Y Cyfarfod Llawn
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 in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Good afternoon. We begin our meeting this afternoon. The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from Sioned Williams.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on Welsh Government measures to tackle child poverty in South Wales West? OQ58632
I thank Sioned Williams for the question. We are in the midst of a poverty crisis, and we are doing everything within our powers for those who are most vulnerable, including children. This year, through programmes that protect disadvantaged households, and schemes that put money back in people’s pockets, we have provided support worth £1.6 billion.
Diolch, Brif Weinidog. The latest research by the Bevan Foundation revealed that the number of people in households with one or two children who are having to cut back on food has nearly doubled since this time last year, with one in 10 families with one child, and one in five families with two children cutting back on food for children. So, that staggering number of 6,300 children who've been recorded as living in poverty in my home county of Neath Port Talbot, in the region I represent, has surely risen even higher over past weeks as everyday costs have soared. And we know this poverty causes health inequalities in our communities, something that 114 members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have highlighted in their recent open letter to you, which warns that Wales lacks a focused and prominent strategy, setting specific targets to reduce child poverty and unequal health outcomes. Plaid Cymru have announced a people's plan which would make the pay packet go further, extend free school meals in secondary schools and increase education maintenance allowance. Brif Weinidog, will you heed the words of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and will you work with Plaid Cymru to protect Welsh children from poverty?
Well, Llywydd, I thank Sioned Williams for some of those very important facts. I think I've reported previously to the Senedd that the Cabinet's cost-of-living committee is meeting weekly, and, at the start of each meeting, we are currently hearing from expert groups who are able to give us the most up-to-date information and ideas as to how we can do more to help people in Wales. The Cabinet committee met yesterday, and yesterday the expert evidence was indeed from the Bevan Foundation. The chief executive of the foundation went through a number of the points that Sioned Williams has raised this afternoon, and went through with us the things that the foundation believes are having a positive impact here in Wales, both the things that we have done jointly with Plaid Cymru in extending free school meals—and there are over 4,000 children additionally in the Member's region receiving a free school meal as a result of the work that we have done together—and looking at the impact of the help that we give with the cost of the school day, and with the discretionary assistance fund, with over 4,500 awards in the Member's region alone in September. All of those practical things that we are able to do, and it is the practicalities that this Government is focused on. There is work going on, led by my colleague Jane Hutt, on a child poverty strategy, but, for the moment, we are focused less on strategising than we are on identifying those practical actions that we can assist with that will help those families and those children through this winter.
I'm very pleased, Llywydd, to see more local authorities setting out the ways in which they will use the discretionary fund that we've provided to them to help families through this winter, and I know that Sioned Williams will be pleased to see that, in Bridgend for example, in her region, the local authority has decided to use the money that they now have to provide families with £50 for every child in every family who is receiving free school meals, and £150 to all those families with children who are living in temporary accommodation. Where there are further ideas, and further things that we can work on together, then, of course, the Welsh Government will always be keen to explore ideas that are practical, and which, from a financial perspective, are within the bounds of the possible.
First Minister, you'll be aware of the recent report by Loughborough University that showed that, in 2020-21, child poverty across the UK went down by 4 per cent, but, in Wales, it had gone up by 5 per cent. So, can you tell us, First Minister, why the statistics are telling us that your Welsh Labour Government is failing to tackle child poverty?
Llywydd, the figures show no such thing. What the figures demonstrate is the impact of cuts to benefits by the UK Government. And if you live in a part of the country where more families depend upon benefits, then the cuts to those benefits, of course, have a greater effect. Let me tell him what the latest research is saying to us about the actions of his Government. The Resolution Foundation finds that if benefits are not raised in line with inflation, then a further 300,000 children across the United Kingdom will find themselves in absolute poverty. I think this is probably the fourth week in a row in which I've invited the Welsh Conservatives to say that they believe that benefits should be uprated—[Interruption.] Well, if you said it last week, then I'm very glad—[Interruption.] If you said it last week, I'm very glad indeed to acknowledge it, because I think the more that we can speak together on that matter, the more influence that we will have. And given that, as a party, you have a direct ability to influence a Conservative Government at Westminster to know that you too believe that benefits should be uprated in line with inflation, that would be good news for those poor families in Wales. Even if benefits are uprated in line with inflation, then the Resolution Foundation says that child poverty across the United Kingdom will rise to 34 per cent—the highest for over 20 years. And for people reliant on basic out-of-work support, the real value of that support will be lower than it was at the time when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister. That's why you see the figures that you quote—because of the impact of the last 12 years on the incomes of the very poorest families across Wales and the United Kingdom.
Many children are living in poverty not caused by parental indolence or wastefulness; many parents are working two or three jobs, but at minimum wage, on irregular hours. The expansion of free school meals to a universal provision of meals is very welcome. What further help can the Welsh Government give to support foodbanks, and will the Welsh Government make representation to end the fixed charge by energy companies, which means people are paying for energy on days they do not use any? This is the cruellest charge you've got—you don't use any energy for five days, and you then heat a bowl of soup, which costs you somewhere around £2.50 or £3.00.
Mike Hedges makes some really important points, Llywydd. I think it's one of the most pernicious myths of poverty that poverty is somehow caused by the people who are in poverty. I've never met people who could manage money better than those people who have the least of all to manage by—they have to. And the idea that it's parental indolence or neglect is absolutely to be rejected. The Welsh Government announced a further £1 million to support anti-poverty work at community level in Wales only a couple of weeks ago. That comes now to £5 million in this financial year. And much of that goes directly to foodbanks, who now find that the donations that they were able to rely on previously are drying up as families even further up the income level are unable to manage the impact of energy price and food inflation. Sioned Williams drew attention to the work of the Bevan Foundation, Llywydd, and she will now that, in that work, it isn't just families who are on the very lowest incomes who report that they cannot now afford the basics; it's families further up the income range as well, as people find that the things that they've made commitments to while they were in better times are now beyond their reach.
And the point that Mike Hedges makes about standing charges and pre-payment meters, Llywydd, is, I think, one of the great injustices of our time. I raised this directly with UK Ministers at the British-Irish Council when it met in July, and I wrote immediately afterwards to the UK Government Minister who attended, asking him to take action at a UK level to cancel standing charges for people who rely on pre-payment meters. There can be nothing worse, Llywydd, can there, than to find, having not had access to energy for many days and scraping the money together to be able to charge the pre-payment meter again, that the money you've put into it is nothing like the money that you have found because it has already been taken away from you? In many cases, you will have been put on a pre-payment meter because of debt. There are 60,000 new pre-payment meter customers in the United Kingdom so far this year. Their meters are calibrated so that the first thing they have to do is pay back the money they owe. Then they find that, in all the days where they had no electricity at all, they have to pay a standing charge for a time when they weren't able to access the service. Imagine how galling that must be. The point that Mike Hedges makes about the action that could be taken, at very little cost, I believe, to the Government or to the companies, to put that injustice right is a really important call we've heard this afternoon.
2. Will the First Minister set out the Welsh Government’s strategy for economic growth? OQ58597
Llywydd, good afternoon to Dr Hussain. The Welsh Government strategy is diametrically different to the disastrous approach of the latest Conservative Government. Alongside and in partnership with businesses, we invest in the physical infrastructure that promotes investment and the human capital that improves productivity.
In March last year, your Government published its 'Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan—Project Pipeline', setting out a range of investments in communities in Wales, including those which local authorities had committed to. Whilst I welcome the attempt to capture these activities, it is clear that there is a range of major challenges now facing the south of the country that are not being addressed, not least the continued M4 congestion at the Brynglas tunnels in Newport. CBI Wales has long argued for this to be tackled for our prosperity and employment in south and west Wales. This week also marks the Road Haulage Association's National Lorry Week, which they launched in my region yesterday. Hauliers told me at the launch that hold-ups around Newport often push drivers over their allotted hours and that the lack of lorry parks was also taking a toll. First Minister, in the absence of doing the right thing and building a relief road, what alternative solutions do you now have up your sleeve to unblock this vital link into Wales and improve the situation for Wales's road hauliers? Thank you.
Llywydd, I don't plan to relitigate an issue that has long been settled here in Wales. The Conservative Party put their case to the people in Wales at the last Senedd election. The building of the M4 relief road was a prominent promise that the Welsh Conservative Party made, and your party failed to win a single seat—a single seat—along the whole length of the M4 in south Wales. So, if you believe that your case is a sound one, you can continue to put it to people in Wales, and you'll continue to get the same answer.
What we are doing is we are pressing ahead with the proposals of the Burns commission—a series of practical actions that can be taken to address congestion at the M4. We will complete the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road, which will mean that heavy traffic coming from the midlands will be able to go directly to south-west Wales without having to come down and pass through Newport. There is, as I've said before, Llywydd, a major challenge now facing the UK Government. The Johnson Government launched the UK connectivity review. We put evidence to the Sir Peter Hendy review—I don't believe the Welsh Conservatives did—and we promoted there the investment that is needed to improve the second railway line, the second main line, down from south Wales, in order to be able to draw traffic away from the M4 and so that people have better public transport alternatives. The Hendy review endorsed the case that we have made, and, to be fair, the UK Government has provided a small amount of money to develop the ideas that the Hendy review endorsed. Now there will be a major decision. Shall we see whether the latest UK Prime Minister will take up the promises that were made in the UK connectivity review and demonstrate that they are prepared to invest in Wales, so that some of the issues that Dr Hussain has mentioned can be properly addressed?
I'm sure that the First Minister meant to say 'a single constituency seat along the M4'.
What did I say?
You said 'single seat'.
A single constituency seat—I beg your pardon.
Diolch, Llywydd. I'm afraid that efforts to promote growth have been fatally undermined by what the Tories have done to our economy, and I'm concerned about the prospect of job losses and the damage that that will mean not only to our economy, but to people's lives. Businesses across my region are under pressure with rising energy bills and inflation. The Federation of Small Businesses' small business index recently found that business confidence has plummeted, as they face rising costs and decreasing revenue, and public sector employees also face the prospect of a new wave of hyper austerity, with council leaders and Ministers warning that the financial situation is serious. So will you assure the Senedd, Prif Weinidog, that you'll do everything you can to protect jobs in Wales over the coming period, and explain what discussions you'll be having with representatives of businesses and public services to try to avoid job losses?
I thank Delyth Jewell for that question, Llywydd, because she is right: on any reasonable reading of the current prospectus, job losses are coming to Wales and to the United Kingdom. I think I said on the floor of the Senedd in the last couple of weeks that, if we were to see cuts in public expenditure of the eye-watering variety promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, then that will result in hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs being lost in public services in Wales. It is absolutely unavoidable. Somewhere around 50 per cent to 56 per cent of all the money spent in public services in Wales is spent on people; employing people to do the jobs that other people then rely on. If there are to be cuts in those budgets, then those jobs will be lost. It's simply unavoidable, and it will be a direct consequence of having to deal with the catastrophic results of the briefest Prime Minister in UK history.
Again, Delyth Jewell is right to point to the fact that those pressures appear in the private sector as well as in the public sector. The Bank of England says that the UK economy is already in recession and it will raise interest rates again in November despite the fact that, in any other circumstances, it will be cutting interest rates in order to support a shrinking economy, and that will put great pressure on employment in the private sector as well.
The Welsh Government, of course, works with our colleagues in local authorities and in the NHS to minimise, as best we can, whatever impact there will be from the statement on 31 October. And we work with our major employers as well, many of whom have plans to expand employment here in Wales, because of the approach that the Welsh Government takes to these matters. They understand that we are partners with them, in the business of helping them. Think, Llywydd, for a moment, of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Cymru in north Wales, built with £20 million of Welsh Government money, and the reason why the Wing of Tomorrow is being built by Airbus in north Wales; the reason why, with the food and drink sector in north Wales, we now have the Factory of the Future project based in the AMRC—because we understand, in a way that the Tories never do, that public investment used properly crowds in private investment, and doesn't crowd it out, and that it is a responsibility of Government to invest in the skills of a workforce that brings employment to Wales in the future. That's the story of Airbus; that's the story of the cyber security cluster in south Wales. They are examples of the way in which a sensible approach to economic growth can make things happen, just as we have seen what a disastrous approach to economic growth can do to the future prospects of the country.
Of course, the last time we met, First Minister, the Tories were telling us that Liz Truss was the best Prime Minister that we've ever had and that Conservative economic policy was unchallengeable. We've seen some change in that in the last few days. But, what we haven't seen, of course, is any change in the reality of Tory economic incompetence, which means that Wales doesn't get the investment that should come to us. The people of Blaenau Gwent want to see investment in the Ebbw valley line, but they don't get it because rail isn't devolved and the Tories will not invest in Wales.
First Minister, do you agree with me that what we need to see is not only a change of Government, but we need to see a change in attitude from the UK Treasury that means that countries like Wales and Scotland, and the north of England, get the same priority and investment as London and the south-east of England?
Well, Llywydd, of course I agree with Alun Davies that what this country needs is a general election—an opportunity for all parties to make their case to people and for the people to decide how they believe the crisis that we face should best be tackled. That general election is a democratic necessity, but it's also an economic necessity because you need a Government with a mandate and with the stability to take the difficult decisions that undoubtedly are there to be made. If we had that opportunity, I believe not only would Wales be better off, but the United Kingdom, of course, would be better off as well.
As to the point that the Member has made about the Treasury, I'm afraid I've long believed that the Treasury, driven by the Barnett formula, is essentially a Treasury for England, and that other parts of the United Kingdom simply get the consequences of decisions that are made in that way. We need a Treasury that is prepared to make the decisions that recognise the different needs of the United Kingdom and is prepared to invest in that way. Let's give one example of just how differently things are thought of in London and by the Conservative party: the now-discredited package of tax cuts made by Liz Truss would have resulted in three times—[Interruption.]
Okay, let's hear the First Minister finish his answer to the question.
Thank you, Llywydd. I'm just explaining the importance of the point that Alun Davies made. Had the Liz Truss Government had their way, those tax cuts would have provided three times as much to London and the south-east than they would have provided to Wales or to northern England. They, of course, were very pleased to support all of that only two weeks ago, just as today, they're no doubt pleased to turn their back on it all as though it had never happened. But, the point that Alun Davies makes is exactly that: we need a Treasury prepared to think of the needs of the country as a whole, not just London and the south-east of England.
Questions now from the party leaders. Leader of the Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, I would just like to inform you that we do have six regional Members and one constituency Member who do run in parallel with the M4, so we do have a vested interest, and that's an increase in the number of Members who came back after the 2021 elections.
What I would like to ask you, First Minister, is: after the waiting time figures that came out last Thursday, one of the big issues that many people struggle with is to get a general practitioner appointment. I've seen that, in other parts of the UK, commitments have been made that if someone requires a GP appointment, they will get it within two days. Are you prepared to make a similar commitment here in Wales?
