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.

1. Questions to the Minister for Climate Change

Good afternoon and welcome, everyone, to this Plenary Meeting. The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Climate Change and I've been notified, under Standing Order 12.58, that the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, will answer all the questions this afternoon. The first question is from Sarah Murphy.

Daily Household Usage of Water

1. How is the Welsh Government working to reduce daily household usage of water? OQ58731

Thank you, and, Llywydd, I'd like to pass on the apologies of Julie James for not being able to be here this afternoon.

We announced in July our strategic priorities and objectives statement. This sets a clear mandate for Ofwat to incentivise the efficient use of water resources by encouraging companies to reduce water consumption. 

Thank you, Minister. Climate science tells us we're in for longer, hotter and dryer summers with the likelihood of ever more severe water shortages. Reducing daily water consumption would not only mitigate some of the challenges we've seen and will continue to see during the summer, but can also address water poverty during the current cost-of-living crisis. For example, there are parts of Wales at the moment that are at drought levels and we're only in November. In other countries, there are already targets set for water usage, with Brussels having a target of 96 litres per person per day, and there are also tech solutions such as water-saving flushes and tap fittings that I know Welsh Water already supply to customers, and that my group, Porthcawl U3A, were very keen for me to ask you about. So, Minister, given that parts of Wales are highly likely to continue facing summer drought and as bills continue to rise, what considerations have the Welsh Government made to upping our water efficiency status and potentially introducing a target that is ambitious enough to be meaningful in a climate and cost-of-living crisis?

Well, thank you. The Member raises a really important issue. As she says, our water system is under continued stress because of man-made climate change and it is going to get worse. The messages coming out of COP last week in Egypt were quite distressing about the state of the science and the level of the severity of the threat to us. So, conserving our water and treating it as the scarce resource that it is is essential. I've welcomed the campaign by Friends of the Earth to highlight this. 

There are number of things going on. There are individual initiatives by water companies. So, Dŵr Cymru, for example, has a set of tips that it promotes, encouraging people to take small measures for people to make a difference, like taking a shower instead of a bath, not leaving the tap running when you're brushing your teeth—these, cumulatively, make a meaningful contribution. Ofwat have also challenged the water companies to reduce leakage by at least 15 per cent over the next five years and both water companies in Wales are committed to doing this.

We are working with the UK Government on proposals to introduce a water efficiency labelling scheme to label water-using products such as taps, showers, toilets and dishwashers, and this will enable consumers to compare the relative water efficiency of these appliances, as they can for gas and electricity appliances. There are no plans at the moment to introduce targets, but clearly that's something we need to keep under review, depending on how the environment continues to change.

Minister, last year, Welsh Water customers consumed the most water per person per day, compared to all other regions in England. Our daily consumption at 176 litres was significantly higher than areas such as Bristol, for example, at 161 litres per day. What discussions has the Minister had with Welsh Water about the reasons for higher usage regarding household water consumption? As we attempt to be more responsible with our natural resources, it is clear that we need to take action to address this.

Well, thank you for highlighting this important issue. The water companies do have a duty to produce water resource management plans every five years and these must adhere to the Welsh Government's principles, which provide a high-level framework for the companies to follow in developing their plans. Dŵr Cymru has a commitment to reduce the average per-capita consumption of its domestic customers to 110 litres per person per day by 2050, and it plans to do this with a combination of education and behavioural change campaigns alongside increased household metering and leakage repairs. And we are continuing to work closely with them on that and Natural Resources Wales, along with Hafren Dyfrdwy—the two companies operating in Wales.

Junction Improvements on the A483

2. Will the Minister make a statement on the Welsh Government's review of junction improvements on the A483? OQ58740

The roads review panel has submitted its final report to the Welsh Government about its findings for each of the road schemes that it has reviewed, and this includes the A483 junctions 3-6 improvements. I will be making a further announcement on the next steps of the roads review by the end of the month.

Thank you for your statement, Minister. Of course, junction 1 at Ruabon was not included in the roads review, and therefore work on improving that junction has not been paused, and it's for good reason. That particular junction is utterly lethal and has created a congestion canyon right up the A483, with resulting carbon emissions increases. And, of course, it's also sending motorists onto local roads, again, putting lives at risk, particularly schoolchildren, and deteriorating the air quality in and around Ruabon. Minister, would you agree to visit the A483 and to meet with community leaders, and can you outline what progress has been made in the past year on work to improve junction 1 on the A483?

Thank you. As Ken Skates rightly says, junction 1 was not included as part of the roads review schemes that it has looked at, but the other junctions were. The proposals that have been put forward by the local council for junction 1 would involve a large remodelling of the junction, which would be carbon intensive and would increase road capacity. So, this is relevant to the recommendations we're anticipating from the roads review about future road schemes. What we don't want to do, by treating schemes in isolation—there's always a case for individual schemes—is for the cumulative impact of that to add to traffic volumes. So, we do need to think very carefully. That said, where there are traffic problems, there need to be solutions, and one of the themes in the roads review is how future roads can be made compliant with existing policies on climate change, transport and planning. So, when we produce the results, in the areas where we accept the recommendations of the review not to go ahead with a road, we will want to work with the local authority and other partners to see what else can be done in that case. As I say, I'm not able to preannounce what's decided—largely because we haven't yet decided—but we'll be updating Members in the coming weeks on the next steps.

Minister, one improvement that's needed on the A483 is in regards to the Pant-Llanymynech bypass, which I've mentioned a number of times in this Chamber, and you'll know I'm very keen to see this bypass, partly in my constituency, move forward. So, I'm quite keen that, due to the roads review on the Welsh side, this scheme isn't delayed any further. As I understand it, the UK Government—. It's a joint scheme between the Welsh Government and the UK Government, with Highways England leading on the scheme. I wonder if you are in a position to update me, Minister, on the scheme, if not today, in writing, because this scheme is particularly important, because it's not just a bypass; it's actually a road safety improvement. And if you are on the way up the A483 to visit Ken Skates in his constituency, can I ask if you'd stop on the way and meet me in my constituency to discuss this part of the road area as well?

There's nothing more I love than travelling around Wales visiting bypasses with my colleagues from the Senedd, so we'll see if the diary allows. I'm afraid the—. It's a cross-border scheme, as you say—only 5 per cent of it is in Wales, the rest being in England. And there are ongoing discussions between Highways England and Welsh Government officials about moving to the next stage, and I'm expecting some advice shortly about that, and I'd be happy to update the Member when I know more.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson first of all, Natasha Asghar.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Deputy Minister, during a recent interview on Sharp End, you hit out at Cardiff Bus for raising concerns about your controversial plans to roll out 20 mph speed limits across Wales. They feared that the move—which, I must stress, will cost upwards of £32 million—will lead to slower and more unreliable bus journeys. Deputy Minister, in response to the legitimate concerns raised by the company, you said Cardiff Bus had, and I quote,

'a remarkably narrow-sighted view'.

However, isn't it actually the reverse, Deputy Minister? It is in fact you who is narrow sighted, pushing ahead with this 20 mph plan whilst ignoring legitimate concerns, especially in light of a new report showing that cutting speeds to 20 mph does not actually, in fact, improve road safety.

I fear the Member's career as a tabloid newspaper editor has escaped her. The idea that I 'hit out' is rather sensationalist, I think. I was expressing my frustration with some of the comments that have been made, which I don't accept the premise of. I understand the concerns, and we're working with them on it, and we're working to understand better some of the problems they're having. We know one of the major problems that bus companies have is reliability and congestion. The evidence we have so far is that a 20 mph speed limit will produce smoother traffic flows. Most of the delays are at junctions, and people speeding up and slowing down to get to the next set of traffic lights as quickly as they can is a considerable cause of local air pollution, as well as using fuel, and, of course, being a danger on the roads. So, if we're able to smooth the traffic flows, that should help bus companies.

We're also not entirely clear how accurate most bus companies' timetables are. They're saying we're causing delays to their timetables; well, in many cases, they're not sticking to their timetables at the moment, and that's largely because of congestion. So, there's a circular argument here.

So, we certainly want to work with them to understand it better. Where there are problems, we're very keen to look at road space reallocations. The creation of bus lanes and bus priority measures is a different way of achieving efficiencies for the buses without, as she suggests, having a speed limit that we know increases the chance of being killed if you are hit by a car—some five times greater at 30 than 20. The study she referred to in Belfast is not a comparable study to what we're proposing in Wales, and I was disappointed that the coverage of that really did not reflect the reality of it. But I'm sure if she was to study it, and to study our proposals, she would notice significant differences. 


Thank you, Deputy Minister. Believe me, I did study your interview, and sticking with the Sharp End theme here, Deputy Minister, you were asked if the people of Wales should expect to see more 50 mph speed limit zones—just like the ineffective ones already placed along the M4 at Newport, where I live—pop up across the road network. You replied, and I quote, 'Yes.' The 50 mph cameras in Newport, Deputy Minister, simply haven't worked. Heavy congestion still plagues that stretch of road every single day. I fail to see why on earth you'd even consider installing cameras elsewhere across the country when they do nothing to ease congestion and do everything to make motorists' lives a misery. Deputy Minister, is it not true that the imposition of unrealistic speed limits has less to do with cutting pollution and everything to do with forcing motorists off our inadequate roads to cover up your failure to provide Wales with an effective and efficient road network?

Well, I do enjoy the post-match analysis of my interviews; it's always very good to get feedback, and, again, from tabloid newspaper editors. Perhaps she should be a tabloid tv critic as well; there are certainly other avenues open to her should she not decide her future is in politics, which would be a great shame. 

The provision of 50 mph speed limits, as the Member knows, were, in many cases, court ordered because they were breaching air quality targets, and, far from her saying have proven ineffective, the reverse is true, as she well knows. They have proven effective in bringing down the pollution levels, as well as contributing to smoother flow of traffic. So, I'm afraid she is wrong with her facts, wrong with her analysis and wrong in her diagnosis of the motivation behind them. 

Thank you, Deputy Minister. I appreciate your call for my future career change, whereas I'm quite happy where I am. I plan on staying here for a very long time because someone needs to hold you to account.

In the same interview, returning back to Sharp End, Deputy Minister, you were asked if motorists across Wales should expect to see road charges introduced. Again, your response was, and I quote, 'Yes.' We on these Welsh Conservative benches have never been in any doubt that this Labour Government is anti-driver, but you have confirmed our worst suspicions with just one simple word, which was your 'Yes.' People across the country are struggling to make ends meet with the rising cost-of-living pressures, whilst at the same time you are drawing up plans to squeeze even more cash out of them. Deputy Minister, will you finally stop punishing drivers at every available opportunity and go back to the drawing board and rethink your 50 mph and road charge plans?

Well, I can only assume that Natasha Asghar's researchers have the week off, but, clearly, she got a lot out of this week's Sharp End, which I'm sure they'll be very pleased about.

Now, the issue of road charging is simply a reflection of the fact that petrol tax will disappear as people stop driving petrol cars. It's her party's Government in the UK who has set a legal deadline to stop selling petrol cars, which I strongly support. That means, by definition, the Treasury's reliance on fuel duty to fund large parts of public services will have to be reassessed because people won't be buying petrol. So, some of form of road user charging is inevitable, and is, in fact, being actively worked on by her Government in London. So, whenever she comes up with hysterical labels to throw at me, she really needs to think beyond the soundbite to what she's saying, because this is something all Governments are doing, because, simply, the rules are changing. What we have said in our transport strategy is that we favour a benefits and charges approach, just as is being considered in Cardiff, where we do look at charging in some circumstances, but the money from that is used to pay for improved public transport and alternatives to the car. I think people would be willing to pay a charge, and certainly the polling would support that, if they felt they were given real, good quality alternatives to driving. That's what we're working on, and we're doing it carefully. But the idea of sticking to the current system simply will not fly.


Thank you, Llywydd. Minister, I want to ask you about COP27. Developing nations were celebrating on Sunday morning, because, for the first time in 30 years, developed nations agreed to provide funding to help them respond to disasters related to climate change, known as a loss and damage fund. The agreement in COP27 was far from perfect, with several key elements missing from it. Some nations said that the commitment on limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius did not not represent any progress, and the language used on fossil fuels was weak. The loss and damage proposal did draw praise, but it is clear that climate change is causing damage now, as we speak. So, do you agree that what we should be aiming at, if truth be told, is avoiding and preventing disasters, rather than pricing them in? If so, what contribution will Wales make to these efforts? 

I completely agree with Delyth Jewell that the outcomes of the COP summit were disappointing and frustrating. The problems with these international summits is they inevitably move at the pace of the slowest, because there needs to be unanimous agreement. Clearly, a number of countries have their own reasons for slowing progress, and that, simply, is not going to be adequate to deal with the severity of the threat that the science suggests we now face from man-made global warming.

I think she is right that the one little bit of comfort was some support for the developing world—people, of course, who contribute the least to global warming, but are suffering the most the first. So, there's a real moral obligation on us, as an economy founded on fossil fuels to make a contribution, but, also, a strong self-interest. We know that levels of migration are set to increase as climate change hits, with people having been displaced from their land not being able to sustain a livelihood. They will be going onto other countries, and that will inevitably impact us. Even those who are not fully signed up to the science of climate change and fill our newspapers with warnings about migration should pay attention to the need to help the developing world mitigate the impacts to avoid adverse effects on things they care about further down the line.

The Welsh Government has been, for a number of years, working through our Wales and Africa project, in helping developing nations. It's an outstanding project. To give you just one example, in the Mbale region of Uganda, we're working with coffee farmers to plant trees. We've planted now 20 million trees since the project started. That not only helps give them a livelihood, but also stabilises their land from flash flooding that is produced by climate change, by using the trees to bind the land together. I've met a number of the coffee farmers, who are remarkable people. We need to understand the impact of our behaviour on their ability to live their lives. 

