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 and welcome to this Plenary meeting. The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister. I've been notified, under Standing Order 12.58, that the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd will answer on behalf of the First Minister this afternoon. The first question is from Hefin David.
1. How is the Welsh Government supporting the development of social housing in areas of high demand? OQ58682
Diolch. The Welsh Government supports this process through oversight of the new local housing market assessments. Local authorities must carry out such assessments, but, from April 2022, their product will be reviewed and signed off by the Welsh Government.
The Minister will be glad to know that Caerphilly is currently working on its local development plan, and she'll remember how that went in the past. So, I'm really pleased today to have had a meeting with the deputy leader of the council, Councillor James Pritchard, who took me through some of the plans that they're making with regard to housing. They're keen to see housing in the mid and north of the Caerphilly borough, and mid and north of my constituency too, which is really important to take the pressure of the south. One of the things he said is they are now also building in those areas council housing for the first time in a generation, which is something that I think should be praised immeasurably. He also said that, in the development of their plan, he wants to include healthcare, education and infrastructure as key components that go beyond simple housing demand in meeting housing need. Will the Minister therefore support them, using Welsh Government's resources, in that ambition?
Thank you. Well, it's certainly very good to hear that Caerphilly County Borough Council is once again building council houses. I think there's a lot of expertise that we've lost over the past 30 years in relation to building council houses, and it's been good to see our partners come together right across the country in relation to that. So, I am sure it is something that Welsh Government will be very happy to support, and, obviously, the Minister for Climate Change, who has responsibility for housing, will be very pleased to hear about that too. I think the point you make around infrastructure and public services is really important when local authorities are planning housing developments.
I'd like to thank my colleague, Hefin David, for raising this question. Minister, shop-level vacancies in Wales remain amongst the highest in Wales. According to the Welsh Retail Consortium, in the second quarter of this year, the vacancy rate was 16.7 per cent. In England, a package of measures has been introduced to regenerate high streets and shopping areas by introducing a new permitted development right, allowing empty shops and other commercial premises to be converted to residential use without having to go through the full planning process. In July, it was reported that Welsh Government Ministers would actively consider converting offices into accommodation if high-quality plans for doing so were actually put forward. So, Minister, could you update the Senedd on this issue and advise if it is the intention of your Government to introduce measures to speed up conversions of commercial premises to residential use, to provide more social housing, regenerate our high streets and remove the blight of empty buildings from the environment? Thank you.
Well, certainly, Welsh Government support change of use, if you like, in our town centres. I think we all recognise that shopping habits have changed probably for ever, and we certainly need to do something around many empty premises in our town centres. Obviously, we've got the Transforming Towns fund, which I think has been well used by the Government, and it's certainly something we will continue to support.
Good afternoon, Minister, hope you're well. I just wanted to raise the issue of affordable housing within rural areas. We've heard from Caerphilly, we've heard about the issues around shop frontage as well. The region I represent, in mid and west Wales, as many of us do here, is particularly affected by the lack of affordable properties, and, as you'll know, a further challenge is that local authorities have not been able to build because of the phosphate issue. There clearly has to be that onus on local authorities to build more social housing, but I just wonder also if we could look at the issue around private sector leasing schemes, and what work can be done to support councils to increase the number of properties being made available through the private sector leasing scheme. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you. Well, certainly, rural areas do have their very own unique challenges, and also opportunities, and I think the rural housing enablers have certainly played an important role. I know the Minister for Climate Change is looking at pilot schemes in these areas as well. And in relation to the PRS leasing scheme, that seeks to bring existing and empty properties owned by landlords onto the scheme, and, obviously, the current approach for that scheme will continue.
2. How is the Welsh Government working to engage young people in decisions relating to tackling the climate emergency? OQ58684
Thank you. Wales youth COP is being held this week, when the Welsh Government will sponsor events in which young people in Wales can discuss the climate emergency directly with Ministers and Senedd Members. These meetings take place in the context of this year’s COP27 summit, where decisions will be taken that will shape the lives of young people in Wales today.
Thank you, Trefnydd. This week, as you've alluded to, world leaders are in Egypt for COP27, to discuss how the world can avoid disaster. They do so against the backdrop of warnings from the UN that the planet is on track towards being an unlivable world, and still those leaders fail to do what's necessary to save our future. That future is the inheritance that we will give to young people, yet their voices are stubbornly absent from so much decision making on this issue that will determine the rest of their lives. And those young people really want their voices to be heard. This morning, as again you've alluded to, I hosted a youth COP meeting here in Cardiff, alongside the Deputy Minister for Climate Change and Size of Wales. And, this Thursday, events will continue, and schools across Wales will gather in the Temple of Peace to share ideas about how this world can be saved. Can you give a message, please, on behalf of your Government, to the young people of Wales about how you will involve them in Welsh decisions that will affect our collective future?
Thank you very much. I'm very pleased you were able to participate this morning in the Wales youth COP event. It is really important that our young people have their voices heard. And I think the Welsh Government has really been at the fore of bringing young people forward in relation to this. You mentioned Size of Wales, and I think that's one of our most wonderful policies. And I know, in the gallery today, there are three people who work on the Mbale tree-growing project in Uganda—Mary, George and Michael—and I'm sure, Llywydd, we would all very much like to welcome them here today.
You do raise a very important point. Two years ago, when I was at the COP—that would have been COP25—everyone was talking about a decade of action, and really requiring this was the sort of point that would take us over the edge. We're two years into that decade now, and it is not something that's coming down the track; it's something that we're all living with, the climate change issues and climate emergency, and we can see it, can't we, just by the weather events that we've had not just in this country, but right around the world. But, as you say, this is our young people's future, and it's really important that their ideas and their views are heard. And I think the events that Welsh Government have supported really enable young people to engage in a way that they perhaps haven't been able to before, and also to become more informed. I remember when my own children were young, and recycling was just starting up, it was them coming home and talking to me about it, and we know that young people will go home and talk to their families and parents about it as well. But I would like to make the point that it's not just about this week; it's about what we do in the short, medium and longer terms as well.
On that, Minister, carrying on from what you just said, how is this Government working to ensure that we utilise the new curriculum in the right way, to ensure that we create that awareness that you just outlined, with some everyday real examples, like food miles, for example, and how we teach our learners to reduce those food miles and be taught about the difference between buying food from afar and food using local produce? As well as the enormous benefits that we can all think of, in terms of quality, et cetera, and utilising and helping the local economy, they can also contribute to climate issues. So, on those everyday little things that we can do, how is this Government looking to promote that and work with young people in that way?
It is really important that we continue to work with young people and our schools in relation to this. As I said to Delyth Jewell, it's not just about this week; it's about every week, isn't it, and addressing the climate emergency in that way. Obviously, the curriculum does allow that. The Welsh Government supports eco-councils and our school councils, where these issues are discussed. And I know that looking at how we procure our food in our schools, to reduce the food miles, is something that the Minister for Climate Change and the Minister for Finance and Local Government are currently looking at.
Questions now from the party leaders. The leader of the Conservatives, Andrew R.T. Davies.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Could I begin by wishing the First Minister well in his convalescence over COVID? Hopefully, he'll be back with us as soon as possible.
Leader of the house, Keir Starmer is on record as saying he will not go the world cup in Qatar, and nor will members of his party go to the world cup. I think that's the quote that he's put on the record. You are the only Labour Government in any part of the United Kingdom, and rightly, going to celebrate Wales's success in being on that international stage. Why are you right and he's wrong?
Well, I don't think it's a matter of right and wrong. We are in government, as you point out, and I think it is different from a government politician's point of view than it is for somebody in opposition. The UK Labour Party has not called for formal government boycotts, for instance, and, I think, he and we recognise the very different positions of politicians, as I've just explained. I think UK Labour—and I don't know if the leader of the opposition has picked this up—have made it very clear that they absolutely believe it is right and proper that the Welsh Government do promote Wales on a global stage. It's the first time Wales's men's team has been at a world cup final for 64 years, and they certainly believe that they should attend as official representatives.
I agree with you that the Welsh Government should be there. I agree that Ministers should be there. But it is a fact that the leader of Welsh Labour, in opposition, is playing to the gallery, in your words, because you've highlighted how he is in opposition and you are in government. One thing that I disagree with the Welsh Government on is—[Interruption.] Well, they're rumbling on the backbenches, but it is a fact—
I think you got it the wrong way round. You got it the wrong way round.
—but it is a fact. It is a fact, it is a fact, it is a fact. But one thing I disagree with is the withdrawal of the Deputy Minister, not going to the Iran v Wales world cup. I think that would be a positive sign—sending a woman to play against a country that ultimately is oppressing women's rights—and what we should be doing is having a Deputy Minister representing the Welsh Government at that match. Can we see if that decision can be rescinded, and ultimately send a positive message that here in Wales women and men are equal and rights are respected, and that should be the world over?
So, as a Government, we regularly review how best we can promote Wales on the global stage, and our decision is that it is proportionate for the First Minister and another Minister to attend two of the group games. If we progress, and we certainly all hope that Wales does progress through the group games and on to the next stage, we'll consider appropriate ministerial attendance at those games.
But it is a fact that you have withdrawn the Deputy Minister, who was down to go to that match. As I say, I regret that decision, because I think it would have sent a positive signal about the rights here in Wales and what we want to see replicated around the rest of the globe. We support Welsh Government's participation in promoting Wales on the world cup stage. One thing we do want to understand, though, is how the Welsh Government will highlight our objection to some of the poor practices in employment rights in Qatar, and, in particular, those of the LGBTQ+ community who are oppressed in Qatar. How will the Welsh Government be promoting the rights of people and making sure that those objections are heard loud and clear in the decision makers' corridors of power in Qatar?
The leader of the opposition will be aware that the Football Association of Wales—and that's the entirety, the players and the management—have already committed to the One Love armband campaign, for instance, to express solidarity with LGBTQ+ communities across the globe, and we've made it very clear that we support that position. I was very heartened to hear a member of the FAW on the news, last week, being very forceful that the captain would be wearing such an armband, and when asked, if FIFA told them they couldn't, what would they do, he said, 'We will wear it'. And I think we would absolutely continue to support that. I know the First Minister will be meeting with the Rainbow Wall fans group ahead of the tournament. He's also met already with the International Trade Union Confederation, together with the FAW. I haven't seen the programmes of either the First Minister or the Minister for Economy when they are out in Qatar, but I know that they will be taking every opportunity to ensure that our values are absolutely front and centre, and that they will certainly have those discussions when they're there.
The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price.
Diolch, Llywydd. Last month, the United Nations Environment Programme published its emissions gap report for 2022. It contained a stark message for humanity, as we've already heard, with the international community falling far short of the decarbonisation objectives outlined in the Paris agreement. There is currently no credible pathway to reducing global heating below 1.5 degrees.
The current UK Government cannot be trusted to show any credible leadership in the fight against climate change. It's vital, therefore, that Wales demonstrates robust and decisive leadership on this matter. On this basis, could the Minister please explain why, as recently reported by the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee, there has been a slow-down in renewable energy development in Wales since 2015? And when is the Government going to bring forward its proposed new renewable energy targets, as it has promised to do this year?
Thank you. I think that you are right; it is really important that every country shows leadership, and I certainly think the UK leadership, being the member state, should do so. I'm very pleased that the Prime Minister changed his mind and is attending COP27, because I certainly think the UK Government do need to step up to the plate. As a country, here in Wales, we absolutely show leadership. I've attended COPs myself, when I was the Minister with responsibility for the environment. Certainly other states and regions looked to us to see what we had done in our fight against the climate emergency.
You mentioned renewable energy, and we have certainly increased significantly the amount of renewable energy that we produce here in Wales. I don't have the figure to hand, but certainly we had seen an increase, I thought, year on year, over the past few years. Obviously, the Minister for Climate Change recently announced the renewable energy development and she will be bringing forward the strategy as soon as possible, and is making a statement this afternoon.
We look forward to that statement. One of the key questions is how we can emulate the success that we've seen in Scotland. We have the potential there, but we have not, to date at least, been able to realise it.
One of the key themes emerging from COP27 is that rich nations in particular are failing to uphold their responsibilities to support decarbonisation efforts in developing countries and dealing with the effects of climate change. Does the Welsh Government support the principle of loss and damage compensation by rich countries to poor ones? Although we are a small nation, Wales does have both a disproportionate contribution in our history, but also a disproportionate climate footprint in relation to the rest of the world.
Could the Minister explain whether the Welsh Government will consider establishing a Wales food commission, as recommended by the WWF? It's one of the key issues. Agriculture in now on the table. There's been a big battle for that. But, in terms of Wales, can we get a Wales food commission as a means of overseeing a more ecologically conscious food system strategy? Your Government has called for a team Wales approach to climate change. All the opposition parties support the idea of a Wales food commission. Will you work with us to achieve it?
You raised three different points there. You referred to Scotland, and I think you're right, we can learn from Scotland. Recently, last month, the First Minister, the Minister for Economy and I attended the Ireland-Wales Forum, where we had a round-table discussing renewable energy, and people did want to talk about Scotland. Certainly, I know that the Minister for Climate Change, who's got responsibility for energy, has met with people who are looking at how our planning regime is in relation to new energy developments, for instance, and what we can learn from Scotland in relation to that. We have an abundance of wind, rain and tidal range that we can use to our benefit in relation to renewable energy.
You ask if we support reparation in relation to the climate emergency and climate change. Yes, we do.
In relation to the food commission, you'll be aware that I'm having discussions at the moment, both with Cefin Campbell as part of the co-operation agreement and also Peter Fox, with the Bill that he's bringing forward, to see what we can do. I don't think we need a separate food commission. I think there are things, certainly in Peter Fox's Bill, that we can do without legislation. The concern about a food commission is: where will the money come from? That's something that we're certainly looking at. I'm very keen to continue to talk to both Cefin and Peter in relation to that.
