Y Cyfarfod Llawn
In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.
The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
Good afternoon. We are ready to open our meeting this afternoon. The first item on the agenda is questions to the Minister for Economy, and the first question is from Rhun ap Iorwerth.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the economic impact of closing the Menai bridge? OQ58714
Yes. Officials are working closely with Cyngor Sir Ynys Môn and other stakeholders to monitor and understand the economic impact on the town of Menai Bridge specifically as well as surrounding areas.
Thank you very much. I have kept in close contact—as close as possible—with businesses, and the whole community of course, since the decision was taken to close the bridge. They all want assurances that everything will be done to reopen the bridge as soon as possible. I would welcome any news from the Minister on that and the work to reopen early in the new year.
But, in terms of the impact on business, businesses are very consistent in what they tell me—they tell me that trade is down some 40 per cent, and more in some instances. People aren't going shopping or going for a cuppa in the way that they used to. So, can I first of all ask for financial support for them? We need to think how we can help them to get them through this period and the pressure, which is not of their own making, of course. But, of course, there is no reason for people to stay away. As much as this causes problems at certain times of the day, and as much as we need a third bridge to ensure the resilience of the crossing in the longer term, people can travel to Menai Bridge and to Beaumaris and so on, as they please. So, will the Minister, first of all, ensure that there is no sign saying 'Menai Bridge Closed' anywhere, and that 'Pont ar Gau' or 'Suspension Bridge Closed' are the signs? And will he look at starting a marketing campaign, perhaps through Visit Wales or other organisations, to encourage people to travel to Anglesey, to Menai Bridge, Beaumaris and so on, for leisure and shopping as they normally would?
Yes, I think some of those are for my colleague the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, in terms of the signage, but I think it's a fair point to make clear that the island isn't closed—there is still the opportunity to go and, indeed, that businesses in Menai Bridge themselves are open and available as usual. And I would say in the list of places on the island that he's mentioned, I've been to all of them with my family and enjoyed being a part of the local economy when we've done so.
So, yes, I do recognise that there are real issues to understand what we can do with other agencies, including the council and, indeed, local elected representatives to understand what is actually happening as well as being really positive about the fact that all those towns and places are accessible, open and available, whilst we carry out the essential work, from a safety point of view, on the suspension bridge—the old, old Telford bridge—by making sure that there is a safe and easy passage for people to get on and off the island until then.
And we are considering the request for financial—. That's a little more challenging. We want to work with stakeholders to understand what we can do and, indeed, I think there was a constructive meeting earlier this week between the Deputy Minister and local stakeholders—I believe you took part in it—to try to understand what is being done in terms of progress as well as the immediate circumstances that businesses themselves are facing.
Like others, I too was shocked at the sudden closure of the Menai bridge and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that there were repairs needed to that bridge long before the closure came. Now, there's the potential for this to be closed for up to four months. The closure in itself is impacting already on my local constituents in Aberconwy. Many work in the businesses there and work in various other businesses in Ynys Môn, and a lot have family there. The business owners who I speak to, who work on the island, are saying that the continued uncertainty about the status of the bridge is causing them now, as Rhun has quite adequately pointed out, a massive drop in revenue. So, this closure will affect people commuting to work and school and will be a blow for hauliers and families alike, with places in Aberconwy feeling now cut off from their neighbouring communities.
Another aspect has been about the other bridge, because I know there were some problems there the other week, where there were some concerns about whether that would actually be closed in terms of stormy weather and things. So, how can you also ensure that any messaging you put out, which Rhun has asked for, spreads more across other constituencies that are also affected so that they know that business on the island is still taking place? But also, more importantly, how soon can we get that bridge opened so that people travelling to work there are not in the situation that they are now? Thanks.
I think there were two questions there. There were a number of points that weren't questions, I think. But look, the reality is, in response to the constituency Member Rhun ap Iorwerth, I've made clear that, yes, we are working with local stakeholders, including elected representatives, including the council, including representatives from businesses that we know are being affected by a difference in footfall. We want to have the message that the island is certainly open for business, and to be really clear about that, though I recognise that that isn't just for the island; it's for people who move on and off the island in the normal course of business. So, yes, we do of course want to take account of—.
And I think your second actual question was about how soon the repairs will be completed, and that's a matter that the Deputy Minister is engaging with local stakeholders on, to understand what our experts are advising us on, and then we can see how quickly we can undertake and complete the repairs. It's in all of our interests for the suspension bridge to be repaired, for it to be safe and secure for everyone who uses it, and that is absolutely our objective. But I do think that it will be a matter for the Deputy Minister for Climate Change to give updates on that, rather than me trying to assume a range of his responsibilities. And I do believe he's intending on making a visit to the area in the coming immediate week. So, I think that will give a greater insight, and, hopefully, greater visibility on the steps we are taking, and the fact that the island is very much open for business.
2. How will the Welsh Government support the development of advanced technology in the defence sector in north Wales? OQ58704
Thanks for the question. North Wales has a strong manufacturing base and is home to some of our most productive companies, not least in the aerospace and defence sector. We continue to support these businesses in their creation of high-quality, high-skilled and well-paid jobs, and that includes the plans we are leading on for the development of an advanced technology research centre, in partnership with the Ministry of Defence.
Can I thank the Minister for that answer? You will have seen the recent statement from the Minister for Defence Procurement about the Defence Electronics and Components Agency site in Sealand, and, of course, your plans for the advanced technology research centre are something I've spoken about a number of times in this Chamber. Can I ask you for some particulars of how the Welsh Government can support the development of an advanced technology research sector, with the support of the UK Government?
I think this is a good example of an area where, actually, the Welsh and UK Governments are able to do things constructively together. We're taking a lead on a range of the development areas, with the site itself, with some of the investment we even made in getting that ready. We need to work on what the future development partnership will look like. But we do know there will be opportunities here, because Minister Chalk's recent statement reconfirmed plans to go ahead with this development, and there's a point about skills in the wider region, significant employers and their interest in the product that will be taken, but also we've already appointed to take those matters forward in stages technical consultants, who are progressing with the master-planning of the preferred site. And we've concluded another round of detailed industry engagement, which, again, gives us more insight to help inform the design of the building and, actually, the jobs that will take place in and around it, and not just the centre of course, but the impact it will have on the wider economy.
Like Jack Sargeant, I welcome very much these developments in north-east Wales, and feel very much that we ought to be doing much more in Wales to try and attract as much procurement opportunities as possible for the defence sector to our nation. What action are you taking, in conjunction with the UK Government, to try and ensure that Welsh businesses actually get a better share of the defence spending and procurement that's currently taking place at a UK Government level?
Well, that actually depends on choices that UK Ministers make, of course, in terms of some of the settings they make, but it also underscores why this development is important, and it does require us to work in partnership across a range of areas. And we're very clear, in our regular conversations with wider defence sector companies, but also ministerial colleagues in the UK Government, that we want to see a local return on procurement spend. Of course, it's a matter of public record that there's interest in future procurement around helicopters as well. So, we're very interested in supporting not just headline companies but the broader supply chain in getting as much work as possible. And that's why our responsibilities in the area of skills, to make sure the right workforce is there, is a key part of it. But I think we have a very good offer, not just in north-east Wales, but across the country, and I'm certainly keen that we get a good share of future procurement spend and the good jobs that that will bring with it.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. The questions today are to the Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, with questions first of all from the Conservative spokesperson, Tom Giffard.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Good afternoon, Deputy Minister. Last week, the climate change Minister told the Senedd that Welsh Government officials wouldn't make the 2,500-mile journey to Sharm el-Sheikh for the COP27 conference in an effort to limit their air miles. Can you confirm how many air miles you accumulated on your recent trip to New Zealand?
I can't tell you exactly how many miles it is, but I think New Zealand is around 12,000 miles, is it?
Not bad. [Laughter.] The total round trip was 22,000 miles.
There we are; that's quite right.
It makes me wonder though what you learnt by making the trip, and what you couldn't have learnt on Zoom if you followed the logic of your climate change Minister. Or is it just another example of the typical virtue-signalling hypocrisy we've become used to from the Welsh Labour Government? Nevertheless, one thing I hope you will have seen out there is that, in New Zealand, 47 per cent of boys and 51 per cent of girls participate in sport outside of curriculum learning, compared to 43 per cent of boys and just 36 per cent of girls here, according to the recent Wales school sport survey, and that figure is one that's declining too compared to past years. So, what do you think New Zealand is getting right there that the Welsh Government is getting wrong here?
I wouldn't frame it in quite that way, Tom. What I would say is, certainly—if I deal with your first point first—going to New Zealand was a very valuable experience, and I've done quite a detailed report on the activities that I undertook while I was there. I think it was extremely important to support the women's team while they were out there, qualifying for the world cup, playing on a world stage, and it was important that we did that. We support the men's team when they play in the world cup, and it's quite right that we should support the women's team in a similar way.
But we didn't just go out there to watch the rugby. We went out there to have an engagement with a number of organisations around sporting participation, particularly amongst women, but wider participation as well. And when the culture committee did a recent inquiry on participation in sport—which you're a member of, and that report is going to be coming to the floor of the Senedd very shortly—one of the organisations or one of the schemes that was mentioned in that inquiry, was from New Zealand, and was called Active Me. And I actually took the opportunity to go and meet Active Me while I was there, because the work that they do is very much about participation and physical activity, and they have a scheme there that is funded on a kind of tripartite basis between health and education and Sport New Zealand and so on. And although that is a very successful scheme, and it has achieved the kind of statistics that you're talking about, it's not a million miles away from some of the work that we are already doing. But what I have done, and what I'm intending to do, is to have further conversations with Sport Wales to see what more we can learn from the Active Me project, and see how that can be developed, so that we can deliver much more cohesive participation and activity amongst children in particular.
Thank you. You mentioned that the scheme isn't that different, but, as I've already demonstrated, I think the results are quite stark between New Zealand and Wales. It's interesting you mentioned as well foreign trips. We haven't heard from the Deputy Minister since the Welsh Government decided not to send you to attend Wales's game against Iran next week in the world cup in Qatar. First we thought you were attending and then we were told you weren't because of the ongoing human rights abuses and protests in Iran. But, given that we know there are ongoing human rights abuses every day in Qatar, surely the Government is drawing a line here by saying that human right abuses in Iran aren't okay but ones in Qatar are fine. I note too that your boss, the economy Minister, said yesterday that Ministers there would be attending to, quote, 'project our values.' So, if it's a question about our opponents rather than the hosts, as the Welsh Government's approach seems to suggest, can you tell me which of Wales's other group opponents—England or the USA—you will be projecting values on to?