Thank you for that, Minister. Sticking with the COP theme, after COP27, it seems that Governments across the world have abandoned hope of 1.5—that chance of limiting global temperature rises to an only slightly catastrophic 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. That is escaping us. It's being written off in newspaper columns and government policies. It is slipping into the past—a future we might have saved for ourselves but we didn't manage to do it. And whilst the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2, 2.5, or 3 degrees can be measured in the number of extinctions, deaths and droughts, it can also be catalogued in the turmoil and despair of young people. What more can your Government do to retain that hope for young people in a world that's writing off their future? Can your Government bring its influence on keeping 1.5 alive? 

She is, of course, right to be distressed by the increasing likelihood that we're not going to be able to reach the target set in the Paris agreement, and I think people need to focus on what this means. When we have the world's scientists telling us that we are facing catastrophic irreversible climate change, we really need to sit up and take notice. We're going to have to account for our failure to act in the face of very clear evidence to our children and future generations. So, it's imperative that we fight hard to make sure that we do take meaningful steps now, not wait until 2030 or 2040, by which time it'll probably be too late as we'll have locked in embedded emissions.

To answer her question, 'What can we do?', I think we can show leadership, we can show other Governments that we are prepared to match our rhetoric with action. That's one of the reasons why we have commissioned the roads review. There are always difficult short-term trade-offs to face up to, and sometimes unpopularity, because change is difficult and painful, but the alternative is far, far worse.

Reducing Carbon Emissions

3. What has the Minister done to reduce the carbon footprint of her department in the past year? OQ58745

The Welsh Government, along with other public organisations, has a responsibility to reduce its carbon impact and to act as a role model for others. Officials in our department have developed a net-zero strategic plan for the Welsh Government, which will be published before Christmas to inform future action.

Thank you for that, Deputy Minister. We all accept in this Chamber that there is a massive issue with climate change, and no-one can deny that. Your Government often talks about tackling the climate emergency. Indeed, the Welsh Government refused to go to the recent COP27 in Egypt, as the Minister stated, due to concerns over the carbon footprint. That is a very moral decision. However, Welsh Government Ministers and officials this year have enjoyed a world tour that I think would put many rock bands to shame. You've been to Norway, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, USA, Qatar, and I'm sure there are plenty more venues to come. Indeed, I have to tell you that some of these places are further away than Egypt, and, as a result, there will be a substantial increase in the carbon in the atmosphere. So, I'd like to know how you and the climate Minister can justify not going to COP in the light of the Minister's comments and all that the Welsh Government is doing to tackle the climate emergency.

The ministerial code makes it clear that Ministers have to think carefully about the need to travel and whether or not there is a justification for it. Of course, there will be times when there is a justification for it. The examples that he chose were about pursuing trade opportunities, about developing relationships with other countries, and about telling people about the work that we are doing. There is a role for that, but we need to do it selectively. So, yes, Julie James and I decided it wouldn't be appropriate to go to this year's COP because it was not a decision-making COP, as last year's in Glasgow was. Instead, Julie James will be going next month to Canada for the biodiversity COP because we think we can add value to that in a way we didn't think we'd add value to the Egypt one, even though we were represented by officials. I realise the Member is interested in making a cheap point, but there is force to the argument that we need to be minimising our own carbon footprint and we should not be travelling internationally unless there's a strong case for it, as indeed the ministerial code makes clear.

Floating Offshore Wind Power

4. Will the Minister make a statement on the opportunities presented by the development of floating offshore wind power in Wales? OQ58727

Floating offshore wind has the potential to contribute significantly to Wales and Great Britain’s future net-zero energy system and is a fantastic opportunity to bring social and economic benefits to our coastal communities. We are working closely with industry, the Crown Estate and the UK Government to make this a reality.

I agree with you, Deputy Minister, that the opportunities presented by floating offshore wind are enormous. As you know, I am a supporter of the transformational bid for the Celtic free port, which I believe would play a huge role in developing a greener and more sustainable future here in Wales. Of course, it's vital that all marine development projects are strategically placed to protect marine species and support ocean recovery. Wales's first floating offshore wind farm, project Erebus, is being developed 40 km off the coast of Pembrokeshire. The developers, Blue Gem Wind, who I've met on a number of occasions, submitted their planning consent in December 2021 with a clear ask for a consent decision in 12 months to enable the project to compete in the next contracts for difference allocation round. Therefore, Deputy Minister, what assurances can you give to Erebus and all other potential floating offshore wind projects that decisions over consents will be given in a timely manner in order to enable projects to progress and so they don't actually miss out on valuable funding opportunities in the future?


The Member may remember that, just under a year ago, I led a deep dive into renewables to look at what barriers were in the way of us achieving our ambitious targets. One of the recommendations we came up with there was an end-to-end review—if a deep dive can come up with an end-to-end review; you know what I mean, we're lost in jargon here—of the consenting process from beginning to end, to look at what was frustrating developers, and what was causing delays, and was there a case for example on looking at an evidence base collaboratively, which would save individual developers having to do it each time. This project was one of the ones that we looked at as part of that process. We've had the results of the end-to-end review, and we're now working through those in detail to see with NRW what we can implement to help schemes like this in the future. On this specific project, we are working with the project developers on the process for a marine licence. You'll understand that, as we have a role in the appeals process, I can't comment any further on it, but our officials are doing what they can, and of course, the developers also need to do what they can to meet the deadline that they've asked us to meet. 

There's been much focus, of course, on floating offshore wind. It feels a bit like it's the flavour of the month, but it's hugely valid, of course—nobody is challenging that—particularly with the focus on the Celtic sea. But we mustn't forget, of course, there's still huge potential to be realised from fixed-base turbines in the Irish sea. I see that as very much a key driver for the north Wales economy, particularly focused around developing a strong offshore wind presence at Holyhead. So, can you tell us what the Welsh Government's aspirations are in relation to the Irish sea, particularly post the Crown Estate's round 4 leasing, and what your Government is doing to continually promote those opportunities in terms of fixed-base turbines, particularly in the Irish sea?

He's right, and we're interested in all opportunities to improve renewables capacity. One of the things we're also keen on is to make sure we have a supply chain and a benefit to the local economy, both through ownership and through manufacture. I've never found it fathomable why we are having German pension funds invested in wind farms off north Wales when we're not benefiting directly from the profit ourselves. That's one of the reasons why we've announced the creation of an energy company for Wales, to exploit the opportunities on the Natural Resources Wales estate. We are also—along with Plaid Cymru—working on a proposal for community energy. So, there is much work going on to exploit this. What we need to work closely with the UK Government on is an industrial strategy to go alongside the renewable plans. I raised this with Greg Hands when he was energy Minister, and this is something the industry themselves are keen on, because there is significant both energy potential but also employment potential if we get this right.

Rail Services

5. What plans does the Welsh Government have to increase the quality and availability of rail journeys in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr? OQ58747

Transport for Wales are increasing the number of rail services on the Heart of Wales line from this December from five services a day to seven. The refurbishment of the rolling stock used on this line has also recently been completed, providing an improved passenger facility.

I'm grateful to the Minister for his response. Of course, you and I will be very familiar with this line, as it travels through the middle of the town where we were educated. It provides a wonderful journey, of course, through mid Wales. But many of my constituents have been having poor experiences recently, in terms of regular delays, poor availability and poor reliability. During the past month, for example, I've been given to understand that one constituent had been left to all intents and purposes with his fellow passengers in Llanwrtyd Wells, waiting hours for an alternative bus service in place of that train. Another constituent had to cancel a holiday in Shrewsbury after a service was cancelled without notice. In addition to this, there are also problems in Ferryside with the other line, where the service travelling from Manchester to Milford Haven doesn't stop in Ferryside, although it goes through the village. So, could you have a word with Transport for Wales on both of those points?


I was grateful that the Member wrote to me about his constituents' experience of being left behind in Llanwrtyd, and I hope he got my response on that. There have been problems right across the rail system. We've been particularly struggling with the legacy fleet of trains that are, many of them, not as reliable as we'd want them to be, and that has been causing impacts on the reliability of services. We are very hopeful that the new trains—one is already operating on the Conwy valley line, another is due to come into service on the Rhymney valley line early in the new year, and then they'll be cascaded throughout the year, which I think will make a significant difference, not only to passenger comfort, but also to capacity; they'll be able to carry more passengers.

We also are promoting the Heart of Wales line through free travel for concessionary pass holders between October and March, and we are looking as well at visitor opportunities around the stations when they get there. I'm meeting with passenger groups soon to discuss further opportunities for that.

On the communication point he raises when things do go wrong, I think it is a very fair point, and we know that there have been failures that have been raised in this Chamber before, with the poor communication with passengers. I will ask Transport for Wales to write to you further about that and the issue of stopping in Ferryside to see what more can be done for what is a legitimate grievance.

I thank Adam Price for tabling this question, because it's pertinent to my constituents too in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, who, over the last few weekends, have been hit by misery and delay as they've travelled to and from Cardiff for Wales's autumn international rugby games. 'Exhausted', 'out of ideas' and 'directionless' were the words uttered to me by a constituent—not a description of the Wales men's rugby team after their loss to Georgia, but their account of the rail services in Carmarthenshire and south Pembrokeshire. Given this, Deputy Minister, what specific options are you taking to ensure that those who live literally at the end of the line get an equal and comparable service to those in the rest of south Wales?

There were some difficulties after the Georgia match on the weekend because, again, of reliability of some of the rolling stock, and, as I say, we have got active plans now to replenish that in the coming months, which I think will make a significant difference. We are investing significantly in services, and we need that to be matched by infrastructure investment from the UK Government in the rail system. Rail infrastructure is not devolved, and as we have rehearsed in this Chamber, we are being significantly underfunded and not getting the benefits from HS2.

I was very disappointed to see the new Secretary of State for Wales, David T.C. Davies, who had championed this cause when he was Chair of the Welsh select committee, recognising the case with cross-party consensus on that committee, and I'm pleased to say, support now as well from the Conservatives in this Chamber for passing on to Wales the full Barnet consequential of the HS2 project. Sadly, as soon as he sits around the Cabinet table, where he is meant to be Wales's voice, he recants from that and makes the case for not passing it on on the basis that people in north Wales would be able to catch trains at Crewe, ignoring the fact that its own business case shows a significant harm to the south Wales economy from HS2, as well as the lack of investment that we'll have to invest in alternatives. So, I hope that we can continue to work on a cross-party basis to try and get sense in Westminster and to get the Secretary of State, both for Wales and for transport, to change their minds.

Good afternoon, Deputy Minister. I do just want to say very quickly that I recently had a very good journey with TfW, finding the ticket office staff very, very helpful. So, I know that they do work very hard, and I think it's important to put on record the achievements of many of those people. But I just want to raise another wonderful railway line, from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, with a little diversion to Pwllheli. Now, that route is just like going through Italy, it really is. You've got the sea on one side, you go over the Mawddach estuary, you see Barmouth, you've got wonderful Pwllheli to go up to. It is a wonderful railway route, but it just doesn't have enough trains to go on it. When I lived in Welshpool and would travel to work, if I missed the 6.30 a.m. morning train, there wasn't another one until 9.00 a.m. Now, we're not asking for a lot; we're just asking for an hourly train service along the Cambrian line. So, I just wondered, Minister, if you could tell us about any plans for that to happen, and when that might be the case. Diolch yn fawr iawn.


Thank you. Yes, there are particular challenges on that line, because only one of the trains that we have are able to use it. So, when there are problems with the carriages, it makes it very difficult to provide an alternative. As I say, as we cascade our new fleet of trains across the network, there will be improvements for, I think, 95 per cent of passengers and journeys, which will be a significant step ahead.

The railways are a challenge for us. They are an expensive form of public transport and carry comparatively few passengers. We have faced the judgment of investment in buses and in active travel to try and reach our modal shift targets, and, obviously, with inflation, the cost of running rail projects are also significant, as well as other delays being felt throughout the industry. So, it is a challenging situation and the progress is slow; everything takes forever, it does feel like, sometimes. We do have ambitious plans and we are implementing them, but there is scope to do far more, which is going to be harder to achieve with the cuts that we are now expecting from the UK Government. I heard the leader of the opposition say again yesterday that the Welsh budget's going to be better off as a result of the budget, completely ignoring the impact of inflation. We are going to be something like £3 billion worse off, not £1 billion better off, and that's not taking into account the £1 billion we've lost from European funds. [Interruption.] Janet Finch-Saunders gives her first heckle of the day to ask me to sell the airport. Well, a £3 billion shortfall is not going to be raised from a circa £50 million sale of an airport, and that's assuming that you can find a buyer for it.

Inner Urban Environments

6. Will the Minister outline the Welsh Government's policy to improve inner urban environments? OQ58752

The focus of our Transforming Towns programme is the sustainable development of our town centres, supporting investments in our towns that are shaped by place-making plans and include green space, reuse of derelict buildings as community hubs and increasing the variety of services on offer.

I paid my first visit to the refurbished Newport market last week, after a visit with John Griffiths to open the secure cycle store in the heart of the centre, and, I must say, I thought the market was superb and I'm proud of the role that we've played, with the local council, in making that an attractive facility, which I'm told is packed on weekends. And for those who haven't visited, I would encourage a trip. 

Well, I'd certainly join you, Minister, in encouraging as many people as possible to visit the wonderfully refurbished and transformed Newport market. There is much good work going on in Newport. A further example, Minister, in Newport East is the Maindee renewal project. This has engaged local residents to transform the local area, which is a very busy urban environment with a lot of road traffic. As part of those projects, Greening Maindee is producing some really good quality green space to be enjoyed by the local community. There is a Maindee makers project that is reusing and recycling, producing things like portable flower containers to help with the greening effort, and the Maindee triangle, which is opposite the community library, has a cafe and a performance space, which saw the first ever Maindee music festival this summer. So, much is going on there, Minister, but there are ambitious plans for further work. And I wonder if you would consider how Welsh Government might continue to support this transformative work and hopefully visit the area with me to see first-hand the progress made, and hear first-hand the future plans, which I think would further transform that very important local community. 