I'd like to return, finally, to the issue raised earlier about the world cup. You may be aware of a report this morning that the Qatar FIFA World Cup ambassador, Khalid Salman, has described homosexuality as 'damage in the mind', and has said he is worried that children may learn something that is not good from the presence of LGBTQ+ people in the world cup. You referred to the Rainbow Wall; of course, they've decided that they cannot go to this world cup. I've seen discussion that the Football Association of Wales is having with the Qatar Government about creating safe houses for LGBTQ+ people, but the fact that there even has to be that discussion, and that there can be no guarantee ultimately that LGBTQ+ people will not be subject to discrimination and, indeed, even imprisonment, I think shows the gravity of the situation that we're facing.
So, in the light of these most recent comments, will the First Minister potentially be reconsidering his intention to attend? I notice that the Qatar foreign Minister has also said that the criticisms of Qatar in relation to human rights and in relation to migrant workers are arrogant and hypocritical. Does the Welsh Government share that view?
So, I can't answer the question as to whether the First Minister will be reconsidering his attendance because, obviously, I'm unable to speak to him—he's unwell—but I'm sure his office will have heard your questions. So, I don't really feel I can answer that.
3. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to encourage Welsh local authorities to publish energy company obligation—ECO4—statements of intent? OQ58654
The Welsh Government is supporting the development of a Wales-wide energy company obligation flex statement of intent for use by local authorities. This single statement encourages more local authorities to take advantage of the scheme. The Minister for Climate Change will make a wider statement on company energy efficiency in Welsh homes later this afternoon. [Interruption.]
I can't hear what the Minister is saying.
I think I heard enough, Llywydd, to ask my follow-up question, if you don't mind. Thank you very much.
Yes. If you heard, that's fine.
Thank you, and thank you, Trefnydd, for your response on that question. A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Blue Turtle Group, who are based in the queen of resorts, in Llandudno, and Blue Turtle are a company who process the applications for the ECO4 scheme. As you'll be aware, Trefnydd, it's a UK-wide scheme, an initiative that requires energy companies to fund grants from their profits to improve the energy efficiency of people's homes, the main objective being looking to improve the energy efficiency of those who are on the lowest income, and perhaps who are vulnerable. It's worth £1 billion a year and it's expected to upgrade 450,000 homes across the UK, and I think Wales should be doing its utmost to get the most of that £1 billion and to see an upgrade to as many homes here in Wales as possible, because it's such an important time in terms of both the cost of living and the climate emergency.
So, in light of this, how is the Welsh Government looking to ensure that this scheme is maximised for Wales, and what support is the Welsh Government giving to local authorities to ensure that those applications for this funding are processed as easily and as quickly as possible?
Thank you. Working with our partners, Welsh Government explored the ECO flex process to develop an optional Wales-wide statement of intent, so as to make it as easy and as attractive as possible for local authorities to engage with this scheme. I know that officials are continuing to work with the Welsh Local Government Association, local authorities and also the Cardiff capital region so that an approach can be developed that maximises the participation of our local authorities, makes it attractive for energy suppliers, and overcomes those barriers to engagement that we all know are often there in any new scheme. Proposals will soon be submitted to the Minister for Climate Change for her to formally consider.
I think what that collaborative approach really does is to support the recommendations that were made by the Senedd's Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee when they had their inquiry—I think it was back in 2020—into fuel poverty, and they came forward with recommendations. What they really wanted to see was closer working with the ECO.
4. Will the First Minister make a statement on the role of community pharmacies in improving the health of residents in South Wales West? OQ58648
Pharmacies play a vital role in our communities in every part of Wales. Presgripsiwn Newydd, the new pharmacy contract, introduced on 1 April, has extended the range of clinical services all pharmacies can provide, reducing demand on GPs and supporting access to treatment without the need to wait for an appointment.
Diolch. Over the last decade, services delivered by communities' pharmacies have increased, but the numbers of community pharmacies have remained pretty static, despite increased healthcare demands and reforms, such as those you've just mentioned, to support Welsh Government's vision for community pharmacy teams to support health and care services. But many of my constituents have raised issues with me regarding inadequate pharmacy services. In Pontardawe, patients are frequently having to wait over an hour and a half for their prescriptions. An application to open an additional pharmacy was however turned down by the health board and the appeal rejected by Welsh Government, despite accepting some of the arguments put forward by the community, which included all of the GPs in favour of an additional pharmacy to serve it. As a part of the 10-year plan, 'Pharmacy: Delivering a Healthier Wales', Welsh Government has committed to enhancing patient experience and to delivering seamless pharmaceutical care. So, how does the Welsh Government propose to match that vision with the current reality on the ground, which, in the case of its decision not to allow an increase in capacity in Pontardawe, the Government is actually obstructing?
If I can just say in relation to Pontardawe that, obviously, I can't comment on an individual case relating to pharmacy location appeals, but I am aware that Swansea Bay University Health Board has been working with the two pharmacies in Pontardawe over the last year to ensure that an action plan is in place to address service provision concerns.
I think you make a very important point about the role of community pharmacies, and certainly over the last decade, we have seen far more services provided. When I was health Minister, exactly a decade ago, for instance, they didn't give flu vaccines, and now it's part of normal life to be able to access your flu vaccination in a pharmacy. So, certainly, I think it's about the right person in the right place delivering that treatment for people, and community pharmacies have been able to offer an extended range of services, and now with the new contract, I think we'll see even more services being provided.
Minister, community pharmacy has changed significantly in recent years. With a network of over 700 pharmacy services rooted in our communities, these professionals have the capacity and ability to do more in both tackling health inequalities and helping people to manage their ill health when needed. What assessment has the Government undertaken to examine where in South Wales West we need to increase the number of community pharmacies, and what is the long-term ambition in developing their service offer?
Thank you. Well, I mentioned that the new contract will allow further services to be developed, going forward, and you are quite right that the role of community pharmacies has changed significantly over the last 10 years. They do play a vital role for patients. You referred to the number of community pharmacies, as did Sioned Williams, and it is fair to say there has been little change, I think, in the number of community pharmacies in Wales over the last 10 years, but we have seen an increase in the number of pharmacy professionals, and that's both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, on the register. I think it's increased by over 3 per cent.
5. What action is the Welsh Government taking to combat climate change in Wales? OQ58683
Thank you. Last year, we raised our ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Ahead of COP26, we published Net Zero Wales, our emissions-reduction plan. We are now focusing on delivery of the actions in Net Zero Wales and our current climate adaptation plan, 'Prosperity for All: A Climate Conscious Wales'.
Thank you, Trefnydd, leader of the house.
'We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.'
These are the dramatic words of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, addressing the start of COP27 in Egypt. The UN Secretary-General has given a stark, clear warning to the world that we are in the fight of our lives and we are losing. Trefnydd, I know that the First Minister of Wales is passionate, as are you, about Wales playing its part—a substantial part—in humanity's efforts to safeguard our planet for future generations. Delivering a fair and affordable transition to a low-carbon future means ensuring there are new, clean, affordable sources of renewable energy for Wales. So, Trefnydd, what is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that we deliver on our net-zero obligations in ways that will benefit all the communities of Wales?
Thank you. Delivering a fair and affordable transition to a low-carbon future means ensuring that there are new, clean, affordable sources of renewable energy for Wales. We also need to grow a resilient economy, in which we can continue to seize and exploit opportunities in those new and green technologies and markets. But, they've got to be underpinned by a mature, innovative and competitive industrial base. I think the words you used, fair and affordable, are really important. The Minister for Climate Change has made it very clear that it has to be a just transition, and that no-one must be left behind.
You'll be aware of our deep dive into renewable energy that was undertaken earlier this year. That really outlined the opportunities that are available. It also discussed the barriers that, of course, are there to overcome, and the proposed actions that we can take if we are going to upscale our renewable energy generation here in Wales. I mentioned in my earlier answer to the leader of Plaid Cymru that the First Minister and I attended a round-table at the Ireland-Wales Forum in Cork with renewable energy producers and developers, and they certainly see the opportunities that we have here in Wales in relation to that.
The Minister for Climate Change has set out policy on the importance of local ownership of energy developments, because I think it's really important that those communities retain those social and economic benefits from hosting new energy-related developments. But, I think it's fair to say we do need the UK Government to step up to the plate and provide a stable environment for that investment, because I remember when solar panels were all the rage, and then they took away the tariff for that. I went to a farm where farmers had put a hydro scheme on their farm, and were very keen to go to the next valley to help a farmer there put one in, but by then the feed-in tariff had gone. So, I think it's really important that the UK Government do step up to the plate in relation to that.
As Sameh Shoukry, COP27 president designate, stated only last week,
'As best available science indicates, some impacts of climate change are now irreversible and require concerted global solidarity and action, not empty rhetoric'.
Whilst the world is being told to prioritise the environmental crisis, here in Wales our environmental governance has been described by Professor Steve Ormerod as
'not being able to handle substantial environmental legal issues.'
Whilst our climate change committee has welcomed your aim to create a greener Wales, we have been abundantly clear that it is imperative that environmental law is underpinned by a robust governance framework that provides effective oversight of implementation and accountability of Government when it fails to deliver. In light of the global call for urgent action to protect our environment, why has your Government—[Interruption.] Are you listening to your Minister? Sorry. Why has your Government not prioritised the implementation of the statutory environmental governance oversight body that your Government promised during the last Senedd term? Why have you failed on this, Trefnydd? Diolch.
Well, if we hadn't left the European Union, we wouldn't have any gaps in our environmental governance.
6. Will the First Minister provide an update on the qualifying criteria for flash and continuous glucose monitoring technology for diabetes management? OQ58672
Updated qualifying criteria are published regularly by the bodies responsible for clinical guidance. Health Technology Wales's latest advice on these matters was published in July 2021. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence updates its guidelines in June.
Thank you, Trefnydd. As you know, the most recent update in NICE guidelines concerning the eligibility for flash and continuous glucose monitoring, CGM, is without a doubt a major step in helping those who live with type 1 diabetes access better technology in managing their blood glucose levels. This is important because not only does it help people manage their lives, and in particular their daily activities better, but, long term, it will reduce the number of avoidable long-term health conditions they experience, such as peripheral neuropathy and microvascular and macrovascular blood vessel damage. Therefore, this technology will not only improve the overall health of those with type 1 diabetes, but also improve mortality rates.
In response to a written question by Hefin David on 22 April this year, the health Minister cited staff training obligations as a possible obstacle to implementing the new NICE guidelines. I'm aware, in some cases—and this isn't to downplay healthcare professionals—that patients actually have considerably better knowledge of the new technology available to them and how it works than health professionals, and there's a great deal of variation of the training received between health boards. With this in mind, Trefnydd, what commitment will the Welsh Government make to ensure that all healthcare staff in Wales are fully trained in the use of and implementation of flash and CGM technology? Thank you.
Thank you. I think you raise a very important point, because continuous glucose monitoring is recommended for all type 1 diabetics, and it is important that they are able to access that. I'm not aware of any announcement from the Minister for Health and Social Services in relation to all healthcare staff having that ability, but, obviously, she's in the Chamber and has heard your question, and if there is anything further, I will ask her to write to you.
7. How is the Welsh Government improving access to advocacy services? OQ58653
A range of services continue to be developed across Wales. In the current Senedd term, we will, for example, increase access to mental health advocacy to meet new liberty protection standards and also create a new advocacy service for parents whose children are at risk of removal into public care.
Thank you, Trefnydd, for your response. I do welcome what the Welsh Government has been doing around advocacy services, especially for children and young people around the active offer. However, the recent report by the Children's Commissioner for Wales highlighted that, despite some improvement, health-related advocacy services in particular are still not available for all young people who need it. For example, the report states that, unfortunately, there has been very little progress from the Welsh Government on supporting health boards to improve the advocacy offer. With work that started in 2020 to engage with health boards and advocacy providers stalling due to the pandemic, and then, as noted in the report, not being resumed since, Minister, does the Government have any plans to ask health boards to assess how they are currently implementing the active offer, and whether services are accessible and include face-to-face services? And how do you respond to the commissioner's call for the option of advocacy services to be extended to all young people who need it when assessing health services, and for this service to be well advertised and promoted?
Obviously, advocacy can take many forms. It can be informal, it can be formal. I think you're referring to more formal approaches. Every type of advocacy has its own benefits in the way it supports individuals. We do have advocacy services for health. You'll be aware of the new citizen voice body for health and social care, which is replacing our community health councils. Obviously, the new CVB will reflect the views and interests of the people of Wales. In relation specifically to children, obviously we have a national approach to statutory advocacy for children and, since 2017, as part of that, we have developed an active offer of advocacy for children and young people who are absolutely entitled to have that active offer from a statutory, independent, professional advocate going forward.
8. How is the Welsh Government supporting the work of the Valleys Regional Park? OQ58660
The Welsh Government is providing funding and policy advice to support the delivery of the Valleys Regional Park. In light of the withdrawal of EU funding, we are working with regional partners to develop a sustainable funding model in line with regional and Welsh Government strategies.
Thank you, Trefnydd. The Valleys Regional Park delivers a range of positive interventions, promoting health and well-being, offering adult education opportunities, protecting the environment, and enhancing the tourist offer in the Valleys, thereby boosting our local economies. Discovery gateways like the Dare Valley County Park mean that our Valleys communities can access these literally on their doorsteps. The Valleys Regional Park has, as you said, in the past been supported by European funding, which has been lost, obviously, through Brexit. With replacement funding being taken out of Welsh Government control, and with no levelling-up fund bids confirmed so far, what confidence do you have that such initiatives can continue during the economically turbulent times ahead?