Llywydd, it's important to get the facts right, and I'm happy to correct the fact that the Welsh Conservative Party did win one constituency seat across the whole length of the M4 in south Wales.
As far as GP appointments are concerned, let us be clear that there is no guarantee whatsoever that that promise will be delivered. I've heard it made by Conservative health Ministers repeatedly over more than a decade. They've never managed to make it happen so far; they're certainly not going to make it happen this time either.
The Member will be aware that only last week, the Care Quality Commission published its report on the state of healthcare and adult social care in England. It described a system, as they say, in gridlock: only two people in five able to leave hospital when they are ready to do so because the state of social care and primary care in England means that those people cannot leave hospital. People in England in the health service and social care, Llywydd, are working as hard as they possibly can. I make absolutely no criticism of them. It's just that they are facing, as we do, very, very significant headwinds in being able to provide the service to everybody in the way that we would wish to do so. I spent Friday morning in a GP practice here in Wales, hearing from GPs and the wider primary care team about all the extraordinary efforts they make to be able to provide appointments for the population that they serve, and they know that every day, they're not able to do the job in the way that they would like that job to be done, but it's absolutely not because they are not doing everything they can to make that happen, and they have the full support of the Welsh Government in doing so.
Well, it's interesting that that commitment was made by the Labour health spokesperson at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, so I'm sure that you'll pick up the phone and tell him that that commitment can't be made, considering that they're looking to Wales each time to see what can be delivered at a Westminster level. That was an interesting comment that you made, First Minister, there.
What about two-year waits? In particular, here in Wales we have just under 60,000 people waiting two years or more to have their procedure undertaken on the NHS. In other parts of the United Kingdom, in England, those two-year waits have been wiped out, and in Scotland, they've virtually been wiped out. Will you give us a timeline when that will happen here in Wales, and when the 59,000 that are two years or more on a waiting list can expect the same level of service here in Wales?
Llywydd, in the figures to which the Member referred last week, it showed that those long waits continue to fall. They've now fallen for five months in a row. They fell again in July, and provided that the system is able to continue in that way, then of course those long waits will be eliminated.
What the figures also showed is the extent to which the health service in Wales, despite the huge pressures that it faces, has now been able to recover activity levels. Out-patient activity in July was at 102 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. In other words, not only is the system delivering everything it did before the pandemic hit, but still operating in a condition where over 500 patients are occupying a bed in the Welsh NHS today with COVID, where over 1,000 are not in work because of COVID—the system is delivering out-patient appointments over and above what it was able to do before the pandemic hit. And operations, elective in-patient care, have recovered to 92 per cent of the level that they were at before the pandemic. That's the highest level we've seen since the pandemic struck, and all of this while the system continues to do everything else we asked of it. This week, we have gone above 500,000 COVID vaccinations carried out over this autumn period. Who is involved in doing all of that? Well, it's the GPs that the Member mentioned in his first question, and all those other staff who turn up at weekends and run the clinics that mean that we've seen that extraordinary success.
So, while the health service works hard every day to recover the ground that was lost during COVID, to respond to the emergencies that people present, to do the other things we ask of them in vaccination not only for COVID, but for flu as well, we are seeing those long waits continuing to fall.
In my first question, First Minister, I asked you to support a commitment that the Labour health spokesperson in Westminster said that Labour would deliver, and you said that was undeliverable. In the second question, I asked you to give a commitment and a road map to wiping out the two-year waits here in the NHS. I've been contacted by a constituent this week, Richard Cooper, who got told that, to have his hip operations on the NHS here in Wales—because he required both hips to be done—he could expect a four to five-year wait for those procedures to be undertaken. He had to access his own private savings to go to a clinic in Poland to have the procedure undertaken. Now, I can't get a commitment out on GP response times, I can't get a commitment on two-year waits out of you; what is the advice I should tell my constituents, like Richard Cooper, who are having to access their own savings, their pension pots, because you can't deliver a health service that can meet the needs of the people of Wales?
On those three points, Llywydd, first of all, as soon as there is a Labour Government, we will be able to implement the Labour promises. I've explained to you—[Interruption.] I've explained to you why, under your Government, with budgets falling year by year, and now another era of austerity facing us all, the promises that your health Secretary made in England will not be met. With a Labour Government, then those things will be different and then of course we will see things improve, as we did under the last Labour Government. And I explained to you that long waits in the NHS continue to fall, despite everything else that the health service is doing, and everything else the health service is doing extends to trying to make sure that we have a sustainable orthopaedic service here in Wales. That is a challenge, Llywydd. We have an ageing population. We have more work that needs to be done. We have operating theatres still not able to complete the volume of activity that they were before the pandemic, and yet, as I said, in August alone there were 24,000 operations carried out in the Welsh NHS, and 230,000 out-patient appointments. While I regret anybody who is waiting too long for the operation they need, what I say to them is the system is working as hard as it can, it is gaining ground not losing ground, and we will continue to invest both financially but also in the staff that we need to make sure that our NHS continues to provide the treatment it does at that industrial volume that I've just described to you from the month of August alone.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. First Minister, you quite rightly complained that the last Tory Prime Minister failed to pick up the phone to you, and indeed treated yours and the other devolved Governments with contempt. How do you intend to approach relations with the latest Prime Minister? Will you perhaps decide to change tack and try and pick up the phone to him, as leaders of other national Governments are set to do over the next few days? If you do speak, you will no doubt want to congratulate him on being the first British Asian to be elected as Prime Minister, which is indeed a historic event and all the more fitting that it's on Diwali. But will you also want to underline that the one thing he must not do in his Halloween budget is to usher in a new era of austerity and plunge the economy into recession, people into poverty and our public services, including the NHS, into yet a deeper crisis?
Llywydd, I hope of course that the new Prime Minister will take a different approach to relations with the devolved Governments across the United Kingdom. I see a series of Welsh Conservative MPs today calling on the new Prime Minister to take that initiative, and it is the initiative for the Prime Minister to take. So, I hope very much that there will be early contact from the latest administration, and, if there is, then you can be sure that I will want to have a constructive relationship with the new Prime Minister. If I have an opportunity, there will be a series of things that I will want to put early on his list of priorities. The future of the United Kingdom itself—I'll remind him, no doubt, that the Welsh Government is the only other unambiguously unionist Government with which he will have contact, and I would want to work with him to make sure that there is a successful future for the United Kingdom.
I want to talk to him about some very important individual issues that are important here in Wales—the future of Tata Steel, for example. When I wrote to the Prime Minister but one ago earlier in the summer, he replied to me acknowledging the seriousness of the position of Tata Steel, but saying that it would be for the next Prime Minister to make the decisions about the level of support that could be offered to the company; well, that latest Prime Minister came and went and no decision of that sort was made. So, if I have the opportunity, I will certainly be saying to the new Prime Minister that attending to that very important issue, as far as Wales is concerned, should be high on his list of priorities. And, of course, Llywydd, I will say as well that the very last thing people in Wales or across the United Kingdom need is a further dose of Tory austerity.
You've been calling for a general election, and there is an unanswerable case for having one, given now we've had two Prime Ministers without a democratic mandate. The truth is that Prime Minister Sunak is free to ignore that, as he is free to ignore you. The UK's unwritten constitution concentrates huge power in the hands of the PM, which explains the mess we're in. Now, the doctrine of Westminster supremacy means the new Prime Minister is free to repeal any Act of this Senedd and revoke any power, even though he has no mandate to do so, certainly not here in Wales. Now, the political pendulum may swing at the next election, whenever it comes, but how can we stop being in exactly the same position in years to come, when the pendulum swings back? How do you propose an incoming Labour Government would entrench our Welsh democracy in a political system where Westminster reigns supreme?
Llywydd, I agree that there is an unanswerable case for an election, and I don't think that the Prime Minister is in quite the unassailable position that the leader of Plaid Cymru has suggested. The deep divisions inside the Conservative Party may be papered over for a few weeks yet. We may see Conservative Members of Parliament playing football against one another on the green outside Parliament in some form of Christmas truce, but, once Christmas is out of the way, then I'm afraid the incoming Prime Minister will face the very, very deep divisions inside the Conservative Party, as the last four predecessors have done as well. And I'm not in quite the same position as the leader of Plaid Cymru in thinking that a general election won't be coming our way sooner rather than later. After that election, there will be an opportunity, I hope, for an incoming Labour Government to do exactly what Adam Price has said: to entrench devolution, so that it cannot be rolled back in the way that we have seen since 2019. I think there are a series of practical ways in which that can be done, and, when the Gordon Brown report into the future arrangements of the United Kingdom is published, I think we will see a number of those practical ideas. I'm not going to rehearse them this afternoon necessarily, Llywydd, but they are there. They are there in ways that would guarantee that the things that have been endorsed in two referendums by people in Wales can be organised in a way that those preferences can be delivered without the risk that they're always under pressure of being rolled back.
When you were in Ireland recently, you reiterated your view that the United Kingdom represents, for Wales, a great insurance policy, but how is that policy working for us when the contract can constantly be changed over our heads, against our wishes and against our interests? You talked about the pooling of risk through the union, but surely the events of the last few weeks have demonstrated that the union actually exposes us in Wales to risk, to uncertainty and to avoidable harm. Now, you've said you would never ever support an independent Wales, but would you accept that there are some circumstances at least—another Tory Government elected against our wishes in Wales, or a Scottish 'yes' vote in an independence referendum—where independence might become, for Wales, and even for your party, the more progressive option? I understand that you prefer a continuing union, but isn't saying 'never' to independence simply wedding ourselves to a future that will be never our own to decide?
Llywydd, the issue of whether Wales should be independent is a matter for people in Wales, and I've always said that if a party were to put that as a prospect in a manifesto and they were to win a majority of seats here in the Senedd, then, of course, if people choose that course of action, then that is the democratic will of people in Wales. Their voice is the important one—not mine, whether I think it's right or wrong. Where I will agree with the leader of Plaid Cymru is this: that if the political geometry of the United Kingdom were to alter, if one of its constituent parts were to choose a different future, that doesn't leave what remains untouched. You would have to have a very serious set of discussions about how Wales's future could best be designed in those different circumstances, and it's why, as the leader of Plaid Cymru knows, we have established our own constitutional commission to help us to think about what choices there would be available to Wales in those circumstances. Independence could be one of them, as it has been ever since his party was established and ever since it's put that prospect in front of the people of Wales. So far, people have not been persuaded of that, and there will be alternative futures that others of us would rather advocate. But that's the right place for these decisions to be debated; they're not for me as First Minister or even for political parties here to make that determination. Just as the leader of Plaid Cymru said there was an unanswerable case for a general election to determine the future economic direction of the United Kingdom, so it would be an unanswerable need for such decisions of the sort that he's outlined this afternoon to be made by the people who put us here.
3. What assessment has the First Minister made of the impact of the Welsh Government's degree apprenticeships programme on admission numbers for degree apprenticeships? OQ58629
Llywydd, since the degree apprenticeship programme began in Wales in 2018, we have achieved more than a fivefold increase in enrolments. In the current academic year, 780 apprenticeships are working to achieve degree-level qualifications in digital, energy and advanced manufacturing.
Thank you, First Minister. It's interesting, what you said, and I just want to note that the Welsh Conservatives fully support degree apprenticeships, and, in fact, we go further than the current policy. But, First Minister, a few weeks ago, I stood here and raised some concerning statistics highlighting that white working-class males are the least likely to attend university across the UK, but the picture is worse in Wales. You implied the problem wasn't as bad as I said, trying to excuse the figures. You said, and I quote:
'Our degree apprenticeship programme will not be counted in the figures that the Member has suggested this afternoon',
as if that would somehow make the situation look better. For the academic year 2019-20, there were 380 new and continuing apprentices in the degree apprenticeship programme. In the very same cohort, 83,800 Welsh students went to university—453 per cent more than the amount taking degree apprenticeships; 380 is just 0.45 per cent of 83,800. First Minister, it's quite clear from the statistics that degree apprenticeships, even if included in the figures, and your new figures that you outlined just now, would make very little difference to those overall numbers that I outlined. So, First Minister, the problem still remains: we are seeing low numbers of university admissions for white working-class males. How exactly are you trying to rectify the situation, and, again, what practical solutions are you going to put in place to ensure that that trend doesn't continue?
Well, Llywydd, I've enjoyed Laura Anne Jones's latest contribution to her leadership campaign, but I have to say this to her: that she will need to slow down on the numbers to allow people to follow the points that she is making. I look forward to reading the transcript so I'm better able to follow the argument that she was making.
The apprenticeship programme—degree apprenticeship programme—Llywydd, is designed to focus on, as I said in my answer, those areas where we have particular needs in the Welsh economy—digital, energy and advanced manufacturing being amongst them—areas where, historically, women have been under-represented but white young men are very much in the majority and, despite our efforts to attract young women into those areas through the degree apprenticeship programme, that remains the case.
What is more important in terms of the question put to me, though, Llywydd, is whether we are attracting through the degree apprenticeship route young people who otherwise wouldn't be in higher education. I am encouraged that over 57 per cent of those young people who come to take up degree apprenticeships in Wales come from families where there is no parent who has ever been to higher education. In other words, we are recruiting through that route people who would not be as likely to have higher education experience by the conventional routes. And in that sense, I'm glad that the Member has welcomed the degree apprenticeship programme, because I think—I don't think I followed her completely here, but I think, when I study her figures, I will find that, actually, it is doing what she wants it to do; it is reaching into those parts of the community that more conventional routes into higher education fail to achieve the penetration that we would like to see.
This Friday, I'll be visiting DRB Group in my own constituency of Alyn and Deeside, and I'm proud to have completed my apprenticeship in advanced manufacturing at DRB, with the help of the Welsh Labour Government. I'm also extremely grateful to the company for funding my part-time degree whilst I was there. Before I visit and return to my former workplace, I will be speaking at a skills-shortage conference, organised by Deeside Business Forum. What message can I send from you, as First Minister of Wales, to the conference, to companies like DRB Group in Alyn and Deeside, about the Welsh Government's commitment to equipping the next workforce with the skills to develop the next generation of green industrial products in north-east Wales?
I thank Jack Sargeant for that and congratulate him, of course, on the way that he himself came through that apprenticeship system and did so so successfully. What you can quite certainly say to the business forum is that, in Wales, they have a Government that fully understands the responsibility that we have to invest in the skills that will allow businesses in that part of Wales to continue to thrive. Unemployment, Llywydd, in Wales is at its very lowest in the north-east of Wales. I met companies in the Deeside area when I was in north Wales only a couple of weeks ago. They know it's a competitive market to attract, particularly, young people to take up the job opportunities that are there for them, and they were very appreciative of the work that the Welsh Government does and particularly those on-the-ground providers—Coleg Cambria and others—the things that they do to align the programmes that they provide with the needs of that great green industrial future that we want to create here in Wales. And I'd be really grateful to Jack Sargeant if, on our behalf, on behalf of the Welsh Government, he can reinforce, with that business forum, our determination to go on working alongside them and the education system to make sure that we turn out young people who have the skills that they will need to create successful futures for themselves, and to contribute to those great employers that we have in the north-east of Wales.
4. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of wildflower meadows on wildlife in Denbighshire? OQ58599
Llywydd, the Denbighshire wildflower project recorded 268 wildflower species on their sites in 2021. One-hundred-and-thirty-six of those species had not been found there before, and the site network of the project is growing every year, supported by Welsh Government's Local Places for Nature initiative.
Thank you for that response, First Minister, and the reason I ask the question this afternoon is that I've been contacted by many residents from the Nant Close area of Rhuddlan, and from the coastal areas of Rhyl and Prestatyn over the summer, who are very concerned about some of the uses of wildflower meadows in built-up residential areas. Now, I can certainly see the benefit of wildflower meadows and the positive effects these have on promoting biodiversity and wildlife in Denbighshire, but would you join me, First Minister, in calling on Denbighshire and local authorities to adopt a more common-sense approach to such projects? So, where there is good evidence of effectiveness, then by all means keep them, but when there is little evidence of this, then to cut them down and restore some horticultural order, so that we can dispel the myth that the council can't be bothered to cut the lawn and give my constituents assurances that—[Interruption.]
Let the Member finish his question. Let the Member finish his question, please.
Thank you. So that we can dispel the myth that the council can't be bothered to cut the lawn and give my constituents assurances that next summer will be more effective than this one.
Well, Llywydd, I genuinely didn't imagine this afternoon that we would hear that the Welsh Conservative party is against flowers. [Laughter.] They're against almost everything else, but I hadn't expected to see wildflower meadows added to their list of things that they don't support in modern Wales. Of course, I do not support what he said this afternoon. In fact, I absolutely congratulate Denbighshire council.
And by the way, Llywydd, these would have been the actions of Denbighshire council at a time when the Conservative Party was part of the administration of Denbighshire council, because you don't create a wildflower meadow in five minutes. It can take a number of years to achieve what his colleagues managed to achieve in Denbighshire.
I think it's a matter of genuine congratulation to the Denbighshire wildflower project, working with the local authority, that they have been able to create nearly 50 acres of native local-provenance meadows across the county. That is a really significant achievement. It is a proper contribution to sustaining biodiversity, to doing the things that we can do that make a difference. I congratulate them, and I think their local Member would be far better off supporting those efforts rather than carping from the sidelines about them.
Can I just declare an interest? I'm a member of the North Wales Wildlife Trust. Thank you. I attended the wildlife trust annual general meeting on Saturday. They do great work with landowners regarding managing them for nature, and the chief executive officer spoke of significant concerns about UK Government policies weakening environmental protections on leaving the EU, and also deregulation under investment zones. She spoke about how Wales is leading the way regarding policies for nature, and one great project is the 'It's for Them' Welsh Government nature project, working with councils and local nature partnerships, managing verges and amenity grasslands for biodiversity, taking the residents along with them. North Wales Conservative MPs have been writing to council leaders, including Denbighshire's, encouraging them to show an interest in these investment deregulation zones, and I know that two bordering English council leaders were not consulted before being added to the list.
So, First Minister, will you write to north Wales council leaders, sharing your concerns regarding the pressure put on them regarding the natural environment under the deregulated investment zones? And could you also write in support of the good work they're doing in the 'It's for Them' project, managing our wildlife areas and grass verges for biodiversity, so we can bring our residents along with them? I'm worried that it might fall lower down the list under austerity 2. Thank you.
Well, Llywydd, first of all, can I thank Carolyn Thomas for all the work that she has done, commissioned by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, to champion better management of our road verges and grasslands across north Wales? Carolyn Thomas is absolutely right, Llywydd. This is what deregulation means. In practice, what it means is stripping away the protections that you and I have so that we can preserve our environment, so that we can make sure that the rights we enjoy are there for us for the future. This is a real issue for us here in Wales, because we have cross-border designated sites where we will want to make sure that the highest standards are maintained, and we will not take kindly to the idea that those standards should be lowered in pursuit of some sort of ideological commitment to removing the protections that exist at the moment.
I'm very happy to write, in the way that the Member has suggested, to congratulate those north Wales authorities who are doing great work in this area and to make sure that they understand that in the Welsh Government they have a Government that is on their side.
5. What support is the Welsh Government providing to Wales's social care workforce? OQ58637
Well, Llywydd, I thank Hefin David for the question. We are working closely with our social care partners to improve the employment terms and conditions of the workforce. Forty-three million pounds has been provided to the sector to help it increase wages to the real living wage. In addition to that, £45 million has been distributed as a workforce grant to local authorities this year.
Thank you for that answer.
This question follows on, in many ways, from my question last week about the ambulance service. This is the other end of the scale, where delays further down the way with the ambulance service might be caused by delayed transfers of care, which of course rely hugely on the social care workforce. I took a call this week and last week as well from Neville Southall, who is working for Unison, trying to get care homes to recognise the value of their workforce, and working with care homes and Unison to do that, and he said there are a few things that could happen to help things improve. First of all, pay, and the First Minister has recognised that the real living wage is vital; there is also recruitment, as those people who are working in the care sector are finding that they are overburdened with work; there is working conditions, which lack parity with the NHS; there is trade union recognition, which is vitally important; and overall that amounts to parity of esteem with their fellow NHS workers. And what Neville Southall told me was that he was finding that people in the care sector were feeling less recognised than their NHS counterparts during the pandemic. So, all of these things together are important. Would the First Minister be willing to allow officials to meet with me and with Neville Southall, and the Minister, to discuss some of these issues and try to find a way through that would be helpful to him in his work?
Well, Llywydd, Hefin David made a series of important points there, all of which I think the Welsh Government would agree with and all of which are areas in which we continue to make our efforts. I mentioned the £43 million we're investing in securing the real living wage for our social care workforce, the additional investment that we have made—£10 million in fact, on top of the £45 million we normally provide in the annual workforce grant, to help local authorities in their efforts to recruit and then to retain social care workers, and raising the status of the profession is really important in doing that. It's why this Senedd passed legislation to require the registration of the workforce. More than 40,000 workers in social care are already registered or are about to be registered here in Wales. We began with the registration of domiciliary care workers, we moved on to the registration of adult care homes as well, and that is important because it's through registration that you open the door to career progression, training, opportunities, leadership training. The social care fair work forum, which we've established as part of the social partnership forum, has just concluded the first iteration of a model that they are going to promote for progression by workers in social care. So, if you become a social care worker, you can see how a career could lie in front of you, as you would, indeed, if you joined the NHS. I'm very happy to look to see whether a conversation between the forum and Mr Southall would be a good way of taking forward some of the points he has made, relayed by the Member for Caerphilly this afternoon.
My own local authority, Conwy County Borough Council, currently commissions around 790 beds supporting individuals in residential and/or nursing care. The gross spend within Conwy on residential and nursing services was £23 million in the last financial year, with only a potential uplift going forward of around 7 to 9 per cent—that's 7 to 9 per cent, not 79 per cent. Yet, in some other local authorities, where year on year they hold back in reserve, in some local authorities, a couple of hundred million in reserves, providers are indicating to the local authority that the combination of unpredicted high levels of inflation, increasing care levels, complex services and current workforce pressures are resulting in a financial shortfall relating to residential and nursing care—and I saw this first-hand when I visited a care home recently. First Minister, do you agree with me that the rates paid by any local authority to care homes should increase by at least inflation? And what steps are you taking to ensure that there's a fairer funding settlement and one that better reflects the true cost of social care need within our local authorities? Diolch.
Llywydd, we've rehearsed many times here the calls that come from different parts of Wales to reform the funding formula, and we have always said, as a Government, that when local authorities come forward with a proposal for reform, of course we will be prepared to discuss it with them. What we cannot possibly do, as the Member will understand, is negotiate a separate formula for each of the 22 local authorities. There is a single formula, as there is in England, as there is in Scotland. It's unavoidable that you have a single system. The system can be reformed, but it can only be reformed with the agreement of local authorities themselves. And, as to the point that she makes about guaranteeing an in-line-with-inflation rise in the funding of those services, I hope she is relaying that point to the new Government at Westminster, because if they will give us that uplift, we will definitely give it to the services that she has spoken about this afternoon.
6. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve NHS cancer waiting times? OQ58607
Innovation, additional investment and recruitment of specialist staff are amongst the actions being taken alongside clinical leaders to reduce cancer waiting times.
Thank you, First Minister. The latest data released on cancer cases showed that, in August, only 52.5 per cent reached the Government's 62-day target of starting treatment—the lowest number since records were collected. One of my constituents has been waiting over seven months for cancer treatment. In previous years, he had mouth cancer and had accessed Hereford hospital, where he was successfully treated within three months following referral for both mouth cancer and subsequent nose cancer. Upon moving to my constituency, he developed a small cancer on his ear, requiring a relatively small procedure. However, as a direct result of being stuck on the Welsh NHS waiting list, he is likely now to lose his hearing and his ear. What started as a small cancerous growth, which could have been removed with early intervention, has now grown into something absolutely horrendous for the individual.
I thank the health Minister for her correspondence in relation to this, but, First Minister, whilst it's welcome news that Wales is rolling out rapid diagnosis centres, unfortunately, it's too late for my constituent. Do you agree that more action is needed to tackle lagging treatment in Wales to stop people going through such an ordeal, and what hope can the Government provide to people who are suffering like my constituent?
I thank Peter Fox for that question. I've been able to read his letter to the health Minister and I've seen her reply. I hope that it will provide some information that is useful for his constituent in what are clearly very distressing individual circumstances.
The system works hard every month to deal with the increased volume of cases that come through the door. And it's a good thing that more cases come through the door, because we want to ensure that people are referred into the system as early as possible. August saw the highest number of patients treated in this financial year, and it saw the highest ever number of patients told that they did not have cancer—13,500 patients in Wales in August went through the system and were told that they didn't have that awful disease hanging over them. When you count up the people who were treated, and the people who were told they didn't need treatment, that comes to over 14,500 people, which are the highest numbers we've ever managed. And yet 16,000 people were referred into the system in the same month. As I say, Llywydd, that is good news, because that means we are seeing more people, and earlier, and hopefully more of those people will find out that they don't have to face a cancer diagnosis.
But you will see, and the Member for Monmouth will see, that even if you are managing record numbers of people coming through the system, if you've got record numbers of people coming into the system, the system is still flat out. That's why we do have the new rapid diagnostic centres, that's why we have the new one-stop clinics, that's why we are developing the straight-to-test diagnostics system. All of these are efforts being made by clinicians to find a way of both responding to the new referrals and dealing with people who have been in the system too long already.
Good afternoon, First Minister. As well as paying tribute to the health workers and those in our health professions who deal with cancer, there is also a range of charities who meet the needs of everybody suffering from cancer, and that includes the families of those suffering from cancer. Many of those have mental health issues, and people want to talk, not just the cancer sufferer, but those within the family and extended family. It's a very difficult time, and I thank my colleague Peter Fox for raising the issue and talking about that very sad situation. I do hope that the family of that person, as well as that sufferer, get the support that they need.
As well as the bigger charities like Macmillan and the Marie Curie trust, we also have, in Mid and West Wales, the wonderful Bracken Trust, based in Llandrindod Wells, which meets the needs of families and their carers. They have a drop-in service, a wig exchange service, and they just offer that support for families affected. I wonder if I could ask you, First Minister, what support can the Welsh Government give to those wonderful charities operating in the field with both the sufferer and the wider family? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
I thank Jane Dodds; those are all very important points. She's absolutely right—it isn't just the individual, it's the family of the individual that gets caught up in a cancer diagnosis. And the physical impact of a cancer diagnosis is only one of the difficulties that families face. There is fantastic work done by third sector organisations in Wales, simply on trying to make sure that people get the financial help that they need. To be ill with cancer often means that people aren't able to earn in a way that they would have previously, and the benefits system is not sympathetic, in the way that it ought to be, to people who face those difficulties. So, there are practical issues, there are the wider health issues, including mental health impacts, of a diagnosis of that sort. The very many small and local organisations that exist throughout Wales are a sign of the strength of Welsh civic society—that people give their time, raise those moneys, provide those services. And there's the work that the Welsh Government does with the third sector partnership council, a part of our landscape since the very foundation of devolution. We recognise and work with that wider group of people in our society, who want to make sure that the core public services that are provided can be supported and augmented, particularly for people whose needs are greatest.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the delivery of health services in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area? OQ58598
Hywel Dda University Health Board is responsible for the provision of safe, sustainable, high-quality healthcare services for its local population, based on the most up-to-date clinical evidence and advice.
First Minister, as I'm sure you're aware, on Saturday, it's World Stroke Day, and I hope Members all took the opportunity to meet with the Stroke Association outside on the Senedd steps earlier to learn more about stroke care and the positive impact that thrombectomy can have on stroke patients. In my health board area, the rate of thrombectomy in 2020-21 was 0.15 per cent, meaning that far too few stroke patients were able to have one. And yet we know that this treatment can make a life-changing difference and significantly reduce the chance of disabilities like paralysis, blindness or communication difficulties. So, First Minister, what work is being done to urgently increase the thrombectomy rate in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area, so that more and more people in my constituency can have access to this very vital treatment?
I'm sure that Members across the Chamber will want to mark World Stroke Day, and to recognise the very significant advances that there have been in recent times in treatments available for stroke patients and the way in which the NHS has been able to respond to that. I'm not familiar enough with the specifics of the Member's question to give him a direct answer on those points this afternoon, but the health Minister is in her place, and I'm sure that she will have things that she can say tomorrow, I believe, when she is contributing on the floor of the Senedd, that will help to answer the important points that Paul Davies has made this afternoon.
And finally, question 8, Joel James.
8. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the need for digital decarbonisation? OQ58620
Digital technologies can materially assist the necessary effort to decarbonise Wales. However, deployment can, of itself, create a carbon footprint. Sustainable digital decarbonisation is therefore the ambition of the digital strategy for Wales.
First Minister, more than 60 per cent of the digital data that firms generate is collected, processed and stored for single-use purposes only. This could include outdated spreadsheets, multiple near-identical images, or the thousands upon thousands of unread or stored e-mails that will never, ever be looked at again. This type of data is known as 'dark data' or 'unstructured data'. It currently produces 2.5 per cent of all global human-induced carbon dioxide emissions, which is more than the total aviation sector combined at 2.1 per cent. Worryingly, the volume of dark data is growing at a rate of 62 per cent a year, and the subsequent carbon dioxide that is produced is predicted to account for more than the aviation, automotive and energy sectors combined in only just a few years. Government policy and technological innovations focus primarily on tackling traditional carbon emissions and carbon sequestration without addressing the growing problem of dark data, but part of this Government's digital vision is to drive economic prosperity and resilience by embracing and exploiting digital innovation. With this in mind, First Minister, what steps are the Welsh Government taking to ensure that public bodies and private companies in Wales are putting mechanisms in place to address the carbon dioxide from dark data? Thank you.
