will be targeted at children and older people, in order to help them to maintain a healthy weight. And this will help to deliver what will be announced on 18 March, namely our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' delivery programme for 2021-22.

Now, £5.5 million of the funding will be provided for specific programmes, under 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales'. And that will help to promote key developments across services, in order to prevent obesity and manage weight. And it includes almost £3 million additional funding for obesity services across our health boards. And this funding—and this is important to highlight—does include £1 million of additional funding per year over the next two years. And this will enable us to take early steps to prevent illness and to prevent the impact of ill health and inequalities, by supporting the work of developing prevention pathways, which is based on that model that you mentioned in the Afan valley. A pre-diabetes education pathway, provided by trained healthcare support workers, is provided for people who have had a higher glucose reading in the past, or who are at risk of developing pre-diabetes in the future.

So, the Afan valley programme is being evaluated by the Diabetes Wales research institute. And we know that some of the outcomes are very promising indeed—as you mentioned. And I'm sure that those who proposed the debate will be interested in knowing that an evaluation of efficiency and economic cost has been undertaken by Swansea University. And what we know is that it works, and that is why we are providing this additional funding, to ensure that we do see that pilot being developed across Wales. So, the pilot provided us with evidence; we can see that preventative intervention the length and breadth of Wales. This will allow us to meet the challenge, the increase in type 2 diabetes, to improve the health of those who are affected, and to provide healthcare that is based on value, as you noted, Jenny.

The expectation is that at least one healthcare cluster—

15:30

—will exist within each and every health board. So, I'm pleased that we are able to respond constructively to the motion tabled by you, Jenny. And thank you for bringing this debate forward.

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. And it's a pleasure to respond to this debate, as the Minister's just made that announcement—wonderful. People sometimes doubt the validity of having debates such as this one—we ordinary backbench Members are sometimes derided for doing so—but this is a dream come true for Jenny Rathbone, and to be fair to Jenny, she's been working on this preventative agenda for many years. I'm pleased to acknowledge the announcement made by Eluned Morgan today, because this is a very constructive way forward, and a very good use of this kind of debate in the Senedd. So, I'm happy to pay tribute to Jenny Rathbone for her determination over the years, in leading this agenda, and also to Jayne Bryant, as chair of the cross-party group on diabetes, which also does excellent work, and of course I also welcome the Minister's announcement. Six million pounds is a wonderful response to this debate, because this is the crucially important preventative agenda that we're talking about. 'Prevention is better than cure,' we always say it, but we don't always take action on those words, the preventative agenda. And I also want to pay tribute to many, many organisations who are doing this preventative work, such as Diabetes UK Cymru and the British Heart Foundation, the Stroke Association, and so on and so on. I don't have time to list them all.

And, of course, the key importance within the prevention agenda is preventing diseases from arising in the first instance. There are a number of behavioural factors, as Jenny mentioned, a number of behavioural and social factors that come together. And in the context of diabetes, which, of course, is one of those conditions that have a close link to COVID, and, as we've heard, in having diabetes you are more likely to suffer severe COVID. That's the relevance of this debate. You are likely to have more severe COVID if you are diabetic, statistically speaking. 

Therefore, promoting this preventative agenda is crucially important, as has been discovered in this project in the Afan valley—cooking skills, life skills, diet. Yes, we should all know that sugar is bad for us now, although we do eat it, but carbs—'starch', as we used to call it when I was in school in Lampeter—those are just as bad, because carbs do become sugar within our bodies. That's what the liver does. One of the many things that the liver does is to turn carbs into sugar. So, carbs can be just as bad if you eat too many.

And fat. Well, yes, fat, if we eat too much of it, is bad for us, but we need a level of fats in our diet too. So, the advice is very subtle, and this is the kind of advice that is available through that Afan valley intervention programme—what to eat, how to eat healthily, and how to keep fit. It's a successful project that's won awards. Therefore, we have that solution in the Afan valley, and in several other places. We need to roll it out and operate it at a national level, as the Minister has just outlined. So, I hope to see that aspiration delivered following that fantastic start in the Afan valley. 

So, in conclusion, may I thank everyone for their contributions? I particularly thank the Minister for making that announcement of the funding, and making us all think more constructively about these individual Member debates; they can deliver miracles. So, I congratulate the Minister, I congratulate the Government, and, most of all, I congratulate Jenny Rathbone on taking this agenda forward for so very long. Support the motion. Thank you.