Well, thanks very much for highlighting the great work going on in Maindee, John. I'm pleased that the Maindee Unlimited triangle project has received over £200,000 of Welsh Government money towards transforming what was a public toilet into a community hub and green space. That was through our community facilities programme, and applicants can submit up to three applications totalling a maximum of £300,000 in any three-year period. This means that Maindee Unlimited can currently apply for an additional grant of around £70,000 within the current window, and I'd be keen to work with him and talk to them about what other opportunities there might be to improve the area. 

Swansea city centre has seen welcome investment from the local council, Welsh Government and UK Government in recent years, mostly as a consequence of the Swansea bay city deal. The investment, worth around £1.3 billion, has helped deliver things like the new digital arena in Swansea and other projects, with the aim of making the city a more attractive place for workers and employers. But constituents have contacted me about the disproportionate emphasis they feel that this and other funding has, having been aimed at the city centre specifically. Swansea is home to fantastic other conurbations, such as Morriston, Gorseinon, Mumbles and Pontarddulais, and in some of those areas, high streets are really struggling, and transport and infrastructure needs are not being met in the same way as they would be if they were in the city centre. So, with that in mind, how are you working with Swansea council and other councils to ensure that it is not just city centres that benefit from additional funding to improve urban areas?


Well, I have been leading an exercise looking at what we can do to help town centres; what are the barriers to improving them? We all know, from our own areas, of the sorry state of many town centres and the huge pressures that are on them—pressures that are only going to get worse with rising energy prices. And I am very concerned about the lack of an offer from the UK Government for businesses, for very significant increases in their energy bills. I was simply talking to a chip shop owner in Burry Port the other week, who tells me that their energy bills have gone up by 300 per cent. It's very hard to see how businesses like that can sustain those sorts of rises for very long.

So, I fear that we will have an even sorrier state of town centres over the coming months as businesses close down because they are not able to meet unsustainable increases in energy bills. I would urge the UK Government to put a package together to help with that.

We'll be publishing the results of the town centre action group recommendations soon. But, one of the things that we did look at was the experience of Morriston, as part of that work—the study done by Professor Karel Williams into the value of that very long high street, and actually, what local people value. Far from being infrastructure, of the sort that he mentions, what they found is that they valued social infrastructure. So, the state of the park, the state of the toilets—things that have been hit by austerity cuts significantly in the last 10 years, and will be hit even further by the austerity cuts that we are expecting as a result of the budget.

So, it's very hard to improve things when public services are being hammered, as they have been under this Conservative Government. But we have come up with a series of practical recommendations of things that we can do, working with local authorities, to help town centres rebuild.

Empty Housing Stock

7. What assessment has the Minister made of the amount of empty housing stock on public authority-owned land? OQ58730

Thank you for raising this very important issue. The latest figures suggest that around 1 per cent of social housing stock held by local authorities has been vacant for more than six months.

Thank you. Now, you don't need me to tell you that, across north Wales, we have a severe shortage of housing accommodation. During 2021-22, 1,126 people contacted Gwynedd Council because they were homeless—50 per cent more than in 2018-19. Around 2,000 are on the list for social housing in Conwy County Borough Council, and in Wrexham, the number of individuals classed as homeless has more than doubled to 2,238, from 2019-20 to 2021-22.

Now, despite people being so desperate for housing units, it is a fact that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has as many as 750 units of accommodation across north Wales that are not in use. I have raised it with the Minister for health; I have raised it also with the Minister for Climate Change. The Minister for Health and Social Services informed me again last week that the health board is now in the process of looking at procurement options to work with a partner for its residences. Now, I know from liaising with registered social landlords that these units could be made into viable housing stock, either for those in the medical sector, or, indeed, those who simply want a home. So, Minister, do you agree with me, given that I have raised these concerns now for—oh, I started raising them last year, when I found out that we had all this empty housing stock. Do you not think that it's unacceptable that there isn't some kind of partnership working now between the Minister for Climate Change, who is responsible for housing; the Minister for health; and whoever it takes, to get this empty stock back in as livable, warm, safe homes for all those many, many hundreds of people who just lie lingering on a housing waiting list? Diolch. 

Well, I appreciate you raising it, and it is a good question, and I thank you for raising it. You have written to us and we are working on a response and getting to the bottom of the situation in Betsi Cadwaladr. Of course, not all vacant housing stock in public ownership is available or suitable for letting: they may well be being kept for other schemes; they may be part of further developments. So, it's not a simple picture; that's why we need to try to get to the bottom of it. [Interruption.] Janet Finch-Saunders tells me it's a lot simpler than I think. Well, things may seem simple from the opposition benches; I can promise you that, in Government, things are often a little more complex than they seem. But she is right to raise it, we want to tackle it; we have ambitious plans to bring empty homes across Wales back into use.

I was involved in a pilot in the Valleys taskforce, based on an excellent scheme that Rhondda Cynon Taf have been running for a number of years of giving grants to private homeowners to bring empty properties back into use. Rhondda Cynon Taf again are showing great leadership in increasing the council tax on empty homes and recycling that funding into getting more empties filled up, and that is something other local authorities have available to them. They can increase council tax by 300 per cent on empty homes that have been empty for more than six months. Across all social landlords—local authorities and RSLs—something like 1,700 units were vacant for over six months, and of these 286 units were available for letting and were awaiting a tenant.

So, there is considerable potential there to try and quickly get these back into use, and we are providing over £24 million to purchase and refurbish empty properties, and a further £65 million in what's snappily called the transitional accommodation capital programme, to respond to this. We'll be bringing more than 1,000 additional homes into use over the next 18 months as good quality, long-term homes for people. But I will write to you once we have further information on the specific example that you cite. 

Renewable Energy

8. What assessment has the Minister made of the potential of harnessing the power of the sea to generate renewable energy? OQ58737

Thank you. There is very significant resource potential that exists in the seas around the Welsh coast to generate renewable energy. That's why we've established the marine energy programme to lead on our programme for government commitment to make Wales a global centre of tidal technologies.

Thank you, Minister. Minister, as a country with a significant coastline, the opportunities to harness the power of the sea in energy production are vast, and while there have been some recent announcements, such as at Morlais in north Wales, I want to see greater ambition from Government, working with the Crown Estate and other key partners, to step up this ambition if we are to turn our energy production and economy towards a more sustainable future. One significant area is the Severn estuary, which has, of course, the most spectacular tidal range and tidal power, which remains untapped. Is it now time to revisit this with the UK Government and others?

Well, I'm glad the Member mentioned the Morlais scheme on Ynys Môn, which is an excellent scheme made possible by European funding—funding that is no longer available to us, and which, despite the promise by the UK Government that we would not be a penny worse off, has not been replaced. So, our ability to do similar schemes to Morlais has been impeded by Brexit and the failure of the UK Government to bring forward an alternative scheme. James Evans may groan, but facts are facts, my friend, and there's a real-world consequence, which—. I'm in support of your colleague's call for us to do more to harness the power of the sea; it's his Government that is getting in the way of that. In fact, it was by reducing their incentive regime prematurely that it hampered the ability of the market to deliver on the targets we have, and that's why we've set up our marine energy programme, to bring real advantages to Wales. 

To just loop back round to how we started the question, with the Morlais scheme, we should pay tribute to the huge leadership provided by Menter Môn, a social enterprise based on the island, who have driven this from the beginning, and the role of the community sector in working with Government to take forward these projects is of vital importance. 

2. Questions to the Minister for Education and Welsh Language

The next item, therefore, is questions to the Minister for Education and Welsh Language, and the first question is from Heledd Fychan.

Access to Education

1. How is the Welsh Government supporting learners in South Wales Central whose access to education has been affected by the cost-of-living crisis? OQ58751


Our pupil development grant—access provides funding directly to eligible families for the purchase of uniform, kit and other school supplies. I announced an additional one-off payment of £100 to all children and young people eligible for PDG—access this year, taking funding to over £23 million for 2022-23.

Thank you, Minister, I know that you recently visited Llanishen High School, where the cost of transport was raised with you as one of the barriers that has an impact on the attendance of pupils. This is an ongoing problem that's been raised with me, and something that you have previously said that you are working with the Deputy Minister for Climate Change on. However, I understand from the learners that the situation is getting worse, with more learners having been refused bus travel because they didn't have money to pay for the journey. So, what discussions have been held with local authorities in South Wales Central—namely Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan and Rhondda Cynon Taf—in order to ensure that the cost of the school day, including the cost of transport, isn't a barrier to all pupils attending school? 

Thank you to Heledd Fychan for that supplementary question, and this is a very fair point to raise, and it is a challenging situation, as the Member said. I visited Llanishen school recently to discuss with a group of pupils, including a Member of the Youth Parliament, who had been undertaking research into the impact of this on the school, and who'd been looking at possible solutions. And it was a very beneficial visit and a very useful discussion, because I certainly understand the concern and the major challenges that families face in this context. Officials in the climate change department, who are responsible for transport, as the Member will know, have been in discussions with local authorities and with school transport providers across Wales, if truth to be told, to look at the cost of school transport in particular as local authorities continue to meet their statutory duties to provide transport. The increase in the cost of fuel has been a significant challenge to this. As the Member will know, the duty paid on fuel is not something that's been devolved. The UK Government hasn't taken action on that, unfortunately. We've written to the UK Government to draw attention to that. A review has taken place of the Learner Travel (Wales) Measure 2008 recently, and it has demonstrated that there is a need to look further at some elements of that provision, and that work is currently taking place in terms of officials in the climate change department.    

Minister, as I am sure you are aware, disadvantaged children face a myriad of challenges that do not necessarily exist for most people. One such disadvantage is the availability of internet and appropriate devices at home. The Children's Commissioner for Wales has estimated that a third to perhaps even half of children do not have access to appropriate devices, and that, even when these have been made available, there is still the issue that households on low incomes are less likely to have internet connections. This is particularly true for rural communities, where sufficient broadband bandwidth is extremely limited, and therefore not really worth purchasing. Given the fact that home learning has become a tool adopted by schools to manage teaching during COVID lockdown—and I'm aware that many, if not almost all, schools have kept the system in place to continue to help provide additional learning support—what steps is the Welsh Government taking to work in partnership with local authorities and schools to help ensure sufficient devices with internet access are available for low-income households with school-age children? Thank you. 

I thank Joel James for drawing attention to this issue. It was one of the key areas of priority for us during the COVID pandemic for the very important reason that he gives—to make sure that inability to afford digital equipment or connectivity didn't pose a barrier to young people being able to take advantage of the blended learning that was taking place at the time. We invested over £180 million to, if you like, futureproof our education technology infrastructure and make sure that it's available to every learner on an equitable basis. That involved 216,000 end-user devices and also connectivity. So, there will, I'm in no doubt, be examples where that remains a barrier, but our commitment is to make available that significant pot of funding to ensure that no learner is disadvantaged because of an inability either to afford computer kit or broadband connectivity.


Minister, I mentioned, during First Minister's questions yesterday, my recent visit to Capcoch Primary School in Abercwmboi to see the work they do to tackle child poverty, which has been praised by Estyn. Their interventions include things like a clothes exchange, a foodbank and an inclusive approach to school trips, which are all the more vital when we are facing increasing pressures on household budgets, which can pose barriers to accessing schooling. How is the Welsh Government promoting examples of best practice like this, so that schools can support learners and their families to mitigate the impact of the cost-of-living crisis?

I thank Vikki Howells for drawing attention to the good work happening in Capcoch school in Abercwmboi. The PDG—access grant that we make available in Wales has, I hope, made a significant difference to many families, at least many lower income families, around Wales, helping to remove some of the worry, at least, around, for example, the purchase of school uniforms, kit and other equipment. In addition to what I've just said in response to the earlier question, what we want to make sure is that children can both attend school and take full part in activities at the same level as their peers. That grant is now available to eligible children and young people in all compulsory school years. She'll know, as I mentioned earlier, that that has been increased during this financial year by an additional £100. But we are also looking at the use to which PDG funding is put generally. There are some really good examples—and she's drawn attention to some of them in her question—of schools using that funding in a very impactful way, and I want to make sure, as part of that review, that every head looking at how best to use that funding has access to a good evidence base, good case studies and best practice from elsewhere. And I'm sure that the work that she's drawn attention to at Capcoch school is the sort of thing that we want to make sure that schools everywhere are able to take advantage of.

I'd like to ask what support is available for students in further education and other colleges that generally serve the poorest students, because of the breadth of their curriculum. The UK Government gave no money to colleges in the financial statement last week, even though they did give some money to schools. What can colleges in South Wales Central expect from the Welsh Government?

I thank Jenny Rathbone for that question. They can expect our commitment to further education to continue; I was determined that we would reflect that commitment in our budget settlement for this year. So, for the 2022-23 year, you will see investment of over £400 million directly to colleges for core provision and support, which is the largest increase, actually, in many years, and that was to reflect our commitment to the work that further education colleges do, in particular reaching parts of our communities that sometimes schools may not be able to always reach, because of the breadth of the offer in the way that she mentioned in her question. But my officials are working closely with the sector to identify the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and to look for opportunities to reduce costs to the sector through joint procurement, joint negotiation. I'll shortly be announcing further funding for innovation in this space, so that FE colleges can look at how they can deliver things differently, to release, perhaps, some longer term savings. And I'll also be announcing some further funding to colleges that will benefit learners who are most impacted by the cost-of-living crisis by means of an additional £1.3 million to increase the funding available for financial contingency funds, and an additional £2.5 million to contribute towards the increased costs of consumable materials, which are absolutely critical in the delivery of some of the vocational programmes that FE colleges deliver so well.