You're right; we're certainly facing a significant loss—over £1.1 billion—in unreplaced EU funding between 2021 and 2025. You mentioned levelling-up funding. Obviously, the Welsh Government has been denied access to the shared prosperity fund or any sort of decision role in how the funds are going to be allocated here in Wales. I think it's fair to say it's an abject failure as a replacement for EU funding. We haven't received any money, whereas if we'd still been in the European Union we would have had funding almost two years ago now, in that period I just mentioned, 2021-25. I also think devolution has been bypassed, so it clearly is a huge concern for us. As you say, we're in very turbulent financial times, so what we're having to do is have discussions with our partners to see how we can make sure that we don't lose these amazing schemes that are already in place.
9. What is the Welsh Government doing to promote renewable energy generation? OQ58642
We want Wales to produce sufficient renewable energy to meet our own needs and to retain the economic and social benefits of doing so. We are creating a public sector renewable developer as we maximise the potential for both onshore and offshore wind energy.
Diolch, Trefnydd. A couple of weeks ago, RenewableUK Cymru marked Wales wind energy week by hosting a reception here in the Senedd. Trefnydd, I'm sure that you'll have been bored of me taking every opportunity since my election to repeatedly highlight the exciting opportunity and potential that lies off the south Pembrokeshire coast in the Celtic sea in regard to renewable energy, specifically floating offshore wind, which can not only help meet our energy needs but also provide high-quality employment opportunities too. It's worth noting, indeed, that the UK has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than any other G20 country since 1990. During the reception, I spoke with industry representatives who expressed their concerns as to whether the existing port and supply chain infrastructure and planning regime is sufficient to support the generation of both green and blue energy, particularly those schemes proposed by Blue Gem Wind and RWE Power, within the time frames required to be commercially viable. Given this, and in anticipation of the climate change Minister's statement this afternoon, what reassurances can you provide to these organisations and to others wishing to invest in the Celtic sea that your Government is on the side of renewable energy projects? Diolch.
As I said in my earlier answers to two of our colleagues, the First Minister and I met with many of these developers—and Blue Gem was absolutely represented around that table—in Cork, where we had those discussions. They're absolutely under no illusion that the Welsh Government is there to support them as they bring these projects forward.
10. What action is the Welsh Government taking to support the armed forces community in Wales? OQ58659
The Welsh Government works to ensure that servicepeople, veterans and their families are supported in the spirit of the armed forces covenant. In devolved areas including health, education, housing and employment, the Welsh Government aims to ensure no-one is disadvantaged by their service. Where applicable, special consideration is applied.
Thank you for that response on behalf of the Welsh Government, Trefnydd. Can I ask you about armed forces liaison officers? They've been an incredible addition to the wonderful team that has supported our armed forces community across Wales in recent years, and they do some wonderful work in making sure that the armed forces covenant is being upheld by local authorities and other public sector organisations. But as you will be aware, the funding for those armed forces liaison officers currently ends in March of next year. I want to see that funding continue, and so do all members of the cross-party group that I chair. I would be very grateful to have confirmation today, in this Remembrance Week, that that funding will go beyond the end of March into the future.
Thank you. As you know, the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership is leading a debate this afternoon on armed forces. I don't want to steal her thunder, but I don't think I'm saying anything that isn't in the public domain; I've heard her say many times that she is absolutely committed to continuing to fund our armed forces liaison officers.
As the vice-chair of the group on the armed forces, I'd like to echo the points that Darren Millar has made. The armed forces liaison officers form a critical part of the infrastructure of the provision of services, and the representation of need within local government across Wales. We were able to extend the funding—I think it was for two years—which runs out now in March, and it would be a really essential and good use of public money to ensure that this funding becomes a permanent feature of this public service architecture.
So, I refer, really, to my answer to Darren Millar. I think we all recognise the very important work of the armed forces liaison officers here in Wales.
Thank you to the Trefnydd, and best wishes to the First Minister for a speedy recovery.
The next item will be the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement—Lesley Griffiths.
Thank you. There are a few changes to this week's business. I will make a statement on avian influenza later this afternoon, and the statement on the response to the UK Government's financial plan and economic forecast and the debate on the LCM on the Northern Ireland protocol Bill have been postponed until 22 November. 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, can I call for a statement from the Minister for local government on the news that scores of asylum seekers are being housed at a luxury hotel in rural Conwy in north Wales? This is something that has caused a great deal of concern amongst the community, because there's been no communication whatsoever prior to this arrangement being made with either local representatives or, indeed, I understand, with the Welsh Government or the local authority. Now, clearly, we have to make sure that accommodation is suitable for asylum seekers until their asylum claims are determined, and the UK Government has a significant challenge on its hands, but many people have had their bookings cancelled, wedding events are being cancelled, guests have had their bookings at the hotel cancelled as well. And, of course, we've got a huge strain already on many of our public services in the area, and people want to know what's going to be done to make sure that they're not also given additional burdens as a result of this decision, which appears to have been imposed upon all of us from above.
Can I ask for an urgent statement on that, and what the Welsh Government is doing to work with the UK Government and, indeed, the local authority concerned, Conwy County Borough Council, to make sure that the needs of these individuals are met and that they can be appropriately housed, not in a luxury hotel at a time when we've got lots of housing problems already in north Wales, but in appropriate accommodation that is fit for purpose?
It's very hard for the Welsh Government, or the local authority, I would say, to work with UK Government when they're completely ignored. As you say, we had no prior knowledge of this, and I want to be really clear, Llywydd, that the UK Government is responsible for immigration policy and delivery. They've got a system now that I think is broken and they really need to fix this as quickly as possible, because what we're seeing are the human consequences of that broken system, and I don't think it does anyone any good.
I know that the Minister for Social Justice is or has written to the Home Office as a matter of urgency today to make these points very, very strongly. And this isn't at you at all, but I think I would want to appeal to everybody, as you've raised this issue, that it is really best to avoid the use of inflammatory language when we're dealing with this issue. I've certainly seen words that I wouldn't have wanted to see in relation to this, and words have consequences, and I think it's really important that we all treat this issue with sensitivity and care.
Trefnydd, I'd like to ask for a statement outlining the Welsh Government's position on restricting the sale of fireworks, please. We've just had bonfire night, and as with every year, countless animals have been desperately frightened by the noises and the flashes of fireworks not just on one night, but the three, four or five nights surrounding bonfire night as well. Classic FM had put on soothing music specifically to console people's pets that were distressed, and that's a lovely thing, but surely, it really shouldn't have had to happen.
There are safety concerns for children when it comes to fireworks as well, and there's an immense difference between the wonderful professional displays that are put on in our communities and people setting them off in their own gardens. Would the Welsh Government be able to learn from the Scottish experience and their fireworks and pyrotechnics Bill, and is this an area where the Welsh Government is seeking to do more? I'd welcome a statement setting this out, please.
Thank you. You do raise a very important point, and I know that when I had the environment portfolio, I regularly met with my counterparts in the UK Government and also Scotland, because, obviously, it is a reserved matter, and it would need the UK Government to ban the sale of fireworks. But I think the important point you make is that it's not just one night; this has continued, and even last night I could hear fireworks. So, I think it is certainly something that we would want to look at, to look at the best practice to see if there is anything we could do. I don't know if the Minister for Climate Change is continuing to have those discussions with the UK Government counterpart now that we do have a new Government in place, but I think it's certainly something that we all, as Members of the Senedd, get quite a significant postbag about.
I recently met with Caerphilly constituents Ellie and Owain James. At the age of 34, Owain has been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour, and if no action is taken, the couple have been told that he will have just months to live. He's been advised on one treatment that could help him extend his life, but it's not yet been approved by NICE or the all-Wales medicines strategy group, and although very promising, it is still in the final stages of clinical trials with the medical and healthcare products regulatory agency. The only option available to them currently, therefore, is for them to pay privately—something that would cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds.
I'm also aware of the case of Caerpilly resident 15-year-old Ethan Hamer, who has been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer that requires a similar form of treatment, and that form of treatment is in the early deployment stages. Both Owain and Ethan have crowdfunding sites set up in their names, which I intend to share on my social media. I've written to the Minister for Health and Social Services on the issue, but in the meantime, could the Welsh Government bring forward a statement on accessibility to new medicines that have not yet been approved for use with NHS Wales?
Thank you, and I'm certainly very sorry to hear about the health issues that both Owain and Ethan are experiencing. What we as a Government expect is that people are able to access recommended therapies routinely through the NHS, and it's important to highlight that there are treatments that are routinely available for brain tumours. You obviously referred to new therapies that have to go through, quite correctly, both NICE and the medicines and healthcare regulatory agency trials, and they are normally developed through clinical trials ahead of that. Obviously, we would expect eligible patients in Wales to be able to access open clinical trials as well, prior to licensing any new therapy, if, indeed, that was the clinical decision that had been taken. You've done absolutely the right thing writing to the Minister for Health and Social Services, and I'm sure that she'll respond in due course.
Leader of the house, could I seek two statements? One on care workers, due to the Government's announcement back in the spring to make money available to pay the real living wage to care workers here in Wales—a welcome initiative, I might add. I've been approached by various care providers in my own region, but I understand it's similar across the rest of Wales, that this money was transferred to local authorities and there was an element of local authority discretion as to how much of the £40 million-plus budget was made available to the care providers to hit that target of paying the real living wage. In the COVID crisis, when the Welsh Government had a similar initiative to reward care workers by giving them a £1,500 uplift in their wages, that money was paid directly to the care providers so that the money could be transferred to the employees in their employment. It's my understanding that many care providers are struggling to meet this obligation now, because local authorities have taken discretionary decisions over the allocation of this money. I have written to the Deputy Minister, but could we have a statement to talk about the general implementation of this policy? And, is she conscious of these concerns that have been raised with me, as I understand Care Forum Wales have raised similar concerns with her directly, and what action is the Welsh Government taking to remediate these concerns?
And my second request for a statement is in relation to the cladding announcement that the Minister made, who I can see is in her place today, in relation to the obligations and the voluntary agreement that she reached with developers here in Wales at the start of October. It's my understanding that those developers were to come forward to the Welsh Government within one month of signing the agreement with how they propose to remediate the wrongs of the cladding on buildings in Wales, and those plans, as I understand it, should have arrived with the Welsh Government at the end of last week or beginning of this week. Could I have an indication as to whether the Welsh Government will be bringing forward a statement, so that we can understand how confident the Minister is that the developers are living up to the commitments that they've made in that voluntary agreement, and how the Government will be holding the developers to account to make sure that the remedial action is put in place as a matter of urgency?
Thank you. In relation to your first ask around the additional payment scheme for our care workers, my understanding is that local authorities have reported that 96 per cent of payments have been paid already. In relation to the 4 per cent, I think you've done absolutely the right thing writing to the Deputy Minister, and she will be able to update you in relation to that 4 per cent.
And on your second question, I'm not aware if the Minister for Climate Change has received all of the plans, but I know that she will be considering those, and if she feels that an update is required, I'll ask her to do a written statement.
I'm asking today for a business statement on the criminal age of responsibility, which is currently just 10 years old in England and Wales. In 2021, Scotland changed their policy to increase the criminal age of responsibility to 12 years old, recognising the vulnerability of some young people in society and the need to improve rehabilitation opportunities. Despite criticism from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UK Government says that it has no plan to make any changes. Children in the youth justice system have often been subjected to high levels of trauma, violence and loss, and the current system takes into account none of this, which is why children's rights groups continue to criticise England and Wales's criminal age of responsibility for its lack of ethical consideration into maturity and the neurological development of young people. Why is it that, as a society, we see children as too young to have responsibility for their own care, and yet, when it comes to crime, children are viewed the same as adults? Youth justice in Wales has centred on the concept of Children First. Children First views the child first, offenders second, and considers that children are, in fact, children and therefore need to be seen as such if and when they are involved in the justice system. How, then, can we champion this progressive approach to some of the most vulnerable children caught up in the youth justice system if UK law states that children as young as 10 have the same responsibility and maturity as adults?
Thank you. Well, the UK Government, obviously, has responsibility for justice, and that includes youth justice. If justice was devolved to Wales, we would obviously be in a position to consider this question in further detail and, more importantly, in a position to address the very valid points that you've raised. Under the current system, as I say, it is a matter for the UK Government, but I am pleased that you are standing alongside us in calling for a more progressive and evidence-based approach to this issue.
I know that the Minister for Social Justice does continue to have discussions with the UK Government around the age of criminal responsibility here in Wales. That's part of the ongoing joint work on the recommendations from the independent Commission on Justice in Wales, which was chaired by Lord Thomas. The Minister for Social Justice also has the youth justice blueprints here in Wales, which she published back in July 2019, and that does set out the Welsh Government's vision for youth justice in Wales, taking that Children First approach forward.
Please can I ask for a statement, Minister, from the Minister for health, about the real living wage? Since Welsh Government announced its financial support to social care providers to ensure that all support workers will receive the real living wage, there have been complaints that providers are not receiving the funding that was supposed to be channelled to them through local authorities and health boards. There is considerable confusion about how the money should be passed on. Some local authorities and health boards refuse to provide funding if a commissioned service isn't located in their territory, while others take a completely different approach and refuse funding if they do not directly commission services with the local provider.