Well, I think it's been abundantly clear why the Welsh Government is attending the FIFA World Cup. I think all of us accept, and have said on several occasions, we would prefer not to be in Qatar for all the reasons that have been previously talked about. In fact, just answering this question is one of those reasons, because what I would like to be focusing on is the fact that, for the first time in 64 years, we have a national football team that's going to be playing on a world stage, and that's what we should be focusing on. And, unfortunately, the fact that this competition is in Qatar means that we're focusing on some of the other things. I find that disappointing, because I think we—. Anyway, I find that disappointing. But I understand why people are doing that, because I have, as has the Minister for Economy and as has the First Minister, similar concerns about us being in Qatar.
But the First Minister and the Minister for Economy have made it very clear that we are attending those two games in particular because those are the two games and the two nations where we will be able to get the most economic benefit from in terms of our relationships with them, whether it's on trade, whether it's on similar values and aims that we have. I think you have to make a judgment call on those things, and that was the judgement call that Welsh Government made, and those are the reasons why we're going to those games. We've already talked about, and you've heard the Minister for Economy and the First Minister say this on several occasions, that there will also be a programme of activities that will include Welsh culture and arts and language being promoted in those countries as well, and it's quite right that the Government of Wales does that.
Plaid Cymru spokesperson, Heledd Fychan.
Thank you, Llywydd. On 8 September this year, 2,000 artists and arts workers were selected for the basic income for the arts pilot scheme in Ireland. Each artist or practitioner will receive €325 per week for three years as part of a research project that will collect data from participants to assess the impact of the scheme on their creative output and their well-being, with the aim of rolling it out to all artists as a permanent intervention. The scheme aims to show how Ireland values the arts and artistic practices. As you will be aware, the Welsh Government launched its basic income pilot scheme for care leavers in summer this year, an excellent pilot project that I hope will deliver all of the expected benefits. I wonder therefore whether the Deputy Minister has considered a similar programme for our culture sector to the one launched in Ireland, and, if not, is this something that she and her officials would be willing to give serious consideration to, bearing in mind how the culture, arts and heritage sectors have been hit by both the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis?
Thank you, Heledd Fychan, for that question, and I think it's a very fair point. As you quite rightly say, we do have a basic income pilot running in Wales and we do need to evaluate that. I think that evaluation will then inform where we take that scheme further, beyond the pilot. You'll be aware that, through the pandemic, we did have a support scheme for freelancers in particular that wasn't available in England, and we had a freelance partnership working arrangement agreement with local authorities. So, we are very well aware of the precarious nature of freelance work, in particular, in the arts and creative sector, so we did seek to protect them. What I would say is I absolutely would not rule out what you're putting to me today, but I can't give you any guarantees, because we clearly do need to evaluate that basic income pilot before we can make any future decisions around that.
Thank you, Deputy Minister. That is very encouraging to hear. The current inflationary crisis is not only impacting individuals and households in the form of the cost-of-living crisis, but also many businesses, particularly those in the culture sector, who are experiencing a cost-of-business crisis. For example, Betsan Moses, the chief executive of the National Eisteddfod, warned that the festival had faced challenges this year as a result of Brexit, making importing goods more complicated and costly, and the festival is also facing increasing inflationary pressures. Similarly, the chairman of S4C, Rhodri Williams, has warned about soaring inflation hitting the channel's budget and that this will inevitably have a detrimental effect on the amount of content that can be commissioned from suppliers. Bearing this in mind, what discussions have taken place regarding safeguarding the future of the National Eisteddfod in the face of spiralling costs as a result of Brexit and inflation? And similarly, as S4C celebrates its fortieth birthday this year, what discussions are taking place to protect the tv production sector, particularly Welsh-language programming, here in Wales?
Okay. So, a number of points there. Obviously, what I would say—and I won't single out the National Eisteddfod specifically, because all of our cultural organisations and bodies are experiencing very, very similar issues and I'm having regular discussions with all of them. In fact, part of those discussions do form the discussions that I have with your colleagues Siân Gwenllian and Cefin Campbell in the co-operation agreement around how organisations like the national library, for instance, and the national museum, are meeting some of their inflationary pressures around fuel costs and so on. So, we're well aware of the impact that this is having right the way across the sector, and we are doing what we can to support those organisations, in financial terms where we can, and we have done something most recently with the national museum and the national library. Where we can't afford to give immediate financial support in those areas, we are having conversations with those bodies about how they can mitigate against some of those costs. I'm meeting also with the tv channels and film producers about the impact on them as well, and those are similar discussions across the piece.
What I can't stand here and say is that the Welsh Government is able to meet all of those increasing and spiralling costs. You will be aware that every Minister in this Government is currently having to look at their budgets and what we can do in terms of saving in our budgets, because the inflationary pressures on our budget are hitting us as well. So, it is an understanding of the situation. It is a continuing dialogue with those organisations about the situations that they're facing, and we will have a much better idea after the UK budget tomorrow about what further help, if any, and measures we can put in place to help all the organisations that are covered in my portfolio.
3. Will the Minister make a statement on Rolls-Royce's announcement regarding new nuclear power plant sites and how this relates to Cwmni Egino? OQ58711
Thank you. We welcome the commitment by Rolls-Royce to small modular reactors. Cwmni Egino is currently technology agnostic and is engaged in a market engagement exercise with a number of technology providers, including Rolls-Royce, to identify a preferred SMR technology for the Trawsfynydd site.
I thank the Minister for that response, but I want the Minister to explain what exactly the purpose of Cwmni Egino is now, given this development. Previously, the Minister for Economy and the First Minister have talked of other plans for Trawsfynydd, such as nuclear medicine. Egino itself, in its discussions with me, has made it clear that they have an open mind and are looking at different options, and that Rolls-Royce wasn't a priority for them. There is time and public money being provided to Egino and continues to be invested in its work. But it has become clear that Egino is a bit-part player, and that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is making the decisions. Rather than having Egino focusing on developing old and failed technologies like nuclear, wouldn't it be better to invest in the excellent workforce doing excellent decommissioning work, led by the skilled leadership of Angharad Rayner and her team, and to develop Trawsfynydd as a good practice centre in decommissioning and develop a prosperous decommissioning industry that we can export to the rest of the world?
I don't think the two things are separate or mutually exclusive. Cwmni Egino are actually engaging in work with the NDA on decommissioning, and there's a significant amount of work that is being undertaken, and we do think the work that is being done there will give examples to other sites around the world in the decommissioning of nuclear sites. I don't think that prevents a new generation of nuclear technology on the wider Trawsfynydd site, and I think it's important to just tidy up and clarify the recent announcement by Rolls-Royce.
They have identified four sites in the ownership of the NDA, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and two of them, Wylfa and Trawsfynydd, are in Wales. But that does not mean that they have reached agreement with the NDA for their technology to be deployed on those sites, and, for Trawsfynydd in particular, Cwmni Egino already have an agreement with the NDA about looking at options for the site, so Rolls-Royce aren't able to circumvent that. They need to continue to engage with Cwmni Egino and with the exercise they're undertaking. It may be that Rolls-Royce emerges as the preferred option, but that isn't guaranteed. That's why the exercise they're undertaking in the ongoing market engagement exercise is important, understanding the technology, and, crucially, an SMR could still take place on Trawsfynydd, together with or alongside the opportunities that exist for scientific research and the generation of radio-isotopes for use in our health and care system, and the opportunities to export.
So, I hope that helps to clarify, because I understand that, otherwise, the press release from Rolls-Royce could be read in the way the Member suggests, but it doesn't reflect the reality of the site, and Cwmni Egino are very much fit for purpose and looking to engage on the future of that site to the maximum benefit.
I thank Mabon ap Gwynfor for submitting today's important but also timely question, because it was just last week I chaired a round-table discussion on nuclear energy in Wales, with representatives from Rolls-Royce, along with Bechtel and UK Research and Innovation. And I'm convinced that nuclear energy is not just an opportunity in terms of bringing jobs and investment into north Wales—and you mentioned a few moments ago, Minister, the opportunities in places like Deeside in terms of manufacturing and advanced manufacturing in particular—it's also absolutely necessary in complementing renewables in providing a baseline of energy for the country, and especially when those renewable energy schemes, such as wind and solar, aren't able to function at 100 per cent due to the elements.
I'm also convinced that north Wales is a fantastic place to see this investment, because of the facilities that we have in existence, because of the workforce we have there with the skills, because of the sites that we have already, as you mentioned, at Trawsfynydd and at Wylfa as well, and also the supply chain to make nuclear energy a success in the region. So, I'm convinced on those parts, Minister, and I wonder what is your assessment of the benefits of nuclear energy in Wales and what discussions are you having with the leading figures within the nuclear sector to ensure that we can attract that investment and support carbon-neutral energy in the future as well?
I recognise there are different views in this area. I'm very clear that, from my own point of view and the Government's point of view, future nuclear developments are part of the future energy mix, together with the significant opportunities we have around Wales, including of course off our coast as well as onshore, in energy generation. There is a challenge about baseload, but we're also interested in what the future of battery storage technology will mean, to make even better use of our renewable sources of power. And of course, you've heard me and the Minister for Climate Change talk on many occasions not just about decarbonising the way that we produce and use energy but the economic opportunities that come with it and how far up the value chain we can get the Welsh supply chain, which is one of the things I am most concerned about and interested in, and that point about the wider economic benefit with the skills that would be required.
Rolls-Royce are someone who have a current and proven technology, and part of their offer is that they say that that means they could generate energy quickly and more rapidly than larger nuclear developments. There are others who are interested in the field, and this is the exercise that Cwmni Egino are undertaking, to understand the different technologies that are available, rather than simply setting on one of those technology solutions. And of course, the size and the scale of any energy development will make a difference to how quickly it's deployed and also decision making. And we also need to see clarity from the UK Government on the future funding model for large nuclear projects. It's one of the undeniable fall-outs from the churn, to be as polite as I can, in Ministers: it means we haven't got a settled position. We do need that for the future of development in this area.
So, it's a balance in our future energy mix and, of course, when it comes to new nuclear of any size and scale, it must make sense that sites that have already housed nuclear facilities are the preferred options. And we also, of course, not just have communities that are broadly used to them but also the opportunity to re-engage wider supply chains and people who want to work in the industry. So, I remain optimistic about the potential, and I look for clarity at a UK level, and we will certainly do our part to make sure that we see the economic benefit as well as a reduction in carbon in the way that power is produced.