I thank Joel James for that question. As it happens, because I make no claims to be an expert in this field, I was discussing that very issue with the chief digital officer for Wales very recently. I think it's an important question because it exposes an issue that in some ways has only come to the fore in public debate very recently. From the discussion I had, my understanding is there are two possible solutions to the point that the Member has made. First of all, there is a responsibility on those major companies that store data, including data stored in the cloud, to put into place actions that they could take already to reduce the storage of dark data and therefore to reduce its carbon imprint. In future, now that this is an issue that has come to greater prominence and greater understanding, when contracts are struck between public bodies and other businesses with the data provider, part of those new contract arrangements ought to be a way in which the fruitless storage of data that will never be used or seen again can become part of the contract you have with the provider, so that that data is disposed of in a way that does not lead to the adverse impacts that Joel James has highlighted this afternoon.
Thank you, First Minister.
The next item is the business statement and announcement. The Trefnydd will make that statement—Lesley Griffiths.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are three changes to this week's business. The statement on the national contemporary art gallery has been withdrawn. Additionally, the debate on the Welsh Language Commissioner's annual report has been postponed until 15 November. Finally, an oral statement on the closure of the Menai bridge has been added as the last item on today's agenda. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Trefnydd, last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with Diabetes UK and Member of Parliament Sir James Duddridge to discuss the lesser know type 3c diabetes, something that both James and my father suffer with. For those in the Chamber that aren't aware, type 3c is diagnosed when the pancreas not only stops producing insulin for the body but inhibits the production of digestive enzymes as well. This is often brought on by a host of other conditions, such an pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis and haemochromatosis. However, despite its causes, it's frequently misdiagnosed, most often as type 2 diabetes. So, given its rarity and the importance of accurate diagnosis, can I ask that the health Minister, either orally or in a written statement, make a statement about the steps that the Welsh Government are taking to raise clinical awareness about type 3c diabetes and how individuals living with the condition can be supported? Diolch, Llywydd.
Thank you. I certainly think you've done a very good job in raising awareness of a very unknown, I think, type of diabetes. The Minister for Health and Social Services is in her place and has agreed to write to you on it.
Trefnydd, figures supplied to my office lay bare the capacity problems within the Welsh NHS. The Welsh ambulance trust is routinely losing more than 2,000 hours per month due to ambulances waiting outside just one hospital in my region. The fact that this hospital is the flagship Grange hospital is even more problematic, as this was meant to herald an improvement in health services for constituents. Can this Government therefore order a review into capacity issues within the NHS and the knock-on effect that this is having on other services and patient well-being? The status quo is failing patients, it's failing hospitals and it's failing ambulance staff. I hope you agree things are unacceptable and things cannot go on like this.
Thank you. Well, the Member does raise a very important point, and it's certainly something that I think we've seen outside many of our hospitals in Wales, which is something that we don't want to see, and I know the Minister's been working very hard with all the health boards to try and improve the times that ambulances are waiting outside. Obviously, this is an issue with capacity in our emergency departments, and, again, I know the Minister's been working very hard to recruit more emergency consultants. I know, certainly, Betsi Cadwaladr, which I appreciate is not in your area, is an area where they've had a real focus.
I ask for only one statement and it's by way of update. There was a real sense of optimism a year ago, when the Welsh Government stepped into the breach in terms of the Caerau Arbed community energy saving programme issues, with over 100 householders—not all through the Welsh scheme, in fact, the majority through the English CESP programme—deeply affected, with their homes and their standard of life as well, I have to say. It's a real issue. But the Welsh Government stepped up and it said it would work with Bridgend County Borough Council to bring forward a business case that would then be signed off and we could get on with remedying the homes of all those people. But time has gone by; I think it's eight months since the business case was being presented. I know there's been to-ing and fro-ing between the council and Welsh Government finessing it, because I've written before. Other Members in the Senedd have raised this issue as well. But we need a statement, so that we can give the reassurance to people that this is progressing, despite delays, despite refining, despite having to get all the bureaucracy signed off, because it's a heck of a lot of money we're talking about, but we want to see it progress. So, is there any chance that we could have a statement of update so that all those householders—over 100 in Caerau—will know that this work is finally going to be done, and sooner rather than later?
Thank you. I know the Minister for Climate Change, who obviously has responsibility for this scheme, has recently written to Councillor Huw David, the leader of Bridgend County Borough Council, thanking his officers, particularly, for their ongoing engagement with her officials in developing the detailed business case. As you said, the Minister approved the scheme in principle, back in last November, so it has been nearly a year, and obviously there's been a subsequent submission of the detailed business case, and I know the Minister's officials are working on advice, which will be given to the Minister imminently.
Could I ask for an urgent statement from the health Minister this afternoon on waiting times in Glan Clwyd hospital in Bodelwyddan, as I have been contacted overnight by Chelsea Clark from Meliden, whose grandmother has been sat in A&E for 35 hours—35 hours in a dirty corridor with a blood clot in her leg, pneumonia, and has previously had sepsis and meningitis, which has caused kidney disease? This is a live case, Trefnydd, which is causing much distress to the patient and her family, and something needs to be done, as we see all too often cases such as this. So, I'd like an urgent statement from the Welsh Government this afternoon detailing what mechanisms they're going to use to bring the health board to account on these problems. And, failing this, will the Welsh Government accept that they've completely lost control of health services in north Wales? My constituents need answers and they need them now.
Well, the Member knows that we can't possibly do an urgent statement this afternoon on a very distressing individual case, and I'm sorry the Minister isn't in the Chamber, but I will make sure she hears about the individual case. While she can't obviously comment on a specific case, you will be very well aware of the significant work that the Minister is doing with Betsi Cadwaldar University Health Board particularly around A&E. I mentioned in my earlier answer to Peredur the work she has been doing to make sure that we can get—[Interruption.]
Allow the Minister—[Inaudible.]
—to make sure that—
What's happening to my microphone? Allow the Trefnydd to carry on. I think she heard me.
—to make sure that our major hospitals in north Wales do have the emergency care consultants that are required.
Minister, as a clinician, I appreciate the enormous pressure on the NHS, on our patients waiting for treatment, and on our staff, who have shown such professionalism in the face of unprecedented challenges. Whilst I know we have to resolve the short-term crisis, we also need to look to the longer term strategically and with purpose. In the field of cancer care, this is vitally important. Both England and Scotland have a national cancer plan, and Northern Ireland consulted on this last November. Wales, by contrast, is now the only nation of the UK that does not have a cancer plan. I know that you owe it to those needing care and treatment and to those delivering our services for there to be a strategy to set out the outcomes that are needed. Will the Minister schedule a debate in the Government's time to allow the Minister to set out her thinking? Thank you.
I will certainly ask the Minister for Health and Social Services to consider making a statement on cancer services in Wales. I think she does do so most years, but I'm not quite sure in the cycle where we are, but I will certainly ask the Minister—who's just heard your question—if she's prepared to do so.
Good afternoon, Trefnydd. The particular financial situation at the moment means that those who are the poorest in our society are going to be particularly hard hit and those who are currently in debt are going to suffer particular problems. This was highlighted in an online story by the BBC that focused on the terrible case of a single mother who worked as a carer. Julie spoke of the shame she felt. She spoke of the terror her young daughter experienced when bailiffs in full body armour were banging on the door. I'm sure you would agree that no-one should have to live like this. We know that Wales has the highest proportion of financial exclusion in the UK and we need to be willing to consider radical solutions to address the effects of debt on our residents here.
So, this is also by way of a follow-up. I was very pleased to be part of the social justice committee gthat recommended that Wales consider a debt bonfire. Therefore, could I ask for a statement from the Minister for Social Justice on this topic and an update on the situation? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you. Well, we certainly know that, for many people, this cost-of-living crisis will absolutely tip them over the edge, unfortunately, in relation to their finances, and I know the Minister for Social Justice considered the report very carefully, and that she is looking—. I know one area where she is doing some work is debt owed to the public sector creditors, for instance, and that includes local authority, which is becoming a growing concern as people are faced with the cost-of-living crisis, and officials continue to research the proposal for a debt bonfire.
As a Government, we are certainly doing all we can to support our residents in relation to being able to access financial support, and doing what we can to help people with debt and with the cost-of-living crisis, and you will have heard the First Minister say in his answer during his question session how, as a Cabinet, every week we have a cost-of-living sub-committee of Cabinet, where we have experts coming in to give us advice as to how we can be more radical and what more we can do to help people.
Please can I ask for a statement from the Minister for Economy about what work the Welsh Government is doing to boost pre-Christmas trade for our hard-working town-centre businesses? I'm a firm believer that we should be doing all we can to help businesses thrive, not just survive, across Wales, and they face rising cost-of-living pressures and continue to deal with the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. In my region of south-east Wales, I've launched a new initiative to give businesses a much-needed boost in the run-up to the festive period and increase footfall in our town centres. I've written to all the leaders of all the local authorities across south-east Wales, asking them to back my proposals and work with me to make this a reality. My plan is to see car parking fees scrapped in all council-controlled car parks throughout December in a bid to encourage more people to get out and about as the festive period approaches. Not only will businesses benefit as a result of free car parking, but it would also go a long way in helping families who are feeling the financial squeeze. Many town centres across the UK have rolled out similar schemes, which have been incredibly successful, and I do appreciate that Monmouth council has indeed embarked upon this as well. So, any support the Welsh Government can give to my initiative would be greatly appreciated, and I'd also appreciate if the economy Minister could outline how exactly he is working with local authorities and other stakeholders to help Welsh business in the run-up to Christmas.
Thank you. I certainly think it would be worth you writing to the Minister for Economy, outlining the proposals that you suggested, and I know we have undertaken quite a lot of work as part of town-centre regeneration, particularly in the run-up to Christmas over previous years, to highlight how they can get more footfall into our town centres, and, clearly, free car parking is one area.
Good afternoon, Trefnydd. I would like a statement from the Minister for education on the fact that some primary schools now are in urgent need of support to extend their kitchens and employ more staff to manage the free school meal policy. Indeed, in a response to a written question, the Minister for education advised me, and I quote,
'further work will take place during October to understand whether any additional kitchen upgrade works are required to deliver the next stages of universal primary free school meals.'
He was then, however, unable
'to confirm the number of primary schools in Wales requiring upgrades to their kitchens.'
Without the staff that are employed to work in our school kitchens in Aberconwy and across Wales, the delivery of this universal offer is not going to be possible. I met one of those teams—a school kitchen team, the other day—and they were working incredibly hard, but they themselves now are beginning to panic about how they're going to take this policy and do it properly, with the number of pupils in various schools. So, could we have a statement from the Minister? Will he update the Chamber on the outcome of the work this month so that school kitchen teams themselves can find out whether they're going to be receiving this help? And, in the main, it's finances as well they're looking for. Thank you.
Thank you. Obviously, as we roll out this policy, more work will be done and has been done with our schools. You mentioned that you'd had a response from the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language in relation to further work that was being undertaken during the month of October. Obviously, we're still in the month of October, so I would hope that when he has that information to hand, if he feels he needs to do an update, he will do so.
Thank you, business Minister. I would like to request a statement, as well, from the Minister for education stating the Government's position on the charity Mermaids and their influence on educational material in Wales. There is currently an investigation under way by the Charity Commission surrounding the compliance of the charity, and, just this month, the Department for Education has removed Mermaids as a mental health and well-being resource for schools as a result of an ongoing investigation, the seriousness of the allegations and the need to protect our children and young people. Could I therefore ask the education Minister for an oral or written statement outlining this Welsh Government's stance on Mermaids and the concerns that I outlined? Thank you.
I'm not aware of any work being undertaken by the organisation that you refer to, but if that is the case, I will ask the Minister to write to the Member.
I thank the Trefnydd.
The next item is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services on the national immunisation framework for Wales, and I call on the Minister to make the statement—Eluned Morgan.
Diolch yn fawr. Today, I am publishing our new national immunisation framework. Vaccination has long been a critical part of NHS Wales's delivery to protect our citizens and our communities. The pandemic required us to think differently about the deployment of vaccination, in particular the need to maximise uptake and to ensure equity. We must learn these lessons and apply them to our future arrangements, and it is through this national immunisation framework that we will do that. I want this framework to enable positive changes to deliver and improve vaccination arrangements and to increase uptake across all our vaccination programmes.
The vaccination transformation programme was established earlier this year to look at the provision of vaccination services to ensure arrangements are fit for the future. In July, I published the winter respiratory vaccination strategy, which paved the way for an integrated COVID-19 and influenza vaccination programme that launched on 1 September. The programme is progressing well, with both the COVID-19 and flu campaigns now in full swing. All those eligible for a COVID-19 booster will have their invites by the end of November, and those eligible for flu vaccination will have theirs by the end of December. It’s so important that we maximise the uptake of both vaccines, and I encourage everyone to take up their appointments this autumn to protect themselves and their families.
As important as they are, especially at this time of year, this framework is about much more than vaccination against respiratory viruses; it covers all our vaccination programmes, including childhood immunisations. And it is the success and good practice of these programmes that has been the foundation for the transformation process. Indeed, they provided the basis for our world-leading COVID-19 vaccination programme.
Our vision for the future of immunisation in Wales is high uptake of a sustainably delivered, effective vaccine at the right time to reduce severe illness and death. We want to see vaccination services that are clear, where people know what vaccinations they are eligible for and how to receive them, with high levels of uptake and equity of access at the heart of service design and provision. This is the first national immunisation framework to be issued for Wales and its development has been on a co-production basis, with the Welsh Government and the NHS working as one team to identify and use lessons from the pandemic to transition to a position of improved business as usual for all vaccination programmes.
Health board accountability will remain unchanged, with boards assessing local need, commissioning, performance managing and evaluating provision in line with the national strategic direction. Our intention is to support that, to enable improvements and to maximise uptake to protect everyone in Wales. The NHS executive will have a key role in planning and performance managing vaccination programmes in the future.
So, the framework identifies six key areas of focus, within which our strategic priorities and expectations are set, and these are vaccination equity, digitally enabled vaccination, eligibility, public vaccination literacy, deployment and governance. The majority of commitments outlined in the framework build on practices that have worked well from our experience and flexibility of the COVID-19 programme or best practice from existing, long-standing programmes. All have been identified by key partners, including those delivering services on the ground. We know that health harms from COVID-19 have not affected people in Wales equally. Tailored support has been needed to enable and encourage underserved groups to take up the offer of vaccination. People from harder-to-reach communities will come forward for vaccination, which points to accessibility rather than acceptability being a key barrier. That is something that we must tackle, and it is why we have put vaccination equity at the core of Wales’s vaccination approach and this framework.