15:35

Thank you very much. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? I don't see any objections. Therefore, in accordance with Standing Order 12.36, the motion is agreed. 

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. Debate on the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee Report on long-term recovery from COVID-19

Item 6 on our agenda is a debate on the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee report on long-term recovery from COVID, and I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion, Russell George. 

Motion NDM7623 Russell George

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the report of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee on its inquiry, 'Long-term recovery from COVID-19', which was laid in the Table Office on 3 March 2021.

 

Motion moved.

Diolch yn fawr, Deputy Presiding Officer. It's very timely, I think, that we are debating this report today, as it's a year ago that we had the last 'normal' week—I say 'normal' in inverted commas—for most people in Wales. Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, the World Health Organization officially described COVID-19 as a pandemic, and in the following fortnight, certain businesses like pubs and restaurants were forced to close, schools were closed, people were asked to work from home if they could, and then, of course, we were told to stay at home unless absolutely essential. And since then, we have seen a heroic effort by NHS staff and key workers to keep the country safe, and essential shops serving us and running. 

So, as we watch that heroic work continue through the vaccine roll-out, we can see the tide turning, and the health emergency, although it's still very much a threat, waning away, and our attention must now turn, in earnest, I think, to the rebuilding of our economy.

So, this report comprehensively examines how recovery should look across the committee's portfolio and, in the short term, we now would like to see and draw Members' attention to three key areas, and they are: one, continuing support for hard-hit sectors; two, using reconstruction funding to reinvigorate and retool our economy; and three, avoiding a scarred generation of young people. 

So, I'll talk to each of those points in turn. So, the effects of the pandemic have not been felt equally across the economy. We heard evidence from businesses that rely on people coming together, like tourism and hospitality or those who provide contact services, like hair and beauty, and they've been particularly affected. Many venues, like theatres, nightclubs and exhibition spaces, closed their doors a year ago and haven't been able to trade since. So, we hope for a summer of reunions with friends and family, many of which will take place in tourism and hospitality businesses. However, one good summer will not make up for the lost trade from last year. Tourism providers have described what has just passed as three consecutive winters. 

Similarly, I've had a do-it-yourself haircut. I haven't had a haircut since the middle of December. I can see Members looking up from their screens now checking my hair height. But the point is this: I won't be having an extra haircut when hairdressers reopen again. So, it's likely that the economy will be affected differently in different sectors.

It's likely that Wales's manufacturing industries will also take some time to recover. For example, we heard evidence that the aerospace industry would take three or four years to recover to the 2019 levels. Now, the committee believes it is clear that businesses that felt effects the worst in the pandemic need a stronger and a longer recovery strategy than the rest of the economy. So, it's vital that the next Welsh Government sets out this strategy very early on and, as part of it, it must also make clear any additional funding it thinks it needs from the UK Government. 

Now, a dramatic drop in public transport usage has meant that companies involved in transport services have also been heavily affected. So, the next Welsh Government as well must set out a long-term plan for public transport recovery as well. 

Tuning to my next point with regard to using reconstruction funding to reinvigorate and retool our economy, the picture on the front of the report—I'm just holding it up here—is a daffodil. Now, that's not just because we launched our report on St David's Day, not at all, it's because we're looking for optimism and opportunity from the recovery. Just like flowers appearing after a winter or with the right nutrition, our economy can grow anew. So, the committee heard that at the end of the first lockdown, there was a real surge in entrepreneurial spirit and release, and a surge in start-ups. Now, if the Welsh Government can capture that energy, it can be used to tackle the relatively low start-up rates that we have in Wales now.

We also heard about how a skills-led recovery could promote better productivity and tackle low skills traps, a key problem that I know the committee has reported on in the past. Alongside this, we heard evidence that investment in research and innovation would also improve Wales's productivity and its resilience. So, business representatives, unions, think tanks, academics and environmental organisations all told us, as Members, about the environmental and economic gains that could be made by investing in a greener economy. So, the next Welsh Government—certainly we, as a committee, believe—should prioritise accelerating shovel-ready green infrastructure projects to boost job creation, and the next programme for government must have skills at its heart, in the view of the committee. The Welsh Government must seize the opportunities set out in this report and use reconstruction to create a more innovative, resilient and future-proofed economy for Wales with a highly skilled workforce engaged in high productivity, resilient and environmentally friendly jobs.