That point with regard to clarity is very important, I think, from the Minister. I also noted the statement by Rolls-Royce with regard to Trawsfynydd and Wylfa too. I happen to be excited about the renewable schemes, marine schemes, off Anglesey, and I also think that SMR nuclear technology is more suited to Ynys Môn than large-scale nuclear schemes. I tried to get a Wylfa newydd scheme that would meet the needs and the concerns, of course, on Anglesey. But the truth is of course that, because of the failure of the UK Government to deliver Wylfa newydd, we are back at square one, aren't we? Does the Minister agree with me that the uncertainty from the Conservative Government in London has caused economic damage and community damage, in a way, by leading people to go in one direction and then pulling the rug from under them?
It's undeniable that the failure to get the previous Wylfa option with Hitachi over the line has created a challenge. There's lost economic benefit, because otherwise, we would have seen significant activity already taking place. The people who did go through the skills training opportunity on the basis that there would be this development, they've still got work, but not all those people are local. I've met some people locally, actually, who have stayed and have got work in different sectors, but actually, I think there would have been much greater opportunity with even more people going through, getting those skills and having the opportunity to work. There's undoubtedly been an economic loss, but I think you're right to point out that going part way up the hill and then coming back down again does mean that there is an extra mountain to climb when it comes to trust, that people will believe it really will happen, and not just on the island, actually, but across north Wales. Some of the conversations I've had with the Member for Alyn and Deeside, actually, are about people who would have been interested right across the north Wales region in securing work there. So, it's important that if there is to be a future proposal, of whatever size and scale, whether at Wylfa or Trawsfynydd, that there is certainty from the UK Government about what will happen in terms of when decisions will be made and then that those are followed through. So, the funding model for nuclear is really important to make sure that investors and communities have options and opportunities to engage on a basis where there's much clearer understanding. And then of course, a Government that is prepared to follow through on the choices that it makes. I recognise the points the Member makes, and I have great sympathy with them.
4. What discussions has the Welsh Government held with the UK Government regarding the relevance of the shared prosperity fund to local authorities in Mid and West Wales? OQ58719
The UK Government has put local authorities across all parts of Wales under immense pressure to try and make a success of a botched scheme beset by delays, inadequate funding and impossible deadlines. I have repeatedly raised these issues with a succession of UK Ministers and will continue to do so.
Thank you very much. It's good to hear that, because as we know, this announcement was made at the beginning of the year, and not only does this new budget undermine the devolution settlement, but it also breaks Brexit promises of not a penny less. The £585 million available to Wales over three years is short as compared to the figure of £375 million available previously through the European structural funds. Local authorities, as you know, have worked very hard within a very tight timescale to present these bids, and the psychodrama that we've seen play out over the last few weeks—three Prime Ministers and four Chancellors in a matter of weeks—has slowed down the process, of course, and authorities are still waiting to hear whether their applications have been successful. So, I'm pleased to hear that you have been putting pressure on, but can we have an assurance that you will continue to urge the Westminster Government to release this funding, which is so badly needed in our local authorities across Wales?
I will continue to press the case with whoever the latest Ministers are with responsibility for this. The return of Michael Gove to the department of levelling up may mean that we don't have a significant delay in doing so, but it was supposed to be the case that within three months of submitting their plans, local government would then have answers from the UK Government. But actually, it isn't just the last three months, because that approval hasn't been made; it's actually even worse, because despite the fact that the shared prosperity fund was first announced in 2017, the fund has not yet got off the ground: not a penny of funding, not a single penny of funding from the shared prosperity fund has reached Wales, whereas the new EU funding programmes would have started almost two years ago, and money would already be flowing in a multi-year framework where you wouldn't have artificial deadlines for spending within financial years that would almost certainly mean money would be spent poorly at the end of one financial year, and if not, it would be unspent and returned to the UK Treasury. There'd be no top-slice for Multiply; again, another egregious transgression onto devolved responsibilities. The challenge is: is the UK Government prepared to meet even the pledges it has now made; the ones it made when it broke its manifesto promises; the ones that leave us over £1 billion worse off? I sincerely hope we have some clarity on the money coming so that decisions are made, but, more than that, so that the UK Government take the opportunity to walk away from the crazy rules they have imposed that will guarantee poor spending, and I believe it will certainly mean that money will go back to the Treasury, and it's certainly not what the promise of so-called 'levelling up' was meant to deliver.
I'm grateful to Cefin Campbell for tabling this question, specifically in relation to the significance of strong inter-governmental relations between the UK, Welsh, and, of course, local governments. Minister, on the topic of inter-governmental discussions, I'm sure you and your colleagues will be aware of the transformational bid for the Celtic freeport. If selected, freeport status in south-west Wales will accelerate major investment in Wales's low-carbon economy and offer a substantial development platform for new green industries. This vision won't just secure Wales and the UK's energy security, but it will unleash the economic benefits of floating offshore wind, hydrogen production and carbon capture, generating thousands of new high-quality and highly skilled jobs. Given that these are critical components to establishing a resilient decarbonised twenty-first century Welsh economy, can I ask if the Minister shares my passion for a Celtic sea freeport, and the subsequent benefits it brings? Diolch.
The freeports discussion was difficult, but it did ultimately conclude in agreement between the Welsh Government, with our responsibilities, and the UK Government. It's a model where there's shared decision-making responsibilities between equal decision makers, and the good thing about that is it moved on from a very unfortunate and unproductive scale of shouting, saying, 'It's all the Welsh Government's fault this hasn't happened.' When we actually had genuine decision-making Minister to decision-making Minister conversations, we were able to reach an agreement we could all live with, and that includes, of course, devolved concerns around fair work being part of the framework, and that's in stark contrast to the shared prosperity fund.
On your specific point and question around a specific bid for the freeports programme, I'm sure the Member will understand that I can't give him any kind of indication of support, because I will be the decision-taking Minister from the Welsh Government point of view, and I won't prejudice my decision, because I am aware that other bids are being made, and I look forward to seeing the detail of them.
5. How does the Welsh Government act to secure the rights of workers who work in the night-time economy? OQ58716
We use our levers and influence to promote fair work across our economy, but only the UK Government has the powers to improve statutory workers' rights and their enforcement. We do, though, repeatedly raise these issues with the UK Government.
Thank you, Minister. When I was walking to the train last night, after the Senedd had finished, I was acutely aware that some of the walkways are a bit lonely, and it was dark, and I decided to take a slightly longer route, risking missing a train, because it would feel safer with more people around. The national survey for Wales has found that women don't feel as safe as men when it's dark. Fifty per cent of men feel very safe, compared with just 23 per cent of women. When we talk about the rights of women who work in the night-time economy and empowering them, I'd ask how we can tackle this problem. We want more people to use public transport for work, but getting to and from trains and bus stations can feel like taking a risk, particularly late at night. So, can I ask you, Minister, what you will do to reflect on this, to help ensure that more women, who work at night and have to travel in the dark, feel safe getting to and from their place of work?
I understand there are real issues about whether people feel safe when areas are not well lit. I understand that's a particular concern for women and whether they feel safe or not, especially if they feel that they are being followed or someone is nearer to them than they should be, and it isn't just the recognition of the issue, it's then what gets done about it, and the challenge of working with other partners. It's businesses, it's other stakeholders, it's also our conversation with local authorities about some of the responsibilities they have, and conversations with my colleagues with responsibility for transport here around the transport framework and the facilities we want to have. I think it's a fair question to raise, particularly at this time of year, and I'll certainly look forward to a conversation not just between my officials, but with colleagues in the transport ministry led by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change and colleagues outside of Government.
Minister, the night-time economy can sometimes be fragile employment, but it's crucial to our culture, communities and the economy. These workers faced the brunt of the pandemic lockdown, so it's crucial that they're supported to get back on their feet. What assessment, if any, has the Welsh Government made of the impact of the cost-of-living pressures on the night-time economy in Wales?
The cost-of-living pressures are significant right across the night-time economy and the broader visitor economy, hospitality; any area where discretionary spend is involved is under pressure. It's the pressure from those businesses and their own costs, of course, so the energy costs and the inflation that we've seen go up again today to over 11 per cent, and it's worse than that in some sectors, of course. Food inflation has gone up even further. So, that's a challenge to the costs of businesses as well as energy, and, actually, when you're rely on people spending, as I say, discretionary spend over and above essentials, it shouldn't surprise people to know that in this sector there are real pressures and a number of businesses are already reducing their opening days or hours or both.
It's been made very clear to me that some businesses are concerned that they may not get to the end of the year, never mind get into the new year. It's why the choices that are going to be made tomorrow are so important on a whole range of fronts, not just the funding of public services, but what this means for people, for their pockets and for businesses that are relying on them being able to go out and spend. So, I'm not sanguine about the future, I'm genuinely concerned, and it's why I look for not just the choices there are to be made, but the long-term nature of those and the support that can be provided, and how the Welsh Government can then review the levers that we practically have once the Chancellor has made his choices tomorrow.
6. Will the Minister make a statement on the Government’s strategy for improving labour market outcomes for women? OQ58707
I set out a range of actions within the employability and skills plan to maximise fairness and eliminate inequality. This includes improving labour market outcomes for women.
Thank you, Minister. Women from all parts of Wales marched recently to ensure changes in working practices that create a disadvantage for mothers. And the Minister will be aware of the new report by Chwarae Teg, which demonstrates that the gender pay gap continues to be high, at 11.3 per cent this year. At almost 30 per cent, the gap is widest in Neath Port Talbot, in the region that I represent—an increase of 9.1 per cent since last year. Men earn more than women in 15 local authority areas in Wales. The gender pay gap for full-time employees has increased in Wales from 4.9 per cent to 6.1 per cent. As you've mentioned, mention of the closure of multiple wage gaps is made in the Government's employability and skills scheme. So, can the Minister outline what actions are in place to close the gender pay gap, because things clearly aren't going in the right direction at the moment? And what is the Minister doing to ensure that the current strategy to close the gender pay gap takes into account the disproportionate impact of the cost-of-living crisis on working women? Thank you.
I regularly reflect back on my time before coming to the Senedd, and the groups of people that I represented, including lots of women in equal pay claims, and understanding that, even in organised workplaces there are inequalities in pay outcomes, and some of those are structural and are about discrimination within the pay system. And then you have the broader challenge, of course, that part-time workers still receive less pay than full-time workers, and part-time workers are disproportionately women. So, I recognise there's a whole range of structures.