One Welsh care provider expects to occur additional costs of more than £250,000 per year for implementing the real living wage increase, yet, seven months after rising wages, it has only been offered an additional £23,000 annually to cover its costs. Welsh Government has admitted that they knew that—and I quote—implementation would be challenging for local authorities and health boards in the first year, and that they are aware that there may have been different approaches across local authorities and health boards. Providers have not been reassured by the Welsh Government's vague assertion that independent dynamic evaluation and their own monitoring processes on the effectiveness of the roll-out will be able to identify improvements and develop better processes for the future. And in this economically challenging time, providers are increasingly frustrated that the Welsh Government is not providing greater leadership in resolving this urgent problem, which is causing considerable financial hardship for Welsh social care employers. So, please, Minister, can the health Minister make a statement to provide social care providers with specific details around the process of dynamic evaluation monitoring—who is managing this, what are the timelines for reporting, and when can the planned process improvements be expected? Also, where providers have had to fund the real living wage increases on behalf of the Welsh Government, will the Welsh Government reimburse them for the interest on these moneys? Thank you.
I'm not sure, Llywydd, whether the Member was in her seat when the leader of the opposition asked me the same question, but, as I said, local authorities have reported they made 96 per cent of payments in June.
Trefnydd, could I ask for an update from the Welsh Government about progress being made on the Heads of the Valleys road project, and on two issues in particular? Firstly, I'd like to ask for an update about the recent news that an eight-mile stretch of the A465 Heads of the Valleys will be subject to a series of further closures over the next 18 months. The road between Brynmawr roundabout and Hardwick roundabout will be closed periodically throughout that period, with a 25-mile diversion taking trips that were 10 minutes up to 40 minutes to complete. Clearly, this will cause massive disruption for residents and businesses, and a number of constituents have already been in touch to voice their grave concerns about the impact that this will have on them and their communities. Trefnydd, this will not be the first time that roadworks have caused disruption, and constituents are getting even more frustrated. So, please could the Government explain what works are being undertaken and why, and how any continuing disruption will be mitigated?
The other point I'd like to raise is an update of whether businesses have been fairly compensated for losses caused by roadworks linked to the project. Earlier this year, local businesses approached me with their concerns that compensation had not been received despite promises from the Government that financial help was to be made available. And so I'd appreciate it if the Government could outline how much has been paid so far and how much is left outstanding.
Thank you. You obviously refer to a very specific road in your constituency. I think it would be better, because you're obviously asking about financial compensation as well, if you wrote directly to the Deputy Minister for Climate Change.
Trefnydd, you and other Members will be aware, I'm sure, of the outcomes of the survey of NAHT Cymru, which were published today, which conveyed a very concerning picture in terms of the pressure on school budgets. We heard last week that the idea of teaching online for one day a week had been mentioned in Powys, and, in terms of the survey, that headteachers were considering job losses, as well as cutting budgets to interventions for our most vulnerable pupils. I'd like to ask, therefore, for a statement from the education Minister on the financial situation of schools, and the Government's response to the grave concerns that have been raised by headteachers.
In relation to the point you make around schools teaching online, I know the Minister for Education and Welsh Language has written to all local authorities saying that we would not wish to see schools do that. We certainly would not wish to see schools close unless the decision is based on emergency or health or safety reasons for instance. And I don't think a one-day school closure would result in significant savings for schools and would just pass the issues on to parents and carers. And we know, don't we, how school closures affect families' ability to work, and, obviously then, put pressures on other services. So, as I say, the Minister has certainly written to all local authorities and has met with NAHT and other trade unions this morning also. In relation to budgets, clearly, there are going to be pressures on all of our budgets, but I don't think the Minister is in a position at the moment, as we're waiting for the UK Government announcement in relation to budgets, and, obviously, we too are looking very closely at our budget going forward.
Trefnydd, can I ask for a statement from the Minister for Health and Social Services this afternoon regarding support for armed services veterans in the healthcare system? I was contacted by a local resident from Rhyl over the weekend whose husband, sadly, nearly committed suicide, and, without being too graphic, he was nearly successful, unfortunately. He was since treated, but what was noted by my constituent was the lack of recognition for her husband being a veteran in the triage system. Now, I believe that there is progress being made on this, but could the Welsh Government perhaps expand on why this hasn't been delivered and the plans moving forward to bring recognition for veterans into the triage system, so that they can be adequately treated for mental health problems, and, indeed, physical problems as well? Thank you.
So, you may have heard me, in an earlier answer to Darren Millar, say that certainly we do recognise that ex-service men and women and their families require access to services in a different way, sometimes, to others, and that certainly has been increased, going forward. I mentioned earlier as well that the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership will be leading a debate this afternoon, and it is a question that perhaps you could raise in that debate also.
Finally, Tom Giffard.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Age Cymru West Glamorgan is an independent charity supporting older people across South Wales West, and, for the last 20 years, they've run the Afan Nedd community centre and have provided a lunch club for over 120 people. However, in the last week, they've been forced to close their doors. And while the charity's seen utility bills rise, they've also seen their income significantly impacted by a decision of the local health board. Swansea Bay University Health Board previously announced a third sector procurement timeline so that voluntary organisations could apply to deliver local services. Age Cymru West Glamorgan invested time and funds so that they were up to spec for this, and the health board was due to award contracts this month. However, the health board has now pulled plans and will not be procuring until 2024. That decision, in part, has led to its closure, and now this means many residents will be unable to access the support on which they'd previously relied, while charities like Age Cymru West Glamorgan find themselves in financial difficulty. So could I request an urgent statement on how Welsh Government expects health boards to work with local providers and for an update on the support available for the charities affected?
I'm very sorry to hear of the situation you describe, but this is a matter for the health board, and I don't think it would be for an oral statement here.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
The next item is the statement by the Minister for Climate Change on improving the energy efficiency of Welsh homes. And I call on the Minister to make the statement—Julie James.
Diolch, Llywydd. The cost-of-living crisis is in large part driven by energy price increases affecting the price of all consumables. Whilst this is having a detrimental effect on all our living standards, it is having a devastating effect on households who are least able to pay, driving families into fuel poverty. The Welsh Government has consistently called for a social domestic energy tariff, setting lower than standard tariffs to better protect low-income households and a windfall tax on the excessive profits enjoyed by energy companies. The UK Government recently committed to an average price cap of £2,500 until April 2023. However, I remain concerned that this fails to provide the appropriate targeted support to those who need it the most.
With the levers we have, the Welsh Government has acted quickly to introduce support to help householders struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. More than £380 million has been invested since October 2021. We've expanded the support available for the discretionary assistance fund until March 2023, committing a further £25 million. More than 332,000 households have received the £150 cost-of-living payment, and the winter fuel support payment of £200 has been paid to over 204,000 households. Nearly £4 million of funding is enabling the Fuel Bank Foundation to introduce a national fuel voucher and heat fund scheme in Wales for households who prepay for their fuel. Four thousand fuel vouchers have already been issued to support struggling households. The Warm Homes programme Nest winter fuel campaign, launched on 1 November, will provide much-needed advice and signposting to vital support services. Over 8,000 people contacted Advicelink Cymru as part of the 'Claim what's yours' benefit take-up campaign, helping to claim over £2.1 million of additional income.
However, the energy system is not functioning for the benefit of householders in Wales, and fundamental energy market reform is required. I continue to urge the UK Government to take action. With limited levers to change the energy market, Welsh Government’s focus is on improving the energy efficiency of homes in Wales. Our flagship optimised retrofit programme has allocated almost £60 million in grant funding this year, with indicative amounts of £70 million for the next two years. Channelling ORP investment through social landlords supports a testing and learning approach to how to decarbonise homes effectively and efficiently. We will learn from this work to expand to the private-rented and owner-occupied sectors. We've also made a number of improvements to the Warm Homes programme Nest scheme by installing solar PV and battery storage, enabling homes to use energy at source. Over £394 million has been invested to support more than 67,100 lower income homes to improve their energy efficiency. Increased funding of £35 million is expected for the next two financial years.
Whilst we support families through these difficult times, we cannot forget climate change and the challenge of decarbonising 1.4 million homes in Wales. The Welsh Government’s focus will continue to be on supporting lower income homes who are in fuel poverty to reduce their bills and their carbon emissions.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.
We will continue to learn from previous and current programmes. Multiple Welsh and UK schemes have delivered real benefit for vulnerable households. However, we are dealing with the legacy of some very poorly designed and delivered schemes from a decade ago. I recently approved £4.5 million for schemes in Bridgend and Caerphilly county borough councils to fix over 150 homes let down badly by previous UK Government schemes. It is important that we learn from these mistakes to make a positive and lasting difference.
It is my intention to bring forward a replacement national demand-led scheme focused on homes in fuel poverty. In addition, I also intend to develop an integrated approach across all tenures and income levels to drive decarbonisation. The new demand-led service, which is expected to be procured next year, will replace the current Nest scheme, with a greater focus on decarbonisation. The additional integrated approach will follow, developing from the experiences of ORP and other Welsh housing initiatives. The first step is to encourage landlords to explore the possible use of ORP to deliver improvements to, for example, a whole small community action, rather than being a solely tenure-driven solution. This dual approach will support the development of a skilled workforce and expansion of the supply chain in Wales. The approach will also support those able to pay, providing confidence they are taking the right steps.
We are investing in a new a housing net zero carbon performance hwb to provide expert guidance on all aspects of decarbonising residential homes. The hwb will start with social landlords, but will be extended after the first year to help private landlords and home owners as well. We will also maximise the opportunity afforded by the energy company obligation scheme in partnership with local authorities. The next ECO4 has now launched, and is worth £4 billion over the next four years. Decarbonising and improving the energy efficiency of homes in Wales across all tenures, and how it might be funded, is very complex. It is also not the sole responsibility of Government. We've recently begun work with the Development Bank of Wales to look at funding options for the owner-occupied sectors. We are also bringing together a panel of experts from across the finance sector to work with us on evaluating options and shaping those viable funding solutions.
Finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, urgent action is needed across all areas of society to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases and build our resilience to the impacts of climate change. A draft strategy for public action and engagement was published on 20 October. This is one of the items being discussed during Wales Climate Week, which is 21 November to 25 November, and, of course, as Delyth said earlier, today is Youth Climate Week, which I'm very pleased to see as well. We encourage people to join us for a week of events and discussions on how we can create a greener, stronger, fairer Wales. Diolch.
I have a lot of speakers this afternoon on this item, so, please, everyone, keep to your time limits. Janet Finch-Saunders.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm sure the Minister doesn't need me to reminder her of the fact that Wales is lagging behind the rest of the United Kingdom in delivering energy-efficient homes, and this is confirmed by the consultation for the Warm Homes programme. Wales has the lowest proportion of dwellings with an energy performance certificate rating of C or above, at 28 per cent. In comparison, England, 30 per cent; Scotland, 42 per cent; and Northern Ireland, 49 per cent. This survey noted that, across the nations in Great Britain, Wales also has the oldest stock of dwellings. This survey found that newer properties were more likely to have energy efficiency measures, as demonstrated by 33 per cent using low energy lighting, in comparison to 24 per cent of dwellings constructed pre 1919. So, will the Minister agree that the Welsh Government's failure to build new energy-efficient homes for the future is having a negative impact on our climate change commitments?
I note that over £394 million has been invested through the Warm Homes programme, as of December 2021. The Welsh Government did invest £20.1 million in the Nest scheme in 2021, with a further £15.7 million of Welsh Government and European investment in the Arbed scheme. Of course, these programmes are very important in improving energy efficiency, but, as the Minister's already alluded to, although the UK Government, for some reason, was referenced, some of the programmes that have gone on before have not necessarily done everything they should have done. Nonetheless, the fact that Wales is starting from behind, with the oldest housing stock in Britain, means that the costs of the project, Minister, that you intend to roll out for this to go forward, surely, are going to have to increase. If we really want to get this done in a fast and cost-efficient way, we have to involve local businesses, including small and family-run companies, to build the new homes that we and others so desperately need. So, will you confirm, that, in addition to retrofitting, Minister, we also need to empower these small and medium-sized businesses to deliver energy-efficient housing that meets the need of local communities?
We all know there's a clear disparity between the energy efficiency of homes in rural and urban areas. Rural areas are more likely to have dwellings with lower EPC ratings than urban areas, with the opposite occurring for urban areas. During the winter, when people are already facing higher bills, many Welsh households will also be impacted by our particularly acute energy-efficiency problems and the impact will fall more heavily on the vulnerable. I, along with Members like Jenny Rathbone, am enjoying the inquiry that we're currently undertaking into retrofitting the housing stock in Wales. I don't say this too lightly, but I am aware of the challenge ahead of us here in Wales with the housing stock, and also the fact that it's no use pumping new technology into homes if they're less than basic energy-efficiency levels. So, Minister, would you agree with me that, during a cost-of-living crisis, the failure to deliver more energy-efficient homes will have a crucial impact on household bills, and this could be falling disproportionately on the rural and the elderly?
On the topic of higher bills, I have to raise the issue of the Welsh Government's commitment to tackling fuel poverty. Forty-five per cent of households in Wales are now predicted to enter fuel poverty. Broken down, this will result in 98 per cent of lower income households in fuel poverty, with four in 10 of those in severe fuel poverty. The Welsh Government says they are committed to no more than 5 per cent of households being in fuel poverty by 2035. Energy efficiency does have an important part to play in achieving this. However, Minister, I think from some of the submissions we've received from witnesses, given the size and scale of the problems facing us, we really do need to tackle this. And I would say this wholeheartedly: we need to do this cross party, but we need to really get on with it. Thank you.
Thank you, Janet. I'm not entirely certain where the questions were in that. But, just to say a couple of things, you should be very careful about statistics; they're very deceptive. You chose to look at the percentage of houses at EPC C, but, of course, we've already brought all social homes in Wales up to EPC D as part of the Welsh housing quality standard. And if you actually ever listened to anything that's said in Plenary, you'd know that we're about to launch the next Welsh housing quality standard, which I've referenced numerous times already. It seems to have passed you by.