The last section, which I talked about at the beginning of my contribution, was youth unemployment. The committee was pleased that the Welsh Government has committed to ensuring that no-one is left behind by the recovery. Now, we know that people who were already disadvantaged in the job market feel the worst effects when the market shrinks. The report contains a section on recovery for all, which outlines the steps the Government must take to support an equal recovery to meet its pledge. Young people are a group who have been left behind in past economic emergencies and we heard from several experts who were extremely anxious about the spike in youth unemployment creating a scarred generation.

Wales already has two cohorts of young people deeply affected by COVID-19 and there's no doubt that the pandemic and the economic emergency that this created will affect students leaving education and training for some time to come. Professor Keep likened youth unemployment to filling a bath—every year more young people and graduates come out of university and that bath keeps filling up if those people can't then find their way into the labour market and secure high-quality and fulfilling employment. If our young people can't find their way into the labour market, if they spend a long time unemployed or if they can't find the right path in the churn between employment, training and unemployment, their lives could potentially be scarred and their wings clipped for the rest of their careers. We know that this scarring will follow them, potentially, throughout their whole lives, reducing their earning potential and prosperity.

So, tackling the beckoning prospect of a scarred generation of young people must be absolutely a priority for the next Welsh Government. Its success or failure with this objective will ripple beyond the first half of the twenty-first century. I very much look forward to Members' contributions to this debate this afternoon.

15:45

I want to begin by thanking all those who participated in this very important and far-reaching inquiry and take this opportunity to thank all who supported my work as a member of this committee just over the past year. I'm very grateful to the Chair and to my fellow Members, but most of all, to the committee staff. This was a very new field to me. They absolutely enabled me to hit the ground running and I'm extremely grateful for that.

As has been said, we face an unprecedented economic shock that is coming as Government support comes to an end as we come out of the health crisis. And that's the reason, of course, for our hugely wide-ranging report. We don't often see a Senedd committee report with 53 recommendations. All of these recommendations are extremely important and I personally believe that the Welsh Government should treat them as a package—they work together. But I want to comment on three particular groups of recommendations in my brief contribution to this debate. 

I'd first like to refer to recommendation 5, which sets out the urgent need for the Welsh Government to set measurable targets, monitor progress and evaluate the effectiveness of all recovery work and investment. It seems obvious, but evidence over the last year on a range of issues in this portfolio is that this does not always happen by any means. With the size of the task so huge and the resources inevitably limited, we will not be able to afford to waste a single penny. And if we really take an innovative approach, we will try some things that won't work, and we will need to stop doing them. Monitoring and evaluation is key and the next Welsh Government must ensure that robust systems are in place. These systems must monitor impacts by region, by sector and by equality characteristics. Our build back from COVID must work for everyone, everywhere in Wales.

Which brings me to recommendations 30 to 41. These highlight a whole range of actions needed to ensure that, in rebuilding our economy, we address the structural inequalities and injustices that were baked into our economy before the COVID crisis. We heard such clear evidence that black people and people of colour were hit harder by COVID, both in terms of health and economic harm. We heard how women were impacted more seriously than men, and while there were some positive impacts for disabled people, with opportunities opened up by homeworking, there were concerns for this group, too. It is imperative that, as the next Welsh Government leads efforts to rebuild our economy, the opportunity to act to remove these historical structural inequalities that have done so much damage is taken. Change will not be achieved overnight, and that brings me back, of course, to the point about measurable targets. But what must be avoided at all costs is building back to where we were before. That would be an unforgivable waste of an opportunity. 

Finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, I want to refer to recommendations 42 to 48, focusing on actions needed to ensure that young people are not left behind. As the Chair has already said, we know that in this economic crisis, as in others, young people have been very hard hit. They tend to work in the sectors like hospitality that have been badly hit, their education has been disrupted, and with more experienced workers losing their jobs and re-entering the job market, their opportunities will be restricted. Previous economic crises have seen whole generations left behind. I was a young person in the 1980s, and I have friends who are my age, coming up to retirement now, whose lifetime economic prosperity was affected by being out of work for two or three years right at the beginning of their careers. As they go into their pensions, they are poorer than they would have been. Our recommendations make practical suggestions to avoid this happening this time, and the next Welsh Government must act on all these recommendations.