Public understanding and engagement are critical in supporting people to come forward for vaccination, so the framework focuses in on this. It includes priorities on the co-production of patient materials, robust communications and engagement strategies, and training to increase awareness of vaccination among the health and care workforce, and community and trusted figures, so that they can advocate for vaccination and make every contact count.
Joyce Watson took the Chair.
The framework commits to building a core immunisation resource in health boards. It changes governance structures to ensure that there is appropriate, integrated oversight and management of all vaccination programmes and work streams to transform the digital infrastructure for vaccination, which presents huge opportunities for services and citizens.
Another significant commitment within the framework is a move to a central procurement process for the flu vaccine. We have seen unprecedented levels of uptake in our COVID-19 programme. I accept that some of this is about the context, but some of it is also due to the way that the system has engaged with and included groups that it has struggled to capture in the past. I want to apply this focus on health protection to the flu programme in the future. We cannot expect primary care providers to carry the risk of ordering more vaccines. We recognise that the risk must be borne at a national level, so we are exploring how we can move to a model of national procurement from 2024 onwards.
Primary care providers, including community pharmacies, will continue to play a really important role in the delivery of the flu vaccine and other vaccination programmes beyond 2024. They are a key element of the options that should be provided to citizens in order to maximise vaccination uptake. We are working closely with all those involved in the implementation of these changes.
Publication of the national immunisation framework is a key milestone that marks a move into the implementation phase of the transformation of vaccination, with a process of transition to the new arrangements expected during 2023 and 2024. Throughout the implementation period, existing programmes will continue to be delivered effectively and our governance arrangements will reflect that. The NHS Wales delivery unit will oversee the implementation, and that unit will become part of the NHS executive in 2023, with the Welsh Government moving into an oversight role. We remain committed to co-production during the implementation phase, and our intention is to publish an update in 2023 to share progress towards the transformational change and commitments set out in the national immunisation framework. Thank you.
Can I thank the Minister for her statement today? I know that the First Minister and you have stated on numerous occasions throughout the pandemic that your Government would be guided by the science. I agree, of course, with that approach as well, and the Government set up the technical advisory cell and has also taken on board the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation’s recommendations as well, on which groups should take COVID vaccinations. Now, in your framework, you note that you’re guided by the advice of the JCVI, but the framework also goes on to say,
‘However, even with normally stable programmes, there will be times where an emergency response is required at pace.’
So I just wanted to ask what does this mean in the context of when you are waiting for advice from JCVI. Of course, the JCVI is an incredibly important organisation, made up of clinicians and experts across the UK, and the UK health security agency. It also provides recommendations to all the UK health authorities on other vaccinations, not just COVID-19. So I’m just trying to ask you where you see the future for JCVI, for example, will its role be strengthened, or do you take a different view?
I also read with interest, Minister, the section on digitally enabled vaccination, and it notes that you have commissioned Digital Health and Care Wales—previously NHS Wales Informatics Service—to review all vaccination systems, but that you’re looking for shorter term solutions. So, I’m aware that the current Welsh immunisation system was set up during the pandemic to log and manage COVID vaccine delivery, but I’m also told that NWIS is, or can be, burdensome and inflexible, so perhaps you could give a view on that. But, while the system has been, perhaps, adequate for logging COVID vaccines that were scheduled in advance, I’m just speculating that the system may not be likely to be appropriate in its current form for recording flu vaccines and other vaccinations that patients may need. So I wonder, Minister, whether, therefore, you expect NWIS to become the primary IT system for managing and recording vaccines in the future, and if so, how do you plan to improve the system so it’s more flexible, less bureaucratic and simpler to use?
A quick update on the flu and COVID vaccinations among health and social care workers would be appreciated. I know that you, or I think your officials, wrote to health boards in that regard, so an update on that would be appreciated. And finally, Minister, I did read with delight that you’ve mentioned using the long-awaited NHS Wales app in the framework, but there’s no information on when this will happen. Will this be before the winter, within the next six months, next year? We’re waiting for something that will revolutionise patient access to appointments, prescriptions and more, so can you confirm when this will be introduced? Thanks, Minister.
Thank you very much, Russell. We have, throughout the pandemic, been following the advice of the JCVI, which, as you know, is embedded in science and a clinically led approach, and we will continue to do that. Obviously, if there are times when we need to work at pace, they have also demonstrated, during the pandemic, that they can also work at pace. I think we'd have to have quite a good reason to go away from JCVI advice, so that's certainly the model that we've followed so far.
When it comes to digitally enabled vaccination, we will develop a person-centred digital vaccination journey, and that will include an integrated vaccination record, digital consent and improved booking and communication and recording functionality. So, as you've noted, Digital Health and Care Wales are going to review all vaccination systems. At the moment, they don't speak to each other, so interoperability is absolutely key, and that's what they're working to do. So, while thinking about long-term digital solutions, we are going to need to have some shorter term fixes to make improvements with an immediate effect. There are existing digital improvement schemes that will link to things like our digital medicines transformation portfolio, the national data resource and the digital services for patients and public programme.
The NHS Wales app—. Okay, I'm going to tell you quietly, Russell. It is actually being tested at the moment; it has been tested. What we want to do is to make sure that it works and that the functionality works. It's got to have three very key issues that make it work well. One is that the technical bits need to work well. The second is that you need the patient to be able to use it, and so make sure that it's a very simple process that everybody can access. And the third is that you need, for example, GPs to be able to link in with it. So, that is being tested at the moment in a real live operation; 1,000 people are using that as we speak. So, things are progressing, but what I don't want to do is to launch something, as they did in England, that then all the GPs switch off because it's just too overwhelming. We're just trying to make sure that we're taking things and not launching it formally until we are absolutely sure that the thing is going to work.
Thank you for the statement. I'm eager to confirm the strong support of these benches to vaccination programmes in general and their contribution to the nation's health. In a way, it's strange, whilst welcoming the new framework, that we didn't have a framework previously, because vaccination is such an important a part of the health landscape in Wales. But, we have been through a period where more focus has been placed on vaccinations than at any other time in our history, given the pandemic. One question on the pandemic vaccination programme. The Government said that the autumn booster programme is progressing well, but the figures do suggest that the uptake is lower than it has been, particularly among the immunosuppressed. So, I wonder whether the Minister could look into or give a commitment to look into why the uptake seems to be so much lower this autumn.
But to return to the statement in more general terms, I think the six focus areas are sensible. I particularly welcome the focus on aiming for a system where everyone has equal access to vaccination, because at the moment, as the Minister has said, that isn't the case.
I want to focus on one thing particularly here. The statement refers to the intention to create a central procurement system for flu vaccination from 2024 onwards. At the moment, surgeries procure their own vaccinations directly from suppliers. Scotland has already said that they will turn to a central procurement system, where health boards buy all of the vaccinations and distribute them locally. Now, whilst there are benefits to moving to a centralised system such as this one for the longer term, I think it is important, at this early stage in the discussions, to bear in mind the challenges that are very likely to arise, and we know that from the Scottish experience. When Scotland introduced the system, they realised that (1) it would take a period of around three years to introduce such a system, but, secondly, that it would have a negative impact on pharmacies—or, rather, surgeries. In responding to that uncertainty, what the Scottish Government did was to provide an additional £5 million to ensure that the process not only accelerated and happened effectively, but also compensated surgeries during that initial period. So, can I ask whether the Minister will give a commitment to work closely with GPs and surgeries to find ways of mitigating those possible negative impacts, if this is introduced? And also will she agree to consider following the Scottish example and providing particular financial support where required?
Thank you very much. In terms of the booster, I'm pleased to say that, on the seventeenth of this month, 471,488 people had received the booster. We have a target of 75 per cent. I'm pleased to say that, if you're in a care home, we're up to 74 per cent already. So, that is well on the way to our target. We are somewhat concerned about staff working in care homes and staff working in the health boards, so I know that the chief executive of the NHS has written to the health boards to ask them to make a little bit more effort with the staff. I know that they're tired and that they're making a big effort, and maybe it's work pressure that's stopped them from doing that, but it is important for them to protect themselves as we go into what we know will be a very hard winter. You're right about the risk group: so, we are looking at about 7 per cent of people between five and 49, but the focus hasn't been placed on that yet; we're doing it in order of priority, and that's why we've ensured that we are focusing first on care homes.
In terms of the national procurement system, evidently this is not going to happen tomorrow, but even what's happened this year, where we've seen GPs, for example, procuring the flu vaccine—they haven't ordered enough and we've had to step in as the Government. So, we're already intervening, and that means that additional funding is being provided. But, if you're going to a procurement system on a national level, you're more likely to get a better deal, so I do hope that that will make a difference.
We now move on to item 4, a statement by the Minister for Economy, Development Bank of Wales—investing with ambition. I call the Minister, Vaughan Gething.
Thank you, acting Presiding Officer. I know that businesses and workers are grappling with very real trauma all over again. From the many discussions that I have had with businesses in recent weeks, I recognise the enormous difficulties that they face. The Welsh Government is in no doubt about the gravity of the situation. Our economy is more reliant upon small businesses, so the risks that they face will of course hit our communities disproportionately. Many small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and act as a meeting place, forming a part of the character of neighbourhoods across Wales. In the devolution era, I am proud that we have worked together to create support that is responsive to small and medium-sized businesses.
I know that the Development Bank is taking a proactive role in facilitating help for businesses. That came across loud and clear in our recent economic summit. There are of course differing views on how we go about securing a stronger Welsh economy in the short term and long term, but all of us want to foster an environment where we are more resilient. For me, that means an economy where people have the skills and the protections that offer security through the tough times ahead.
Now, Wales possesses natural resilience. Welsh businesses have stepped up and developed a remarkable capacity to adapt to the toughest of challenges. It’s this spirit that has kept so many businesses afloat during the recent uncertainties. In stark contrast with the UK Government, Wales has a stable, mature Government and a network of social partners that help us to make the right calls. The summit earlier this month was a prime example of team Wales working together to quantify problems and to propose solutions.
I will be meeting key stakeholders once more in early November to take their feedback on the UK Government’s attempts to stabilise the economy following the Halloween budget. Hopefully, we can then assess with more certainty the range of support required here in Wales and the practical levers available to us if the UK Government goes ahead and further cuts the Welsh Government budget.
But, today, I want to mark the fifth anniversary of the Development Bank of Wales, the UK’s first regional development bank, and to speak to my ambitions for its future. The development bank has grown to manage funds in the order of £2 billion, and in so doing has become a key part of the economic development and finance ecosystem here in Wales. The bank plays a pivotal role in financing businesses who have sound business plans but struggle to access finance from the market. It does this by working hand in glove alongside the advice and support provided by Business Wales and through very close ties with mainstream banks and other co-investors, where it often forms only part of the total investment package. By addressing market gaps, the bank allows businesses to access the finance that they need. Over its first five years, the bank has exceeded investment targets, delivering an economic impact of £1.2 billion. Overall debt and equity investment in 2021-22 reached £110 million against a target, set in 2017, to reach £80 million by that year.
As a result of the UK Government taking direct control over the promised replacement for EU-funded programmes, the funding landscape is now far more complex than it was five years ago. The fact that we have our own now well-capitalised development bank here in Wales means we can maintain capability and stability to help drive economic development.
In planning for the next five years, we have taken into account this changing funding landscape, which includes new funds from the Cardiff capital region and the British Business Bank. Together, these funds have the potential to bring around £35 million a year of additional capital into Wales. That is a welcome development, which, when combined with the targeted annual investments by the development bank, which will rise above £120 million a year over the same period, will help to ensure that more businesses in Wales will have access to finance. The development bank will work closely with them to ensure that their investment from the Cardiff capital region and the British Business Bank is complementary and supports businesses across our country.
In our programme for government, we set out our ambition to increase the use of equity stakes in business support. Equity investment can support innovative businesses with growth potential, creating high-value jobs and driving exports. Equity stakes bring not only finance resource but also expertise to businesses, and can be a powerful catalyst for long-term economic growth.
To date, our development bank has invested £78 million of equity into Welsh businesses, which, alongside other investors, has helped them to raise over £200 million. I have tasked the development bank to pursue a total equity investment target of at least £100 million, which, alongside private sector co-investment, can deliver over £250 million of capital to innovative businesses—an injection of capital that will help to create new jobs, expand new growth sectors in our economy, and help position Wales for the future.
This new equity investment will be even more targeted, with other Welsh Government support, from business advice to innovation support, making it a complete and best-in-class offer. Going forward, businesses receiving equity investment will have unparalleled support through their investment journey. We believe that this will make a difference in supporting exciting new technology companies to take their product from early concept through to market, ambitious businesses to target high growth, and management teams wanting to buy existing businesses and keep them in Welsh ownership. And, in fact, only this lunchtime, before attending First Minister's questions, I attended an event chaired by Huw Irranca-Davies this lunchtime with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. And for those who are interested, also in attendance was Huw Lewis, once of this parish, in his new role.
Of immediate concern to businesses are the challenges driven by increasing costs for materials, wages and, of course, energy. To help businesses, the development bank will continue to offer flexibility to its customers through forbearance and, where appropriate, repayment holidays. Whilst interest rates on development bank loans are fixed at the point of issue—that protects those customers from the current volatility—we also know rates are not the only issue, and businesses can be confident that the bank is committed to working with them through these difficult times.
The development bank has a major role in supporting business transition on an 'invest to save' principle and already has funding in place to support businesses on their journey to net zero. Right now, the bank is fast-tracking development of a new scheme that will allow businesses to take on borrowing to fund capital investment that delivers on decarbonisation. It will aim to offer more flexible repayment terms, attractive interest rates and other support, such as help towards consultancy costs, as part of this offer to enable businesses to take advantage of current generous capital allowances and to ensure that they are confident that the technologies and solutions being adopted are right for them. I am asking the development bank to do all they can to accelerate their plans so that delivery can begin this year, delivering a double win for eligible businesses by helping them cut future energy costs and progressing our shared ambition for decarbonisation.
The Development Bank of Wales is a national asset. It continues to help businesses across Wales survive, grow and prosper. I am proud of what it has achieved to date and have confidence in the plans it has to deliver on my ambitions for the future of the Welsh economy.
Can I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon and congratulate the development bank on its fifth anniversary? Now, the Development Bank of Wales has been very open to scrutiny from the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee, and I know Members welcome the ability to question the team on its investments and progress. Now, today's statement rightly recognises that the Welsh economy is more reliant upon small businesses, so it's crucial that the development bank is reaching out to small and medium-sized enterprises and offering support. The Minister has said that the development bank is taking a proactive role in facilitating help for businesses, but doesn't quite tell us how that work is taking place, and so perhaps the Minister could tell us exactly how the development bank is working with small businesses specifically, given the current financial climate.
Today's statement rightly highlights some really good work by the development bank. It's great to hear that it has invested £78 million of equity into Welsh businesses. Of course, we need to ensure that funding is reaching businesses in all parts of Wales, and so perhaps the Minister could tell us more about how the Welsh Government will ensure that the bank is raising awareness of its services to businesses in all parts of the country.