The Government has a role in doing something about it. Some of that is in the leadership space, in being clear about the fact that this is issue and then setting out some of the things we'll do, both in the intervention we want to make in the labour market and getting more people to be economically active, but then also in equipping those people to gain access to better paid work. That's both the skills training, but it's also some of the points that Julie Morgan has been outlining about the childcare offer and the expansion of that as well, to give practical access to people to paid work opportunities and for childcare to be affordable. So, it's a wide range of different measures that are required to genuinely transform and to tackle pay gaps, consistent action to transform organisational structures, policy and outcome.
It also requires the private sector to play their part too. We don't have all of the legal responsibilities in this area, but, as I say, I think the leadership role we have really does matter, and that's why we profile people who do the right thing when it comes to the reward of their workforce and recognise the fact that everyone should be paid fairly. It's also, therefore, about why fair work isn't just something that goes into trade union representation and organisations. It's all of those things and the sorts of companies that we want to work with, and it's part of the requirement we expect of people who want support from the public purse here in Wales.
I thank my colleague for raising this question. The pandemic had a significant impact on the economic well-being of women. We know that, on average, women tend to earn less, have fewer savings, work more in the informal economy and make up the majority of single-parent households. If we are to refocus our attention on the outcomes for women in work, how does your strategy reflect the learning from the pandemic, which exposed some significant challenges and risks?
I think, actually, the pandemic made things harder. I think it saw a retrenchment back in many family and community groups where women took on more of the caring role and less of the economic activity role. That's taken us back. In my own family, we had real challenges at the time with home schooling, but it was part of my job to do some of that as well. I couldn't simply say, 'My job is more important than my wife's, so she needs to take care of our son.' He's my son too. And so, actually, it is about how we share those responsibilities, but I recognise the broader position has made it more difficult.
I think this is one of the points that Sioned Williams made about recognising some of the challenges in the differential impact of not just the pandemic, but the cost-of-living crisis as well. And our real challenge is not just understanding what the narrative and what the problem is, but the levers we have available to us. The changes that will be made tomorrow will undoubtedly have an impact. Because the unavoidable reality is that, if you're going to see a move back in the real-terms benefit of support that families are provided through the tax and benefits system, it will make this harder and a bigger hill to climb. So, leadership, but also choices, and who we get to work with, will be crucial parts of making this a reality, and not simply something we talk about and say we're all committed to in theory.
7. What discussions is the Minister having with the Minister for Climate Change on promoting the economic benefits of offshore energy production in North Wales? OQ58717
I have regular conversations with my friend and colleague the Minister for Climate Change. We fully realise the economic benefits of proposed offshore energy projects in north Wales; this is significant for the whole of Wales. It is my responsibility to ensure that we try to maximise these opportunities for Wales, including those opportunities within the Celtic sea.
Thank you for your response, Minister. As you will know, I'm always interested in understanding the economic benefits, especially for my patch up in north Wales, in terms of offshore energy production. I'm sure, Minister, you'll agree with me that tidal energy has a great opportunity not just in supporting our climate, but also in bringing direct job opportunities and new investment into our local communities. This week, I had a very helpful meeting with TPGen24, whose technology uses a tidal lagoon-based system that harnesses and manipulates the immense power of our tidal ranges to generate green energy. I understand that they and others have engaged with the Welsh Government's tidal lagoon challenge, which, of course, is part of your programme for government, which I applaud in terms of its ambition in supporting ideas to make Wales a world centre of emerging tidal technology. I wonder, Minister, in light of their engagement with that challenge and other organisations' engagement with it, what discussions are you having with the climate change Minister regarding the progress of the tidal lagoon challenge, and how do you see the opportunities of tidal energy in terms of the economy here in Wales?
I think tidal energy has significant opportunities for Wales. Again, it's not just the power generation, but it's an area where there is a new technology and a new form of economic activity being developed, and I want to see Wales at the very leading edge of that. Of course, we've already invested £59 million of former structural funds to help progress matters in this area. There is more than one project. You'll be aware of Morlais as well, and the work we've done with them. Our challenge is how we take forward not just the tidal energy challenge, but then to understand where we get from demonstrator to commercial deployment, and the levers we have available to do that within the wider energy mix that we have the opportunity to see properly exploited for significant economic benefit. That's not just across north Wales, but, of course, there'll be tidal energy opportunities around the rest of our coastline as well. I look forward to myself or the climate change Minister giving a more purposive update when we're in a position to do so.
And finally, question 8, Peter Fox.
8. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact of its shared strategic vision for the retail sector? OQ58701
Our shared vision for retail was launched in June, and it marked the start of a broader and deeper conversation with the sector. The Wales retail forum, made up of partners from business and the trade union side—and I'm sure that the Member and others have had the opportunity to see one of those partners, USDAW, in the launch of their Freedom from Fear campaign—have been working together on a delivery plan of priority actions for the sector. The plan is nearing its final stages and will, of course, be published once completed.
Thank you very much for that, Minister. The importance of the Welsh retail sector cannot be stressed enough. We know that over 110,000 people are directly employed by the industry. Recently, I met with chief execs of major businesses in the retail sector, all of whom expressed their serious concerns with vital detail missing from the Welsh Government's shared strategic vision.
Retention and recruitment are huge problems facing the industry, as they told me, yet the Government's strategy does not outline concrete steps to overcome that obstacle. The chief execs also maintain that freezing business rates next April, a step that the Welsh Government has not yet committed to, would provide a welcome boost, as would an adjustment to the multiplier. Unless these things happen, they warn that Wales will become even less competitive.
Businesses told me that they are desperately in need of stability and certainty. Minister, do you recognise their concerns, and will you do all that you can to look at business rates, including the multiplier, which currently make doing business here the most expensive in the UK? These things will ultimately determine the future of these businesses.
Thank you for the question. I certainly do recognise the significant challenges that exist within the sector. I was recently with the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership at the consultation event around the detailed plan. Again, the leading trade union, USDAW, together with other colleagues and the Welsh Retail Consortium, which you will be familiar with—your former deputy leader, Sara Jones—are actually representing and bringing together the sector.
They are raising a range of issues. They are certainly looking for stability and certainty from the Government, and they are getting it, because we have worked alongside them to develop the vision, and are working alongside them with the delivery of a plan. We'll then publish it, and there may well be things that we will commit to doing as a result of that. That's the work that we are doing at present.
I recognise the challenge about retaining and recruiting people. We have actually been really positive about wanting and encouraging people to see a career in the sector. And actually, the vision and the delivery plan should help to build on that. This isn't just seasonal employment. There is a real career to be had within these sectors as well. So, the consultation on the delivery plan isn't finished. We certainly will take account of the views that we have had recently.
The point around rates was raised there as well, but I would gently remind the Member that, given that tomorrow has yet to happen, the financial envelope that we have to operate in is not yet clear to us. Our commitment on business rates to the end of this financial year is there, but we really do need to understand what tomorrow is going to bring; whether it increases our ability to do more, or whether it actually makes the challenge even harder, as he will know in very practical terms from his time in leading a local authority and having to make these very difficult or practical choices.
I thank the Minister.
The next item, therefore, is the questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the first question comes from Huw Irranca-Davies.
1. What recent assessment has the Minister made of the hospital to home service provided through the partnership between Bridgend County Care and Repair and the Princess of Wales Hospital? OQ58690
The Hospital to a Healthier Home service in Bridgend has supported positive outcomes for service users. It has helped to reduce the number of bed days used at the Princess of Wales Hospital through supporting timely discharge, and has supported vulnerable people to maximise their incomes through access to relevant benefits.
Minister, I welcome that really positive response. Sarah Murphy and I attended in the last month a celebratory event to mark the ten thousandth individual referred on to that pathway from Princess of Wales, through Bridgend Care and Repair. What it does is a wraparound service around that individual, which makes sure that the home adaptations are done, that the nursing and other clinical care—but also other support, including things such as benefits assessment—are done when that person goes home. It is groundbreaking. It has set the standard, I have to say, for other trust and hospital services and partnerships throughout Wales.
I wonder, would you join me in congratulating all of those people, like Meinir Woodgate, the service manager; people like Rena; people like Christine Beadsworth, the hospital-to-home caseworker, and all those who contribute to the successful partnership? Can you tell us what reassurance we can give that these sort of partnerships will continue not to do 10,000 people referred, but 20,000 and 30,000 and 100,000 people throughout Wales?
Thanks very much, and thanks for your interest in what I think is a really important programme. Because we're in a cost-of-living crisis, this is the time when we really need to be wrapping our arms around people who may be under a lot of pressure. We have an opportunity in the health service to make every contact count, and that's part of what we're doing here with this particular programme. It is quite remarkable, I think, if you look at the service—I think there have been 628 successful benefit claims since April 2021 with an average of £3,800 a year of extra income per patient. That is transformational for these families. That is a huge amount of money, and this is money that they're entitled to. So, we've got to make sure that people really understand that this service is available.
There are lots of other services available. I know Jane Hutt has been promoting services that we're promoting with Citizens Advice and all the others, but that has represented an income overall of £2,391,000. That's huge. That's money not just going into their pockets, but also into local communities after that. So, I would like to thank them for that. In Cwm Taf Morgannwg in particular we've seen 217 patients supported. It is quite remarkable. And it's not just about benefits assessment, as you say, it's about adaptation and everything. So, I would like to join with you in thanking Meinir, Rena and the others for their work, and I have made it clear that I'd be disappointed if these successful services and projects were to be decommissioned. We're all under massive pressure at the moment. Everybody understands the pressure, but obviously this is an area where these people are entitled to this support, and we need to give them a little helping hand to get there.
Minister, we know that hospitals are struggling to manage their bed capacity, with too many people medically fit for discharge but unable to do so, for a variety of reasons. The hospital-to-home scheme in Bridgend is one initiative from which we should learn, but what other steps is the Minister taking to help people move from hospital, such as more ambitious discharge-to-assess programmes to help not just our hospitals, but most importantly, the individuals whose needs could be better assessed away from the hospital environment?
Thank you very much, Altaf. I probably spend as much time on the delayed transfers of care, as you've pointed out, as anything else. There are blockages all along the system, we know that, but this is a particular blockage. I have regular meetings with local authorities—I had one yesterday—to really look at what we can deliver in this area. It's hard now, but winter is coming, and we've got to try and get as much capacity in our communities as possible. We are making some progress here, and I do hope that I'll be able to report to you very soon in terms of what that partnership working with local authorities has been able to deliver so far, and what we're intending to deliver over the course of the winter.