On this agenda, a Plaid Cymru Government will go further, even, than recommended by the committee. Committee recommendation 43 asks the next Welsh Government to assess the introduction of a youth opportunity guarantee for 16 to 24-year-olds. We will commit in Government to that guarantee—a good-quality, decently paid job for every 16 to 24-year-old not in education, training or employment. Plaid Cymru will not leave our young people behind; our next Government must not leave our young people behind. As our recommendations make clear, while the economic aftermath of COVID presents grave challenges, it also presents some real opportunities. This is our chance not just to build back better, but to build back well. I commend this report to the Senedd and to Welsh Governments current and future. 

15:50

I've got a very positive sign on this. I believe we're starting the fourth industrial revolution—not as expected, as people were talking about, with artificial intelligence, but with homeworking and shopping. It's a completion of the circle from people moving into cities to work in factories to people leaving offices to work at home. We've seen over recent years changes in the way that people work and shop. The movement towards homeworking, online meetings and online shopping was taking place pre COVID, but what COVID has done is turbocharge it. Some people have said it moved five years forward, other people have said it moved 10 years forward. I don't know, but I can tell you what, it's moved forward a huge amount over the last 12 months. When we come out of this, it is not a return to March 2020. I've heard some frightening discussions about the roads we need to get people travelling exactly as they were before. That is not the world we're moving into. 

Thirty years ago, I was telling my students about how video-conferencing was the way forward, and then 15 years ago, I was still telling my students how video-conferencing was the way forward and there was no need for travel. I've now seen, as I've spent most of the last 12 months on Zoom and Teams, that especially where high-speed broadband is available, it certainly saves a lot of travel. I wish luck to anybody who wants to get finance directors to fund them to travel long distances to meetings, especially short meetings. I know it's the Welsh Government's policy to have 30 per cent homeworking, but the Welsh Government have got very little control over it. I always think back to if the Government in 1900 decided how much they were going to cut horses by. Well, they didn't have any control over it; it was controlled by events taking place outside their control.

The Welsh Government can control the people they employ, and I hope they will use this to control the people they employ and get more people working from home. The private sector will do what works for individual companies, and collectively, that will affect the direction of the travel. Can I just say I do not relish spending two hours a day travelling up the M4 from Swansea to my office and back? I'm not sure if many other people do. But my journey is not abnormal in south Wales, to have that level of travel. It's certainly given me an extra six hours a week. I think what you're going to see is, because office costs are so expensive in Cardiff, you may well find companies saying how much they can save by having people working at home. But also, you'll have competitive recruitment; people will want to work at home because it gives them huge advantages, and they won't have a two-hour commute a day. But more importantly, they don't have to live near the M4 or an A road or near a motorway or near a railway station; they can actually live where they like. I think we'll see a lot of movement of people because of this. 

Homeworking is really going to be made by lots of individual decisions. We've had it over the last 12 months in what can only be described as suboptimal conditions, where we've seen people having to work at home as well as look after children, whereas, if they didn't have that, their productivity would increase. But what we've actually seen is no substantial drop in productivity; no-one has found any of that. What we have seen is improved productivity with some. I think this is the direction we've been going in, and we've got there. Also, we've seen it in shopping. How many people are now happy to buy clothes, toys, home styling and other items sitting on their sofa at any time of day and night from an iPad, a phone or a computer? I worry about the future of physical shops. And just remember, online is not just Amazon, although that's obviously become shorthand for it. Every major retailer has an online presence and all are working towards improving their online presence.

We've also seen 3D printers. They didn't play a major part in the last 12 months, because they're expensive, and they're still in the development stage. This is going to change; they're going to get cheaper, they're going to get better. People remember when the first computers came out just how slow they were, and you've got in your pocket now greater computing capacity than took people to the moon in the 1960s. I'm just putting that in context. These printers are going to get better. People are going to make more. I've got a firm in my constituency that makes prosthetics on 3D printers, so you can make them as people need them. I think we're going to see a huge development of 3D production, and this will have an effect on other countries as well. If we are creating the designs in this country, if we are going to make the things, we don't have to send them off to other parts of the world to produce. We can be producing them—I won't say in our own living room, but certainly at or near our own home. These are changes that are taking place.