The Minister has already given the bank a total equity investment target of £100 million, which, alongside private sector co-investment, can deliver over £250 million of capital to businesses. Working with co-investors will be critical if the bank is to maximise the impact of its investment in Welsh businesses. Of course, to do so, the bank must continue to encourage the private sector to invest alongside itself, and so perhaps the Minister can tell us more on the work being done to increase that co-investment.
Now, we know the COVID pandemic has had an enormous impact on businesses in Wales, and the development bank has an important role in supporting economic recovery and supporting businesses. It's vital that a one-size-fits-all approach is not blanketly adopted by the bank, and I'm pleased to hear the Minister talk about offering flexibility to its customers through forbearance and repayment holidays. Today’s statement acknowledges that businesses are facing challenges due to increasing costs for materials, wages and, of course, energy, and therefore perhaps the Minister could tell us a bit more about how the bank can provide tailored support to businesses in relation to these specific challenges.
It's vital that we recognise the jobs that are being created by the development bank, and there has been some good work taking place to identify and measure productivity too. According to the bank's corporate plan, its baseline jobs target for 2022 to 2027 is 20,000 jobs, but it's vital that there is some measure of the quality of jobs. And, so, I'd be grateful if the Minister could tell us how the Welsh Government recognises success in terms of jobs, and what does success look like to the Welsh Government in this specific area.
The Minister has made it clear today that, going forward, businesses receiving equity investment will have unparalleled support throughout their investment journey. Today's statement confirms that the bank will be supporting new technology companies to take their products from early concept through to market, as well as businesses targeting high growth, and management teams to buy existing businesses and keep them in Welsh ownership.
I, of course, welcome this ambition, and perhaps the Minister can tell us more about how the bank is investing in new technology start-ups in particular. There has been some good work around the Wales technology seed fund, but more needs to be done, and so I'd be grateful for any further information the Minister can provide on this front.
Equally, it's important that there is support for management teams that want to buy out existing businesses and keep them in Welsh ownership. To date, the Wales flexible investment fund, which is operated by the Development Bank of Wales, has been offering a potential debt-based funding route for employee buy-outs. And I know there is support for management buy-outs available through the Wales management succession fund, but perhaps the Minister could tell us a bit more about how those funds are being evaluated and monitored, so we can ensure that the right support is out there for businesses.
And, finally, today's statement refers to the development bank's work to promote a transition in Wales to a significantly more decarbonised business environment. I'm particularly interested in the development of a new scheme that will allow businesses to take on borrowing to fund capital investment that delivers on decarbonisation. Indeed, the bank's annual report highlights that 41 per cent of its customers have indicated that they are motivated to act on climate change, but actually lack the expertise. And, so, I'd be grateful if the Minister could tell us a bit more about the new scheme that is being developed and when it's likely to become operational.
Therefore, in closing, acting Presiding Officer, we know that one of the key themes of the bank is investing in businesses that reflect the diversity in our communities, and we must remember that the bank, at its core, is an impact investor with a social purpose. And, so, can I thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon, and say that I look forward to hearing more about the development bank's work in the coming weeks and months? Thank you.
Thank you for the series of questions. It's a good place to be making a statement, five years after Ken Skates launched the development bank. It's fair to say that, at the time, not everyone was as optimistic that we'd be at this point celebrating its successful journey, with it overachieving its investment targets.
On your point around small businesses and how aware they are, actually, the Federation of Small Businesses undertook their own survey, which was published in February of this year, and it found that two thirds of their members were already aware of the development bank, and, also, there had been a significant increase in brand perception of the development bank over that five years since it was introduced, and that, actually, 92 per cent of customers had stated that they would use the development bank for future funding needs, and, again, that nine in 10 associated the development bank with being honest and trustworthy. And, I think, actually, when you think about financial institutions, that does show that not only has it got a significant amount of penetration and awareness within just five years, but that it also has a good reputation among its existing customers as well. We're interested in getting more of those people in that final third more aware of what the bank does and taking advantage of the products that it has to offer.
As I said in my statement, the investment that can take place from the development bank, whether loan or equity, or a combination of both, is often part of the package of investment support, and that, I think, goes into your point around co-investment. Recently, I met with high-street banks and the development bank to talk about some of the challenges for the economy in Wales, the challenges that we've been seeing with the rise in interest rates, and what the investment climate looked like. Now, there is always a challenge in that some businesses are retrenching and not making investment choices, which is understandable given what's happened in the last six or seven weeks. But there are still businesses that are looking to invest.
What we're talking about today is the launch, or the indication that we're going to be able launch within the turn of this year—that's my target; if not, then early in the new year—a new product to help people to invest in their future, to decarbonise and help with energy costs as well. So, we are looking to acquire more people to come into that area. And that's also an area where lots of high-street banks say that they have funds available for further investment. So, the challenge will be on co-investment, what DBW can do, what businesses themselves often put up—they're often looking for someone to bridge the gap between their finance and someone else—but also other potential investors, not just high-street banks. It does include, as I have mentioned, other equity investors.
Part of our challenge is that most of the equity investment that takes place across the UK is concentrated in London and the south-east. If you were having this conversation with the south-west of England or the north of England, they would be looking on and saying, 'The problem is, there's too much in the over-heating south-east corner of England.' And they themselves—and if you talk to the FSB—would say, 'We would like to have a regional development bank like the Development Bank of Wales.' It's a positive advantage that people and business recognise, but we also do need to make sure that other equity investors look at Wales, to add to what we're doing in the development bank.
Now, I mentioned the Cardiff capital region and their investment, but also the British Business Bank. They're unlikely to have their funds ready until next year. When the investment was announced by the former Chancellor, who's now the Prime Minister, he announced there would be a fund in Wales. It's fair to say that, at that time, there wasn't a plan. There is now something that looks more like a plan, and the development bank, as I say, have been engaging and really constructing what that would look like. It will still take time for that to get up and running, so I'm looking forward to that extra investment coming in to add to the picture. And, in addition, there are also not just individual private investors, but a number of sovereign wealth investors—from Europe and beyond—who are looking at opportunities in Wales. And part of the balance that we have to strike is, where is that a real opportunity, and how can we make sure that we get a deal that doesn't mean that those assets are taken out of Wales, but are grown here as well.
I think that it goes on to your point about the tech sector. Both fintech and cyber are really good examples of where we have a strong sector in Wales and the opportunity to grow more—certainly in parts of the conversations I've had with banking institutions, with other sovereign wealth funds, and indeed with the sectors themselves. We really do have a very positive group of sectors within Wales. I think that it's one of the things we under-appreciate, that the rest of the world is looking at what we're doing and is very positive about it, both in terms of learning how we've got here, but also looking at whether they can invest in helping to grow the sector here as well. And in each of those sectors, we're likely to see high-value employment.
The offer from both DBW and Business Wales includes tailored support, which I've mentioned in my statement, so it won't just be you'll get money—you'll get some support and consultancy around that. We've indicated that, in the new fund on investing in decarbonisation, consultancy support could be part of what's created, to understand the specific needs of an individual business. I'm very pleased to reiterate what I said about employee ownership, not just the management buy-out funds, but what we're already doing with groups like Cwmpas Cymru and the funds that they are running, to try to increase the number of employee-owned businesses across Wales and meet our manifesto pledge to double the sector.
And finally, on your point about how we'll make sure that this is well known around Wales, of course, the development bank has five offices, located in Cardiff, Llanelli, Llandudno Junction, Newtown, and the headquarters, of course, in Wrexham.
I thank the Minister for the statement. And of course, there is an important role for the bank to play in the future of the Welsh economy.
The Development Bank of Wales offers support to its customers through a number of organisations, including Business Wales. Business Wales offers a range of free services to Welsh companies and sole traders. Nearly a year ago now, there were discussions in committee and Plenary over funding concerns for Business Wales, much of which goes to supporting those businesses. On 11 December 2021, you, Minister, noted that over a third of Business Wales funding comes from European sources. A year on, how has this impacted the Development Bank of Wales and Business Wales, and has an impact assessment been done? Around the same time, I also asked the Minister about the courses on offer from Business Wales, and I was grateful for the follow-up meeting we had on this topic. Since then, has there been any growth in the number and availability of courses provided?
Now, co-operatives and social partnerships allow the Welsh economy to grow in a more sustainable way, and will play a huge role in tackling the cost-of-living crisis. And I'll take this opportunity to plug the cross-party group on co-operatives and mutuals tomorrow, where we'll be looking at exactly this issue. In June 2021, the Welsh Government committed to doubling the number of employee-owned businesses in Wales. Earlier this year, I asked the Minister about funding available for co-operatives, to help reach the Welsh Government's target of doubling the number of employee-owned businesses in Wales. I'd be keen to know what progress has been made to reach that target. I did note that, in his statement, there was talk of supporting management buy-outs. Is that rather than worker buy-outs in that particular context? There is an important distinction to make between manager and worker buy-outs. Both groups will have different priorities and intentions going forward.
Finally, the net-zero business incentive next year. The initiative hopes to incentivise businesses to lower their carbon footprint based on an invest-to-save principle that should reduce energy consumption and lower businesses' bills in the long term. That, of course, is to be welcomed. Businesses looking at investing in renewables or energy-efficiency measures will be offered more favourable terms. Businesses can take on borrowing to fund capital investment that delivers on decarbonisation through more flexible repayment terms, attractive interest rates and wider support, such as help towards consultancy costs. The Minister is also tasking the bank with pursuing an ambitious equity investment target of £100 million over the next five to seven years.
While this announcement to help towards net-zero targets in Wales is welcome, it's something I recently questioned you and the First Minister on, and it has been called for by many in this Chamber. How does this increased investment fit in with the principle of the just transition? In my line of questioning, I referred to businesses, specifically small independent breweries, that have stretched their finances further than they thought possible during the pandemic, and now, during the cost-of-living crisis, they may be reluctant to take on more debt. What would you say to them as well as those who would not be potentially eligible for this scheme?
Also, would the Development Bank of Wales, within this initiative, be able to operate a fabric-first approach to energy efficiency, with the most favourable terms prioritising it? The fabric-first approach to building energy efficiency looks at maximising the performance of components and materials that make up a building itself, before the use of mechanical or electrical systems. Diolch yn fawr.
To start with, on your point about the individual courses available, I'm not in a position to answer that individual point now, but I will make sure I come back to you with the detail on that particular point.
On your final point around net-zero investment and the announcement that we've made today on the new support that should be available to help with decarbonisation and energy efficiency and reducing energy costs, the last time we spoke I did indicate I'd have more to say in the coming weeks, and here we are. We've been working on this for a period of time. It isn't something that's been created in the last week or so.
Part of this is about trying to generate a just transition, to make sure that, as we decarbonise, we don't simply keep the jobs we have, but we actually help to de-risk some of the future, not just from a broader climate perspective, but from the business costs that exist now. It's something that I think a number of businesses will want to look very closely at. And, as I say, on the point about the individual circumstances you mentioned for each business, well, they vary from one business to another. Individual businesses in the same sector will have different needs, they may have different opportunities to take advantage of that. That is, both looking at the fabric of their own institutions as they are now and their opportunities to maximise that. It's why I pointed out that the opportunity is to look at what's possible for that individual business. It's also possible we may end up being able to support district energy schemes as well, if you think about the number of businesses that may share a common broad footprint around a business park or an area and would want to have a look at whether it's possible to do more within a particular setting and not simply on each individual business. So, there'll be a range of circumstances that will be individual.
The other reality we have to confront is that, even with the support that is available, and this is from the bank and its lending, whether it's equity or loan finance individually or a combination thereof, the Welsh Government doesn't, as we've talked about today, have the firepower to provide a grants based scheme to reach into every area of the economy. I know there are more businesses with challenges that I do think would otherwise be viable businesses than we have the means to support. It's why we await so keenly the outcome of the Halloween budget. I don't know if you had an opportunity to listen to the finance Minister in today's Welsh Government press conference, but the reality of our budget is one where we simply don't have additional money that is being kept back in the hope that we can then invest it over the coming weeks and months. It's a very, very difficult financial picture that we face, and businesses themselves know that.
In the conversations I've had with a variety of business groups of different sizes in different sectors, they all know that we don't have the money waiting for them. In fact, manufacturing businesses were very clear that they were anxious about the future, not because they didn't have full order books, but because they knew about the rising costs and prices for goods, the challenges in inflation, and they know that really it requires the UK Government to act like they are really on their side to help them through what's coming. We're all going to find out fairly soon what that really looks like. I'd be delighted to be proven wrong and that there is going to be a generous package available to help businesses to not just survive where they are, but to genuinely prosper in the future. Here in Wales, though, we will make the most of the advantages we do have, and DBW is one of those. But I can't tell you or anyone else that we can save every single business that we would otherwise want to.
When it comes to DBW and Business Wales and the reality of where we are with post-European funding, as I've indicated—and I've been absolutely upfront from the outset—there is a real and significant impact from European funds disappearing and not being replaced on a like-for-like basis in terms of the value or, indeed, how they're then purposed. What it does mean, though, is that to maintain Business Wales, which is what I have done, I've had to make really difficult choices in the rest of my departmental budget. That means other areas I would otherwise have wanted to invest in to help support the future of the Welsh economy I haven't been able to, because I think the Business Wales service is really important across the whole of Wales, and you can see that from the outcomes and the numbers of businesses that have had help, support and advice from Business Wales. Again, the Federation of Small Businesses regularly tell their counterparts in the rest of the UK that what we have in Wales is really worthwhile. Actually, the FSB in England would like to see a service like Business Wales in regions across England. That explains why I protected the budgets for the future for the services they provide. If we did have the same amount of money to invest in different choices, it would mean I could do more, and, indeed, that DBW could grow more as well.
Finally, when it comes to support practically for employee-owned businesses—and I recognise the point that management buy-outs aren't necessarily exactly the same—we're now up to 40 employee-owned businesses, and I've recently confirmed that extra £170,000 to Cwmpas Cymru to help with that practical support to move businesses from one ownership model into another. There are really good examples of new employee-owned businesses in Wales, and I look forward to announcing when we have, as I'm confident that we will do, achieved our manifesto goal of doubling the size of the sector.
I very much welcome the statement. I agree with the Minister that the development bank here in Wales means we can maintain capability and stability to drive economic development. I, like Paul Davies, am pleased that the development bank is taking a proactive role in facilitating help for businesses. I have three questions. How is it intended to help businesses move from small to medium-sized enterprises, which is one of the weaknesses of the Welsh economy? Is it the Minister's intention to prioritise the three growth sectors of life sciences, ICT and financial services? And, perhaps, most importantly to me, from Swansea, will the bank further support the Swansea bay city region projects?