We know what the problem is. The solutions are not easy because it's all about care workers, and I was delighted to go and listen to what Unison had to say earlier. There are lots and lots of issues that are interconnected here, but delayed transfer of care is part of what's blocking the system. It's not the only thing. It's really important for us to understand it's not the only thing, but that is a significant part of the problem.
2. Will the Minister provide an update on ambulance waiting times in South Wales East? OQ58685
4. Will the Minister make a statement on ambulance response times in Blaenau Gwent? OQ58699
5. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to cut ambulance waiting times? OQ58708
Ambulance response times across Wales are not where they should be, but performance against the national target for red calls in the Aneurin Bevan health board area was the best in Wales in September. A national plan is in place to drive ambulance improvement, supported by £3 million of Welsh Government funding.
Thank you for that response, Minister.
Minister, nearly every week, there are questions relating to the unacceptable delays that patients face while waiting for ambulances, and every delay risks people's lives. I've been contacted by a constituent who witnessed one such delay in Abergavenny earlier this month. The constituent was in a wedding anniversary party and someone present became very unwell and fell unconscious. The emergency services were called and my constituent said that, to the shock and horror of those present, they were told that there was a seven-hour wait for an ambulance. Now, fortunately, the person in question recovered consciousness, but it could so easily have turned out very differently. The same constituent remembered how, when they witnessed a similar incident six years ago at Christmas time, an ambulance was requested and attended within minutes. They've said that the more recent incident has led them to feel that if they were to be suddenly taken ill, it would be pointless calling for help. So, Minister, what assurance can you give me, please, and my constituent, that the situation will improve?
Well, I can assure you that it's not just your constituent who's asking questions; I'm asking questions very, very consistently of the ambulance service in Wales. I met them on Monday, or yesterday, just to go through the detail of their performance. The irony is that they're actually getting to more people than they've ever got to before. So, actually, in terms of performance, their performance is improving. The problem is that the demand is going through the roof, and that's where the real issue is. And that is really, really challenging and obviously, we've already recruited 250 people over the past couple of years.
I was really delighted just now, I happened to be out on the street where I passed a couple of ambulances—whenever I see an ambulance, I go and check up and check out, 'Why aren't you picking somebody up?' and, love them, you can imagine their terror when they see the health Minister coming along—and, love them, they were people who were training; they're the next cohort, the next 100 people who are in training who are going to get out on the streets as soon as possible. They've got their test tomorrow and I was wishing them all the best, because, actually, we need them out on our streets. But I'm really delighted that that is really working through now.
And the other thing I think to bear in mind is, if we hadn't put lots of measures in place already, the situation would have been a hell of a lot worse than it is now.
I'm grateful to the Minister for that earlier response. It's certainly true that people want that level of reassurance that an ambulance will be available should they, or a member of their family, become seriously unwell and require an ambulance. And it's important that we're able to provide that level of confidence to people. And one of the things that people raise with me isn't simply the waiting times, but also the structure of a service to deliver the sort of response that people require.
You will be aware that there's been a considerable debate about the rostering of paramedics and ambulance staff and also the movement of resources and assets to different locations around and across the country. You'll also be aware that my constituency has one of the more difficult waiting times, not just in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, but elsewhere as well. So, can you provide the reassurance that you are working with the ambulance service to ensure that we have the staff where they need to be and the assets and resources where they need to be to provide the most comprehensive response to people wherever their need happens to be or whatever their location?
Yes, thanks. And I think it's really important that people understand all the background that's gone into this. So, what you can't do is, week after week, come and tell me, 'You need to do this, that, and the other to improve efficiency'. We get an independent group in to take a really good look at efficiencies—how do we get more out of the system? The independent review looks at the analysis, tells you, 'Actually, you do need to restructure—you can make this system work better if you reroster', and actually, rerostering is going to improve the number of people equivalent to an extra 74 people on the front line. So, it may be a little bit uncomfortable for a little, while that rerostering is going on, but in terms of the overall system, I've got to make the overall system work better, and those 74 additional equivalent places is an efficiency as a result of rostering. So, you can't have it both ways—you can't tell me to restructure, and then I say, 'Right, I'm going to get efficiencies', and then tell me, 'Oh, we don't want it like that'. Those are the calls I have to make as health Minister, and I'm making that call.
Minister, you've constantly said that you're looking at a whole-system approach, from GPs to delayed transfers of care, and we'd agree with this. But it's been over a year now since you published your six goals for emergency care, and the situation has got worse. None of this, of course, is the fault of hard-working paramedics, but the poor planning from this Labour Government. Minister, we haven't forgotten that the last Minister said that it would be foolish to publish a plan for recovery whilst the pandemic was still going on, and now we're paying that price. Minister, we're coming up to winter, as you outlined earlier; we know the situation will deteriorate, even without the prospect of a nurses' strike. What urgent measures are you taking to ensure that our ambulance service don't pay the price of this Government's poor planning?
Do you know, I'm not going to put up with this any more; I'm really getting fed up of it. The amount of work that we've put into this, the difference that the £25 million that we've put in to the six goals for urgent and emergency care—I stay awake at night, not just worrying about the future, but just worrying about what the future might have looked like had we not put all that investment in. So, just to give you a few examples: we've now got same-day emergency care services; we've seen emergency admissions in October, they were 20 per cent below pre-pandemic levels—that's because we've made the change, it's because we've put that investment in. So, I know it's bad; it's because the demand has gone up. But it's really important that people understand how bad it really might have been had we not put those systems in. The urgent primary care centres—we're seeing 5,000 people a month who might have been heading into accident and emergency—[Interruption.] Of course it's not enough. It would help if your Government wasn't going to cut our funding on Thursday, frankly, in order to help us to put more money into the system—
Oh, come on. You're responsible for the—[Inaudible.]
I am responsible, but I'll tell you what, it hasn't helped that, actually, I have people now working in the NHS who, as a direct result—a direct result—of Liz Truss's Government, who didn't last very long, have their mortgages going up—[Interruption.] Their mortgages are going up, and that's your fault and your problem, and you've got to take responsibility for that.
Presiding Officer, I would like to use my question to raise the issue of ambulance handovers at hospital, which contributes to increased waiting times. The Minister will be acutely aware of the recent report by Healthcare Inspectorate Wales into A&E services at Grange Hospital, which highlighted many shortcomings. And I'm not critical of the staff at all here; I'm critical of the systems. The report highlights that, on the day that HIW's inspection took place, the average offload time at the hospital was over four hours. One patient had waited 18 hours in the back of the ambulance, and another for 13 hours. And there are many other handover breaches in the report, i.e. using ambulance trollies for long periods of time, and it was just not suitable. And it highlights the real issue of handover. I know that that's going to be dealt with separately, but, Presiding Officer, it's clear that, if we do want to cut ambulance waiting times, then we need to improve handover procedures, which, in turn, means creating additional capacity at A&E facilities, so that people can be triaged quickly.
Minister, how confident are you that the additional money that has been announced by the Government to support urgent and emergency care services will lead to increased service capacity, particularly as we head into winter? And how is the Welsh Government working with local health boards to ensure that patients who have to wait in an ambulance before entering hospital receive sufficient care and support and dignity, and the medication and equipment that they need?
Thank you very much, Peter. And you're absolutely right—the challenges around handover in health boards are something that I, as the health Minister, am really keeping the pressure on. What's interesting—. So, we've asked every health board now to demonstrate to us what is their plan. And it's really interesting, because the plans are quite different from health board to health board. And I'm going to give a shout out to Cardiff and Vale health board, because they've really focused and really said 'Right, these are the things we're going to do.' And we've seen, as a result of that focus, those four-hour handovers improve. And, so, what we need to do now is to make sure that everybody else learns from that example. So, we know what works; let's get everybody else to do it. And the benefit of having a Welsh health service is that we've got that kind of co-ordinating ability.
Questions now from the party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Gareth Davies.
I'm going to direct my spokesperson's questions this time towards my home area of Rhyl and the north Denbighshire community hospital up in that patch, or the lack of a north Denbighshire community hospital for that matter on the Royal Alexandra site. For 10 years now, this Welsh Labour Government, in the shadow of Nye Bevan, is depriving local people on the Denbighshire coast of a facility that will cater for many people's health problems, in a way that will take the emphasis off Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and reduce waiting times.
Now, back in 2012, this was costed as a £22 million project, doubling to £44 million in 2017. Who knows what the cost of it would be in the current financial climate? So, will the Minister disclose today whether, if this rudderless Welsh Government had acted a decade ago, people in Rhyl, Prestatyn and north Denbighshire would now have a local health facility that would have been affordable?
Well, I wasn't even in the Senedd 10 years ago, so I can't tell you, but what I can tell you is that making—. You've got to take into consideration that a £22 million bill is very different from what the bill would be today, which is £80 million—is it £80 million, around £80 million; £74 million or so—which is a significant difference. And let's remember that this is when the capital budget is not increasing. So, that is a problem for us, and we can't do much about that capital unless we get more money from the UK Government. And I know what you're going to say; you're going to say 'Yes, take responsibility.' I will take responsibility if—[Interruption.] I do take responsibility, but if I don't have the capital budget, how on earth am I supposed to address those issues that you as Tories want me to address?
Come off it.
You speak to your bosses up in London, tell them to give me more capital and I'll put my thinking cap on in terms of what we can do in terms of north Wales.
Well, I don't accept that answer really, health Minister, as this has been devolved as your Government's responsibility for nearly a quarter of a decade. And it's interesting you say that, as, back in 2018, 2019, when you were hopelessly scraping around for votes, your predecessor, Vaughan Gething, and my predecessor, Labour's Ann Jones, posted a social media video—[Interruption.]
No point of order. Let's carry on with the question please.
As it should be. Labour's Ann Jones posted a social media video in this very Senedd saying that the Welsh Government would deliver on the north Denbighshire community hospital, and that Labour was working for the people of the Vale of Clwyd. Now, this video has been conveniently deleted and confined to the bowels of history, but I know what I've seen, Minister, and I have a good memory, unfortunately for you. So, will you now admit that you've failed my constituents in Denbighshire, and that you've broken trust with them in believing that your party was working for local residents?
So, all of a sudden, I am responsible for the social media content of everybody within the Labour group. I'm sorry, guys, I'm not taking it. I've got enough responsibility on my hands as it is. Ann was not in Government, and I think you've got to understand that. If that's the case, I'm going to hold you responsible for what Liz Truss said. You want to do that? I'll hold you to it.
Can I just make the point that Ann Jones is not here to defend herself? She is no longer a Member of this Senedd at this point. I suspect if she was, she'd have something to say at this point. But I'll ask you to ask your third question.
