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. Welcome to this Senedd Plenary meeting. The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Climate Change, and the first question is from Huw Irranca-Davies.

Improving River Biodiversity

1. What steps is the Minister taking to improve biodiversity in the rivers of Wales? OQ58924

I am committed to improving biodiversity in Welsh rivers through tackling poor water quality. This includes reducing phosphate pollution and improving river habitats for migratory fish through the Rivers4Life project. Following the biodiversity deep-dive, I am also working with stakeholders to identify catchment-scale solutions to drive water quality improvements.

Okay, I'd better declare my interest here as the Atlantic salmon champion, but biodiversity in our rivers is intrinsically tied up with issues of pollution, and the causes of pollution in our rivers are myriad, and resolving the problem will require a myriad of co-ordinated approaches, which I'm sure the Minister will want to see taken forward by the Wales better river quality taskforce. Agricultural pollution from nitrates and slurry run-off, combined sewage overflows and Victorian pipework now routinely, daily discharge effluent as we face increasing storm surges, and phosphates from poorly managed construction projects and more. Every river and watercourse is different and every package of solutions must also be different. So, Minister, can I ask you how and when you'll regularly update the Senedd on progress in line with the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017, but also, and specifically, how you'll work with, and ultimately compel, all stakeholders to play their part in effort and investment in cleaning up our rivers and river catchments, restoring the richness of our biodiversity, including the salmon and the sewin, which two of us here in this Senedd champion?

I should also say, of course, I'm the native oyster champion, which requires good, clean water to be able to thrive as well. It's a very important question, Huw, and thank you for asking it. As you know, the better river quality taskforce has been established to evaluate the current approach to the management and regulation of overflows in Wales and to set out detailed plans to drive rapid change and improvement. The taskforce has Welsh Government, NRW, water companies and industry stakeholders providing independent advice to the taskforce and offering insight. Back in July, they published a storm overflows road map for Wales, setting out clear objectives and measurable outcomes for delivering improvements to overflow management for the immediate through to the longer term. And, as you’ve referenced as well, the three river basin management plans in Wales, which were produced under the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017, have all now been published, which demonstrates the progress that has been made in improving water quality throughout Wales.

But, there are many reasons why some of our rivers are really failing to meet good status and they are outlined in the plans, along with the actions that need to be taken to reverse the decline. And as you absolutely rightly pointed out, all parties need to play their part. And I am absolutely determined that through fora like the Wales water management forum, the special areas of conservation rivers oversight group and the better river quality taskforce, we will be able to work together to deliver the improvements that we need to see.

In terms of how we can compel them, we all know there’s no single measure that will solve this problem. The First Minister held a summit, as you know, back in the summer, and there’s a follow-up summit happening in February. We asked each sector to stop pointing fingers at the other sectors and to come up with what they, as a sector, would be able to do to solve their part of the problem. Once we know what they are, then we can put in place the measures by which we can ensure that those sectors can indeed do what they’ve accepted and understood that they can do. And then we will have an action plan that I will be regularly updating the Senedd on and on which we can hold people’s feet to the fire—for ourselves and for NRW, but also for every other sector in Wales that’s causing this problem.

Minister, despite making huge strides to clean up our rivers over recent decades, the biggest threat to biodiversity remains pollution. I would like to highlight the particular problem on the River Tawe. Natural Resources Wales has confirmed that the work to stop regular discharge of untreated sewage enter the River Tawe from Trebanos waste water treatment works in south Wales is not likely to be completed until 2030. This is unacceptable, particularly when you consider Welsh Water named the Trebanos works as No.1 on its list of the 50 worst problem sites for the company in Wales. Over recent years, we have seen an annual average of 3,500 hours of untreated sewage discharging into the Tawe from Trebanos. Minister, we cannot wait another seven or eight years for this to be sorted. Will you commit to eliminating untreated sewage discharged into this river as soon as possible? Thank you. 


Yes, thank you. Obviously, we want to get to the point where we don't have untreated sewage going into the rivers. We need an enormous amount of investment not just at the site that you mentioned there, but in sites right across Wales. We're currently in the negotiations with Ofwat and with the UK Government about the price review for water companies in Wales, and, of course, throughout the whole of the UK. That price review will determine the level of investment that they're able to put in, and the acceleration of the programme that we want to see. So, I, in return, would ask you to make sure that you also add your voice to ours from the Welsh Government, to Ofwat, to make sure that the price review includes the ability of a not-for-profit like Dŵr Cymru to be able to invest at the level it would like to invest, because, in the last price review, we had a real problem because the fact that it was not a company limited by shares was not taken into account by Ofwat, and that has had an effect on the ability to invest. 

I absolutely have regular meetings with the water companies, and I absolutely ask them all the time to accelerate their plans, but we are absolutely in the hands of the price review. So, we all need to act together and add our voice to that to make sure that the price mechanism allows the investment that we want to see, and, indeed, not only the investment, but the acceleration of the investment that we'd all like to see. 

The Cambrian Railway Line

2. Will the Minister provide an update on improvements to the Cambrian railway line? OQ58902

Yes, thank you. The Welsh Government is investing £800 million on a new fleet of trains that will serve passengers across Wales. This will improve passenger comfort and facilities, and these brand-new trains are now running in north Wales, and will be introduced across the whole Welsh rail network in this year and next year. 