Thank you for the questions. You're right; growth from small to medium and then from medium to large is one of our big challenges in the economy. Actually, it is exactly part of what DBW can do, because, often, it is the access to finance that holds people back. It's where high-street banks have seen a gap in what they do and DBW has been able to plug that gap. When it comes to the jobs and investment choices, it isn't just the funds that have helped to create about 2,600 jobs—to either safeguard or create those from the investment that's been made from the last financial year—but, actually, that adds to an increase in Welsh GVA of around £85.8 million within that year, and you expect that to carry on growing as we move forward. So, it is one of the things that I am genuinely concerned about.
Yes, there is activity in life sciences, and there's activity in financial services, especially in the growing fintech sector we have. And on your broader point around the broader technology sector and what that looks like, actually these services go into most businesses now, and so there is something about what our broader tech sector is doing. On a recent trip, the trade mission that I led to the United Arab Emirates, we had lots and lots of tech businesses, small and medium-sized businesses, looking for investment and recognising that they had an opportunity, including businesses based in Swansea, you'll be very pleased to hear.
And, yes, on your point around the Swansea bay city deal, we are looking at what DBW can do; how it can help to work with that and other growth deals in Wales to advance the projects they've got. I'm actually very positive about the practical progress that the Swansea bay city deal group is making on not just having a portfolio of projects, but on the investment that is already being made.
Last week, Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, gave various interviews, including on the fact that we still haven't cracked the ongoing moral hazard of organisations that are too big to fail, which is why the Bank of England had to intervene in the markets following Liz Truss's disastrous mini-budget, to rescue pension funds that had dabbled in risky investments to increase the dividends they dish up. So, I very much welcome the role of the Development Bank of Wales, and we need many more organisations like that to provide a bit more stability in the financial markets. I very much welcome all the information you've provided about the equity investment that the development bank is providing for companies who want to decarbonise; that seems absolutely a win-win for those companies, as well as for our net-zero targets across the whole of Wales.
Last week, I attended a conference organised by the Landworkers' Alliance and heard about the successful development of small-scale horticulture businesses that are profitable and require no subsidy. Both of them are based reasonably locally in south-east Wales, in both the Gower and the Vale of Glamorgan. You talk about wanting an economy where people have the skills and the protections that offer security through tough times. Did the recent economic summit discuss food security in the context of the fact that—
Could the Member ask her question, please?
—food is not coming into the wholesale market? And what investments are you aware of that the Development Bank of Wales may be investing in increasing the amount of food we are growing in Wales?
It's not a specific objective of the development bank to increase food security in the country. It's not a specific objective that we've set. However, we have set objectives around helping to transition Wales to a more sustainable economy and plans around net zero. Lesley Griffiths, as you know, is the Minister who leads on the food sector. I mentioned this last week, and Alun Davies noted his lifetime's work in supporting the food and drink sector, sometimes personally—that actually we have seen a real growth in the sector from an export point of view. But there is something also about what we do need to do, and we recognise this within the Government, in broader food security for how food is produced, where it's produced, and how local it is as well.
I'm not trying to avoid the issue; I just think that it's not the development bank that is the primary lever in doing that. It doesn't mean that projects that will help food security will not be supported. In fact, in the food and drink sector we have supported a number of projects to grow and to expand. At the economic summit it was much more about businesses in survival mode and wanting to understand what is likely to happen, and trade unions being interested in the terms and conditions of workers moving forward and what that means, but positively wanting to support businesses to have a good future. So, I think we're potentially talking at cross purposes about what the point and purpose of the summit was, because there wasn't a particular business that talked about food security in that event, and I wouldn't have necessarily expected there to be.
I do take on board your point around pension funds, both the level of debt that they had and the level of risk they had. And of course what really changed and was very unexpected just a few weeks ago is actually that Government debt changed its profile as well. So, the value of that Government debt and that Government investment was a real factor for pension funds that were looking to provide a stable return for pension holders. I certainly hope, from the point of view of businesses, pensioners, and indeed householders, that we will see more stability from the UK market. It has a real impact not just on individual families but on individual businesses, because the terms of debt available are a real factor in holding off investment in the Welsh economy.
I enjoy the Minister's statements and I enjoy the conversations that he embarks upon across the Chamber. In discussing a lot of his different priorities for the investment bank he's made it very clear that he wants to see the development bank acting in a very agile way, looking for opportunities, and also investing in a creative way, and I very much welcome what he said this afternoon about decarbonisation.
What I worry sometimes, Minister, is that there are not very clear objectives and targets set for this activity. For example, one of the biggest issues facing us in the Welsh economy is that of productivity. What guidance or advice have you given the development bank to address issues of productivity in the economy, and how will you measure whether the development bank is having an impact on that?
The constituency I represent in Blaenau Gwent, of course, is one of the areas where we need greater investment, not only in productivity but in economic activity. Do you give the development bank clear guidance on a spatial aspect to their investment, so that you look and you set targets for investment in the Heads of the Valleys, for example, to ensure that you actually are investing not simply in businesses to achieve global outcomes, which would drive investment to places like Cardiff and the M4 corridor, but to drive investment into some of the more difficult parts of Wales, which are suffering from significant market failure?
There are two broad points there. The first is that, yes, when I do talk to the development bank I do take an interest in where that investment goes. If it was only going neatly in and around the centre of the Cardiff capital region, then that would not be what I think is appropriate, because it was partly set up to deal with the gap that has been mentioned about small to medium companies, as Mike Hedges mentioned, about access to capital for some of those businesses, which was often a problem from traditional lenders. Now, it doesn't mean that high-street lenders don't do anything for people on that growth journey, but actually it's where there's been a real call for further action. And also the different parts of the country that people are in, and I recognise with your own constituency it's a real factor. So, yes, we do look at that, but it's not just the development bank.
I haven't set them a particular target or measure. I'm more than happy to discuss this with the Member and others—and we're due to have a broader meeting to talk about some of these points—about the remit that I set them and when and how we expect to see progress. But it is then also part of the conversation we have with the capital region, for example. What we're talking about with them and what we want to see and expect to see as the capital region invests more funds is to make sure that, again, it doesn't simply happen around Cardiff and Newport but that it's the whole capital region that needs to see the benefit—and not simply to get people quickly from other parts of the capital region into Cardiff or Newport or other major urban centres but actually to drive some growth in other parts of the region, too. It can't be all one way, taking people from the Valleys into Cardiff and Newport.
I think that's really important in terms of the metrics we set ourselves, and that goes into the productivity puzzle as well, because often a lot of that is the levers we have to invest in human capital, in the skills and in the people, and then to make sure we're getting people to invest in areas where those people themselves live and are able to work. So, it's part of the reason why we have the employability and skills plan, setting out what we will do. We'll need to look again to see if there's a different change in direction from the latest iteration of the UK Government, because that plan was set out when DWP were more active and people were closer to the market. We may well need to review again earlier than I thought we would do whether we're still doing enough and in the right place because, I'm afraid, we'll face a more difficult economic picture, with potentially more people out of work in the coming months.
So, our interventions, like the ReAct+ programme—are they going to be doing enough to get people back into work rapidly, and are we doing enough to get people who have been in long-term economic inactivity back on a path to become active and to have the skills to not just get into work but then to succeed in work as well? It's also why we're looking at what we're doing in our skills policy place, not just in apprenticeships but also in in-work training as well. For the current workforce, the future of work is here already in very large number. In 10 years' time, most of the people in work will already be in work already. What we need to do is to make sure they have skills that are appropriate for the world of work in 10 years' time. So, much of this is going to be about investing in the current workforce, and that will definitely make a difference to productivity.
And the final point on this is investing in the quality of leadership and management within businesses. It isn't just workers on the shop floor, if you like, it is also about those leaders and managers who make a big difference to the effectiveness and productivity of a business as well. But, as I said, I'm very confident we'll talk about this more in the Chamber and outside it in the months ahead.
I'll allow one more question, if it's brief, and one more answer, if it's brief. Huw Irranca-Davies.
Thank you. Indeed, I will be brief. Minister, thank you for the statement and also for attending the lunchtime launch of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies report, 'Owning the workplace, securing the future', on how we increase the amount of employee ownership here in Wales. We're doing well already, we think we can go further. How can the Development Bank of Wales play a role within this, increasing employee ownership? Is there a role particularly for them to play when you have a problem of succession and changing over to employee ownership in the workplace, some sort of holding facility, some funding that would allow those discussions to happen with employees in the workplace so that it's not a rush of six months to all or bust, that we can actually pause and go through that process with them? What role does the Development Bank of Wales have in employee ownership?
The development bank is already active in this space, in supporting employee ownership, but it also has to work alongside others like Cwmpas Cymru, as you're aware. I'd be happy to have more of a conversation with you. As you know, at today's event, I committed to having a conversation with you and other actors in this space to not just look at the ideas from this lunchtime but to see how different institutions can play a part. I think it will be an interesting point to raise and to work through with the development bank itself.
Thank you, Minister.
We'll move on now to item 5, a statement by the Minister for Climate Change on the public sector role in the future energy system, and I call on the Minister for Climate Change—Julie James.
Thank you, acting Presiding Officer.
We have spent a great deal of time in this Chamber talking about the cost-of-living crisis, which is directly related to the major increase in the cost of energy. Keeping British people locked into the price of fossil fuels is bad for bill payers and disastrous for the action that we all know we need to take to tackle the climate emergency. The rising costs and lack of certainty of supply both strengthen the case for energy resilience and the need for control over our energy system. Our Government has championed the need for greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy, along with flexibility measures to make sure that we can always meet demand. These are the right long-term solutions to deliver on the current cost-of-living crisis and on the climate and nature crises. This much more local system requires us to be much more engaged with the energy system than previously. Government at all levels will need to take an active role in designing the net-zero energy system, one that enables people to live and move, yet has the lowest possible costs and impacts.
I have been really pleased with the way that local authorities and regions have worked with us on energy plans that set out the changes that need to happen, and how those changes can deliver skilled jobs for people in their areas. Following the successful pilots in Conwy and Newport, I look forward to seeing the rest of our authorities developing detailed local energy plans, which will be the basis for the national energy plan in 2024. These plans don’t solve our immediate energy cost problems, but they do set a strong framework for us to collectively focus our action to protect ourselves in the medium term. In delivering these plans, we must think differently as a nation about how we manage public assets. We will only deliver net-zero obligations in ways that benefit communities by taking new and different approaches.
We have already used the major public asset that is the Welsh Government woodland estate to deliver on our policy on renewables and local benefit. Natural Resources Wales has overseen the installation of four projects totalling 441 MW of onshore wind, with a further 134 MW still in development. This has delivered not just income to the public purse from lease payments and direct to communities from community benefit funds, but opportunities for communities to take ownership of part of these developments. The projects have also funded improvements in natural capital, such as restoring and expanding areas where peat was in danger of releasing greenhouse gases.
It has been interesting to note that the companies winning lease competitions—those most prepared to deliver local benefits—are state-owned developers. We share the ambitions of these other nations, and we are determined to maximise the value that Wales receives from Welsh national assets used to generate energy. For the last two years, we have been working with NRW to assess the level of wind generation the woodland estate can support and to consider how to make sure that Wales keeps more of the benefits in a changing market. Public land presents a great opportunity, however, it is only fair to take a larger share in the risks if we wish to take more of the rewards for Wales.
So, acting Presiding Officer, I am absolutely delighted to announce, as I set out in Net Zero Wales last year, that we are going to establish a Welsh state developer. We will take more risks where these are reasonable, and will earn the returns to benefit Welsh citizens. We will take forward projects on Welsh Government land and develop them commercially, whilst respecting the views of people and managing our natural resources sustainably. We will be delivering directly on our aims to have over a gigawatt of locally owned generation by 2030, and our manifesto commitment to at least an additional 100 MW of generation by 2026.
This is a long-term approach, and we do not expect to see returns until towards the end of the decade. However, I expect significant returns compared to our investment. The income will help us support communities—as indeed we have already seen communities benefit during COVID and now the cost-of-living crisis—from the community funds from existing windfarms. But I am particularly keen to explore how we can link these developments with retrofitting homes nearby, using local businesses. This will involve working in a different way with the private sector. I hope that that sector will welcome another publicly owned member, working on an equal footing and returning profits to the public purse. We will be working with NRW to consider how, in future, we can offer up opportunities across the woodland estate that complement our own developments, opportunities for commercial and community developers to propose joint ventures with us.
We also hope that our approach will help reshape the market elsewhere in Wales. Our deepening understanding of the economies of large-scale developments will help us set expectations about the level of local social and environmental benefit that it is reasonable to expect of other windfarms across Wales. We have a lot more work to do to set up a new company by April 2024. Alongside setting up the developer, we will develop a portfolio of projects, engaging at an early stage with communities and local authorities. We will also be looking in detail at the benefits that this approach will deliver. We will work with those who live near projects to define community benefit proposals that really make a difference to their lives. We will also work with Natural Resources Wales to make sure that those projects contribute to tackling both the climate and the nature emergencies.
I'll keep the Siambr informed on progress as we work through the establishment of the developer. I hope that you will all welcome this announcement, as Wales becomes the first home nation to have a publicly owned Welsh renewables developer. Diolch.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. It's really good to see that you're going forward in terms of looking at projects that can actually help us towards our ambitions of carbon zero, as well as putting more money back into the local economy. Now, currently, you do have a Welsh Government energy service. This has supported 242 projects, saving 716,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted, whilst generating £322 million in local income and savings. From your statement, that is the bit that really stood out for me about an announcement of a Welsh state developer and new projects on Welsh Government land that will be then commercially developed in 2024. I suppose, going back to the current Welsh Government energy service, how will this work with the new one that you're setting up, because, in 2021, only five renewable energy projects were supported by the service? So, do you agree with me that, this service, if that's going to keep running, should be challenged to increase the numbers of renewable energy projects that it supports?
Also, £5.34 million-worth of projects are being discontinued after securing finance, so the report actually states that the schemes were not built, but there is no clarity as to what has happened to the millions that were invested. So, maybe you could just elaborate on that further. Will you liaise with the service to establish what has happened to that? The auditor general published a report on the public sector's readiness to meet the net-zero 2030 target in August 2022, so there is uncertainty within the sector as to whether they can meet the net-zero target.
Now just 10.4 per cent of our public sector bodies in Wales are confident that they're going to meet the 2030 target, and a further 40 per cent of public bodies neither agreed or disagreed with this statement. So, how are you confident that they're going to meet the sector's target? And another question: two months have passed since the warning shot that 90 per cent of public bodies could miss the 2030 net-zero target, so what steps are you taking to address this?
Interestingly, the health sector are accounting for approximately a third of public sector emissions in Wales. The NHS Wales decarbonisation strategy delivery plan has set a target of 34 per cent reduction in carbon emissions, but the reality is that, if only a 34 per cent reduction from them is achieved, it will then be difficult for the public sector to deliver on its overall net-zero target. So, what steps will you do, how will you work with the Minister for health and social care to see a more challenging target set by NHS Wales? Others have warned that reaching the target will require additional financial resources, and, of course, the absence of these funds will be a barrier to progress. The main thrust of your statement was about this new development company, so how will that work with the energy service you had, and how will it actually deliver? How confident—?And, I suppose, my final question is: you say in 2024; we've got the climate crisis now, is there any way at all that that might be brought forward? Thank you.