Well, as a constituency Member who's very interested in this matter, I think it's only dutiful for me, as the Member for that constituency, to highlight the track record of this situation—[Interruption.]
Carry on with your next question; you're already a quarter of a way into it.
Okay. You may say that, Minister, but I had a meeting with the chair and directors of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board just yesterday, and they categorically told me that they've done all they can on their side of the bargain in terms of submitting their business case to you, planning procedures and anything else that's pertinent to their remit. So, they are waiting for you, Minister. People in Rhyl, Prestatyn and north Denbighshire have been promised this for a decade, without a spade going in the ground or any tangible evidence that this Welsh Government is doing anything. People in my constituency have to travel as far as Colwyn Bay, Llandudno and even Bangor and Holywell at times to receive step-down treatment, and not all people have access to private vehicles, relying on an equally failing public transport system under this Labour Government. So, will you meet with the health board at the earliest convenience and thrash these problems out to give local people the assurances that this Government is on people's side? And if you can't guarantee that, will you now admit that you've failed the people of the Vale of Clwyd?
I don't know—. It's true I did question before I walked in here why I'm answering questions from a spokesperson who's a spokesperson on care on issues that are related to health. I think that is something that perhaps the Presiding Officer might want to look at.
No, the Presiding Officer doesn't want to comment on that. It is a matter for the Conservative group to decide how they want to position their spokespeople questions and whether they want to focus on a particular area of Wales.
A point of order, Presiding Officer.
No point of order. You're trying your best, Huw Irranca-Davies, but I'm going to ask the Minister to respond to the question.
Okay, let's carry on. Let's just carry on. We can take this up afterwards. We can take it up afterwards. Listen, let me tell you—[Interruption.]
The lot of you, grow up. Grow some backbone.
Can we have some order, please? Can we have some order?
Had enough. Had enough.
Do you want to listen to the response from the Minister?
Well, she hasn't—
No, just sit down and listen to the response.
If she's got the decency to respond, then, come on, let's have it. Let's have it. Come on.
Now, come on.
Come on. I'm tired of this.
Can I have some quiet, please?
Constant shifting of blame all the time.
I'm sure we want to—. I think some people are leaving at this point. I'm going to ask the Minister to respond to the question, and I'll ask all Members to be quiet in order to listen.
Okay, let's just—. Shall we try and—[Interruption.]
There's no point of order.
Can we just try and move on? I'm happy to move on.
There is no answer to this question. I'm not asking the Minister to respond to the question, because things have gone out of order. You had your chance, Gareth Davies. I'll ask you if you want to leave quietly now, if you want.
I will leave, and it's an affront to democracy. It's an affront to democracy.
It's not. You've asked all your questions; it's in no way an affront to democracy.
I have, and there's no answer. There's no answer, so I will leave.
I am asking you to leave at this point.
Diolch yn fawr.
You will apologise to the Chair before you are allowed to re-enter this Chamber, and I will expect that apology soon. I am moving on now to question 3, Sarah Murphy. [Interruption.] I'll take a point of order at the end. Sarah Murphy to ask the question, please.
Presiding Officer, there does need to be a point of order.
No. Alun Davies, sit down now, please. I can accept—
When Members are afraid to sit in this Chamber—
Look, I am taking—. I'm asking you to sit down, right. I will take a point of order at the end of these questions. Sarah Murphy, question 3. Please ask the question, and I'm sure the Minister will respond.
Llywydd, you've forgotten Rhun.
Ah, right. Sarah Murphy, you've got some time.
Rhun ap Iorwerth, spokesperson's questions.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Llywydd. Can the Minister explain why she's refusing to engage in pay negotiations with the Royal College of Nursing?
I'm not refusing to engage. In fact—
Yes, you are.
No. I'll answer the question if you'll let me. I'm not refusing to engage, I've got a meeting scheduled for the end of this month with all of the trade unions and they all want to talk about pay. So, I don't have a problem with that and I don't know where you've got that information from.
The Minister knows that's not pay negotiations. She also said last week that she was meeting regularly with the Royal College of Nursing—that's not pay negotiations. The meeting that she has just referred to now is not pay negotiations. The last letter, I believe, that the Royal College of Nursing wrote to the Minister asking for pay negotiations was on 25 October. They still have not received a response to the letter that they sent to the Minister on 25 October.
I was struck with what the First Minister said yesterday. He said,
'all strike action ends in the end in negotiation',
but, surely, it's better to do the negotiation in a timely manner. Having failed to sit down to negotiate to try to avoid a ballot, will Government now give nurses and the nursing profession the respect they deserve by sitting down with them to negotiate in a bid to avert strike action, which nobody wants, least of all the nurses themselves?
Well, I can tell you nobody wants it less than me. I'm very worried about nurses going on strike in the middle of a very difficult winter. I understand their position, and I'm in a situation where I am trying to engage with trade unions. So, I met with the Royal College of Midwives this morning and pay came up, obviously, as an issue. I also had meetings with Unite representatives on Monday. Again, there's an understanding there.
That was not my question. I was asking about pay negotiations.
I think it may be you, Sarah Murphy.
Question 3, Sarah Murphy.
3. Will the Minister provide an update on the availability of faecal calprotectin tests in primary care settings in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board area? OQ58689
Making the faecal calprotectin test available to all GPs in Wales is a key action for the inflammatory bowel disease programme. Good progress is being made in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board area, as well as in other health boards across Wales.
Diolch, Minister. You and I both joined the Crohn's and Colitis UK launch of their new campaign 'Cut the Crap' last week, and we heard testimonies from those who are living with Crohn's, and overwhelmingly they stressed the importance of an early diagnosis. Last week, I also reached out to my residents and my constituents on social media and asked them to share any of their experiences of diagnosis, support and treatment, and, again, overwhelmingly people spoke about how they had faced misdiagnosis, with one woman saying that it actually took her 30 years before she found out that she had Crohn's disease. In order to make this better for people, we do need to ensure that healthcare professionals are given the tools to identify the symptoms of Crohn's and colitis, and access to the appropriate tests to avoid that misdiagnosis. So, Minister, what support can be given to GPs, in particular, in recognising the symptoms of Crohn's and colitis when people first come to see them?
Thanks very much, Sarah, and thank you for attending that event last week, which I thought was very useful. The Royal College of General Practitioners have funded an inflammatory bowel disease spotlight project, and that happened between 2017 and 2022. This produced really useful resources for those people in primary care, and those resources are still available on the royal college of GPs' website, and are also available on the Crohn's and Colitis UK website. I think they included a number of checklists, pathways and presentations aimed at primary care. So, I would encourage GPs and teams to use those resources. One of the other things that I thought was useful from the event was that they have their own symptoms checker, so you can check if you've got these symptoms. One of them—who knew—if you get up in the middle of the night to go for a poo, that's not normal. My mum will be disgusted that I'm talking about poo in the Chamber, but I think it's really important we start talking about these things.
Faecal calprotectin tests are a really effective way of diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome, or the need for further examination for things such as Crohn's and colitis, which I know you've just been discussing. IBS is common, affecting up to 25 per cent of the UK population and, in general, it can be managed in primary care. However, as the symptoms can be difficult to differentiate from inflammatory bowel disease, many patients are still referred and account for 28 per cent of gastroenterology appointments—I've been practising that word all morning. These tests can help reduce these referrals by differentiating between the two conditions. Calprotectin is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in adults with a recent onset of lower gastrointestinal symptoms for whom a specialist assessment is being considered and when cancer is not suspected. But, in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, 38 per cent of those waiting for treatment on gastroenterology are waiting over 36 weeks for treatment, and 831 are waiting over a year for treatment. Therefore, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that primary care settings are making more use of those tests where relevant, and what engagement have you had with stakeholders regarding that?
I think shining a spotlight on this is really important. That's one of the ways to make sure that GPs know about the resources that are available so that they can look for those symptoms and just be more aware. So, I think that's really important. And, as you say, we've got to differentiate between the two conditions, and it's really important. I think it's worth saying that the kind of bowel screening programme is slightly different, so we just need to make sure that people understand that there is a different approach going on here, and the bowel screening programme is being hugely successful. We've seen the uptake in that improve considerably. But this is slightly different and it's something where I think the focus needs to be on GPs looking out for those symptoms.
6. How is the Welsh Government ensuring that people living in mid Wales have adequate access to NHS services? OQ58705
Powys Teaching Health Board is responsible for providing services to its population. We're working with the health board on business cases for both the north Powys well-being development and refurbishment works at Llandrindod Wells hospital.
Thank you for your answer, Minister. The services provided by the Wales Air Ambulance to the people of mid Wales and other areas of Wales is invaluable. There is deep concern, as you know, Minister, with proposals to move the Welshpool base and how that will strengthen services in mid Wales. I find it difficult to accept that moving a helicopter and road vehicle further away from mid Wales will lead to an expansion in the service. The First Minister is yet to correct the record when he told me in this Chamber that the data that sits behind the proposals belong to the charity itself, when we know the data belong to the NHS Wales Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service Cymru. Do you agree with me that it is of great importance that all the information and data that underpins the proposals are made publicly available before the start of the engagement process?
We were more recently informed that the chief ambulance service commissioner is now leading on the process, but I was concerned yesterday that the Wales Air Ambulance charity has invited selected people to gatherings across mid Wales to explore, as they put it, 'the future of our service delivery'. The charity has made it clear that these sessions are by invitation only and should not be forwarded to other people to attend. I am concerned that this approach does not encourage equal opportunities for all to present their views and brings an element of confusion to the engagement process, which we are told is being led by the commissioner. I've got a strong view that there should be a formal public consultation on the proposals due to the change of delivery of a key service and the significant concern and public interest that these proposals have. Do you agree that there should be a full public consultation, and will you make sure that this is the case, Minister?
I understand the strength of feeling on this, in particular in Montgomeryshire and in north Wales, where the air ambulance bases are based at the moment. This is an independent charity. It's an independent charity, and what you have asked us to do is to make sure that the data and the presentation is available. Now, my understanding is that that presentation has been offered to Senedd Members and, actually, lots of people have taken up that opportunity to have a look at the data. So, that data is available, and I think what's important is that we understand that, all of the time, when money is tight, you've got to look for efficiencies, and what the air ambulance services are telling us is that they can gain some efficiencies if they change the configuration. Now, they're an independent service. I think what we've got to remember is that there is an opportunity for consultation, and it is through the community health councils; they are the representatives, the spokespeople for the public. So, what I would do is encourage people to make sure that they communicate and make their views known to the community health councils and that they then can engage with that presentation by the air ambulance service.