Face-to-Face Education

2. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure education is delivered in a face-to-face format? OQ58743

It is vital that high-quality, face-to-face learning is maintained for all learners whenever it is possible and safe to do so. Any transition to remote learning should be the last resort and only happen in exceptional circumstances, such as, for example, where a health and safety or safeguarding risk is identified.

Minister, I would like to thank you for your answer. I was deeply concerned to read that the Liberal Democrats in charge of Powys County Council are considering forcing children to miss one day a week of school in favour of so-called virtual education. I'm sure you'll agree with me that this puts a huge amount of pressure on parents and pupils. And I hope you'll also agree with me—and I got that from your answer—that face-to-face learning is absolutely the best thing for our children in terms of their development, their education and their overall well-being. Our children have had far too long out of the classroom due to the pandemic. So, Minister, will you stress the need with Powys County Council and the Liberal Democrats there that face-to-face education is the best thing for our children and that they should ditch this idea from their books?

Well, I think, just for clarity, the proposal, as I understand it, was never formally made. It appears to have been a suggestion made in a committee discussion, which obviously has become a matter in the public domain, but it was never a formal proposal, as I understand it. Powys County Council have provided an assurance that this is not something that they are intending to pursue. My officials wrote to the council at the time that this speculation arose in the press to clarify the importance that we all attach to making sure that face-to-face learning is what we are prioritising throughout and we have the assurance that that is also what Powys County Council intends.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from party spokespeople. Conservative spokesperson, Laura Anne Jones.

Diolch, Llywydd. Just a few weeks ago, the Minister announced the Unions and the World of Work pilot scheme—a policy that would see trade unions going into our schools, having direct contact with our learners. Llywydd, the Welsh Conservatives have no issue with children being taught about the workplace and, in fact, would actively encourage careers and work-related experience, however, it doesn't seem fair or proper that politicised trade unions that donate large sums of money to the Labour Party are allowed in our schools where they have the ability to influence. Political impartiality ultimately helps schools command the confidence of our diverse and multi-opinion society. Llywydd, can the Minister tell parents up and down Wales how allowing Labour Party donors into our classrooms supports this requirement for impartiality in our schools?

Well, I think the Member has rather missed the point. What the curriculum is designed to do is to make sure that our young people have a rounded education and that they are ethical and informed citizens when they leave our education system, understanding fully the range of their democratic rights and their responsibilities; the importance of social action; their agency as individuals, together with the democratic and industrial history of their communities and their country. And the pilot scheme to which you refer is one running in 35 schools at the moment and is intended to equip teachers in order to deliver that part of the curriculum. I'm grateful to the Wales TUC for the work they have done to support teachers in order to do that. I know that she will also agree with me how important it is to make sure that we are providing teachers with resources and professional learning to discharge all parts of the curriculum, and this part is no different from any other.

Absolutely, Minister. I completely agree with what you're trying to do, however, let's take Unite, which are listed as contributors to be able to contribute in person to our learners. Unite have donated millions of pounds to the UK Labour Party—£33,000 to the Welsh Labour Party directly since 2020. The Minister himself is a member of Unite and received nearly £2,000 for his own personal election expenses campaign. This arguably casts serious doubt on the motives for Unite and others to be part of this project. Llywydd, quite frankly, this whole scheme stinks of cronyism. Does the Minister not see a conflict of interest here or does he not care?

Well, I'm not sure the Member heard my previous answer. The purpose of this scheme is to make sure that young people are able to access the full range of the curriculum. As well as the broader objectives I referred to earlier, we are clear in our commitment to our young people to prepare them for the world of work, through careers-related experiences. We also want to make sure that they understand the world of business more broadly. It's a full, it's a rich curriculum, and it's completely appropriate that young people have access to all parts of it, as they work through their school journey. What we have seen is that understanding people's democratic rights, union membership, rights in the workplace, responsibilities in the workplace, is a positive in people's lives. And just like understanding the career trajectories that are available to them, also we want young people to understand the opportunities they have to join a trade union, to participate in that as part of the democratic process, to understand their rights and responsibilities. That is the purpose to which this pilot has been put. I hope and expect that it will be successful, and, if so, I look forward to being able to roll it out.


Llywydd, the new curriculum does provide wonderful opportunities to bring in local businesses. However, it deeply concerns me that the Minister is still putting in jeopardy school impartiality. This Government's first focus needs to be on getting the basics right here in Wales first. Wales has the lowest Programme for International Student Assessment results in the UK; teachers don't feel supported enough with the development of the new curriculum; pupils and teachers still have no idea what exams are going to look like; and teachers are dealing daily with violence in the classroom. I could go on. Minister, wouldn't your time and effort be better spent focusing on getting the basics right here in Wales in education first, before wasting money trying to indoctrinate our children any further?

I'm not sure what point the Member is trying to make; what I heard was a list of criticisms of our school system. I think her time would be better spent, if I may put it to her, finding ways to scrutinise me in a way that puts forward a positive alternative. If she doesn't think what we are doing is in the interests of the school system, maybe she would like to advance a view of her own—a critique and a world view, or a single policy—but I hear nothing, week in, week out, from that part of the Chamber but negativity and an undermining of the work that teachers are doing in our schools. I hope that—. There was a point in time when she was a supporter of the curriculum and of the Government's reform programme; I would ask her to cast her mind back to that point. It's really important for our young people that we can make sure that the kind of cross-party support that our reforms have been able to command continue to do that—that's in their best interests. And we will continue as a Government to make sure that we prioritise schools, prioritise our education reforms, to make sure that every child in Wales has the best start in life.

Diolch, Llywydd. I would like just to respond to that point. I think it is a positive thing if young people know their rights in the workplace, and I do not share the concerns. We all go as politicians to schools, and are able to talk about our values and differences as political parties, and this is part of that education process.

After a decade of austerity, schools have made all of the savings that they can, and headteachers are warning that the only things left to cut will have a direct and significant impact on children and young people. A new survey by NAHT Cymru shows that the majority of schools say that they will have to make teachers redundant or terminate contracts due to a funding crisis. Around 73 per cent said that they will have to make teaching assistants redundant or reduce their hours, with almost half of schools saying that they will be forced to cut back on support such as counselling, therapy and mental health support. Furthermore, 56 per cent said that they will have to cut expenditure on additional targeted interventions for those pupils needing additional support, including additional learning needs. How will the Minister ensure that the current financial situation will not have a detrimental impact on learners, nor on the workforce in our schools?

Well, as the Member will know, we had an opportunity in last week's autumn statement to see budgets for public services, across the UK, responding to the challenge of inflation that has affected Wales and the whole of the UK generally. But that is not what we saw. We saw some increase in what we can expect, but it's nowhere near meeting the challenges that schools, and public services more broadly, face. And it certainly doesn't make up for the impact of inflation on budgets.

I have seen what the NAHT have said, and I have discussed that with them in a meeting and a joint meeting with other unions. We as a Government will prioritise public services. We will prioritise education, as we've always done. But the budgetary situation is very challenging. We have been working with local authorities to support them in their discussions with schools in making the most of what they have in reserves at the moment. Those are currently at a very, very high level, but that is not a sustainable solution. Of course, once that money has been spent, it's spent. But we are supporting local authorities in working with schools at the moment to see what best use could be made in order to avoid the worst of what the Member mentioned.


Thank you, Minister, and as those conversations continue, we'd be grateful for updates, like those you do give, in terms of the vital support that is needed so that neither learners nor staff are detrimentally impacted, as far as possible.

Last night, Rhieni dros Addysg Gymraeg held a meeting in Rhondda Cynon Taf. They drew attention to the case of Jenna and David from Gilfach Goch, who face having to pay for transport so that their son can attend Ysgol Llanhari, following a change of policy by Bridgend council, which decided not to continue to pay for free transport to the nearest Welsh-medium secondary school, which is over the border in RCT. The council continues to pay to transport pupils from the same area to an English-medium school in RCT, namely Tonyrefail Community School. Rhieni dros Addysg Gymraeg's view is that this is an example of the Welsh language being treated less favourably than English, depriving communities such as Gilfach Goch of accessible Welsh-medium education. 

So, what steps are being taken by the Government to rectify this and to ensure that children such as Jenna and David's son receive free transport to their nearest Welsh-medium school?

Well, I thank the Member for raising that point. In terms of the broader point, the point that she makes in this context, as was the case with the previous question, is quite proper in terms of how important transport is to accessing education. But because of geographical distribution, it's particularly pertinent in relation to Welsh-medium education, as her question suggests. 

There is an element of flexibility or discretion, if you like, implicit in the Measure, which allows authorities to make different decisions in this context. What is clear to me is that we must ensure, to the best of our ability, that the reforms to the Measure do tackle this issue. In the meantime, what I intend to do is to have discussions with all local authorities in Wales on their commitments in their Welsh in education strategic plans. And where authorities have a policy—and this happens in more than one area—that has the impact that she describes, on the boundaries between authorities, I will discuss that issue specifically with authorities and I would be happy to give the Member an update at the end of that process.

Education Maintenance Allowance

3. What is the Welsh Government doing to support post-16 learners in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr who are in receipt of education maintenance allowance? OQ58748

There is a range of additional support measures provided to post-16 learners in receipt of education maintenance allowance. These are measures provided by the Welsh Government through their college or school. These include free or subsidised travel, free meals, free period products, and access to hardship funding where available.

It is a cause of great pride for us in Wales that we have continued with the EMA, which isn't true of some other parts of the United Kingdom. But one thing that hasn't happened, of course, as the Minister is aware, is that we haven't increased the allowance in line with inflation since it was introduced in 2004. So, it has lost real-terms value over that time of almost two decades, and that has accelerated now with inflation increasing at such a rate over the past few months during the cost-of-living crisis.

The Bevan Foundation estimates that the EMA would now be £45 if it had kept pace with inflation. That increase would make such a difference to the 18,000 students across Wales who receive it. I know that money is tight, Minister. It would cost around £15 million, but it would be transformative in terms of its impact on students who are amongst those most deprived in our nation. 


Well, as the Member knows, and acknowledges, we do everything we can to ensure that the resources available are provided to help those who need them most in our education system. In terms of the commitment to maintain the EMA, that's part of our programme for government. And I'm proud that we have continued with that, as Scotland and Northern Ireland have done, but that's not the case in England. The level we have here in Wales is the same level as that of the Scottish and Northern Irish Governments. What we have endeavoured to do is to ensure that the reach of the EMA is enhanced. So, we've reformed the system, in order to expand the backdated payments available to individuals learners, and we've drawn that to the attention of colleges, so that they can inform their students of that, and, where there are particular circumstances for individual learners, those are taken into account in providing those enhanced payments. Also, in another area, we have expanded free school meals during school and college holidays and, as I mentioned to Jenny Rathbone a few moments ago, we've enhanced the funding available in the financial contingency fund. These are just some of our interventions in support of those individual learners who need most support in FE. 

In terms of the costs the Member mentioned, as it happens, because of inflation, since the Bevan Foundation report, the figure could now be closer to some £54 in order to maintain value in line with inflation. So, the figure of £15 million is even greater now, and I know he will accept that, without additional funding, which hasn't come to hand, the only way to pay for that is to look at the other innovative interventions that we have in place as part of our programme for government and through the co-operation agreement too. So, these challenges are very real, but we will do everything we can within the budget that we have. 

I'm grateful to be able to follow the Member's line of questioning with regard to EMA. Eighteen thousand, six hundred and fifty students accessed EMA support in the year 2020-21. As someone who was eligible for EMA as well, I know there are complexities in understanding how students are able to access this and which students are eligible, and, indeed, in talking to the Senedd research department in compiling this supplementary question, that complexity in finding out an accurate take-up number of those who are eligible for EMA and taking it up, and those, therefore, not taking it up, was hard to distinguish. Therefore, can I ask what the Minister and his Government are doing to ensure that all those who are eligible for EMA are able to access the support? 

As I was saying to Adam Price earlier—in response to Adam Price—although we've not been able to increase the value of it, we have been able to maximise the current offer. So, we've expanded the eligible cohort to include some of those most vulnerable young people in Wales, including some who are impacted by Brexit, family members of those with protected immigration status, for example, and, more recently, the expansion to include young people fleeing the war in Ukraine. So, we are looking always at ways in which we can make sure that the reach of the EMA, at its current level at least, is extended. We continue to allow learners to benefit from an extended period, as I was saying, of backdated EMA payments. We recently issued a notice to all schools and colleges reminding them of the mechanism by which that works, and highlighting the discretion in the scheme for learners with particular extenuating circumstances—caring responsibilities, for example—to make sure they are not disadvantaged in being able to access EMA. All young people can apply for EMA at any point in the academic year. Sometimes that isn't known; people aren't aware of that. And, where their family circumstances change, which may result in a drop in income, we encourage young people to apply for EMA with a current-year income assessment. So, we will continue to do everything we can as a Government, and I know that colleges are doing whatever they can to draw attention to the existing scheme to make sure the uptake is as great as it can be. 

The Effect of Deprivation on Education

4. How will the roll-out of the new curriculum address the effect of deprivation on education? OQ58753

Curriculum for Wales provides a rich and broad curriculum for every child, ensuring that every child develops the knowledge, skills and experiences that will enable them to progress to their full potential, regardless of their background. It treats every child as an individual, with different strengths and needs.