The British Government, since you brought this up, hasn't, of course, brought any of its social homes up to EPC D. It hasn't even attempted the task. The statistics you quote are heavily skewed in favour of the south-east. So, it's always important to, as I was once told by a law professor, read all the way to the end of the page. So, I would highly recommend you do that in looking at those statistics.
In view of the other comments you made, there are three things to say. I referenced the UK Government schemes because they're the ones that have been failing and that we've had to step into the breach to save people from. It's cost us a lot of money to do that. It was morally the right thing to do. The UK Government should have done it, quite clearly.
The fuel poverty thing, let's be absolutely clear, is entirely driven by the way that the energy market is pegged to the marginal price of gas. If the UK Government wanted to fix that, it could. It has a Bill going through the Houses of Parliament right now that does not fix it. It could fix it and it has chosen not to.
It's quite clearly nonsensical to charge renewable energy in the same way as you charge fossil fuel supply. On renewable energy, clearly, the cost of that is in the capital expenditure to build it. The supply is free—the wind is free, the sun is free. The Chancellor has not yet figured out a way to tax it. But, that's not the case with fossil fuels. You have upfront capital investment to build the plants that drive it, but also the supply costs money, and that's what's driving the problems in the energy market. So, the two solutions are really straightforward. First of all, properly fund renewables. I'll just remind you once again that we would have a tidal lagoon in Swansea if the Conservative Government had listened to its own Conservative adviser about building it, and then we would have a really serious supply of renewable energy already. Absolutely, the Conservative ex-Government Minister who recommended it said that it was a no-brainer and he was absolutely right. So, lots of things have been missed here. But, the bottom line is, unless we move, shift away from fossil fuels onto renewables, and we change the energy market to match that, then we will be facing this problem, well, until there's next a Labour Government. Diolch.
Can I say that I enjoyed that response from the Minister to Janet Finch-Saunders, apart from the last sentence? I welcome that response. It is now almost a cliché to say that we are living through a period of unprecedented change. From Brexit to COVID, and now the war in Ukraine, this is all having a detrimental impact on the supply chain, with the costs of raw materials, production and transport increasing rapidly.
We know from the UK climate risk assessment that the housing stock of this state is not fit to deal with the two main climate change threats that affect public health, namely rain and floods brought about by high winds, and extreme heat. This is important because it is here in Wales that we have the oldest housing stock in Europe, with a third of the housing stock built before 1919. These homes are considered difficult to maintain. In addition to this, of course, a number of the properties in this part of Wales are listed, as I've noted several times. With old housing stock such as this, and with many listed buildings that cannot be retrofitted effectively, how is the Welsh Government going to ensure that most of the housing stock is not only energy efficient, but ensures a high standard of living for everybody?
Wales, of course, is considered a zone 4 weather zone, where there are close links between rain driven by wind, low quality housing and poor health. I was saddened to read recently about the death of a two-year-old boy in Manchester, Awaab Ishak, with the coroner linking his death directly to mold and damp in his home. The inquest found extensive mould on the walls and ceilings of the bathroom and kitchen. There was also damp and mould in a cupboard in the bedroom. The same is true of many homes in Wales, with mold and damp posing a direct threat to the health of thousands of people in social housing and in the private rented sector. The housing crisis is a health crisis, and climate change will only exacerbate this, so making homes more energy efficient is essential not only to combat climate change, but our public health emergencies. So, I would like to know what the Welsh Government is doing to respond to the health crisis through their actions in the housing sector. More specifically, what is the Welsh Government doing to reduce the presence of dampness and mould in the Welsh housing stock through their retrofitting programme?
One retrofitting model that experts in the sector do advocate is deep retrofitting, where individual homes are treated on an individual basis. This, of course, requires numerous skills, comprehensive training and a significant workforce. A retrofit programme on this scale would require a skills and training programme supported by the Government. This would ultimately reduce costs significantly, and would provide an economic boost by developing a skilled workforce across the country, providing economic benefit to all parts of Wales.
The Minister also mentioned the need to develop the workforce through ORP. So, there is an opportunity here to invest in a skills and training program to accompany the work that the Government is doing in the agreement with Plaid Cymru in developing Unnos. What steps are the Welsh Government taking to build a workforce that can provide for the needs of Wales in terms of increasing energy efficiency in the housing sector through retrofitting? Thank you.
Diolch yn fawr, Mabon. Just to say, I agree with much of what you say, in terms of the detrimental effect of poor housing on health. There's much evidence to show that housing is one of the most fundamental things that can improve quality of life and quality of health, so I absolutely agree with you there. One of the reasons we did the Welsh housing quality standard in the first place was to ensure that the social housing stock was brought to the right standard.
You may know—it has been the subject of other statements here on the floor—that we're currently looking at the regulatory framework for social landlords in Wales, with a view to making sure that landlords maintain their housing stock to the level that we want, as part of the regulatory framework. So, we'll be bringing that back to the floor of the Senedd in due course—not very long, I hope—to do that. We want the Welsh housing quality standard maintained at its current level, but then, Mabon, you will also have heard me say that, in the new year, we'll be bringing forward the next iteration of the Welsh housing quality standard to get up to the next level. We're currently in discussion with all of our social landlords about how to do that, so the social sector is then covered.
You'll be aware that we're about to implement the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, subject to the Senedd agreeing the various regulations that are still to go through. I find myself touching wood at this point in time—it has been a long time coming. But, of course, the whole point of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 is to have houses in the private rented sector that are fit for human habitation, and that includes the issues that you raised. One of the reasons that we’ve stepped in to correct some of the UK Government’s schemes, which were cavity wall insulation schemes, generally speaking, is because they have caused real mould and damp. That is the problem when cavity wall insulation goes wrong. Actually, that just demonstrates why we’re doing the optimised retrofit, because lots of cavity wall insulation has been installed across Wales with really good effect. We always talk about the ones that have gone wrong, but it’s just that one size doesn’t fit all. So, in some houses it’s great, cavity wall insulation, if it’s correctly installed and it’s the right kind of house for it and it doesn’t soak up damp into the cavity and all the rest of it. In other homes, it’s proved a very poor, retrograde step, and that’s why we wanted to have this optimised retrofit programme, or the deep retrofitting as it’s called elsewhere, because we are absolutely looking at each type of house in Wales and we are absolutely trialling out a series of techs on an iterative learn and process programme to figure out for each sort of housing that we have in Wales, including the old housing stock and the listed buildings, what will work, what can bring that particular type of house up to the best standard it can get—that might not be A; that might be C—and then what to do with those types of houses that can only be brought to that level. I’m very fortunate in some ways, as I live in a very, very old house, and it’s a privilege to do so. I regard it as a trust for future generations. But, of course, it’s much harder to retrofit such houses, but they’re part of our culture and heritage. It’s an old Gower farmhouse. These things are important for other reasons as well, so it’s important to get this right.
Then, just to reassure, ORP is a collaboration between me and the Minister for Economy and the Minister for Education, because we are very aware that not only does it bring the houses up to standard once we’ve got all the tech sorted out, but also it allows us to skill the people who are fitting the technology that’s necessary. There’s a whole range of technology there, so we would be working with our FE colleges to make sure that people coming forward who want to do gas boiler fitting, for example, are also being trained to put in a whole variety of other methodologies, and then we will be talking about a reskilling programme as we come away from gas boilers for all of the people out there who currently work in that industry to be able to put in air-source heat pumps, ground-source heat pumps and a whole variety of other things that are available.
And, as I said in my statement, one of the last pieces then is the owner-occupied section. We’re talking to the Development Bank of Wales now as we’re starting to be able to roll out ORP about what set of grants and loans will be appropriate for owner-occupiers, and what advice we can give them through the energy advice service. So, I think we’re very much on the same page apart from that last sentence, which I’ll persist in believing.
Thank you very much for your statement. It poses as many questions as it answers, but it’s useful to know the information you’ve given. This funding of £35 million for the Warm Homes programme for the next two years, is that per year, or for the two years?
Okay, so it’s £35 million for two years. Okay, that’s good. I think one of the problems we have is that people don’t know how to approach this—they’re not environmental experts. So, I welcome the fact that you are going to create this hub, but I’m concerned that, in the first year, it will only be available to the social housing sector, because whilst there is a huge threat from the massive hike in energy prices, it’s also an opportunity to get people to focus on the need to decarbonise, which we’ve all got to do anyway. I do think that people are very confused about what they should do with their particular property and they need—
Jenny, please can you ask a question?
—independent advice in order to do it. So, the question is why do you not think it’s possible to extend it to anybody who needs this free advice from the first year.
Thank you. I’ve got so many people who want to ask questions, I’ve got to keep you to time.
A very short answer, Jenny, is because we haven’t yet got all the learning out of ORP. So, the energy advice service is there to help owner-occupiers, but we’d like that to be much more specific, and we want to be sure that, when it is specific, it’s correct. So, we’re going to trial it out on our social housing providers, which we can de-risk, before we’re able to offer it. But people who want to do it now can get advice from the Welsh energy advisory service of a slightly more generalised nature about what they should do to their home for most efficiency.
Thank you, Minister, for bringing forward today's statement. As we know and as acknowledged, Wales does have an older and less energy-efficient housing stock compared to other parts of the UK, and it's part of the reason I raised the point earlier with the Trefnydd in questions about the opportunities of ECO4. So, thank you for acknowledging some of those opportunities in your statement today as well.
An idea has been mooted in the past, Minister, and also mentioned to the Minister for Finance and Local Government, and it's actually where an element of council tax could be aligned to the energy efficiency of homes, similar to the way in which cars are taxed around their emissions. This, of course, could help incentivise people, alongside grants, to make their houses more energy efficient. I'm conscious, as I'm sure you are, of your Government's commitment to reforming council tax in Wales in the co-operation agreement with Plaid Cymru. So, in light of this, Minister, what are your thoughts on the possibility of an element of council tax being based on the energy efficiency of someone's home? And will you carry out further work on this idea with the Minister for local government? Thanks.
Yes, Sam, I think we absolutely do need to look at an incentive programme for people. One of the mysteries of the world to me—you and I have discussed this when you had a previous hat on, as did I—is why house prices don't reflect various improvements. So, a huge mystery to me is why fully enabled broadband houses are not more expensive than ones that aren't, because if I was buying a house that didn't have any broadband in it, I'd knock the cost of putting the broadband in off the price of the house. So, I don't understand why that hasn't worked in the market, and energy efficiency is exactly the same. When you're buying a house, surely the fact that your bills are going to be £18 a year makes a huge difference to how much you're prepared to spend compared to several thousand pounds a year. I don't understand why the market hasn't worked.
So, we will need to look at—and Rebecca Evans and I have already started some preliminary conversations about how this might work—an incentive programme for owner-occupiers, but I will say that is in the beginnings of that conversation. As I referenced in my statement, there are discussions with the Development Bank of Wales as well about loans and grant schemes, because we want to get this right. And as I've just said to Jenny Rathbone, we want to be sure that the advice we're giving people about investing their money produces the result that they are looking for in terms of energy efficiency, and that the capital investment they make is reflected in the value they get back, both in decreased energy bills, but also in the value of the asset. So, we're working on it, we're absolutely looking at incentives, and all good ideas are very welcome.
I'm a member of the Equality and Social Justice Committee that held an inquiry into the Warm Homes programme, making recommendations in terms of lessons learnt and improving the new version of the programme. In responding to the recommendations, the Government suggested there would be an update on the next version soon after the summer recess. Your statement today, now that we are in November, is late and vague in terms of setting a clear timetable. If the procurement process, as you mention, is to happen in 2023, is it then after April 2024 that the new programme will be launched, a year later than expected? And although you mentioned some changes to the current Nest programme, why wasn't there mention of valuable changes that could be done urgently, given that fuel poverty for those who qualify is getting worse in the current crisis within the current Nest scheme, for example, combining the work on the fabric of homes, on insulation, with the work of fitting heating systems in the least energy-efficient homes?
Thanks very much for that. As I said to a couple of other people as well, first off to say that the new programme will begin before next winter. So, we will procure it and start it before next winter, just to be really clear, and there's a clear timetable for doing that and I'm very keen, obviously, that we don't go into yet another winter without doing it. But, we do want to learn a lot of lessons about some of the well-intentioned schemes from the past. Siân Gwenllian, I know, has problems in her constituency, other Members have problems, and I have them in my own, from schemes that were largely successful, but because a one-size-fits-all approach was taken, the houses that weren't suitable are really left in difficulty, and it's not always that we can help. So, we haven't been able to help all the households across Wales that have found themselves in difficulty for various complicated contractual issues around the way that those programmes were rolled out.
So, I really do think it's important to get it right, and that we don't actually inadvertently make a minority of people worse off than they were in the first place. And I'm also very keen to make sure that we can develop Welsh supply chains for this. So, you know, at the moment, some of this technology is really expensive, and the cost-benefit analysis is quite difficult, even with energy prices the way that they are. But, if we do it properly, then we will be able to get a supply chain in place that reduces the cost of that technology much more rapidly than would otherwise happen. There are lots of examples of Government procurements being able to do that, and I'm very keen to get the green jobs in Wales as well as the efficiency for the houses.