Universities have a huge role, with underused universities in Wales. Just look at what's happening not just with Cambridge, but universities throughout Britain that have developed science parks, that have developed industries alongside them. We need to be doing the same. And just one final point—

15:55

One final point on this. Can we give up on trying to bribe companies to bring branch factories to Wales, where they promise hundreds of jobs that never materialise and then the cutbacks follow? This is not the right direction. It doesn't work, it hasn't worked since the Welsh Development Agency, and it ain't working now.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I wasn't expecting to be called quite so quickly, but I've got my papers together.

Can I thank the economy committee for bringing forward this excellent report, with the daffodil on the front, as Russ George said? It's a really good read. I'm obviously not a member of the committee, but as a former Chair of what was then the Enterprise and Business Committee back in 2014, when I last did that job, I don't think I would ever have envisaged that we would be having this sort of debate today or that this report would have been produced. The sorts of issues that I had to deal with as Chair of that committee, and the Members had to deal with, seemed pretty significant and large at the time, but compared with what we're dealing with today, in the face of the economic shocks facing Wales and the world, those seem quite small by comparison. So, this is, as the Chair said, a timely report. These are immensely challenging times, and as the Chair says in his foreword, we need to learn the lessons of previous recessions as we build back better, fairer and greener. Previous recessions have seemed bad enough and hard enough as we've been going through them, but of course the scale of what we face here potentially dwarfs anything we've seen in living memory, so it is important we learn the lessons as they were in those recessions.

Could I make just a couple of points? I've just been reading through the recommendations, and fully agree with recommendation 1, that we need to harness entrepreneurial activity and business start-ups as a way to drive economic recovery. We've seen an enormous amount of Government support, both UK Government and Welsh Government support and funding for the private sector over the last year, I think it was, as Russ said, that we first labelled the pandemic and the lockdowns began, and that's been totally the right thing to do, and acceptable, but of course, that can't go on forever, so we do need to start looking to put the private sector back on its feet, reopening as soon and as safely as possible—certain sectors, anyway—and then making sure that those businesses and SMEs are able to drive the economy forward.

Recommendation 3 urges adaptability to key future shocks like climate change. I think that's probably been one of the most worrying aspects of this whole pandemic—this pandemic has been challenging enough as it is, and the economy has been reeling from it, but, of course, when you put on top, then, other potential impacts such as climate change, and other unforeseen shocks that we've got to guard against, for the next five, 10 years the world economy is going to be in a pretty sensitive and delicate state, so I think you're quite right, Chair, to say in your report that we need to make sure that we boost the resilience as much as possible.

We talk a lot about building back better, but we've got to make sure that that happens in practice. I've raised this with the economy Minister, and indeed with the First Minister, I think on a number of occasions, and yes, we all agree we need to build back better, build back fairer, grow back greener, and I'm the first person at the front of the queue to say that those things are necessary, but let's make sure that does happen in practice, and we don't just lapse back into the old ways of doing things. We've seen some enormous changes, in terms of road traffic, for instance, over the last several months. I know that the road traffic on the trunk road network is 60 per cent higher at the moment compared with what it was in the previous lockdown, but it's still way down on where it was, and those normal pinch points, such as the M4, which was mentioned in questions earlier—well, you can drive on there at rush hour now, and it doesn't seem to be causing half the problems it did.

So, there are ways to build back in a way that we don't really need to put the investment into the actual physical infrastructure as much as we used to. So, broadband is going to be key to this—let's make sure that as many people can work from home as possible. Let's get that broadband infrastructure in place. In terms of the road network, developing electric vehicles, great for the environment, great for solving the problems of climate change—let's get that charging infrastructure in place and let's all move forward with the plan. Yes, we all have different views here, from our different parties and our different ideological beliefs, but I think all of us share a common aim that we want to come out of this with Wales being in a stronger and better position than it was before. There are not just challenges here, there are opportunities as well, and thank you very much Chair, Russ George, for bringing forward this excellent report. I'd urge everyone to read it because I think it does contain within it the seeds of how we are going to grow back and make Wales a better place in the future. Diolch.