[Inaudible.]—million pounds in this financial year in community-focused schools, given they build partnerships with families, communities and a range of organisations, and provide opportunities to pupils who would not otherwise benefit from them. In Newport East, Maindee Primary School is a fantastic example of a community school. It is based in one of the most deprived parts of Newport. It's multi-cultural, with quite a significant south Asian and Roma population. They have partnered with numerous third sector organisations, such as the Community Youth Project, Iqra Mosque, Positive Futures, G-Expressions, and Urban Circle, and all of these organisations are really enhancing the pupil experience and improving outcomes. Anna and Martine, staff members at Maindee, volunteer for FoodCycle, which cooks and serves hot meals to families of Maindee Primary School. It's really special, Minister, to see staff members giving up their personal time, given the pressures they have, to give back to the community they serve, and this undoubtedly reflects positively in the classroom. Maindee primary is also a DAF registered school, assisting families of their pupils in their discretionary assistance fund applications. Minister, schools like Maindee primary offer a beacon of hope to struggling, more vulnerable families with this holistic and community approach to education. What more can Welsh Government do to ensure all our schools in Wales are community focused, like Maindee primary, how can this be linked into the roll-out of the new curriculum, and will you visit to see first-hand, Minister?

'Beacon of hope' is exactly the right phrase in John Griffiths's question. I'm aware of the work that Maindee primary do. I've met some of the staff, and I would be delighted to visit the school to see at first hand the fantastic work that I know they do. The kind of work that the school does is exactly the sort of work that we want to see more and more schools in Wales supported to do. We want all schools in Wales to be community-focused school. That will look differently in different schools and in different communities, but, at its heart, it's about building a strong partnership with families, responding to their community, and collaborating with other services. I think the curriculum, with its focus on reflecting cynefin and the cluster working and the working to reflect the community of the school, provides a really good underpinning for this ambition that we have. 

Schools have a critical role in enabling our young people to become ambitious, enterprising and ethical—all those qualities and characteristics that are at the heart of the new curriculum. The school is fundamental in that, but also young people are obviously very influenced by their home environment and the wider community as well. That is why working collaboratively, in the way John Griffiths was just describing the work at Maindee primary, that collaborative working, is so important.

I would just say that, last week, we published guidance on community-focused schools. It explains what a community-focused school is and why we believe that that approach is the best approach to support our children and young people. It was developed—and I thank all those who worked with us in relation to it—by Estyn, the National Academy for Educational Leadership, the consortia, local authorities, third sector organisations and others. So, that's now published. We will follow that up with a programme of professional learning to support heads and teachers in that journey. Crucial to this is multi-agency engagement, and we'll be publishing some supplementary guidance on how best to deliver that as well to reach our goal and to reflect the kind of fantastic work that John Griffiths was highlighting in his question.

We know that there's a clear correlation between poor academic performance and persistent deprivation. The Education Policy Institute said, and I quote:

'Persistently disadvantaged pupils experienced still larger disadvantage gaps, with those in England suffering a persistent disadvantage gap of 23 months and those in Wales experiencing 29 months. With little sign of these persistent disadvantage gaps closing...improving educational outcomes for the persistently disadvantaged should be prioritised by policymakers.'

While it's clear Welsh pupils in deprived areas suffer from a greater deprivation gap than their peers elsewhere in the UK, more needs to be done to ensure that the Welsh Government narrows this gap. So, how does the Minister's new curriculum address the gap that Welsh students face? And what steps is the Minister taking to heed this advice and ensure that gap is narrowed here in Wales?


Well, the report to which the Member refers was published following the statement that I made in the Senedd, I think, from memory—but somebody may correct me—back in March, and the speech that I then made to the Bevan Foundation in June, I believe, which sets out a full programme of interventions from early years to life-long learning to address some of the challenges that were confirmed to us in the report that he refers to. The curriculum has an important part to play in that. I think it will help us to meet the needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable learners, and that's been an important consideration in how it's been designed. Embedding that equity in schools is, obviously, critical, and I think that because the curriculum takes the learner where they find the learner, it enables us to provide bespoke learner journeys, if you like, which can better help us support the most disadvantaged pupils.

But he will recall, perhaps, if he's had a chance to remind himself of that statement and that speech, the wide range of steps that we've been working on. Some of them are to support schools to employ the kind of teachers that they need to best develop strategies to help those pupils that need most support. Some of it is around peer-to-peer support for school leaders. I'm about to announce some initiatives in that area. Some of it is about quite challenging discussions that we need to have around how we approach setting in schools. So, we're going to undertake a piece of research on that. That happens quite extensively in Wales. I think we need a discussion about whether that is the right approach in all circumstances. Some of it is about interventions around literacy and reading, which he will know, from reading that report, have been a particular challenge over the course of the last two years of COVID, for example. And, on the point I was making at the very start in relation to the effective use of school-based funding where that targets deprivation—so, in Wales, that's the pupil development fund—we are working with Bangor University at the moment to understand what works effectively, where it works effectively, and for the outcome of that review to be available to all heads so they can best use that funding.

But there's a wide range of steps that are already under way. I will be reporting to the Senedd with an update on that, I think in the new year. But the crucial thing is I think no one intervention is going to be able to address the issue; it's a range of interventions. And I would also say—and I think I'm right in saying the report acknowledged this—deprivation in society is not something that a school can entirely mitigate on its own. That's part of a broader strategy, but there is work that schools can do, and that work is part of that broader plan. It's under way and, as I say, I'd be very happy to give a more detailed update on that work in the new year.

Social Care Training

5. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Health and Social Services and further and higher education institutions about developing training for social care professionals? OQ58738

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about education, training and development and their portfolios.

Minister, we know that having the right number of qualified and well-supported professionals in the health and social care sector is vital for the delivery of high-quality services. Our higher and further education colleges are key to ensuring we can attract, inspire and train people in the range of health and care disciplines we need. They do a superb job. Looking specifically at further education, what more can we do to actually promote a career in care to those young people who are the workforce of the future?

That's a really important question—thank you to Altaf Hussain for raising it. There's a huge amount of work under way to ensure that social care workers across the sector in Wales can receive the training that they need to do their jobs well, and that that is promoted to people as a career path. Social Care Wales, as the regulator, the body with responsibility for workforce development, works with higher education institutions, FE institutions and others on a range of matters in relation to education and training, but qualifications obviously are key to the registration of the social care workforce, which is an important part of our professionalisation agenda for the sector. We continue to provide significant funds to the social care sector for training and development, through the social care workforce development programme with Social Care Wales. You will also know, I think, that Qualifications Wales has also recently established a sector qualification group to examine health, social care and childcare in particular, to seek and to receive feedback around any gaps in provision, resolving any issues relating to the post-16 qualification, so that we can make sure that that is an attractive and popular route for young people looking at a profession in the care sector as an option, so that it's popular for them to take up.

Online Harm

6. How will the new Curriculum for Wales help young people to better identify, and protect themselves from, online harm? OQ58755

Keeping safe online is critical to our children's physical and mental health. That's why digital competence is a mandatory cross-curricular skill and the health and well-being area has a focus on developing safe behaviour online. It's also a clear focus of the relationships and sexuality education code.

Thank you, Minister, for your response. Minister, a Youth Endowment Fund report highlighted some concerning statistics: over the past 12 months alone, some 54 per cent of children and young people in Wales had experienced or had seen some form of online violence on social media. This has had a profound effect on not only the mental health and well-being of these young people, but their education and wider lives too. In Wales, 57 per cent had changed their behaviour and a tenth had missed school because of online violence. These numbers also help to back up many of the observations made by the Children, Young People and Education Committee in their report on pupil absence from school, which said that learners' mental health is a key factor in them missing school. The new curriculum is a welcome step in helping young people to better understand some of these issues, and the health and well-being area of learning and experience has the potential to be an important vehicle to introduce such issues in education settings. Minister, how is the Government working with schools to ensure that teachers and other education professionals are equipped with the skills they need to effectively discuss these difficult but important topics with young people? Does the Government have plans to help schools to better engage with parents and guardians so that they too are able to support children to identify and protect themselves from online harm?

I thank Peter Fox for raising this and for the way in which he's raised it. It's a very profound challenge, isn't it, and a challenge that many of us who are—considerably, in my case, at least—beyond school years find it hard to understand the scale of, really. But it is a very significant issue, and as Peter Fox was saying, the evidence given to the CYPE committee is very vivid in the scale of the challenge that young people face.

You mentioned the health and well-being area of learning in the curriculum, and that is fundamental to how we can teach young people to develop safe behaviours in relation to the online world. In many ways, so many aspects of our lives are now entwined with using technology that teaching that digital literacy and resilience is absolutely fundamental.

We have a dedicated single area on Hwb, the learning platform, called 'Keeping safe online', which provides learners but also, in the way that his question was asking about, families, practitioners, professionals and governors with a range of resources. That's where we make sure that all our resources in this area are hosted. Some of them have been developed specifically as a consequence of the work that we've been doing in relation to peer-on-peer sexual harassment in school. There are broader resources there as well, and that is about enhancing digital resilience across the life of the school generally, including obviously online safety but also cyber security and data protection. All of those aspects can have a significant impact, can't they, on the lives of young people.

Also, just to say, keeping children safe obviously is a part of the RSE code, and online safety in that context, dealing with issues around online bullying, for example. All of those are included in the code at a developmentally appropriate phase, handled in a sensitive way, and we will continue to invest in professional learning and support for teachers so that they have the best available resources for teaching young people in this area. 

Welsh-medium Leisure Activities

7. What support is the Government providing to ensure that leisure activities through the medium of Welsh are available to children and young people? OQ58756

We provide over £5 million to partners such as the Urdd, the young farmers and the mentrau for activities through the medium of Welsh. Last week, 230 children joined in the Urdd jamboree to celebrate the Wales team in the world cup, and I'll be continuing to emphasise the use of the Welsh language in all of my work. 

I think you meant 230,000 children, rather than 230.

I just want to highlight quite a serious issue, a case of a constituent of mine who has been waiting over three years for Welsh-medium swimming lessons for his children. A complaint was made to the language commissioner in 2017, and it was decided that the proper actions hadn't been taken. The council was given an order to provide lessons through the medium of Welsh. By 2020, that hadn't been provided, and there was another complaint. It was again found that the council has failed to meet language standards and had failed to comply with the action plan put in place following the previous complaint. We're now at the end of 2022, almost 2023, and they are still waiting. Do you agree with me that that is unacceptable? Because the only conclusion I can come to is that this is discrimination on the basis of language. I want to know what the Government is doing to ensure that local authorities like Wrexham County Borough Council do take this seriously, because Welsh speakers are missing out on fundamental opportunities that everyone else takes for granted. 

Can I take the opportunity to correct the record that it was 230,000 children? That's what I intended to say in my answer. 

I just want to echo what the Member has just said. I am disappointed for this family and others, I shouldn't wonder, in the community who can't access Welsh-medium swimming lessons. We've prepared standards that place duties on local authorities to provide education courses through the medium of Welsh, which include specific standards for education courses aimed at young people. It's a matter for the commissioner to set the standards and to ensure compliance, as the Member acknowledges in the question. But, to be proactive from our point of view in this field, we do provide significant funding for partners, such as the Urdd and mentrau iaith, to provide leisure activities through the medium of Welsh, and we also provide funding to the Urdd sport apprenticeships, which focus on increasing Welsh-medium skills for sporting coaches in future. So, ensuring that people are able to provide these lessons through the medium of Welsh is an important part of that work, and that is one of our priorities in terms of funding. 

I'm glad this question has been raised this afternoon as I'd like to applaud the work and efforts of cylchoedd meithrin, or Welsh-language preschools, in Denbighshire, north Wales, and across the country, who play a vital role in introducing preschool-age children to the Welsh language and provide educational and activity-based programmes to encourage the benefits of Welsh-medium education at an entry level and offer skills for life. Will the Minister join me in congratulating local and national cylchoedd meithrin and the roles they play in Welsh society for my constituents and people across Wales? Thank you. 


I certainly will. They play an integral role in making sure that young people are able to access early years and nursery through the medium of Welsh. That is fantastic in terms of ensuring that Welsh language provision is available, but also supporting parents in making that choice for their children and also sometimes encouraging parents themselves to learn Welsh. We know that is one of the best possible ways of making sure that we meet our goals of a million Welsh speakers and making sure that young people and children get the support for the options they want to choose in this area. So, I’m very happy indeed to join in congratulating and thanking Mudiad Meithrin for all the work they do.

Teacher Training

8. Will the Minister provide an update on any progress in attracting people to train as teachers to teach in Welsh-medium secondary schools? OQ58757

We are progressing with our 10-year Welsh in education workforce plan, which includes developing and implementing a marketing strategy in partnership with the Education Workforce Council and the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol to encourage more Welsh speakers to choose teaching as a career.

Thank you, Minister. Can you explain what work is being done to identify those subjects where there is a lack of Welsh-medium teachers in the secondary sector? We understand that there is a serious lack in terms of those training in physics and mathematics, for example, so I’d like to know what the Government is doing to analyse the data to feed in to the work of attracting more students with degrees in those subjects to train as secondary teachers through the medium of Welsh. Who is responsible for doing that analysis, planning and monitoring? In terms of physics specifically, for the whole of Wales, only 43 per cent of those who teach the subject in secondary schools received training in that subject. So, can the Minister confirm the number of physics teachers trained in physics who are working in Welsh-medium schools? The incentive to teach physics through the medium of Welsh is £20,000—£7,000 less than the minimum one would receive in England. And the gap for those teaching in the further education sector is even greater: £26,000 in England as compared to only £4,000 in Wales. So, bearing in mind the need and demand, will the Minister tackle this deficit?

I thank the Member for that important question. The data that we use is the foundation for policies in terms of financial incentives and the Member has already mentioned those. The comparison between what’s available in Wales and England isn’t appropriate, but there is support in Wales for subjects where there are shortages. In addition to that, there are additional incentives for those wishing to teach through the medium of Welsh. You mentioned incentives across the border. One of the things we want to see is those people who are Welsh speakers but are studying those subjects in England—that we work with the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol to identify those people and to communicate with them to persuade them to return to Wales to teach. I think that’s one of the creative things that came out of the work with partners and stakeholders as part of the 10-year plan. Some elements will be very successful, but we don’t expect success with all of the interventions proposed by the plan, so the important thing is that we continue to renew that and continue to look at the data, as the Member said, to see what makes a difference on the ground and what is most successful and to emphasise those. And if some elements don’t work, we’ll be willing to say that and focus on those that do work. But what we have seen is a very creative collaboration by partners across the system, including the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol, including the EWC and others, and I think the challenge is a significant one. The incentives that the Member mentioned are one element of that, but only one element.