On the Nest scheme, we have been looking for some time at a way to improve that scheme, because you know that, largely, it's been putting more efficient gas boilers in in place of very inefficient gas boilers, and whilst that does of course produce some benefit for the household, with the current cost of gas, it's not producing much benefit—and anyway, it doesn't help the climate emergency, which is one of the biggest problems we've all got. So, again, trying to morph the programme, so that it doesn't take away some help from the least-able-to-cope households, but also doesn't make the problem worse in the future, has been more problematic than I would have liked it to have been, and that's the truth of it. So, what we want to do is get some programmes in place that help the most people do the best thing for their home, whether through the social landlord programme or through our councils or through our leaseback schemes or with the private rented sector.
And then, the last piece of that jigsaw is how to incentivise the private rented sector landlords to actually stay in the sector and invest, rather than just leave the sector, if we put obligations on them. So, having conversations with the private rented sector landlords, through various organisations, about the best way to incentivise that. Because most landlords in Wales only own one or two houses; we haven't got any huge landlord agents, or not very many huge landlords. So, making sure that those people stay in the sector and don't just sell up to the highest bidder is a really important part of what we're trying to do as well.
I very much welcome the statement by the Minister. I agree with the Minister that the cost-of-living crisis is, in a large part, driven by energy prices, as increases are affecting the price of not just gas and electric but many other consumables. Whilst this is having a detrimental effect on all of our living standards, it's having a devastating effect on households who are least able to pay, driving families who were just surviving into fuel poverty. I am pleased that the Welsh Government's focus will continue to be on supporting lower income families who are in fuel poverty, to reduce their bills and carbon emissions. I agree that decarbonisation, improving the energy efficiency of homes in Wales across all tenures, and how it is going to be funded is obviously complex. In Swansea East, as the Minister knows, there are a large number of retired people living in poor energy-efficient homes that they own. Will the Welsh Government consider ending the Help to Buy scheme, which has the effect of inflating house prices, and use that money to provide loans to owner-occupiers and private landlords to improve energy efficiency? And would the Minister like to comment on the Pobl scheme in my constituency?
Just on that last one: it's a great scheme, isn't it? So, the kind of collective action that you get when you're able to implement the sorts of collective energy efficiency schemes that you get in that instance is an example, and we're hoping to roll that model out. So, for Members who aren't familiar with it, we've got a new estate and an old estate coming together with an energy efficiency scheme that allows those with the ability to put good solar panels on their homes to share their energy out across the scheme, to provide EV charging points, and all the rest of it; it allows Economy 7 to work for white goods across the scheme. There's a whole series of things that you can do with the collective power of coming together, basically. So, it's a great scheme. I've managed to visit it a couple of times, and we will be looking to roll that out with the companies that have been involved in that—with the social landlord company and the energy companies that have been working with us. So, that's a really excellent example of what can be achieved.
Just in terms of the Help to Buy, it's a bit more complicated than that. We use Help to Buy to drive other improvements in the building industry. So, actually, builders who don't build to particular standards don't get Help to Buy, and that's been very helpful in driving some of those standards. We also use financial transactions capital, which, Mike, I know you're familiar with, but it is an arcane art, so it's not quite as easy to swap that out into individual householder loans. We are though looking, with the Development Bank of Wales, at rolling out grant and loan schemes to owner-occupiers in exactly the circumstances that you're talking about and, actually, being able to target people who get the single-occupier discount, who are often older people who've lost a partner and are in that exact position. So, we have a way to identify people, so that we can consult on it. So, we are looking to do exactly that.
I just have two questions, as chair of the cross-party group on fuel poverty and energy efficiency, which have come from the group. We heard reference earlier to the Equality and Social Justice Committee inquiry into fuel poverty and the Warm Homes programme, and recommendations for the Welsh Government to ensure that the programme embeds the fabric and worst-first approach to retrofitting, as well as targeting the poorest households and the least efficient homes, being bigger in scale and greener in interventions, allowing for multiple measures to be installed. In your previous responses, you have, I think, addressed some of those points, but how in particular will you ensure that the programme embeds the fabric and worst-first approach in the least efficient homes?
Secondly, as we've also heard, Wales has some of the oldest and least thermally efficient housing stock compared to the UK and Europe. Free energy efficiency measures are being rejected by many people, as they're seen as inflexible and incompatible with the buildings they reside in. You've already explained in part how you will tailor energy efficiency measures to adapt to the various different types of buildings that exist in Wales, but specifically, given likely delays to the next iteration of the Warm Homes programme, what consideration has the Welsh Government given to enabling the current Nest scheme to make more appropriate fabric improvements to insulate qualifying fuel-poor homes, whilst also supporting them to replace inefficient heating systems in light of the closure of Arbed and the anticipated increase in Nest's budget?
Well, you sort of answered your own question a little bit there, Mark. But, as I said before, we are absolutely looking at a fabric-first, worst-first kind of approach, but it's very difficult to just target one house sometimes. So, in my statement, I alluded to the fact that we're looking at community energy programmes. We're working with local authorities to do an energy map across Wales, so that we know where communities with the least energy-efficient housing are to see if we can do a community upgrade that will allow us to use social housing levers to help the whole community come up, if you like. So, it's quite difficult to just target one house in the middle of a cluster otherwise. We're also, as I've said many times, looking to make sure that we do the right thing for the right house.
On Nest, I just don't have enough money to do everything that I'd like to do to everyone's house. So, trying to do something for a large number of people as opposed to a lot for a smaller number of people is always one of the most difficult balances that we have. So, we constantly look to see whether it's better to help more people do one thing than it is to help very much fewer people do everything, and I'm afraid that's one of the balances we're constantly wrestling with. I'm very happy to work with the committee about where to hit the right balance for all of that.
Finally, Sarah Murphy.
Diolch. Minister, thank you for the statement today. The energy efficiency of homes continues to be a key issue for my constituents, especially when we do have some developments in the works at the moment, like the regeneration of Porthcawl. There's a real feeling from the community that they would love to have them as green and all of the things we were talking about today, really—energy efficient, built for the future, and cost-effective. At our Porthcawl region Dragon's Den event last year, Sero Homes actually came in and did a presentation, which they really loved. I know that you're aware of them. And, also, I've spoken with Porthcawl's third age organisation, who stress the need for solar panels in all homes, including those built by private developers, and that's the crux of my question today. It's about those private developers, because Bridgend County Borough Council councillors are really keen to ensure that homes built in the private sector also meet these demands, by asking them to build houses with energy-efficient provisions, like solar panels, taps, et cetera. So, will it be possible for you to meet with Bridgend County Borough Council and me, especially as we're looking at the Porthcawl regeneration at the moment, to see what we can do about this private development, so that it ticks all of those boxes for all of us?
I'd be more than happy to meet with you and the council, and the developer, indeed, Sarah. We have brought forward changes to Part L of the building regulations. They are technology neutral, so we're saying that they need a 37 per cent change in the efficiency, but not that you need to do that via solar panels or an air-source heat pump, for all the reasons I've spoken about earlier.
The other thing we're having a look at is what we can do about making sure that builders who are building out planning consents actually build to the most recent standard, because, at the moment, as Members across the Chamber will know, once you've started a planning consent, you can build it out. So, we still have homes being built without sprinklers in them because they've started the planning consent and they're not going to the most relevant. Now, we tried to incentivise the house builders to do that. Lee Waters and I have a construction forum, and we meet with them very regularly. We try to put a lot of pressure on them to build to the most recent standard. I am taking some legal advice on whether there's anything we can do to limit the amount of time you can take advantage of a planning consent once you've started before you need to implement the most up-to-date regulations for all sorts of reasons. I hope we'll be able to address some of that in the building safety Bill that we'll be bringing forward, which is mostly affecting high-rises, but will have other effects right across the piece.
I thank the Minister.
The next item is a second statement by the Minister for Climate Change, on energy policy. I call on the Minister, Julie James.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. As global leaders meet in Egypt for COP27, I am pleased to be able to update Members on how we will continue to lead the transition from fossil fuels to an energy system based on renewables.
While messages from the UK Government have been confusing and contradictory, we have been clear and consistent. We will keep fossil fuels in the ground, and we will continue to apply all the levers at our disposable to phase out the extraction of fossil fuels in Wales. We will build a flexible, smart, renewables-based energy system. And we will ensure our households, businesses and communities benefit from the transition with increased energy security and less exposure for customers to the global price of fossil fuels. I've recently published our update on implementing recommendations from the renewable energy deep dive and announced the creation of a publicly owned energy developer. Today, I want to update Members on our policy on fossil fuel use in power generation and industrial installations. I will also set out our position on hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage.
Wales hosts a disproportionately large amount of gas-fired power plants supplying the electricity grid. The Climate Change Committee has been clear in their advice that we need to decarbonise this sector by 2035. Our approach will be two pronged. As set out in 'Net Zero Wales', we see no role for new fossil-fuelled power plant in Wales and, following publication of a position statement, this policy can take effect through the planning regime. Secondly, we must address the emissions from combusting fossil fuels at existing power stations, including energy-from-waste plants and plants within industrial sites. Collectively, these accounted for a third of all Wales's greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.
We issued a joint call for evidence on decarbonisation readiness with the UK Government last year. While we have been co-operating with the UK Government on policy development, we do not think their planned approach will go far enough to bring forward the action we need in Wales. The regulation of power stations and other industrial installations through the existing environmental permitting regime does not explicitly drive the transition to net zero. This is an issue recognised by the European Union, which is also looking into reform of its regime to align to the European Union's net-zero agenda. Therefore, we will be working with Natural Resources Wales on options development to explicitly ensure the environmental permitting regime supports net-zero objectives, alongside other strategic environmental priorities. This will complement other measures, such as carbon pricing implemented through the UK emissions trading scheme. I will be publishing a position statement on combustion of fossil fuels for power and our Government response to the call for evidence on decarbonisation readiness before the end of the year.
We recognise the need for a just transition and know that, for some sectors, a move from fossil fuels poses significant challenges. For some, hydrogen may provide one of the few ways to decarbonise heavy industry through fuel switching, and to reduce emissions in hard-to-abate modes of transportation, notably in heavy goods vehicles, aviation and shipping. There is also considerable potential to use hydrogen as a storage medium for renewable energy, in particular if it were possible to capture excess energy production. It may also have a role as a replacement for natural gas in heating solutions.
Uncertainties remain over the economic sectors in which hydrogen will play the greatest role, and the overall scale and cost of its application in the longer term. We continue to engage with industry on the available evidence and are assessing opportunities for Wales to use hydrogen in its decarbonisation pathway and to support economic development. Hydrogen production methods vary, as do the emissions associated with them. Green hydrogen produced from renewable electricity via electrolysis has a very low impact on greenhouse gas emissions during its operation, and is potentially economically attractive if it can make use of the excess electricity generated from wind generation.
This is our preferred production method, and we do need to set the ambition for all hydrogen to be produced from renewable sources in the longer term. However, in order to support the decarbonisation of industry in Wales, we understand we may need to move through a phase of using blue hydrogen produced by fossil fuels. But this needs to be a manged transition and we will need to put steps in place, including through our permitting regime, to encourage as rapid a transition as technology and cost will allow.
Deputy Llywydd, the final area I want to outline our plans on relates to carbon capture, utilisation and storage. This is a technology that has long been in development globally, largely funded by governments with the aim of bringing forward the technology for emission reduction purposes and developing exportable expertise. Nevertheless, deployment is limited, regulatory mechanisms are yet to be fully developed, and significant risks remain, which will need to be addressed if the technology is to be successfully deployed at any scale and with the confidence of the public.
Despite this, international studies undertaken by organisations including the Climate Change Committee, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency have consistently concluded that CCUS, as it is known, is likely to be a key part of the pathway to reducing emissions at lowest cost, with a key area for CCUS deployment in heavy industry. The Climate Change Committee considers all currently credible pathways through which the UK could reach net-zero emissions domestically and involve a significant role for CCUS, especially for industry and greenhouse gas recovery. They are also clear that CCUS is not a silver bullet and that every attempt must be made to prevent the greenhouse gases being generated in the first instance.
Deputy Llywydd, we must avoid passing on environmental risk and liability to future generations. We have been working for some time with industry in Wales to understand their options and challenges. We are also working to understand the potential role of Ministers by developing a regulatory route map for CCUS in Wales. Around 25 per cent of industrial emissions in Wales are non-combustion process emissions, either from chemical or physical reactions, and these can't be avoided by switching to alternative fuels. Currently, carbon capture, utilisation and storage offers a potential decarbonisation pathway for these industries.
We need to ensure that CCUS is deployed only where other options for decarbonisation have been explored and justifiably discounted. We will do so through the introduction of an energy and carbon hierarchy. We will also explore limits to deployment as a way of managing environmental and financial risks, and supporting the well-being of people living in Wales now and in the future. Crucially, we will support industry across Wales that, after exhausting the other options in the hierarchy, have only CCUS as a possible solution to decarbonise. We will stand with them in their attempts to secure business models and funding from the UK Government, in order to ensure a just transition to net zero.
We will be consulting publicly on policy position statements and next steps on hydrogen and CCUS in the spring. In the meantime, we will work with Net Zero Industry Wales to support transition for Welsh businesses and secure good quality jobs for the future within a thriving, low-carbon industrial base. Diolch.
Thank you for your statement, Minister. I would like to refer to the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee's report on renewable energy in Wales, published in May 2022, and its comments on the serious risk of your Government failing to meet its own renewable energy targets. The committee stressed how barriers to renewable energy development were not new, nor was the Welsh Government's promise of action to address them. The report further stated how the Welsh Government was making the same promises now as it did back in 2012's energy strategy.
After a decade of these repeated promises, we now need concrete steps towards improvement. You may claim that the UK Government is not clear and consistent, but I can confirm that you have also been consistent in failing to deliver the changes we need to ensure that Wales has a renewable energy revolution. So, will you explain what actions you're taking to remove barriers to renewable energy in Wales? I strongly believe that nuclear power is absolutely vital to meeting our climate change commitments, and I endorse and support the comments by the fantastic Member of Parliament for Ynys Môn in the work that she has done trying to bring nuclear to Ynys Môn.