16:00

First of all, can I thank the committee for this report? It is an exhaustive piece of work, both in the scope and its recommendations. Indeed, it's so comprehensive I shall have to confine my comments to what I see as the key elements. But I have to presage my contribution by saying that I feel the Welsh Government over the last five years has gone a long way to addressing many of the issues raised in the recommendations. I would agree with recommendations 1 to 3, adding that the general forecast is that, when the COVID restrictions have eased completely, there will be a huge boost to the economy, both of pent-up work initiatives and cash saved during the crisis. Independent businesses and SMEs must be supported to make the best of this upsurge.

Recommendation 4 concerns funding the commercial bank of Wales and Business Wales. I believe that these two institutions have been one of the great successes of the Senedd term, particularly in the COVID crisis period, and I would like to thank both on behalf of all the businesses in Wales for the extraordinary way in which they have managed the financial interventions afforded by both the Welsh and UK Governments. I'm sure the Welsh Government recognises this and will make any necessary funds available. Both organisations will be crucial to our economic recovery.

Recommendations 7, 8 and 9 deal with upskilling the workforce. I agree that it is vital that further education, higher education and universities must engage fully with any Government initiatives in the sixth Senedd, and also with the business community in general. The initiatives with regard to vocational studies must be carried forward at pace. A good start is undoubtedly being made but must not be allowed to stagnate.

Recommendation 11 deals with the sectors hardest hit by COVID—hospitality, including tourism, hair and beauty and the arts and culture sectors. I urge the Government to concentrate early interventions on these sectors as they are the most likely to deliver a positive effect on the economy in the short term. With regard to the tourist sector, any future campaigns must re-emphasise Wales's total commitment to welcoming visitors, which may have been damaged by the lockdowns. 

Recommendations 36 to 38 deal with disability. I believe this is an area where there must be considerable improvement. Disabled people have so much more to contribute to society and business in general than they're able to do at present. Please let this be a targeted area for the Welsh Government in the sixth Senedd. 

I concur with the recommendations dealing with youth employment. We cannot allow the COVID crisis to create a lost generation of our youth. I urge the Welsh Government to give real consideration to these recommendations.

Although transport is dealt with later in this report, it is without doubt another crucial element to Wales's economic recovery. It must be accepted that much has already been implemented by the Welsh Government in this area, including the hugely important acquisition of the core Valleys lines and the introduction of much-enhanced rolling stock. There are many other initiatives and upgrades in the pipeline, so can I urge the Government to continue with their significant investments? I am absolutely convinced it will deliver huge benefits in the future. 

To sum up, Dirprwy Lywydd, though we welcome external investment in Wales, we must grow an indigenous business base, headquartered in Wales and wholly committed to Wales. Only in this way shall we build a long-term resilience into the Welsh economy. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. 

16:05

Thank you. Can I now call the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates? 

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and can I start as I did at committee just this morning by thanking the current and past members of the committee for the incredibly constructive way in which it's worked with me and my officials over the past five years to get the best possible ideas and outcomes for the people of Wales? And to that end, I broadly warmly welcome the report and I thank the committee for their acknowledgement of the efforts of the teams who've responded at pace through challenging operational conditions to support businesses and transport operators.

And as you'll appreciate, I won't be able to comment on all 53 recommendations today, but what the number of recommendations most definitely does show is the diligence of the committee in undertaking and examining what might be needed for the economy in the years to come. As the Chair says in his foreword, reconstruction is going to be a long process, and it will be for the future Governments, not just potentially the next administration but several afterwards, to deal with the recommendations and to implement necessary change. But we have made huge strides in rolling out vaccines and the public health situation is improving, so optimism for economic rebound is most certainly growing.

And we, of course, made a start on that when we published our economic resilience and reconstruction mission last month, and the mission sets out what many people told me directly—that in Wales we have the talent, we have the energy and the ideas to rebuild our economy in a better and much fairer way. It offers, I think, grounded optimism against a backdrop of the most challenging circumstances that I think we've faced in our time, which have included Brexit and the climate emergency. 