3. Topical Questions

The next item is the topical questions. There is only one question that has been agreed this afternoon. It's to be answered by the Counsel General, and it's to be asked by Adam Price.

1. What assessment has the Counsel General made of how the Supreme Court's judgement on the Scottish Parliament's intention to hold a second independence referendum will affect Wales’s ability to decide its own constitutional future? TQ687

The judgment was handed down this morning. I will take time to study the judgment carefully.


Well, as we know, Counsel General, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict that the Scottish Government, despite the strength of the democratic mandate it secured at last year's Holyrood election, has no legal route under the current constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom to hold an independence referendum if Westminster continues to withhold its consent. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has already stated in the House of Commons that he will continue to disregard that unambiguous mandate, even though you could say that his personal mandate is indirect at best and somewhat tenuous. And, really, what we have here, of course, is a Westminster veto, effectively, a clear crystallisation of the doctrine of Westminster supremacy that we, as a nation, and Scotland, as a nation, are not in a union of equals. We are not an equal Parliament either, and, unfortunately, of course, this situation will not change, even with a change in Government at Westminster, because the UK Labour leader has himself said that he will not agree an Order in Council, under section 30 in the case of Scotland, to hold an independence referendum either. So, that Westminster veto is being used by both Labour and Conservative parties at Westminster in this case.

So, does the Counsel General agree with the view that has been expressed today by the First Minister of Scotland that this judgment emphatically and unequivocally illustrates the fallacy of the notion of the United Kingdom as a voluntary partnership of equals, as a voluntary association? Now, the First Minister in Scotland has announced that she will hold a special conference to explore the means by which the next UK general election could be framed in Scotland as a de facto referendum. Now, this is obviously far from ideal, but it is the only route available to them currently, given the block on other routes for self-determination. As the Counsel General knows, there is a historic precedent in this regard, the 1918 general election, when Sinn Fein in Ireland sought a mandate and stood on a platform of establishing an Irish republic, and the landslide that they got through that referendum was the basis on which they established Dáil Éireann and declared the Irish republic, though, unfortunately, that mandate itself was not immediately respected with very tragic consequences that I'm sure all of us would wish had been avoided.

Does the Counsel General agree with the comments by Professor Ciaran Martin in the joint Senedd and Welsh Government lecture last night that all the nations of these islands should have a clear and legitimate route to express their desire in terms of their constitutional future, including the right to hold an independence referendum? And does he agree, whatever the judgment of the Supreme Court in terms of its interpretation of international law, that, politically, democratically, philosophically, every nation has the right to self-determination, that, as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says,

'All peoples have the right of self-determination'?

That has a particular urgency, you and I will agree on this, in the cases of countries that are colonised or subject to military occupation, absolutely, but the principle is an universal one that we must all, as democrats, uphold. So, does the Counsel General agree that that right to self-determination for Wales, for Scotland, for the people of the north of Ireland, should be enshrined and protected in law in the UK to address the democratic deficit that has been laid bare this morning in the judgment? It is particularly affecting the people of Scotland, given the very clear mandate that there is there, but it is of importance to us as well as we consider our constitutional future. Though you and I disagree in terms of independence, would you, as a democrat, express your solidarity with the people of Scotland and express the clear view of the Welsh Government that every nation, including the Scottish nation, and the Scottish people have the right to self-determination and that should be respected?


The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Thank you for the question. Of course, yes, last night, I thought it was a very impressive presentation by Professor Ciaran Martin, following on from the previous presentation by Sir David Lidington. I think these are very important contributions to our understanding of the constitutional issues that clearly do face us.

I think it's worth just being clear about, firstly, what the judgment was this morning. The judgment was a unanimous judgment of all five Supreme Court judges. It is a 34-page judgment, and I will be considering the detail of the judgment very carefully. The main question in the judgment was whether the Scottish Parliament had the power to legislate for the holding of a referendum on Scottish independence. Our role as a Welsh Government within that case was limited. It was not appropriate to intervene, so we carried out a watching brief. There will be a need to consider carefully, I think, all the findings of the Supreme Court and to consider all the submissions that were made, and the response of the Supreme Court to them. I can certainly assure the Senedd that I will undertake that task.

It's also important to be clear about what the conclusion of the Supreme Court was. The Supreme Court stated very clearly that the provision of the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill that provides that the question should be asked in a referendum would be, 'Should Scotland be an independent country?', and the determination of the Supreme Court was that that is a reserved matter. Now, as far as Wales is concerned, the position that we've taken is really set out within our reforming justice paper, which was published, I think, in June 2021, where it said that

'Future constitutional developments in the United Kingdom should be considered on a holistic basis and on the basis of constitutional principle, rather than by way of ad hoc reforms to particular constitutional settlements. This should be undertaken by a constitutional convention.'

Now, of course, we have our own independent commission; we've set it up very much to look at and to explore some of the issues that the Member has specifically raised, and perhaps I'll just remind the Senedd again of what the terms of the independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales is. There are two broad objectives: the first is to consider and develop options for fundamental reform of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom, in which Wales remains an integral part, and the second is to consider and develop all progressive principle options to strengthen Welsh democracy and to deliver improvements for the people of Wales. Professor Ciaran Martin certainly raised the point that, constitutionally, there needs to be a route in which decisions can actually be taken, and I certainly hope that our own commission will actually explore what those are.

Now, you know that the position of the Welsh Government is that Wales's interests are best served by being part of the United Kingdom, but a United Kingdom that needs significant and radical reform, and those reforms are set out in the 'Reforming our union: shared governance in the UK' paper. I certainly am of the view that the best way of actually achieving constitutional reform and change is best achieved by electing a Labour Government across the UK in the next general election.

Counsel General, I hear what you say about your considered view. You will, obviously, sensibly read the judgment in its entirety. But, from your initial consideration of the judgment, are you able to confirm that the democratic will of Wales is not affected, and that no elections will be terminated by this decision in the Supreme Court, and that every time the independence question has been put to the people of Wales—most recently in the 2021 election—the party that made that offer came a distant third, and the people of Wales spoke with one voice saying that they wanted to remain in a strong United Kingdom? 

Thank you for the question. The judgment is very clear about the competence issue, and that is, really, the only issue that the Supreme Court has dealt with. It is clear and final in that respect.

In terms of the Welsh position, well, what we do have is a recognition within Wales, from the various manifestos, that there is a need for constitutional reform. There is a need for engagement within that, and the Government has made the case very strongly for the need for a constitutional convention. I've set out the position that we have from the reforming the UK decision there, but, of course, the one thing that we do look forward to—and I think that it's important not to, I suppose, presume what the conclusions will be, or the direction that will be taken of the independent commission that we have established, which will give us guidance and information with which to take this constitutional reform issue further.

Now, we are expecting, in due course, an interim report from the independent constitutional convention. And I think when that comes, that will be the appropriate time for us to have a more detailed, more thorough and, I think, informed debate on some of the constitutional options. Of course, the independent commission's report will be an interim one; there will also be a report coming out in due course from Gordon Brown on the Labour Party position on—or, certainly, the report that he has been instructed to prepare on constitutional reform. So, the one thing that we can say is that there is a deep recognition of the need for constitutional reform—that we have a dysfunction within our constitution, and that change needs to occur. The question is what that change is and how it should actually be achieved. This is a debate that isn't going to go away, and I look forward to the receipt of the interim report and any further reports, and to further discussions of this.

The reason that these constitutional issues are important is not because it is some sort of technical debate; the constitution is about how power operates, how it is shared, how it is distributed, how it is exercised. So, these are matters that are fundamentally important to the people of Wales and, indeed, to the people of the UK. But, as far as the decision of the Supreme Court is concerned, I think that that is particularly clear.  

4. 90-second Statements
5. Motion to approve the Senedd Commission Budget for 2023-24

We move on to the next item on the agenda—item 5, which is a motion to approve the Senedd Commission budget for 2023-24. I call on Ken Skates to move the motion.

Motion NDM8137 Ken Skates

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with Standing Order 20.16:

Agrees the budget of the Senedd Commission for 2023-24, as specified in Table 1 of the Senedd Commission Budget 2023-24, laid before the Senedd on 9 November 2022 and that it be incorporated in the Annual Budget Motion under Standing Order 20.26(ii).

Motion moved.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I move the Commission's budget motion for 2023-24, and ask that it be incorporated into the annual budget motion. As you will have seen in the budget document, the Commission is seeking a total budget of £67.643 million, comprising £41 million for Commission services, £17.8 million for the remuneration board’s determination, £101,000 for the office of the standards commissioner, £547,000 for costs associated with providing support to the independent remuneration board, and £8 million for interest and non-cash items. The total budget represents a 4.06 per cent increase on the current year’s budget.

Now, as Members will know, the 2023-24 draft Commission budget was laid on 28 September. It was then scrutinised on 5 October, and the Finance Committee's report was published on 21 October. To meet the requirement of Standing Orders to lay the Commission's draft budget by 1 October, work to prepare and develop the budget was carried out during the summer term and then finalised in August this year. In parallel to this timeline, unprecedented political and economic events have meant that the resulting budget has been overtaken by the emergence of a new reality regarding public finances. Although it's too early to assess the full impact on the Welsh public purse of the UK Government's autumn statement, we note the increase of £1.2 billion in the Welsh block over the next two years. The increase of 4.6 per cent in resource funding between 2022-23 and 2023-24 is, however, far below inflation, and this may impact significantly on the Welsh Government's ability to support the most vulnerable in society and secure the short-term future of the vital public services on which we rely. The Commission therefore now considers that its 2023-24 4 per cent budget increase will require revision to reflect the additional pressures facing the entire wider public sector in Wales.

In light of this, I will commit to an in-year review by the Commission, as a responsible public body, to find savings and to accelerate efficiencies. This will reflect the reality that we face today, rather than that which existed during the budget-setting process over the summer. It is an exercise in responsible and agile pragmatism. We had already committed to carry out this work in time to incorporate it into the 2024-25 budget, but I am now proposing that work is brought forward at a faster pace. This is in line with the Finance Committee's statement of principles, which states that directly funded bodies should continually seek to improve processes and accrue efficiencies.

Now, we are determined to ensure that any planned activities and services to Members are both efficient and sustainable. It's important for us, therefore, that any reductions are conducted effectively, and continue to support our commitment to effective workforce planning and well-being. This, however, will not be an easy task and will impact on Members. I've shared my proposals for savings and accelerated efficiencies in a letter to the Chair of the Finance Committee earlier this week, and stressed that we will be required to take extremely difficult decisions. We hope that Welsh Government and other public bodies will follow this responsible principle in the weeks to come, as savings are sought, to adapt to the more severe economic landscape that has very recently formed.

Returning to the substance of today's budget motion, the Commission exists to support the Senedd and, of course, its Members, and the pressure on Members remains significant. We've prepared a budget that we think is transparent and fair. We've seen some unavoidable budget increases—for example, to meet increased utility costs. We've sought to make savings elsewhere to mitigate the full effect of these price rises. You'll also see that we have explicitly identified the budget to meet the estimated costs of Senedd reform. In order to be ready to support the potential increase in Members from 2026, work needs to start now, and the budget for 2023-24 recognises that we will need to bring in new skills and additional resource to meet this challenge robustly and properly.

Now, the new normal is still emerging from the pandemic, but it is clear that staff are working effectively in this hybrid environment. We continue to engage with staff to monitor health and well-being, and we've invested in flexible office space for Commission staff, so that everybody working on the estate is still able to do so easily and safely. I'd like to thank the Finance Committee for its scrutiny of this budget, and its continued commitment to ensuring the budgets are set at an appropriate level, whilst continuing to ask challenging questions, which help us drive performance and deliver excellence.

Now, the committee made eight recommendations, which we have addressed in our response. The first was that the Senedd supports this budget, which we note and appreciate. Four were focused on the Senedd estate, one looking at how we can mitigate the ever-increasing utility costs in the short to medium term, and then, longer term, giving consideration to our future requirement for and use of building space—those in Cardiff Bay, and elsewhere in Wales. The Commission will look to implement measures to reduce usage and, ultimately, cost, by taking many of the steps we'll be taking in our own homes. With regard to the longer term estate strategy, a working group is being formed to consider what our future needs look like, including the impact of Senedd reform, and to consider what options best meet those needs.

Two recommendations were focused on staff well-being, specifically how Commission staff are being supported during the cost-of-living crisis. The Commission already offers a number of programmes and mechanisms to offer support, and these are regularly reviewed with our trade unions. The final recommendation sought to engage Members, to gain their views on the work they would like the Commission to take forward and how that work can be managed within existing budgets, or, indeed, incorporated into future budget proposals. We have accepted these recommendations, and we are, as ever, open to suggestions on how to improve the budget process. We're also willing to answer any questions that Members may have. In the meantime, I present this budget forward, on behalf of the Commission, and reiterate our commitment to working in a way that is open and transparent, delivering the best possible value for money for the people of Wales.


Thank you, Dirprwy Lywydd. Before I begin, I would like to thank Ken Skates, the Senedd Commissioner for budget and governance, and Senedd officials, for attending the Finance Committee on 5 October to discuss the Commission’s proposals, and for the additional information provided shortly after that meeting. I would also like to note at the beginning of my contribution that the scrutiny of this budget was difficult for the committee in the context of the shifting economic picture and uncertainty regarding funding. In particular, and as the Commissioner has alluded to, the financial context has also changed significantly since the Commission laid its draft budget on 28 September. We are therefore grateful to the Commissioner for the letter issued earlier this week, confirming the Commission’s intention to undertake an in-year review to find savings.