At a time of great international uncertainty in the energy market, made worse by Putin's appalling war against Ukraine, it's vital that we do not close off avenues to generating clean, home-grown, reliable power. Therefore, I welcome the UK Government's commitment to nuclear energy throughout the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Act 2022, and I would urge the Welsh Government to commit here today to supporting the Wylfa and Trawsfynydd sites. For my constituents in Aberconwy—[Interruption.] Do you want to intervene?
First of all, there are no interventions in statements. And secondly, can all Members give the opportunity to the Member to ask her questions, please?
Thank you. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. For my constituents in Aberconwy, a small modular reactor site would mean an investment of £200 million and 200 direct jobs, and it would make us a leader in high-skilled green industry. So, in order to improve our future renewable energy capacity, will you, Minister, put party politics aside, and commit to supporting nuclear power across sites such as Trawsfynydd, so that we can turbocharge—
I think they have, haven't they?
Well, they might have. I’d love to know your exact position.
Anyway, of course, this statement today is taking place across the backdrop of the COP27 summit, in which world leaders, including our own Prime Minister, will be there to discuss how we can all move together to address these challenges. We can only take meaningful action on climate change, including clamping down on big polluters, if the international community works together. So, will the Welsh Government reach out and make sure that all levels of Government are working together to address business and consumer concerns and demonstrate a clear road map towards delivering more renewable power?
You know that I’m also very supportive of hydrogen, and I welcome again the UK Conservative Government’s commitment to establish a hydrogen hub in Holyhead. Will you replicate the hydrogen village policy that is now being pursued elsewhere in the UK? There are times when it’s convenient for this Welsh Government to follow the lead of the UK Government, as is the case in what I will be speaking about later, but in other instances, you tend to go your own way for the sake of going your own way, and this is at the cost of my residents in Aberconwy and Wales as a whole. It’s time that we actually got on with it now. There are so many different technologies coming to the fore in green technology that will provide good, highly skilled, highly paid jobs for people across Wales. At some stage, Minister, we have to—well, you have to—grasp this nettle. Diolch.
Well, Janet, as always, I really feel the need to start by reminding you that you’re a Tory, and that the Tory Government is the one that removed the investment from Wylfa. Maybe we should just buy you a little history of the last 15 years and give it to your researcher, because I feel it’s sorely needed, quite frankly.
And the other thing: I have to admire your sheer brass neck. I don’t know whether you've got really good polish for it. Maybe you should seriously consider doing stand-up, because that was hilarious. First of all, we’re already doing all the things you called on us to do. No doubt you’ll now tweet to say we’re doing the things you’re calling on us to do, rather than doing them at your behest, because we’re already doing every single thing you asked us to do. The UK Government is copying our approach to nuclear and not the other way round, just to be clear, and we’ve had all of the assembled expertise in the north of Wales for some considerable time waiting for the UK Government to (a) stop switching chairs, and (b) actually get its act together.
And the idea that you can actually stand without embarrassment and welcome the fact that the Prime Minister went to COP27, when he was dragged kicking and screaming, and made what can only be described as an incredibly lukewarm speech, and not the world-leading speech he ought to have made, is frankly extraordinary.
This statement is very timely as COP27 happens in Egypt, as we’ve just heard. This morning, I met young people as part of Youth COP Cymru, which is arranged by Size of Wales, and it's clear to me that reducing carbon emissions is a priority for them in order to prevent the appalling predictions from coming about.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Audit Committee in Westminster recommended that the UK Government should make the Tata steelworks in Port Talbot a pilot site for carbon capture and storage. Clearly, this is a very important site in terms of local jobs, but decarbonising the works there is also an integral part of securing the future in order to reduce energy costs and also to reduce emissions. I would be grateful, Minister, if you could tell us what discussions you’ve had with the UK Government on the possibility of including Port Talbot in the carbon capture, use and storage pilot. I would like to hear more, too, about what the Welsh Government is doing in order to make progress with carbon-capture programmes and supporting steel in Wales.
In terms of the principle of carbon capture, I accept what you've said on the need to carry out thorough research into technologies being developed at the moment, but can you give us an idea of the rationale behind using this as a last resort? Is your concern that the carbon captured wouldn't be sufficient to contribute sufficiently for net-zero targets, and that we therefore shouldn't put too much emphasis on that? I'd like to understand that in more detail.
And moving forward to what you said about hydrogen, I'm pleased that you recognise the huge potential in this area, and I would suggest that we need to make progress quickly here so that we can lead the way in Wales. I know that this is an issue that my colleague, Rhun ap Iorwerth, is very interested in. He's held a debate on the issue, and he's mentioned the excellent work happening in universities in Wales, as well as the fact that many innovative companies are located here. Plaid Cymru has been calling for some time for action in this area, and I would welcome, and I do welcome the fact that you intend to consult on a hydrogen strategy soon. But can you give us an assurance please that the work of developing the sector will continue in the meantime?
And, finally, to return to COP27, there are two crucial things to understand. First of all, the scale of the problem. The head of the UN said that we are on the road to climate hell. Now, that sentence has been quoted a number of times in the Chamber already today, but we can't undervalue the importance of that. And in terms of understanding this, we need to be clear about the steps that the Government is taking, and intends to take, in order to get to grips with this problem. People across the world are seriously concerned about the situation; the young people I met this morning were gravely concerned. Can you tell us how your Government will use its influence to set an example and work with others to try and have an impact on the global situation? And on that final point, Minister, can you tell us whether there's been an opportunity missed in having the Welsh voice heard stronger on the international stage, given that the Scottish First Minister did attend COP27? Now, I don't intend that to be a criticism of you; I know that your Government takes this very seriously. But given that Wales's platform internationally is so great at the moment, do you think that there's been an opportunity missed here? Thank you.
Diolch, Delyth. Well, just to address that last one first, we thought very carefully about whether I should go to COP27, or indeed, the First Minister should go, but I'm actually attending COP15 in Canada—the biodiversity COP—which is a decision-making COP. And given the carbon footprint of going all over the place, and given that this isn't a decision-making COP—it's an implementation COP; we have a team of officials out there working on the implementation side of it, but we thought that the platform was better used at COP15 because we need to develop the 30x30 targets, and it's a decision-making COP. So, it was balanced carefully. We really thought about it, and I did very seriously think about going, but, on balance, we decided—it's Wales in Canada year as well—that the COP15 ministerial attendance was very important. But just to be really clear, we have a team of officials out at COP27 taking part in the implementation talks, which are obviously the very important part of what's going on there. And it's why it was so disappointing that the UK Prime Minister, who actually has a seat at the table, which sadly I do not, was so reluctant to take that leading role, which I think is a very important point.
And, then, in terms of all the other technical things, in terms of the carbon capture, utilisation and storage models, we are taking part in the trials in north Wales—the HyNet trials. There are real issues around how the technology would work in the rest of Wales because there are no suitable storage opportunities. We're looking at a whole series of pieces of work about whether a pipeline—how it would work, but it's likely to be quite expensive, and, unfortunately, some of the heavy industry that needs it is in south Wales. So, we're very much taking part in HyNet, it's called, in north-east Wales, and helping industry there to take part in it.
Our—I don't know what word to use; 'scepticism' is too hard a word—but our worry is that over-reliance on a technology not yet proven on our path to net zero will end up with us not getting there. So, if the technology is proven, then we will, yes, of course, embrace it, and we're working very hard with Valero, Tata Steel, and a number of other very heavy industries along the south coast here to try and understand how that might work for them, and indeed, actually, how the carbon stored might be reutilised, as you said. But that technology has been a long time coming, and isn't there yet—it works at small scale, but there's no at-scale yet. And I'm just a bit worried that an over-reliance on a technology that's not yet there to save us all might not save us all. So I just want to be clear on that.
And then, on hydrogen, it's clear that making hydrogen at scale at the moment requires fossil fuels. But we will be very clear that, although we will allow that to happen in Wales, because we need the hydrogen, we will not be stuck with stranded assets or old technology and we will be sure that anyone who's getting licences to do that is on a path to green hydrogen at speed. And I've had a large number of really interesting discussions with the global heads of various renewable industries about making sure that we have a planning sector that both encourages the hydrogen use, but also does not get stuck as a test bed for old technology and then it moves on to a bigger scale some place else. So, calibrating that is very much part of the strategy. And then, just to reassure you that we are very much working on it, and when we bring the strategy forward, it will very much have been worked on, and then wanting the Senedd's views on where to take it from there.
Personally, if we're going to not pass on the environmental risk and liability to future generations, I don't see how we can be building nuclear, because nobody knows what to do with all the waste that's produced, and that certainly is a way of passing on that risk.
I just want to welcome the fact that you are focusing on green hydrogen as the long-term goal, but I'd be keen to understand what we can do to generate more excess electricity from both wind and solar so that we're not so reliant on having to use blue hydrogen for decarbonising our industries. And lastly, I wonder if you could tell us, in terms of the non-combustion processes that are emitting, what progress is the Government making on supporting industry to develop much more low-carbon concrete. as opposed to the stuff that's normally used? Clearly, we're still going to need concrete, but we need to have low-carbon concrete to build those bridges across our railways and rivers.
Thank you, Jenny. So, on that last one, we fund and work alongside a number of universities across Wales, and specifically down in Swansea—very specifically—to develop as low a carbon as possible infrastructure for things like concrete and steel. You can't have renewables without steel, so making sure that the steel is produced as efficiently and in as low a carbon methodology as possible is a really important part of that. And Vaughan Gething and myself and Jeremy Miles have had a series of conversations about our net-zero skills programme, but with the various ports along the south coast and the various players in those ports, to make sure that we're bringing the technology for floating wind, for example, here to south Wales, and we're making sure that our steel manufacturing is geared up to make the kinds of steel necessary to do that, and that we have all of the other stuff—the submarine cables, and the chain, and all the rest of it, all the production lines that go with that. So, large amounts of green jobs, in inverted commas, but actually making products that aren't particularly green, in order to help the renewables industry. So making sure that they're all decarbonised—the cables, and the chains, and all the rest of it—and are also made in the least carbon-intensive way is very important to that project. And we've sponsored a large number of research projects around Wales. A number of us—Lesley and the First Minister—met with a whole series of companies in southern Ireland very recently, to discuss all of this as well. So we're very actively involved in that kind of discussion.
The big issue for renewables is base load, as it's called. So, this is the energy that can be switched on when everybody turns their kettle on at 9 o'clock, which they still do, apparently, even though we're not all watching the same tv programme. And that's one of the tragedies of the Tory Government's decision not to fund the tidal lagoons, because that had the real potential for that. We will be bringing forward a tidal lagoon challenge, as promised in our manifesto, shortly, to make sure that we do get the technology going. And I also want to remind the Conservative Government that one of the first things they did when they came into power, a very long time ago now—so, all these Governments you're blaming are your own—was cancel the Severn barrage project. So, the idea that—. We really could be well on the way to be self-sufficient in renewables and instead, we're in a global crisis caused by our reliance on fossil fuels, and I think that just says it all.
I'm grateful to the Minister for her statement this afternoon, and one specific point that I picked up on was the clarification around the use of blue hydrogen as a transition towards the use of green hydrogen. And the Minister will be aware that, earlier today in my FMQ, I spoke about floating offshore wind and the possibilities of that off the south Pembrokeshire coast, and how that renewable can lend itself to green hydrogen production as well. So I'm grateful for that point of clarification.
But could I also stress another company that the Minister mentioned in response to Delyth Jewell was Valero, and, while not directly mentioned in your statement, the importance of the emissions trading scheme? And, can I just plead with the Minister to ensure that communication is still ongoing with Valero and other businesses in the south Wales industrial cluster around the emissions trading scheme and the importance that that scheme lends to the decarbonisation of these really important employers. Because, while we want to get to net zero, these employers still provide jobs and support communities and families at this moment, and you can't just switch off these businesses at this present moment. So, if I could just plead for her to continue those discussions, I'd be most grateful. Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd.
I'm very happy to reassure you that we are, of course, doing that. Very recently, the Minister for Economy and myself met with Valero to discuss exactly that. We are just waiting on the next interministerial group with the UK Government to discuss the next iteration. We're somewhat hamstrung by the Northern Ireland situation. So we went out to consultation on the trading scheme, as I'm sure you're aware, but it requires all four Governments to come together as the authority to be able to take that forward. So, no doubt, there'll be a discussion about how to manage that, given the Northern Ireland situation.
There are still conversations about an export carbon price, which would definitely protect our steel industry, for example, and has been called for for some time, so discussions with the UK Government around, well, unfortunately, their reluctance to do that. I think it's very important for us to have the right global footprint for us to be able to protect our efficient industries and enable them to be able to compete on a global stage, as opposed to just dumping much cheaper products not produced in a carbon-efficient fashion across the globe. So those kinds of discussions are very much ongoing.
Then, just on floating wind, I heard your question earlier, of course; we welcome the interest in it. I would say that we do want the Crown Estate devolved. I know that it's not the policy of your benches, but, if we had the Crown Estate devolved to Wales, as it is in Scotland, it's clear from discussing with Scotland what else can be done. Now, we have a good relationship with the Crown Estate, and I'm very grateful for that, and they've been very helpful in terms of Welsh supply chains and so on, but it is undoubtedly the case that, if we controlled it here in Wales, we could get a better supply chain and a better profit element here in Wales for that, as is the case in Scotland. So I would urge the Conservatives to think again about that policy.