Good afternoon, Minister. I want to ask about teeth, and particularly the teeth of people in mid Wales. There are around 15,000 people waiting for an NHS dentist across Wales—that means that a wait of around two years for people to get an NHS dentist is the case. I do appreciate that there are problems and issues around waiting lists, and I've raised the issue a few times around the teeth of people in mid and west Wales. But I just wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about what your plans are around making sure that people in mid and west Wales get an NHS service, because, currently, what we have is a two-tier service where the rich can afford to go to a dentist, and those probably in the highest need, who are poorer, don't get that opportunity. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you very much, and thank you for your perseverance on this issue. I think it is really important. It's quite marked, though, that, actually, what I've noticed is that the number of people complaining has actually reduced slightly recently, and part of the reason for that is because the new contract reform system is starting to bite. So, the contract reform system that we introduced, 90 per cent of dentists are now—of the value of their dental contracts—working under those new arrangements, and what that means is that we've seen that 89,500 new patients have gained access to NHS dental services this year. So, it's already gone a long way. There's still a bit more to go; I think we need to get up to about 120,000 in terms of the contract value, so there's still a bit of a way to go, but it will be interesting to hear whether you have noticed that slight reduction in volume on this issue, because it's certainly something that I've noticed.
7. What steps is the Minister taking to improve public health in South Wales West? OQ58698
Improving public health is identified as a priority within 'A Healthier Wales', our long-term strategy for health and social care. This is supported by plans such as our tobacco control and 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategies.
Minister, there are several communities within South Wales West where we see a poor level of public health impacting not just on those individuals and their life chances, but on the health services that are expected to treat them. Poor public health has a significant impact on the ability of our health and care services, with significant proportions of our health budget responding to people's lifestyle choices. Our rate of smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet, and lack of exercise are putting people's lives at risk. Is it now time to review the public health interventions to find better ways to tackle the poor level of public health and to make this a priority for the NHS and for our nation? Thank you.
Thank you very much, Altaf, for that question. Tackling the public health challenges you've outlined is absolutely a priority for Welsh Government. As you've highlighted, obesity and smoking are drivers of inequalities, given their impact on people's life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, and people who are from the most deprived areas are more likely to be obese or to smoke than those in the least deprived. That's why tackling health inequalities is at the core of our proposals to tackle obesity and to support people to stop smoking. On obesity, we are committing over £13 million of funding to our 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' 2022-24 delivery plan to tackle obesity, with action to reduce diet and health inequalities across the population at its core.
On smoking, earlier this year we published our tobacco control strategy, and our first two-year delivery plan for 2022-24, and, in recognition of the health inequalities that arise as a result of smoking, tackling inequality is noted as one of the strategy's core themes. You mentioned physical activity. We're also placing an emphasis on supporting physical and mental well-being and actions such as our forthcoming social prescribing framework will aim to connect people with community support to better manage their health and well-being. Our consultation on that draft framework closed on 20 October, and we're currently analysing responses.
8. Will the Minister make a statement on the delivery of health services in the Hywel Dda University Health Board area? OQ58688
Hywel Dda University Health Board is responsible for the provision of safe, sustainable, high-quality healthcare services for its local population, based on the best and most up-to-date clinical evidence and advice.
Thank you for that response, Minister.
Minister, you'll be aware that demand for an autism assessment continues to be high in west Wales, with waiting times of up to three years. Indeed, I understand that the health board met with Welsh Government officials in July to identify possible funding to assist in waiting list initiatives. Therefore, Minister, can you tell us what support the Welsh Government is offering to Hywel Dda University Health Board to help it reduce waiting times for an autism assessment? And can you also tell us how the Welsh Government is supporting children and their families who are waiting for an assessment?
Thank you very much. Well, I know that there has been an issue, in terms of waiting lists for autism, for a long time in the Hywel Dda area. There are initiatives that are under way, of course, and we've had the capacity review, which has identified exactly what we need to put in place. If you don't mind, what I'd like to do is to ask my colleague, Julie Morgan, who is responsible for autism, to give you a more detailed response.
9. How is the Welsh Government working to protect children born with serious heart problems? OQ58694
All children are protected by a combination of screening and immunisations, as well as examinations at birth and six weeks, to promote early detection of abnormalities. For children with serious heart problems, the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee commissions a comprehensive range of services.
Thank you for that important answer, Minister. I'm sure you'll be aware of the amazing work done by the Test for Tommy campaign, and they are looking to provide life-saving pulse oximetry machines in maternity wards across the United Kingdom. Minister, I understand that I've just brought this to your attention and I'm asking for your consideration to support the campaign. If you are not able to do that today, would you come back to the Chamber to see if you could make sure the Test for Tommy campaign could be installed and implemented throughout Wales?
Thank you very much. I'm very willing to have a look at what the opportunities are and the benefits of doing that. As I say, I met with the Royal College of Midwives today, and the one thing I'm that I'm very aware of is, if you get it wrong in maternity, the costs are absolutely astronomical. So, it's an investment for us to make sure that we don't get it wrong, because, if we get it wrong, it can lead to a lifetime of treatment for those children. So, early intervention—. This is about serious prevention and a situation where we could actually save ourselves a huge amount of money. I'll look specifically into Test for Tommy, and get back to you.
Finally, question 10. Vikki Howells.
10. Will the Minister provide an update on work being undertaken to improve the provision of maternity services in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board area? OQ58687
Thank you very much. On 7 November, I issued a written statement providing an update on the considerable progress achieved by Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board in improving its maternity and neonatal services since 2019. The health board maintains focus on delivering further sustainable improvements in leadership, culture and service integration.
Thank you, Minister. The announcement that you would be de-escalating Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board's maternity and neonatal services from special measures was very welcome indeed. I think this was testament to the hard work that has gone in from health board staff to deliver the service improvements that the local community, mothers, babies and families, who need to access these services, should rightly be able to expect. In your statement, you noted delivering the culture change that is so critical is an ongoing but longer term piece of work. So, I'd like to ask: how will oversight of this be built into the targeted intervention for the health board's maternity and neonatal services?
Thank you very much. I would like to congratulate the staff on the immense amount of work that has gone into turning this department around. It really is quite remarkable; the leadership has been really transformed. And I'd also like to pay tribute to the bravery of the mothers who've really helped us to consider what changes needed to be put in place. So, a huge thank you to them, and it really is—. Their loss, I'm afraid, is dreadful, but I hope that they will get some kind of comfort from the fact that, actually, those services are now being turned around.
In relation to the cultural changes that are needed, they are, of course, undertaking a reorganisation within Cwm Taf Morgannwg at the moment. Improvement Cymru, as part of their intervention, will be undertaking particular support in this area, and this will be assessed through the targeted intervention monitoring framework. So, they've come out of special measures, but they're still in targeted intervention. So, that's where we really keep that oversight, and we will specifically make sure that that cultural shift, that was so important, really continues.
I thank the Minister.
Point of order, Joyce Watson.
Diolch, Llywydd. I want to raise a point of order about the behaviour that we all witnessed in this Chamber just a few minutes ago—behaviour that one of my colleagues felt so threatened by that she had to move away from that individual. And also that same behaviour showed huge disrespect to you as the Chair of this institution, and therefore the institution itself.
I've been here for over 15 years, and you've been here a lot longer, and I've never, ever experienced behaviour like that in this Chamber. I just hope, and I'm sure everybody will join me, that it isn't going to be repeated ever at all. It is a place of work, and, when people feel threatened by the behaviour of others in their place of work, especially when it's an elected Chamber and the office of Parliament, I think it is very concerning.
So, I thank you for allowing me to make the point of order. I hope the individual reflects seriously on his behaviour. I know that you asked for an apology. The apology, I think, is owed to all who witnessed it, but not least of all to the individual who felt so threatened and so upset by it. Thank you.
Thank you, Joyce Watson, for articulating some of the thoughts that have clearly gone through a lot of people's minds and have been sent to me here on the front desk, following what was an unacceptable outburst by the Member, and I think shook us all at the time, not only those in close proximity. I spent most of the morning telling a royal guest how well behaved we were as a Chamber in comparison to elsewhere, and I was wrong in that, and I'm sure the Member himself will want to reflect on his behaviour on this day, as well as any other day.
As I said just following the event, I will expect an apology from Gareth—. Gareth Davies—not Gareth Bale, Gareth Davies—before he is called again in this Chamber. That apology will be to me, yes, but it will be for all of us, and our expectations are high in this place, and one Member failed to reach that expectation of behaviour this afternoon. As you've said, Joyce Watson, I'm sure he will be reflecting on that at this point, as well as all of us, and I will expect the apology to come, and I shall make sure that all Members know when that is received.
A point of order, Presiding Officer. It's not the same point of order.
Yes, okay then—why not?
Thanks, Presiding Officer. I concur with the points made by Joyce, and you could hear the sentiment in the thing. But actually my original point of order that I was raising was on behalf of backbench Members who are not frontbench spokespeople. In introducing the substance of the remarks from the individual to my left behind me, he made it clear that he was using the opportunity as a frontbench spokesperson for social care to raise a constituency issue on health. That means that it prevents any other local or regional Members in that area—I'm not included in this particular one—to actually intervene or to come in on supplementary questions. My question—. You may not be able to answer it straight away—I appreciate that, Presiding Officer—but I really would appreciate, as a backbench Member, having some clarity on whether Standing Orders say anything on this, or whether it is indeed just for business managers within the political groups to do it. It seems deeply unfair to backbenchers that they're not able to speak on something that seems to me a misuse of a frontbench spokesperson's role.
Well, as I said during the questions themselves, it is a matter for the Conservatives to decide on what the content of their spokespeople questions is. It surprises me that a political group would choose to have their spokespeople questions focused solely on a constituency—a constituency, one constituency—issue, and I'll reflect on that. There is nothing in Standing Orders to prohibit it, and therefore it's in order, but I think that there are many aspects of that contribution this afternoon that will give us some issues to consider over a longer period of time. Thank you for that.
We'll carry on with the questions, believe it or not, and we'll go to the topical questions. The first this afternoon is from Vikki Howells.
1. Will the Minister make a statement on the recent news that Garth Bakery has gone into administration? TQ678
Yes, thank you for the question. It is deeply regrettable that Garth Bakery has gone into administration. The Working Wales and the ReAct+ team, along with Jobcentre Plus, are engaged with the employees, and I understand that assistance has also been offered from the local authority, Rhondda Cynon Taf. ReAct+ will provide tailored information, advice and guidance to the affected staff over the coming days.