The committee considered the Commission’s draft budget, and published its report on 21 October. We found that the Commission developed its budget proposals in a prudent manner and, as a result, we recommend that the Senedd should endorse the budget before us today.

However, as the commissioner has mentioned, public sector organisations across Wales will face even more difficult financial decisions following last week’s autumn statement, and the committee believes that the Commission should not be isolated from such considerations. Therefore, I note the commissioner’s commitment to reflect on the content of that statement to ensure that its proposals for the next year remain proportionate.

I also welcome the commissioner’s assurances about engaging with the committee on the issues, and look forward to hearing more about its plans so that they can be scrutinised, considered and assessed as soon as possible.

I'm glad to say that the committee has a constructive relationship with the Commission, based on open dialogue, which you want to see continue as we embark on these discussions. However, although I accept that the realities we face today are different to the context that existed during the budget-setting process over the summer, it is regrettable that these issues have only been identified now, outside of the usual financial procedures that govern the scrutiny of the Commission’s budget. The Finance Committee does not take kindly to such procedures being undermined. It can weaken scrutiny and lead to poor outcomes. We therefore wish this to be a one-off, and that lessons are learnt so that the situation is not repeated in future years.

Turning now to our report, the committee’s overall support for the Commission’s budget is caveated by eight recommendations, which are intended to ensure that as much transparency is provided relating to the Commission’s proposals. I have received the Commission’s response to our report and am pleased to see that six of those have been accepted and two have been noted.

Firstly, the committee is deeply concerned by the impact of rising utility costs on the Commission’s budget and its ability to deliver its core services—an issue facing all public sector organisations, businesses and households across Wales. Although we welcome efforts by the Commission to explore options that keep utility costs as low as possible, we believe that further information about the effectiveness of such initiatives is required to ensure that the Commission is on the right track in reaching its sustainability goals.

Dirprwy Lywydd, I'd like to turn now to some specific issues. Clearly, the biggest organisational challenge facing the Commission over the next few years is delivering proposals relating to Senedd reform. We also understand the difficulties faced by the Commission in providing clarity relating to the associated funding, and in separating its ongoing costs from the investment needed to support the change. We therefore welcome the inclusion of a dedicated budget line for Senedd reform in the draft budget, and note the Commission’s intention to provide as much transparency as possible in presenting costs attributable to these plans in future budgets.

Turning now to the workforce pressures, the rise in living costs will have an impact on us all, but the committee is concerned by its impact on the Commission staff, particularly those on lower grades. We are pleased that all Commission staff receive the living wage and that solid initiatives are in place, but the Commission should not rest on its laurels. That is why we would like to see the Commission looking at ways it can provide additional support to staff who are struggling, and that steps are put in place to rigorously evaluate the initiatives already in place to ensure that the support provided reaches those who need it most. I was also glad to see that the Commission will not consider staff redundancies as a cost-saving measure as part of the in-year review it has promised.

To conclude, Dirprwy Lywydd, the context in which this budget was produced and scrutinised has been very difficult. As a committee, we understand that all public bodies are facing significant challenges in delivering services within their budgets. As a result, it's more important than ever that the Commission’s proposals are proportionate, justified and transparent. Whilst we believe that the Commission’s budget for the next financial year achieves this, we also note the commitment made to review these proposals in light of last week’s autumn statement. We look forward to working with the commissioner as he seeks to achieve this. Thank you very much. 


Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. And can I thank the commissioner for his statement? I would just like to clarify that, whilst I'm responding to this in my position as the shadow Minister for finance, I am, of course, also a member of the Finance Committee. I welcome the commissioner's overall approach to setting this budget. I think he's been constructive, and has engaged well with the Finance Committee and Members during the process, and I thank him for that.

Presiding Officer, I appreciate that the current national financial environment is difficult, and this, as outlined by the Commissioner, will have an impact on the Commission's budget. But I do think that some flexibility could have been built into the Commission's budget-setting process to allow it to properly consider and account for the autumn statement in its proposed budget, so that we, as Members, could scrutinise a full budget and have a say on where efficiencies could be made. At the moment, we're voting on the budget whilst relying on the letter provided by the Commissioner to the Finance Committee. This is unusual, but I recognise the time frames in play. But I welcome the commitment. 

Moving to the budget, I acknowledge that the Commission, much like public bodies, is facing pressures as a result of inflation. On the whole, I think it has done a decent job to limit the increase that it is asking for. Energy costs have a considerable impact on the budget, as we know, but I do wonder, when looking at making efficiencies, whether more can be done to reduce energy costs further, and what further plans the Commission has to look into this. I understand that the Commission has taken steps to turn down thermostats across the estate—I felt that in my office today; that's a fact. But should we, for example, possibly, look at lowering them a little further, whilst maintaining comfortable levels, or turning off the heating in unused rooms? What about things like solar panels on our estate? In the budget report, there is reference to the Senedd estate joining the Cardiff district heat network from 2024. Is there scope to join this sooner? And have the Commission analysed how much money this will save, and, if so, has this been accounted for in its future budget projections?

There's also a question as to how the estate is used. Many employees are still working from home for at least some of the week, and so it's right that the Commission considers how the estate can be used more efficiently. Again, I would like to ask the Commissioner whether there are additional savings that can be found by using some of the Welsh Government space in north Wales in different ways. Has this been considered and factored in? Or has the Commission looked at other possible locations for its offices that would be more cost effective than the Welsh Government option? It's also my understanding that the broadcasting contract is soon to be going up for renewal, yet the projected budget for this is near enough the same as previous years. Can I ask for an update on this work, as it could allow for additional savings to be found?

I do have to mention Senedd reform, where the budget increases by £571,000 to undertake preparation. I know the rationale, but, given the financial context that we've been speaking about, this is a significant sum of money, which, it can be argued, could be better used elsewhere, such as supporting staff members or being used for energy costs. What does the Commission envisage using this budget for? And has it looked into reducing some of this work, as much as is practicably possible, so that the money can be diverted to where it is needed most? 

Finally, Deputy Presiding Officer, as well as making efficiencies, the Commission could really look at boosting its income. Currently, there is a £200,000 budget for engagement activities, yet the Senedd shop only brings in around £20,000 a year. Surely, if the engagement and outreach strategies were working well, then sales would increase. Clearly, there needs to be some consideration of how that is all working. Therefore, what consideration has the Commission given to diversifying its income streams, so that it can top up its budget and is less reliant on external funding? Thank you, Deputy Llywydd.


Can I thank the Commissioner for his statement? And I very much welcome what he's said today, although, in one respect, I don't, because it's altered exactly what I was going to say in my speech this afternoon. I was a member of the Finance Committee that scrutinised the budget of the Commission. On the information before the Finance Committee, the decision made was, I believe, the correct one. I would like to highlight two recommendations: the committee recommends that the Senedd Commission adopts a collaborative approach to reducing energy use on the Senedd estate and engage with the Members, their staff and Commission staff to gather ideas and to plan and implement projects and policy that will meet these aims. I only use my office here for two days a week. There does not need to be heating in that office outside Tuesday and Wednesday. In fact, I'll go even further: there need not be heating in that room outside 10 o'clock on Tuesday and Wednesday lunch time. So, these are the things where we need to look at what can we do to help, rather than say, 'It's the Commissioners' fault', or, 'It's somebody else's fault.' What can we do?

Energy use has got to be reduced, and I hope the Commission approves a plan to reduce energy use, but I also hope all Members here will make suggestions like mine of what can be done when they aren't using their offices. Some people use their offices or have staff in their offices all the time, and that's perfectly within the rules and right, but for those of us who don't then there are savings to be made.

I would also like the Commission to consider the financial and operational benefits or otherwise of purchasing the freehold of Tŷ Hywel as an alternative to extending the current lease. I'm very concerned that we seem to be stuck on a lease here that is going to last us forever. Some of us wanted to use the Guildhall rather than Tŷ Hywel back in the day. We were unsuccessful with those arguments, and I'm not going to reopen them. But if we're going to stay here, buy it. It's going to be a lot cheaper in the long run.

Finally, a two-tier budget process: I think that is something that is fundamentally wrong. We set the budget via this system for the Senedd Commission, the auditor general and the ombudsman. They're funded by the Senedd as a whole from Finance Committee. They're not compared with, 'Would it be better to spend this money on health, would it be better to spend this money on local authorities, would it be better to spend this money on environmental matters?' They're being judged against an absolute of what they're asking for. I don't think that's the right way of going about it. I don't think it is being fair to other services, and it's also unfortunate—I'll talk about the auditor general and ombudsman—that they go in and look at authorities and organisations that are short of money, but they're not short of money themselves, so they cannot understand the problems that exist with those organisations. My expectation is, apart from health, all other public services will be treated less generously than those who have their budgets from the Senedd directly. 

This is a question for all parties: is the current method of funding the Commission, ombudsman and auditor general fair? If we're arguing them against health or local government, they certainly wouldn't get the level of support that we're providing them with at the moment. Should the Senedd set a percentage increase for each prior to the Finance Committee examining their budgets, so all we're looking at is how they're getting down to that number and not the amount they're asking for?

I've raised this many times in the past, but I seem to be pushing more at an open door this time, so I'll labour the point. I've previously requested at probably nearly every Commission budget that the Commission budget is increased by no more than the increase in the Welsh block grant. If the Commission increases by more, it looks as if we are putting ourselves ahead of Welsh public services that people depend on.

I will now say something even more controversial: do we need the remuneration board? Can we afford it? Is it a good use of scarce resources? Are there other methods of doing what the remuneration board does at much lower cost? We've already set our salaries as relating to increases in pay in Wales, and I was very much in favour of that when it was done, and I think most people here are, so we're treated no less favourably than the people of Wales.

We keep on having these expensive organisations, and the remuneration board is one, which take money away from our key services. So, Deputy Presiding Officer, I know we can't decide to close the remuneration board today—though if I thought we could and I thought I could get a vote on it, I would put it forward—but can we ask that it's looked at so that we can see if we can do without it? It costs us an awful lot of money, which I could think of a lot of better ways of spending.


I also want to thank my colleague Ken Skates for putting together a budget. It's never easy doing that, certainly not when none of us know the ever-increasing costs with energy and the cost-of-living crisis. It's probably one of the hardest budgets you've had to put together, not helped of course by Senedd reform.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank all our Commission staff that have helped behind the scenes, but also for the work they've done to support us as Members. In light of current inflationary pressures and the cost-of-living crisis affecting families across Wales, it's more important than ever that we, as a Commission, take difficult but necessary decisions and ones that help to maintain the confidence of the public. Whilst we are all here to scrutinise and challenge the spend of the Welsh Government, it is vital that we do this in the most efficient manner. During the cost-of-living crisis, the additional expenses incurred as a result of preparing for an increase from 60 Members of the Senedd to 96 in 2026, I’m not too convinced is justifiable to the Welsh public. I know that there’s a mandate now, that there are enough votes for that, but I’m still going to have my say here today.

We have to make sure that we offer value for money to the taxpayer as an institution. In particular, many of the costs associated with Senedd reform, including the £100 million price tag on 36 more Members of the Senedd, are impossible to justify in the current economic environment. The expansion needed in office space, extra staffing and other associated costs can’t even begin to be imagined, and the actual wording of our budget leaves the door open to vast increases in new spending to cover any ensuing costs that we cannot support. As we face the strains of the cost-of-living crisis, it is only fair that the Senedd Commission should reflect this in its budgeting processes—and really good contributions all round from everybody who has spoken before me. We’re all aware of our rapid increases in energy bills, but for me, right from when I came to this place, I’ve always felt that it was incumbent upon the Commission to deliver the support for us as Members in the most efficient manner.

We know that there have been the increases in energy bills, we know there are different models of working now, in terms of a lot of Commission staff still working from home because of the pandemic, and one of the largest increases seen in this 2023-24 budget is in our utility costs. As Ken Skates has already documented in his letter to Peredur Owen Griffiths, the budget documents an increase from £582,000 in 2022-23 to an estimated £1.25 million cost in 2023-24. I note that the Finance Committee recommends that the Commission should fund in-year pressures on the budget, and it should have control by making in-year savings and efficiencies rather than through supplementary budgets, and in the name of fiscal responsibility, this is something that I too support. The Commission simply cannot expect a supplementary budget whenever difficult decisions about finance have to be made. The committee also notes in its recommendations that the Commission should not assume an increase in funding from one year to the next. At a time when the general public are having to find difficult savings, it's only right that, as a Commission, and as an institution, we lead by example.

Now, I’m reassured to see a commitment to support staff who may be struggling with higher bills through the hardship fund and other such schemes, but I was shocked to learn in the first instance that that would be for Commission staff, and that Senedd support staff may not—that was a decision for the remuneration board. I’ll come to the rem board in a minute. But in summary, therefore, the Commission budget has to make provision for the Senedd to carry out its essential work, making provision for the most vulnerable members of staff, and encompassing the whole length and breadth of Wales. Rising costs largely driven by the desire to impose a larger Senedd mean that we do not believe the Commission budget lives up to the current challenges of the moment. Instead, we are simply firefighting potential costs and burdens that I believe have been placed upon us by, obviously, this Welsh Labour Government, supported by Plaid Cymru. But the impact it’s having on our budgets, when one considers that the next electoral period starts in 2026, and here we are now, in 2022, being affected.

But to the rem board. A lot of Members have actually raised the kind of concerns, Mike, that you have: where’s the transparency? Where’s the accountability of the remuneration board? When I first became a Member here, I was aware the rem board was in place, and it’s all part and parcel of the make-up of the Senedd, but I do honestly believe that now is the time for us to have some difficult discussions about how well the rem board is supporting Members and how well its own processes—. Too often Members feel that decisions are taken without their input, without taking them along with them or explaining them, even, and too often Members feel that things are done at them rather than with them. I honestly think this is going to be a difficult discussion to have, but I think it’s one that needed raising because Members have raised quite a few concerns about the rem board. So, thank you. Diolch yn fawr.


Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd, and can I thank Members for their contributions? There were a number of similar themes raised by Members, and I'll try to address each one. First of all, I should say that I would agree entirely with Peredur Owen Griffiths that we should not and cannot allow this year's process so late in the day to be repeated, but surely, as Peredur himself acknowledged, we will never see such shifting landscapes whilst we're setting a budget. These have been unprecedented times. We surely will never see three changes of Prime Minister during the budget-setting process, three changes of Chancellor, a mini-budget, an autumn statement, and the economy falling into recession. So, I would hope that this will be exceptional, but I also think that it is responsible for us to be making the pledge to find valuable in-year savings, and I thank Members for highlighting some of those measures that may be agreed as we consider how we can make cost savings in 2023-24. 

In terms of the overall budget, one of the challenges that we have in the Commission is that we have barely any discretionary spend. Essentially, we spend the budget on people and on the places, and there is barely any money left over for us to invest in some of those measures that have been raised today by Peter Fox, for example, of photovoltaic solar panels. That forms part of the project fund. So, in making the savings that we have pledged, we are going to have to make some very difficult decisions about some of those energy-saving measures that we had planned within the project fund.

That said, we have already made good progress in terms of savings on utility costs. It's been recognised that we have reduced the temperature here, and I should say to Members that that will result in a 10 per cent saving. But every single Member in the Senedd has controls in their office that they can use to further reduce the temperature. Personally, I like to work in Arctic conditions. I'd be quite happy to be Bob Cratchit, quite frankly, but Members themselves can turn down the temperature, and I would encourage them to do so in order to make savings. Systems can be turned off. Entire zones can be turned off, and will be turned off. We may have to make the difficult decision about closing buildings if we are to achieve even deeper savings, and that is because there is such little discretionary spend. We're making a 5 per cent saving, or more, by switching off heating to areas we know are unused on certain days, and these measures will continue through the course of the next financial year.

Dirprwy Lywydd, if I may, I will highlight some of the other possible areas for savings—

—in brief. I've mentioned solar panels. Training and engagement, we will look at. We will be looking at savings through the catering contract, or, as an alternative to savings, we will look at raising revenue, perhaps increasing the prices for Members. We will also be looking at reintroducing car parking charges, reflecting on the need to protect the least well paid. And therefore, again, it will be Members, in all likelihood, that could pay more for car parking, but I'm sure, given the sentiment that we've had today, that would be welcomed.

We will be closing the north Wales office in 2023 and relocating it to co-locate with the Welsh Government at Llandudno Junction, and I take an intervention.

I will be short, and I'm grateful for the opportunity. In respect of the north Wales office, I have to say that as a local Member in whose constituency that office is based, I've been appalled, frankly, with the lack of engagement with me prior to a decision to close that office being made. I am also very concerned about the decision to co-locate the Senedd offices in a Welsh Government building. That just further conflates and confuses the distinction between this Parliament and the Government, one which is already existent in Wales and we ought to be doing something to address. So, I'm very disappointed that as a local Member, I've had no consultation with me prior to that decision being made.

Well, I must say, the Member wishes us to reduce our budget, and doing what I've proposed will do exactly that. You can't have your cake and eat it.

And in terms of consultation, you do have a member of the Commission in your group who is able to inform you of decisions—

—and it was agreed at the Commission meeting that we would take this cost-saving measure. It was agreed by the Commission.

Look, I must also say that, in terms of the rem board, I think that perhaps the Finance Committee should feel confident in inviting the rem board before it to scrutinise it, and to ask the difficult questions that I think Mike Hedges and others have raised.

In conclusion, this swift exercise in identifying savings is both responsible and pragmatic. I think it gives sight of the storm that awaits us because of the economic turmoil of late, and the fact the economy has now entered into recession.


Janet, did you wish to raise a point of order? I'll check whether it is a point of order, but did you wish to raise anything?

Yes. It was just on the point that you mentioned. In the Commission meeting, you will remember that we were informed that the north Wales Members had been consulted. When I raised it afterwards with my Members, they had no knowledge of it, and I have taken it up with that particular director.

Now, the proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Yes. Therefore we will defer voting under this item until voting time.

Voting deferred until voting time.

6. Debate on the Standards of Conduct Committee Report—Sixth Report to the Sixth Senedd under Standing Order 22.9

Item 6 is a debate on the Standards of Conduct Committee report, 'Sixth report to the Sixth Senedd under Standing Order 22.9'. I call on John Griffiths to move the motion on behalf of the committee.

Motion NDM8136 John Griffiths

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Considers the Report of the Standards of Conduct Committee - Sixth Report to the Sixth Senedd laid before the Senedd on 16 November 2022 in accordance with Standing Order 22.9.

2. Endorses the recommendation in the report.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. As the designated temporary Chair of the Standards of Conduct Committee, I formally move the motion. The committee considered the report from the Commissioner for Standards in relation to a complaint made against Hefin David MS regarding an offensive tweet. The Standards of Conduct Committee gave the commissioner's report careful consideration, and our report sets out the committee's judgment as to the sanction that is appropriate in this case. The facts relating to the complaint, and the committee's reasons for its recommendation, are set out in full in the committee's report. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight to Members the importance of treating interactions on social media in accordance with the same principles that would be applied to face-to-face interaction and remind Members that there is support available to Members in dealing with, and using correctly, social media. The motion tabled invites the Senedd to endorse the committee's recommendation.

The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. Therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

7. Member Debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv): Mental health and community resilience

Item 7 today is a Member debate under Standing Order 11.21(iv) on mental health and community resilience. I call on Jenny Rathbone to move the motion.

Motion NDM8130 Jenny Rathbone

Supported by Huw Irranca-Davies, Mike Hedges, Sam Rowlands, Sioned Williams, Vikki Howells

To propose that the Senedd:

1. Notes:

a) the publication of MIND Cymru’s 'Together Through Tough Times' report;

b) that community resilience has a positive impact on good mental health.

2. Calls on Welsh Government to:

a) work with the voluntary and community sector to build resilient communities through:

(i) promoting social capital;

(ii) investing in community assets;

(iii) addressing barriers faced by certain groups; 

b) include the role played by community assets and networks in any future mental health strategy.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. We live in very difficult times. We've seen the biggest reduction in public service support for many, many years, and we've got the highest inflation rate for 41 years, with consumer prices jumping over 10 per cent. Food prices have gone up over 16 per cent in the last 12 months, which is the biggest jump since September 1977, when Jim Callaghan was our Prime Minister—a very long time ago. So, it's such an important winter and a challenging winter that we're going to be facing.

Money worries are not the only cause of mental illness, but it certainly doesn't help. I appreciated the comments of Dr Kamila Hawthorne, who's now president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, today, who described the number of her patients in Mountain Ash whose problems are so intractable that she feels powerless to do anything to help them. She feels squeezed like a lemon at the end of the day. The level of distress that her patients' situation is causing her and so many other front-line GPs is a real barometer to the level of pain in our society. So, I thought it was useful that we discussed this report, 'Together Through Tough Times' that was produced last year. But I think it's a really timely reminder of what we must do collectively in our communities to support people in their distress.

The research they commissioned, in collaboration with sister charities in Northern Ireland and Scotland, was carried out in four places across the UK: one in Haverfordwest, another in Portadown in Northern Ireland, in Glasgow, and in a suburb of Wolverhampton. It delivers three key messages for us: talking about mental well-being; supporting community hubs; and a strong, collaborative community and voluntary sector. These are the keys to enable us to get through tough times and to develop resilient communities that can support each other.

Looking at the first point, it is vital that mental well-being has parity with physical health, and we often talk about that. People are never slow to come forward with talking about the time they're going to have to wait for a hip operation or the bad back they experience. We have to redouble our efforts to fight the stigma attached to mental distress.

We've talked a lot about the epidemic of mental distress in our schools and colleges as a result of COVID and, obviously, people living in overcrowded, inadequate housing will have suffered greatly during the lockdown, but it isn't just poor housing that's the problem. Any child living in a dysfunctional home, where domestic violence is lurking under the radar, would have suffered from not being able to escape to the safety of school. There's a really important role for schools to give young people the space to talk about things that are upsetting them, in a safe, non-judgmental way. Rather than wait for the tragedy of a young pupil taking their life, as happened in Haverfordwest, we need to ensure that the new curriculum drives the change needed to focus on the well-being of pupils as well as their academic achievements.

There is a word of warning in the Mind report that communities should not over-rely on schools to provide this support, and that young people need to be able to access support outside of their social circle too. And in the case of bullying, I'm sure that that is an entirely relevant point. Youth services have an extremely important role to play here, and they often pick up on disturbing issues that haven't been addressed in school. But that links into the second key message for community resilience through these tough times, and that is the role of supporting community hubs.

Haverfordwest research focused on young people, and it found children and young people in Haverfordwest felt little ownership of or connection to their communities. Community hubs must cater for people of all ages, not just the very young and the very old. Children and young people don't have cars, and in a place like Haverfordwest, there's probably very little public transport as well, so they are seriously dependent on adults to get them to places where they might be able to find friendship and fun. Local hubs need to be catering for young people, to give them that space outside the home to help them make that difficult transition from childhood to adulthood, not necessarily in the same space or time.

On the other hand, I'm a great fan of inter-generational learning. My good friend Stan Thorne wasn't exactly a party animal, but he got a huge amount of pleasure from the inter-parliamentary chess competitions with young people that took place every year. For those who don't have grandparents living nearby, activities that bring the generations together—whether it's chess, gardening, singing or some other activity—can be a springboard for independent advice and stimulation for both parties. If the only community space in an area is a pub, where can young people under the age of 18 go?

Like young people, the report highlighted that newcomers to an area, ethnic minorities and people living in poverty also find it much more difficult to break into existing community networks. Having said that, there's a great quote from a woman in Portadown in Northern Ireland that illustrates that newcomers can inject new ideas and energy into a community.

'I live on an estate where people are kind and friendly. We're very chatty people'—

says this woman—

'My neighbours either side are Eastern European. It was new for me—I'm used to living with people from my community but during lockdown we've had more time to chat. They have the same family emphasis and they bring my bin in.'

I think it's a really important reminder that Northern Ireland is much more diverse than it used to be—it isn't just two communities who hardly every talk to each other. Newcomers from outside, with different perspectives on the world, might yet play a really important part in how we make the transition towards a permanent peace in Northern Ireland, in whatever guise that takes.

In Wales too, newcomers often bring a new dynamism with them, which was strongly in evidence on Sunday evening when I joined Jane Hutt to share a meal with members of the former Ugandan Asian community who were chucked out of Uganda in 1972, having to leave behind their homes and their businesses, and making their new home in Wales. Not only are many of them playing absolutely crucial roles in our NHS, the purpose of the evening was in aid of an annual dinner for the Vale for Africa charity, to raise money for Tororo district, which is in the poorest part of Uganda. It's a really excellent example of a positive outcome from adverse circumstance. Similarly, the Women Against Pit Closures went on to do lots of absolutely brilliant work in the decade after the defeat of 1984-85.

But to come back to the community hubs, they do play such an important part in keeping communities together, because they belong to us all. They're paid for with our taxes, and so we really do need to make sure that amidst all the difficult decisions that have to be made in the future for local authorities, we continue to keep the hubs going, because they are really such an important part of the fabric of our communities. But we have to also prevent them getting set in aspic and caught up in just one little clique.

The third element of community resilience is a strong, collaborative community and voluntary sector. That is something we have in Cardiff in spades, even in some of our poorest communities. There's Plasnewydd community garden—an award-winning place for people to meet, both to cultivate food and flowers, but also a place to share some of the more sad aspects of their lives. Men's Sheds are also a wonderful space to bring together men, who traditionally have found it more difficult to express their fears and hopes or emotional distress. I know that my colleague Huw Irranca-Davies has played an important part in promoting Men's Sheds—


The intervention isn't on Men's Sheds per se. One of the interesting things from your very good contribution here, I have to say, is the need for diversity within this space, that in one community it might be a hub that does multiple things. Would you agree with me that the strength of this is having communities where there are a myriad of options for different parts of the community with diverse needs to come together? It could be Men's Sheds, it could be hen's sheds, it could be choirs, it could be knitters and crafters, or, as I have in my constituency, a group that calls themselves 'Stitch 'n Bitch'.

I absolutely agree. And, you know, people fall out as well, so occasionally people will not want to go back to community hub X, because they need to go somewhere else.

There are wonderful things being done by the voluntary sector, whether it's Rubicon Dance in my community, something called Rhythms Free Dance up in Cardiff North, which caters for people with learning difficulties—all free for those people with learning difficulties—or the Friends and Neighbours meetings that take place across Wales, certainly in my community, which is a place where people can go just to talk in a structured way. They also offer discussions for people who are English language learners, which is wonderful, both for improving their English as well as recounting where they've come from and how they feel about the world. There's a collaboration between Cardiff Pottery Workshops and Platfform, which was formerly Gofal, to enable people to work through their mental distress through their hands, and I think that's absolutely fantastic.

Above all, in the community I represent it is religious groups who have done the heavy lifting on the most important and worrying aspect of the cost-of-living crisis. There are certain religious communities who have just kept going with weekly foodbanks or pantries to serve the hungry and the starving. These cannot survive unless we get the help of better-off people who don't need to think about where the next meal is coming from. They simply will be overrun, because the poor are less able to give to these charities any longer, and therefore the rich and the better-off need to stand in solidarity with the other people who are going though so much difficulty in these tough times. I feel this is something that we all need to think about, in every aspect of the communities that we represent.