As the Member for Ynys Môn, I could pursue many elements of that very broad-ranging statement. I retain my particular interest in hydrogen, after having led that debate on hydrogen here some two and a half years ago. I understand the interest in HyNet in the north-east, but I would encourage the Minister to keep an eye on and develop the Irish Sea connection—Pembrokeshire, Anglesey, along with our Irish partners—on the hydrogen front; really interesting prospects for green hydrogen linked to tidal stream energy, to offshore wind, also in nuclear generation creating hydrogen storage options. That's very interesting, though the context, of course, is the abject failure of the Conservatives to deliver on Wylfa, despite the hard work locally, and, as it happens, I wrote to the new Secretary of State for energy in Westminster last week, asking for clarity, because this will-they-won't-they ambiguity really damages communities like mine. That's the impact that the Conservative indecision is having. But, as it happens, we have lots of other issues that we can crack on with. A very short question though—
—relating to solar. The Minister might not be aware of a scheme called Solar Together on Merseyside. It's a group buying—a sort of bulk buying scheme, encouraging communities to buy solar panels together, in order to bring prices down to encourage investment. Is that something that could be considered in Wales?
So, yes, that's very interesting. I am aware of it, and it's a very interesting development. We are very keen. The scheme referenced by our colleague, Mike Hedges, is a very similar sort of scheme, so we're very keen to understand how we might lever in finance in order to assist communities to come together to do exactly that, and then to share the energy out. So, in that scheme in particular it's very impressive that not everyone has a roof suitable for solar, but everyone is able to share in the power distribution and so on. So, yes, we are absolutely very keen on that. I'm also working with Swansea University, who have a very interesting, not yet at scale, home-grown solar panel invented. So, being able to get a supply chain that was Welsh-made would be really great, not only because I'd really love to have that kind of technology being made in Wales, but also just the carbon footprint of bringing them all from China is obviously considerable. So, there are lots of things to look at there, which I'm very keen to do.
Just in terms of hydrogen, I did mention HyNet, but I am aware of all of the other possibilities. We've just invested £1.21 million in a whole range of projects on hydrogen right across the north and west coasts, including looking at a range of renewables that might be used to generate excess energy, as it's called—so, energy that can't be exported into the grid—in order to make hydrogen production more viable. We certainly will be looking at that as a transitionary phase as we go forward.
I welcome the statement by the Minister. Now is the time for an unremitting focus on creating a strong renewable energy future and continuing to establish Wales as a leader for net zero. Wales benefits from diverse renewable energy resources—onshore wind, fixed and floating offshore wind, wave, tidal and solar—all of which can bring significant opportunities to Wales. Renewables are providing low-cost, home-grown energy, which is reducing our reliance on international gas prices, thus protecting bill payers.
Onshore wind is one of the lowest cost scalable electricity generation technologies, with rapid construction times. Complementing wind energy generation, tidal and wave energy will provide predictable and reliable sources, with co-location opportunities between wave and floating offshore wind. The Swansea bay tidal lagoon, which the Minister mentioned a few moments ago, should now become cost effective, and I urge the Minister to do everything possible to get it to occur. We have problems with grid connectivity. What is being done to improve grid connectivity? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how are you going to make sure that carbon capture does not end up in acidifying the sea?
On that last one, exactly that, Mike. So, that's one of the reasons that we're looking with caution at the development of carbon capture, utilisation and storage. The technology clearly works at small scale, but as yet there's no big scale, and the storage issues that are being looked at in the HyNet project in the north will be very, very important—so, all of the issues about containment and making sure that it doesn't leak out and all the rest of it. The best thing would be to actually use it—so, looking at all the projects that can actually use the carbon that's captured in that way. So, the utilisiation bit of it, as well as the storage bit, is very important in that. That's why we're looking at it with some caution, because I think it is being seen as a silver bullet a little bit in some industries, and it most certainly isn't.
In terms of the range of other things that we're doing, we've got a very clear policy on local ownership. We'd like to see an energy price system that's entirely different to the one we have now. We're obviously linked to the marshalled price of gas, and that's the case even if you're getting most of your energy from renewables, which is obviously nonsensical. We do have some community projects on closed loop circuits, who are not having that problem. We're obviously very keen on making sure that those happen, but in a sustainable way. I know you're familiar with what happened down in Port Talbot when one of those went rather wrong—so, making sure we learn the lessons of that and making sure that community-owned closed loop systems also work is very important to us.
And then the last piece I just wanted to mention was, just before everyone changed seats again at Westminster, we had got an agreement with Greg Hands, who was the then Minister, that we would have a holistic network design for Wales at last—after 40 years of Labour asks, the Conservatives see sense. It does always seem to take about 40 years for them to see sense, unfortunately. So, I really hope that that will happen once the new Minister has settled in. We're hopeful that it will and that will mean that we will, for the first time, have a planned grid for Wales, not driven by just which consumer wants to connect next, and that will mean that we will be able to plan out community ownership schemes in a much more reasonable and practical way right across Wales, rather than the somewhat haphazard who-goes-first-pays principle that we have at the moment.
And finally, Alun Davies.
I'm grateful, Deputy Presiding Officer, and grateful to you, Minister, for your statement this afternoon. You made some very powerful statements at the beginning of your statement about the place of coal in our history and not our future. But there are, of course, already some consents and permissions within the system. Can you confirm—? I don't want to tempt you into making any comment on individual applications, but can you confirm that it is not the policy of this Government to allow any further extraction of coal at any time in the future?
It would be useful, I think, to have a statement on nuclear and its place in the overall energy mix. As you know, I'm a very strong supporter of the place of nuclear in the energy mix, and the points you made about base-load supply I think are well made, and nuclear does provide that. But we need a conversation about how we take that forward, particularly given the failures of UK Government on nuclear policy in the last decade or so.
But, finally, Minister, I'd like to push you a bit further, if I could, on the nature of Welsh Government policy. I don't want to see us adopting an approach whereby we say we want renewables and therefore we will accept anything to achieve that simple objective. I don't want to see my Valleys, the Valleys in the upper part of Gwent that I represent, having enormous developments imposed upon us in order to achieve a target that is determined elsewhere. What I would like to see is a very different vision of local generation—
Alun, you need to ask your question, please.
—supporting local need and local distributed supply, because I think that offers us an opportunity to do far more. And that means the Welsh Government removing a lot of the problems that exist, because, certainly, one of the great barriers we find is that other public sector bodies withhold consents and permissions that make and create barriers for the development of small-scale renewables.
I agree with that, Alun, and so we will be bringing forward the infrastructure consenting Bill in this Assembly year—so, before the end of the summer term—to make sure that we streamline the consenting for big projects and make a very distinct distinction between the planning sets for those. We've been doing a series of training rounds with all of the planning authorities in Wales about how to approach that and to make sure that they are fully aware of 'Future Wales: The National Plan' and of the most recent iteration of 'Planning Policy Wales', which have set out all of the policies that you've set out there.
In terms of base load, that's why the tidal lagoon fiasco in Swansea bay is so sad, because we would have had a pilot project there to actually test out whether you could get base-load renewables. In the meantime, nuclear is the only option for that.
On nuclear—Janet Finch-Saunders, I didn't address the point when she raised it, but the way that that's paid for is absolutely nonsensical. So, at the moment, they use a model that spread the cost out amongst all of the consumers. Clearly, that it is idiotic. This should be being done as research and development projects, properly capitalised by the UK Government, and, of course, we should not have come out of the collaboration with European Union research universities to the detriment of pretty much everyone on the planet, never mind here in the UK. So, reversing that would be a good deal.
And then, on the last piece of that, because we've made a public state-owned renewable energy developer, that is the organ with which we will encourage, alongside Ynni Cymru and with Plaid Cymru, the community ownership of the larger scale renewable plants that will allow us to spread the profit out. Diolch.
I thank the Minister.
Item 5 this afternoon is a statement by the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd on avian flu. I call on the Minister, Lesley Griffiths, to make the statement.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Over the last 12 months, we have witnessed the most severe outbreak of avian influenza in Wales and across Great Britain. This has been the largest outbreak of an exotic notifiable disease in animals since the catastrophic outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001. Great Britain is not alone in this. This strain of AI is affecting birds in most of Europe, and parts of Asia and North America.
The current outbreak has been unique in its nature. Previously, AI occurred only in some winters, as a result of carriage by winter migrant wildfowl. When those birds left our shores, the disease did also. This year, we have seen the H5N1 strain spread to some resident wild birds, causing devastation to some sea bird colonies, resulting in the infection persisting over the summer, and we are now seeing outbreaks in domestic birds this autumn.
As always, we've taken a science-led approach to containing this severe incursion of disease, with the scientific knowledge developing as the outbreak evolves. In response to the changing pattern of disease threat, we have continued surveillance of AI in wild birds and maintained the trigger points for investigation of dead wild birds in Wales, despite obvious resource pressures to increase that threshold.
We've worked across Government, agencies and stakeholder groups to enable publication of the joint mitigation strategy for wild birds for England and Wales. This strategy sets out practical guidance for land managers, members of the public and ornithological and environmental organisations, in response to the threat of AI to wild birds.
Of course, disease does not respect borders and, throughout this outbreak, we've worked closely with counterparts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Scottish Government to lead a coherent and joined-up response to tackling AI, whilst responding to the world-class scientific evidence and advice provided by the Animal and Plant Health Agency.
The threat of AI to both kept and wild birds is reviewed weekly. In response to increased risk levels, the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales declared an all-Wales AI prevention zone on 17 October 2022. The AIPZ requires all bird keepers, regardless of the number of birds kept, to adopt simple but essential biosecurity measures to keep their birds safe from infection. This year, we have tightened up these measures and included a new requirement to keep kept birds off land known to be frequented by wild waterfowl or contaminated with their droppings. The experience of so many outbreaks of AI in the past year has taught us how infection is being spread to kept birds. Our AIPZ measures are designed to close off these routes of spread and they must be applied rigorously by all keepers. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank keepers across Wales who are adhering to the biosecurity measures we've already implemented in Wales to protect their birds. Your efforts have resulted in Wales having only two reported cases of AI since October 2022.
Yesterday, mandatory housing of birds came into force in England. Wales, along with Scotland and Northern Ireland, has not introduced a similar requirement. This reflects both the different scale and nature of AI across different parts of the UK. Fortunately, in Wales, we have not seen anything like the number of outbreaks in England, which would be required to justify any such housing order. Furthermore, the scientific advice of my interim chief veterinary officer is that, for Wales, the biosecurity requirements of our AIPZ are currently appropriate and sufficient to contain the AI threat. However, we keep the situation under daily review and stand ready to do what is necessary to protect our birds and the livelihoods and well-being of those who keep and care for them. My decision on whether or not to mandate the housing of birds in Wales will be based on scientific evidence and veterinary advice, and will balance potential protective effects against the potential harms of housing birds that would otherwise have been allowed outside.
In March 2021, in consultation with the industry, we introduced amendments to legislation to allow for the use of reusable and sustainable egg packaging for the movement of eggs during AI outbreaks, as well as changes to movement requirements to ensure the welfare of birds. We have facilitated over 3,000 licence applications, ensuring that movements of birds and their products from higher risk zones could happen safely and with minimal risk to disease spread.
I would like to thank the poultry industry in Wales, and all those who keep birds, for their continued engagement and constructive advice in the fight to control this terrible disease. I would also like to thank our vets, public authorities and bird keeping and show societies across Wales. You have all played a key part in protecting birds across Wales.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about the wider significance of AI to our society. The H5N1 strain we are currently battling causes severe disease only in some species of birds. Most of our common garden birds currently seem to be resistant to infection and not involved in spread, so it is safe and desirable to continue to feed them in our gardens this winter. The risk to human health from this strain is very low and poultry produce is safe to eat. Nevertheless, all caution should be taken to avoid or reduce contact with potentially infected birds. I would like to commend the excellent work of Public Health Wales in working closely with my officials to ensure the risk to people remains very low. As we move into the winter season, it is imperative we continue to work constructively together to protect our birds from an unprecedented incursion of disease through rigorously following simple biosecurity measures. Diolch.
I'm grateful to the Minister for giving me advance sight of this afternoon's statement, especially as she's had a very busy day on the front bench. This strain of bird flu, H5N1, is rightly a matter of serious concern. Indeed, we are witnessing infections right across our bird populations, from wild to kept birds. This disease does not respect borders, nor does it adhere to many conventional methods of biosecurity. So, our efforts to tackle this virus must be targeted, pre-emptive and proactive in response. And whilst I'm grateful to the Minister for setting our this Welsh Government's epidemic action plan, I am concerned that, at present, it doesn't go far enough in both biosecurity measures and support for the poultry industry.
Over the last year, we have witnessed how the epidemic has infiltrated the wild bird population to then transition over to commercial flocks. Indeed, as you highlighted in your statement, Minister, this disease is prevalent in a large number of commercial premises across both the United Kingdom and here in Wales too. So, our response to this epidemic must be pre-emptive and, most vitally, I believe, cross-border. This disease is not isolated within individual premises, nor does it adhere to partitions or boundaries, so I struggle to see why we haven't brought our biosecurity measures in line with those of England.
Across the border, and under the advice of England's chief veterinary officer, every poultry site has been instructed to house all poultry and captive birds as designated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, yet in Wales this pre-emptive measure has yet to be implemented. Our failure to do so not only risks greater transmissibility between wild and commercial populations, but it also has much wider ramifications for the industry as a whole.
Take, for example, the packaging of Welsh eggs, a large quantity of which is processed in England. Due to the England-only housing order, all eggs packaged in England must be classified as barn eggs to reflect existing H5N1 biosecurity measures, ye