Thank you, Minister. Garth Bakery has been a prominent employer in Cynon Valley and also an important part of the local economy for over 36 years, so the news that it has gone into administration is a grave blow indeed. This is particularly so for the around 100 people who have lost their jobs just six weeks before Christmas. I appreciate the intense distress and worry that this will cause them, and not only them but also their families, especially when we are facing the cost-of-living crisis, which has seen household budgets squeezed as the price of energy and food rockets and inflation reaches its highest level for over 40 years.
I have a couple of questions for you today. Firstly, what support or engagement has Welsh Government had with Garth Bakery? Secondly, please can you outline the practical measures that the Welsh Government can take as a matter of urgency to help the company's workforce who have lost their jobs? That's in terms of support to find work, but also programmes, as you've mentioned, to retrain or reskill, so that new career opportunities can be investigated and pursued, but also in terms of support to access, for example, mental health and well-being advice and targeted interventions around the cost of living. Finally, Minister, with colleagues I am looking to arrange an advice and support open day for employees of Garth Bakery shortly. I've formally written to you about this, but will you be able to make staff from appropriate Welsh Government agencies available, so that they can directly support anyone from the company who requires that support?
Yes, thank you for the questions. I recognise completely your point about the timing of the company going into administration and what it means for workers at this point in the year. And we know that the great majority of fuel bill costs are in this chunk of the year, through autumn, winter and into early spring, and the run-up to the turn of the year and Christmas. But we will and are already providing a range of support, and in the past we've provided opportunities to try to help the business to grow and expand. We've looked to help them with trading opportunities within the UK and, of course, they had agreements with Asda, Co-op and others for the supply of their products. We've also helped them with engagement with the NHS, and the company has made choices about how to run and what to try to do. I don't want to speculate about the reasons they've gone into administration, but our key concern is what will happen to the business and the employees, and the support for them. That's what Working Wales and ReAct+ can and will do.
It's not a workplace that has had a recognised trade union, but I know there is some trade union membership there. So, we'll work with all of the relevant stakeholders to try to provide the support that we can do to help people to get back into the workforce. At the moment, the broadly positive news is that there are still opportunities to work. We're still at a point where the labour market is fairly tight and other employers are looking for workers. So, I think there should be a deal of optimism about people finding alternative work. But I'll certainly make sure, following this question, that at the event that you're organising in the constituency that my officials are as supportive as possible, including in the conversations that they are already having with the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that there is a coherent offer for that broader range of support available to the affected employees.
May I thank Vikki Howells for submitting this question? Obviously, we share the same region, and I've also had a number of constituents raise the concerns here. I would like to associate myself with all of her comments and questions, and it's certainly a really concerning time as it's such a valuable business, as you've outlined, Vikki.
On a slightly different point, the loss of this factory will also lead to significant food-supply challenges for the schools and supermarkets that sold their bread and products. Garth Bakery were responsible for 300,000 rolls every week, and that will be something that is concerning, and I've had contact from people worried about this now. Will the Welsh Government support small local businesses to help address the food shortages likely to arise from this closure?
I'm not entirely sure there will be food shortages as a result of Garth Bakery no longer existing; it's the challenge in the broader sector, and whether actually there are alternative suppliers. Think about the supermarkets: if you go into broadly any supermarket, you'll find a range of products on the shelves at slightly different price points as well. I'm not aware that there's going to be a challenge in terms of that broader food offer, but on the terms of food supply into schools, for example, I think that is a fair point about one supplier disappearing when actually, of course, schools don't have a chance to reset in that way, which is why the work alongside the council is particularly important to make sure we don't have gaps in that supply. But it's a point that I'll recheck with not just my officials, but also with the education Minister and his contacts within local authorities as well.
I thank the Minister. The next question is to be answered by the Minister for Social Justice and is to be asked by Peredur Owen Griffiths.
2. What is the Government doing to promote community cohesion following serious allegations made about Gwent Police? TQ683
Thank you for this question. These allegations are very serious and I recognise they potentially have implications for community relations. The allegations in the report are shocking. As a Government, we stand against corruption, misogyny, racism and homophobia in all of their forms; it's abhorrent.
Thank you, Minister. The revelations, as you say, over the weekend about a former Gwent police officer and his colleagues were deeply disturbing. It is abhorrent that racist, misogynistic and sexist material is found on the phone of a police officer. Having met with members of the police federation yesterday, I know they are also disgusted with these serious allegations. If there is a culture of these views within the police, however small, it must be found and thoroughly and transparently investigated. It must then be eradicated swiftly if the public are to have full confidence in the police. Justice must be seen to be done.
What concerns do the Government have over this incident? Will more emphasis be placed on promoting community cohesion in communities where trust in the police is already not the highest, due to previous incidents? And how is the Welsh Government going to help reassure residents of the Gwent Police area and Wales more broadly that they can trust the police, who are there to protect them? Diolch.
Diolch yn fawr, Peredur. As of course you’re aware, policing isn’t devolved to Wales; it’s the responsibility of the UK Government, but we do work together closely with policing partners in Wales and we take this report very seriously. So, I met with the chief constable, Pam Kelly, and the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Jeff Cuthbert, on Monday morning, Monday the fourteenth, after this was revealed over the weekend. I met them to understand more about their response and to emphasise the seriousness with which we view these allegations.
I have to say that chief constable Pam Kelly and Jeff Cuthbert, the police and crime commissioner, made it very clear also that the content is abhorrent, and most importantly in terms of the confidence and trust that people need to have in the police, they said that any officers identified by the investigation as having breached professional standards or the criminal justice threshold will be held accountable.
So, the chief constable confirmed that they were already working at pace to address the issues raised. I’ve asked to be updated regularly on progress; we’ve asked for the matter to be raised at the next policing partnership board for Wales, which I chair with the First Minister. And also I’m aware that the chief constable, Pam Kelly, and the police and crime commissioner led a briefing to Gwent MSs and MPs on Monday.
What we have to say, and I’m sure we share this across the Chamber: it’s vital for the force to take decisive action and an independent investigation by Wiltshire Police is under way. The force has made it clear, and they made it clear to me on Monday, that firm action will be taken, as I’ve said, and I’ve asked for timescales on their inquiry.
Can I just also say that the fact is that chief constable Pam Kelly has made tackling racism and tackling violence against women a priority in her role as chief constable of Gwent? She is very engaged in our violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy implementation board, which I’m co-chairing with Dafydd Llywelyn, and is very engaged also with our 'Anti-racist Wales Action Plan'. So, we have to get that trust and confidence in the police as a result of the actions that they’ve agreed and promised to us.
I thank the Minister.
The 90-second statements are next, and the first statement this afternoon is from Joyce Watson.
Diolch, Llywydd. It's Global Entrepreneurship Week, and I'd like to take this opportunity to celebrate the fantastic work that our colleges do, helping to kick-start the careers of budding entrepreneurs. Global Entrepreneurship Week is about encouraging people, especially young people, to start their own businesses and highlight the positive impact they can have in terms of innovation and sustainable development, because more and more businesses these days, especially small businesses and entrepreneurs, are turning towards issues of equality, social justice, sustainability, as well as economic growth.
Colleges across Wales and those in my region have worked flat out to support young people who've had to be so resilient in these recent years, offering business support like one-to-one bilingual advice, running webinars and supporting start-ups, and free opportunities to test trade, as well as links to industry and local businesses. At Coleg Sir Gâr, Jackie Stephens, a textiles degree student, has been inspired and supported to start her own hand-weaving business, Studio Cynefin, designing beautiful, sustainable bags and accessories. As she put it, 'The inspiration from course tutors and lecturers, the enthusiasm and support of the college’s employability co-ordinator, Becky Pask, and the practical advice and guidance provided by the college have been invaluable.' So, good look to Jackie and to all our budding entrepreneurs.
The second 90-second statement from Joel James.
Thank you, Llywydd. Just two days ago, on 14 November, we commemorated World Diabetes Day, and this year there's been the fantastic announcement by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Diabetes UK of a jointly funded early surveillance for auto-immune diabetes study, which is a trial screening programme for type 1 diabetes that has the potential to transform the way the condition is identified and managed in its earliest stages. This, the first programme of its kind in the UK, will aim to recruit 20,000 children aged between three and 13 and assess their risk of developing type 1 diabetes, laying the groundwork for the development of any potential UK-wide screening programme.
While type 1 diabetes is currently managed using insulin, there are new immunotherapy treatments on the horizon that could prevent or delay the condition. This study will be a vital component in helping to roll out those immunotherapies. The risk of type 1 increases with the number of different autoantibodies present in the blood. Those with two or more autoantibodies have an 85 per cent chance of chance of developing type 1 diabetes within 15 years, and it is almost certain that they will develop the condition in their lifetime. Therefore, this research will be life-changing for children found to be at high risk, because it will enable families to be vigilant for the warning signs of diabetic ketoacidosis, which if left untreated can be deadly.
Discovery of a propensity for type 1 diabetes also means that parents and children can be offered support and education, including information on symptoms and management, to help prepare them for the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. Families will also be given the opportunity to be followed up in the long term, be given the opportunity to enable closer monitoring and, potentially, be given the opportunity to start insulin treatment sooner, which will help manage the condition.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those involved in designing and raising funds for this study, in particular Professor Parth Narendran, professor of diabetes medicine, and Dr Lauren Quinn, clinical research fellow at the University of Birmingham. Thank you.
There is now a motion to elect Members to committees. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion formally. Siân Gwenllian.
Motion NNDM8135 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.3, elects:
1. Peredur Owen Griffiths (Plaid Cymru) as a Member of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee.
2. Mabon ap Gwynfor (Plaid Cymru) as a Member of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee.
3. Llyr Gruffydd (Plaid Cymru) as a Member of the Llywydd’s Committee.
The proposal is formally moved. Is there any objection? There is none, so the motion is agreed.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
The next motion is to elect a Member to the Petitions Committee. I call on a member of the Business Committee to move the motion formally. Siân Gwenllian, once again.
Motion NNDM8134 Elin Jones
To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 17.3, elects Rhys ab Owen (Independent) as a member of the Petitions Committee.
The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore, the motion is agreed.
Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.
Item 5 has been withdrawn.
Item 6 is next, and that's the debate on the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee Report, 'Digital connectivity—broadband'. I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion. Llyr Gruffydd.
Motion NDM8123 Llyr Gruffydd
To propose that the Senedd:
Notes the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee report: ‘Digital connectivity—broadband’, laid on 1 August 2022.