Thank you, Janet. I think most of the thrust of your contribution there was around the energy efficiency service, which is obviously not what this statement is primarily about. We obviously work with the energy efficiency service to make sure that we can get energy efficiency. You quoted some of the very good stats that we've actually had by way of results there. I'm very pleased to be working with them.
We will also be developing a community energy developer, as part of our co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru, who will pull together the community-level energy schemes that we need right around Wales—the small-scale schemes that we need right around Wales. And they will also be a combination of generation of electricity—so from your solar panels, from your small-scale hydro and so on, which I know you're interested in—but also work on the energy efficiency of the buildings that are part of that community project. So, obviously, what we also need to do is reduce demand for the generation of electricity.
What this statement is about, though, is a very large-scale developer owned by the Welsh Government, starting off on Welsh Government land, to take its place in a number of companies already working throughout Wales. Scottish Power, for example, provides, as I know you know, the grid in north Wales. This, acting Presiding Officer, is one of the old cliches come to life: so, the best time to do this was probably about 40 years ago, and the next best time is now. So, here we are—we are doing it. What we are doing as well is inviting a joint venture with private sector companies—I say 'private sector' with inverted commas around it, because most of them are the Swedish national power company, the Scottish national power company, the German national power company, the Danish, you know, these are companies that are already there, so they're not really private sector; they're state-owned operators—to work alongside us to make sure that, in generating the kind of energy that we need right across Wales from all kinds of renewables, although starting on the Welsh Government estate with wind, we return the investment in that, not just in community benefits but the actual investment back to the people of Wales, as those other companies are able to do to their national citizenry. In doing that, we will, of course, be able to redeploy that investment back into energy resilience and into energy efficiency, which are two sides of the same coin—I completely agree with you.
So, I'm glad that you welcome this. It will take us a year to set the company up properly, because this is a major investment strategy, which we must do in order to get our just transition agenda really running. I know that you share our ambition that the people of Wales, in transitioning to a green economy, should not suffer the problems that we suffered in previous industrial revolutions. So, this is the first major step forward in making sure that we secure the wealth of our renewable industry for the people of Wales.
Thank you, temporary Chair, and thank you, Minister, for your statement. It’s good to hear more about how the public sector can play an important role as we all tackle the climate and nature emergencies.
This has already arisen, but I think it's worth us discussing this. It did cause concern that Audit Wales said over the summer that it was not clear whether the sector would reach the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. The auditor general said that the public bodies needed do more, faster, and we heard that there are major challenges on the way for them, and that the Welsh Government needed to help them to overcome those challenges.
As we've heard, of the 48 public bodies that Audit Wales spoke to, only two had fully assessed the financial implications of meeting the 2030 goal. The public bodies said that they needed more investment, and that they needed to find new ways—agile ways—of using their funding. So, could I ask you, Minister, first, to respond to these financial concerns and say how the Welsh Government will support decarbonisation in the public sector, perhaps focusing on our energy system? Also, problems were revealed in terms of capacity and skills gaps in the sector. The bodies said that their resources were already being used at full capacity while they were dealing with core services, and that they didn't always have the specialist skills to deal with the complex nature of decarbonisation.
I'm sure that you would agree, Minister, that we need a workforce with these green skills so that we can see the change that is needed. So, could I ask you to set out your vision for the workforce? Further to that, how is the Government encouraging collaboration in the public sector on these issues? The auditor's report talks about the importance of sharing information, capacity and expertise, and I would like to hear your perspective on that.
Last but one, data is a significant challenge here. It's clear that the future of our energy system, and the role of the public sector in decarbonisation, depends on having reliable data. The auditor called on public bodies to improve their intelligence on carbon emissions. So, what is the Government doing to support that and what's being done to improve the Government's data collection in considering this issue? Finally, Minister, I’d like to ask: what did you mean by 'returns'? You said
'we do not expect to see returns until...the end of the decade'.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
Are you talking about projects through that, or returns on investment? And finally, in terms of the timescales, 'the end of the decade' is what you said. Now, do you agree that, certainly in terms of community energy projects, we need to act more urgently than that?
Thank you very much. I’m sorry if that was a bit quick for the translator.
There’s no need to apologise to our interpreters. They are more than able in interpreting everything said in this Chamber.
And I for one am very grateful to them indeed, Llywydd, because I’m afraid my Welsh isn’t up to discussing renewable deep-dives at the moment, much as I wish it was.
So, Delyth, I’m very grateful indeed for those remarks. You covered quite a big area in quite a small amount of time there, so I’ll just do my best to answer some of it, but I’ll start from the premise of the statement, which is that this is the announcement of us making a state-owned, large-scale energy developer. So, this is a scale hitherto unknown in the projects that are owned by communities across Wales. This is a major developer. That’s why the returns will take a decade to come in, because it will take that long to build the first windfarm, which we have a plot already allocated for, but we will have to go through the whole development of that, including all the planning consent and the community engagement and all the things that we expect other developers to go through. So, obviously, we have to invest upfront to enable the developer to do that, and we won’t have a working windfarm producing its profits back for some time. So, that’s what the lag in this particular thing is.
The other thing to say is that unless we decarbonise our grid rapidly—and, frankly, I’ve given up on the UK Government’s ability to act in this space; I hope I’m wrong and that they sort themselves out, but, at the moment, it’s not looking great. It remains to be seen who the new Secretary of State is. But unless we decarbonise the grid, of course public sector bodies right across Wales will struggle, including the health service, because decarbonising the grid from which they get their energy in the first place is one of the big steps forward, and that’s the same for housing and for commercial operators right across Wales. I think I’ve said in this Chamber before, Llywydd, that we were having a good discussion with the then Minister about having a planned grid for Wales, a network development arrangement that allowed us to plan out the grid and not react to market forces all the time. I really hope that survives the current turmoil in the UK Government, because of course that allows us not only to put our big renewable generators in place, but much, much more importantly, Delyth, it allows all the little community schemes across Wales to connect into the grid, both to pull energy out when they need it, but, much more importantly, to feed energy in when they have surpluses, thus helping with the whole cost-of-living crisis and with decarbonisation.
Clearly, as I said in response to Janet, this is one side of a two-pronged approach. You’ll know that, under the co-operation agreement, we’re looking to make Ynni Cymru. Ynni Cymru will be the community energy developer across Wales for all the small projects, pulling them together. It’s under discussion at the moment but probably—well, I hope—it will have a relationship with or even take over the Welsh energy service in order to get both sides of that—the decarbonisation, insulation, retrofit side and the energy generation side—coming together, because we both have to reduce the demand on our generation and make sure that we use that that we have generated very efficiently in order to get anywhere near net zero.
In terms of skills, we work very closely with both my colleague Jeremy Miles and my colleague Vaughan Gething to make sure that we have both the economic development opportunities highlighted and we have the skills production there, so we take on the right apprentices, we make sure that we work with our further education colleges to be producing the right kinds of apprentices to work on these projects, but actually we’ll also be working, of course, with our universities as well, because one of the big benefits of having a state-owned developer is that it will be designed and run here in Wales. We will not be importing something that has most of the big jobs back in whichever state operator you care to mention. So, I’m really excited by this prospect. This is a big step forward in a patchwork of things that we need to do together in order to get the greener and much better green economy for Wales that we all want.
Faced with the incredible scale of the climate change emergency that we face and the need to hit net zero, this is a very welcome statement today, and particularly the proposals around a Welsh state developer. What I want to ask you, Minister, is: you'll know that right on my doorstep—I'm not asking you to comment on the individual application, don't worry, and it's not to come to you until, I think, in 2023—we have the proposal for the Bryn development. This will be one of the largest in Wales, if not in Europe. It will also be some of the tallest wind turbines. I've been a consistent advocate, by the way, of wind power all these years. These are directly opposite my house; I remain a consistent advocate of them because of that challenge that we have. But it's really interesting that it just overlaps; the timing is just wrong. This could have been one of the state developer ones. Okay, so if it's wrong, you also put in your statement:
'Our deepening understanding of the economies of large-scale developments will help us set expectations about the level of local social and environmental benefit that it is reasonable to expect of other windfarms across Wales.'
Well, this is one of those other ones. What shall I say to them when I next meet them on behalf of my constituents about the level of community engagement, interest, shareholding, payback, retrofitting, whatever, that we should expect of them if this is going to be one of the biggest onshore wind developments not just in Wales but in Europe? What should we be demanding of them?
Thank you very much, Huw. So, obviously, I'm not going to comment on that particular one, but just in general, one of the reasons we want a state player owned by us, the citizens of Wales, is to put pressure on all the other developments across Wales to show what can be done in a joint venture between a state-owned developer and community engagement and the joint venture partner. We've done a really good job with the community benefits, but community benefits are limited; you're not getting direct profit back from that. It's a profit share of sorts, but it's not a direct profit. What we're looking to do is have windfarms across Wales—and I absolutely emphasise I'm not talking about any particular one here—we want windfarms across Wales to seriously engage with us in making sure that, in building whatever windfarm they're building, some of the turbines are directly owned by the local community. So, they get the community benefit from the entire windfarm, but they actually directly own some of the turbines—so, they're put up on behalf of the community.
What we want to do, in development with Plaid Cymru and our co-operation agreement plans—and this is, I emphasise, under development, this is not agreed, but it's one of the discussions we're having—is to see whether that company—so, not this one I'm talking about here, but that other company—will be able to facilitate that ownership on behalf of local people, because one of the big issues for us is that local people are unlikely to be able to buy into stocks in those companies. So, to facilitate that ownership. So, a much more direct relationship, and, of course, therefore, a much more direct relationship throughout the whole process—so, in engagement, in design, in build, in skills, in delivery of energy projects and retrofitting of homes, in upskilling whole communities.
One of the things I often say in conversations with the renewables—and this is why the grid part of this is so important—is that all over Wales there are homes that can look out of a window and see a windfarm but who are on off-grid oil, who cannot upgrade their houses in order to be able take advantage of things like air-source heat pumps because the investment is too much for them. Those windfarms can make a direct contribution to that. We need to upskill our communities to be able to ask for the right thing in community benefits. We need to get them the direct profit from owning some of the turbines, and this large-scale developer will be a big player in helping that conversation go along the joint venture lines.
I hasten to say again I'm not discussing any particular application here, but, clearly, what we're trying to do is put pressure into the whole system to make it behave in a particular way, and I hope this will not only be for onshore wind, but will also be for offshore wind. We've had very good conversations with the Crown Estate so far. We are very much hoping to have a similar conversation about the ownership and operation of offshore wind as well, because then we are talking serious amounts of energy being generated.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. As I'm sure you will remember, Minister, Monmouthshire County Council, back when I was leader, took the initiative to establish its own solar farm on council-owned ground in Crick. The intention was to generate renewable power for around 1,400 homes and to reduce carbon emissions. The council asked the then Welsh Government to join the project as a partner, and we received welcome support and funding via the invest-to-save green growth fund to help deliver that. I'm sure there are many other great examples across all authorities and you pointed out a couple I know, and I hope that local government will bring forward very detailed energy plans, and I welcome the initiatives you have announced today so that we can scale up energy projects and deliver them at a greater pace at local level.
The renewable energy deep-dive carried out last year recommended that we needed to look at ways of improving access to public land and local energy projects, as well as building additional capacity within the community enterprises, to help kick start those new schemes. Minister, I just wanted to know roughly how you are working with the Minister for local government to develop additional knowledge and capacity within local authorities and regional structures to help scale up existing and new renewable energy schemes, so that we can create a larger, more sustainable sector. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Peter. I very much do remember that, with great pleasure as well. And one of the things we want to do is to assist councils to bring forward renewable energy schemes that do a number of other things as well—so, for example, enhance biodiversity, encourage tree planting around the edge and so on, all the things we discussed in Monmouthshire's bid, and, actually, with a large number of other authorities across Wales.
So, we have a regional energy strategy—I'm sure you remember this; it was a subject of much conversation—and we've supported each region to identify the scale of change needed to reach a low-carbon energy system for its region. The regional strategy set that ambition. They don't have enough detail in them at the moment to inform the actual delivery stage, but they will form the basis of our energy plan for Wales. We'll then be doing a lot more detail through the local area energy planning—we've piloted with Conwy and Newport, I think I mentioned already—and then we'll be rolling that out for similar support to all local authorities, delivering on our commitment for all areas of Wales to have a detailed local energy plan by March 2024. That will help us talk to the grid operator, who we hope will now be a planned grid operator, about what the energy requirement in each of those areas is and what the energy efficiency requirement in each of those areas is, through the energy service and through the area plans, done with our local authority partners, without whom we wouldn't be able to do any of this, of course. And then that will provide the skeleton plan for the national energy plan for Wales, which will be the blueprint to guide a coherent grid—hallelujah, the holy grail of a coherent grid—planned for now and for the future, with both upgrading for the grid lines along north and south Wales, but also to fill in what is effectively no grid right across very large parts of central Wales.
So, we are putting in place those plans, with our local authority partners, and Rebecca and I have had many conversations about this with local authority leaders. In fact, it's a standing item in the partnership council to address net zero and the climate and nature emergencies. So, we are absolutely reliant on them to do this, but they are very happy to do it with us, to get that coherent planned system in place, so we understand what we need, we understand what our ambition is, we can deliver it both locally and at this new, big national level in order to get the best return for the people of Wales out of our abundant natural resources.
I very much welcome the initiative to set up a new state-owned company. We need to learn from the experience of Norway, which, when they discovered oil there, they set up what is now the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. And what were we left with? Nothing; it's all gone up in a puff of smoke and the private companies have gone off with all the money.
So, I've long been frustrated that NRW hasn't been able to develop renewables itself, rather than giving concessions to foreign companies of one sort or another, because the communities who reside in the areas where we have such potential do not understand the value of the renewable activity that is going to go on in their area and, frankly, these companies have been allowed to get away with offering peanuts. There are so few renewable energy schemes that have actually directly benefited the local communities themselves. The Bethesda hydro scheme, which was supported by the National Trust, is one where there is direct benefit to communities, and Awel Aman Tawe, which I'm an investor in, has also benefited local communities directly. But it's a complicated story, is it not, to try and invest in new energy. But we've got so many possibilities of developing renewable energy in Wales and we know that we can sell it to any number of countries abroad, once we've satisfied our own needs. So, I suppose I want to understand a bit more about the timescales, because I appreciate that caution is required to get the terms of any joint venture project right, but, in the meantime, we have this raging energy crisis. How quickly can we be, in parallel, developing potential schemes that are going to be oven-ready once you've got the financial terms right with whoever your joint venture partner is going to be?