Now, the outlook for the economy, whilst still hugely challenging, does look better than it did at the time of the last Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in November. Even so, by 2026 the level of gross domestic product is expected to be some 3 per cent smaller than the level expected pre pandemic, reflecting the long-term scarring effects of coronavirus on the economy. This will be particularly bad for disadvantaged groups and young people as they try to get a foothold in the labour market.

My ambition since the start of this pandemic has been twofold: firstly, to support businesses so that they survive and retain employees, despite the grave situation that they are facing; and then secondly, to support those who unfortunately become unemployed or who are entering the labour market for the very first time. You'll have heard me say on numerous occasions that if you had a good business in 2019, you'll have a good business in 2021, and my ambition remains just that, and that's why we must strengthen the foundational economy, as many Members have identified this afternoon, and recognise the vital importance of key workers and the crucial role that they play in our well-being and in every sector of our economy.

Now, in January we announced a further £3 million for the foundational economy challenge fund and the projects that it supports. That is improving the delivery of everyday goods and services that we all use and need—improving employment prospects within the foundational economy and delivering best practice that we can all learn from. Overall, our support package for businesses during this pandemic has been more than £2 billion. It remains the most generous package of support in the United Kingdom. As of last month, the economic resilience fund had safeguarded almost 150,000 jobs. That's more than 10 per cent of total employment in Wales. The committee's report, I think, rightly recognises the need to take advantage of the upswing in entrepreneurial activity and encourage business start-ups. The aim is for Wales's post-pandemic economy to drive prosperity equally and to help everybody realise their potential; harnessing an invigorated entrepreneurial culture is therefore vitally important.

We've helped start-ups during this pandemic. We have provided more than £4 million to start-ups facing collapse, and that has secured around about 1,600 businesses. We intend to help to rebuild, grow and strengthen the social enterprise sector so that it is a natural business model of choice for entrepreneurs delivering solutions to the social, economic and environmental challenges that we face, and furthermore, our barriers fund, for individuals who are considering self-employment, specifically targets young people who left college and university in 2019 and 2020. There were more than 330 applications, as of the end of January, each accessing up to £2,000 to have the very best chance of making their new venture succeed, and this forms part of our £40 million COVID commitment on skills and jobs. We've committed to offer advice and support to people over 16 to find work, to pursue self-employment, to find a place in education, training or employment, and this includes hiring incentives for employers: 16 to 24-year-olds, disabled people; those from black, ethnic minority and Asian communities; women. Those most affected by COVID-19 will be prioritised within that scheme. Having hit our target of creating 100,000 high-quality apprenticeships during this Senedd term, we'll use £16.4 million to stimulate hiring of new starters and continued employment of 5,000 apprentices. There will also be £3 million to support degree-level apprentices in digital ICT and advanced manufacturing, to deliver an alternative pathway for individuals to obtain higher level skills.

Now, in response to the committee's recommendation on research and development funding, increasing Wales's R&D funding and innovation base remains dependent, of course, on UK Government delivering on the levelling-up agenda, and we'll continue our financial support through SMART Cymru to develop, implement and commercialise products, processes and services.

Furthermore, in line with our ambition to create a greener economy, we'll invest in low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure and renewable energy projects, and this includes the modernisation of our transport network and the continuation of our existing plans for metros in north Wales, south Wales and west Wales. Our rail service is a critical asset, as has been identified today, and one we must protect. Since the pandemic began, we have provided significant financial support to keep trains running. The need for greater public control is a reflection, I think, of the ongoing pressures of coronavirus and the challenges being faced right across the rail industry as passenger demand remains exceptionally low. And also, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Welsh Government has continued to fund hugely important bus services across Wales, maintaining a skeleton network to support essential journeys, and then ramping up services to support the reopening of schools and the wider economy. As well as addressing emergency short-term needs, our new agreement with bus service operators is intended to signal the beginning of a lasting partnership with operators and public bodies to enable a reshaping of Wales's bus network, supporting the management and interaction of transport modes across Wales, and including, of course, the development of smart ticketing, unified routing and integrated timetabling. 

Last week, of course, I announced a funding package for Cardiff Airport to ensure its medium to long-term viability and to secure thousands of jobs in the regional economy. I'm determined that we emerge from this pandemic by building upon the foundations that we'd started before it struck and by reducing inequality and spreading wealth more fairly, and, indeed, well-being, across the whole of Wales.

16:15