I thank the Minister for his answer. What I have noticed is an increase in concerns of poor service on the Cambrian line in particular, on the Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury line. Passengers are frequently asked to change unexpectedly at Shrewsbury due to the numbers of units used for a through service. Now, as I've understood it, there are only 21 units currently available to operate on the Cambrian line—which I know the Minister will know has a unique signalling system—and services are often cancelled because of the lack of available units to cover mid and north Wales. The new trains proposed, as the Minister has outlined, will replace older units like for like, as I understand it, but won't increase the number available to operate the overall service. So, can I ask what the Government is doing to increase the number of units overall to provide an adequate train service for passengers on the Cambrian line in particular, and for any update you can provide on the hourly train service? Thank you. 

Yes, thank you, and Russell George is right that there have been some difficulties on the Cambrian line. The whole rail system across the country has had a difficult autumn. The new trains that we are bringing in on the Cambrian line next year will be able to carry more passengers. There will be increased capacity, and, of course, there'll be increased frequency to hourly. We'd hoped to bring them in this year, but we will be bringing them in next year, and I believe he's recently met with Transport for Wales to discuss that. 

We also have some difficulties on the Cambrian line because West Midlands Trains have not returned to a full timetable on their services between Shrewsbury and Birmingham, and that's had a knock-on effect on our own services, plus, of course, there have been the difficulties across the industry of new staff being trained through a backlog of COVID. We've had challenges with staff not willing to work overtime, and we've had infrastructure work on the Barmouth bridge, plus, then, the limitations of the existing 158 trains, which, as you say, are the only fleet able to operate on this line, which are coming to the end of their useful life. So, I'm afraid our plea to passengers is, 'Hold on, it's going to get better'. But things are difficult at the moment, and I apologise for that. 

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

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

Thank you so much, Presiding Officer. Deputy Minister, yesterday we learnt that Wizz Air is ending all flights in and out of Welsh Government-owned Cardiff Airport, delivering yet another blow to its viability. Your Government described this move as, and I quote, 'surprising.' However, in August last year, your Cabinet colleague Julie James issued a written statement saying that your officials, and I quote, 

'will continue to maintain a close and open dialogue with the Airport Board'.

So, can you explain, Deputy Minister, in light of this close and open dialogue, did this announcement actually come as a surprise, or did you, your Cabinet colleague or your officials take your eye off the ball and not see this coming?


Thank you very much. Well, nobody saw it coming because it was a decision by the company, in the face of what they described as macroeconomic conditions, to withdraw from the airport; they've withdrawn from other airports too. The whole industry is facing significant pressures from inflation and the rising cost of energy. And also, aviation is a sector with quite a precarious business model, often operating on very small margins, so when we do have external forces like this shifting the terms of trade, that has a knock-on effect that cannot be anticipated, and certainly can't be easily mitigated by us. I don't accept that this throws into doubt our commitment to the airport, or indeed its future, and it's still on a pathway towards profitability. It's now, sadly, going to be a longer pathway, because this is a significant customer for the airport, but we are working closely with the airport management to look at alternative options.

Thank you, Deputy Minister. Once again, I always feel that, whenever I speak about Cardiff Airport, it's always someone else's fault, although I can't say that I'm not surprised by you, Deputy Minister, who clearly doesn't pay much attention to the issues that you don't like. If you don't like roads, you stop building them; if you don't like planes, you stop caring about an airport that you actually own. However, on this side of the Chamber, we do care, and have produced an action plan to support the airport so that it can deliver the economic benefits that Wales so desperately needs. To refresh your memory, one aspect of our plan called for an improved road, rail and public transport to the airport. In contrast, your Labour Government has done the opposite and actually scrapped the T9 bus service. So, Deputy Minister, why didn't you bring back the bus service following the pandemic, or did it suit your narrative to just simply let it go and hope that the public forgets about it?

Okay. Well, I completely reject that characterisation. The T9 bus service, as the Member should know, has had a significant drop in demand, as many bus services have right across the bus industry, right across the country, for every government. Passenger levels have not returned to their pre-pandemic levels, so we have to make a hard-headed judgment of where best to put the subsidy, and this is in the context of declining budgets. There is a bus service that goes from the airport into the centre of Cardiff; it takes a more circuitous route than the T9 bus service did, but it's still nonetheless perfectly functional, and we keep the future of that bus service under review.

Deputy Minister, without a doubt, Cardiff Airport has been a financial drain on the taxpayer. It was bought by the Welsh Government for £52 million in 2013, and valued at only £15 million in 2021. It has continuously seen a pre-tax loss for every period since its takeover, and has required millions of pounds of taxpayers' money in the form of grants and debt repayments to remain operational. Passenger numbers have fallen by 53 per cent since 2019. Cardiff Airport requires a clear, effective and comprehensive strategy for growth to enable it to thrive as an international hub—a strategy that requires vision and entrepreneurial savvy that your Government clearly lacks. And I'm very sorry to say this, but we do actually now need a plan in place, put in place by you, to actually get some confidence for us, as well as the public, in relation to Cardiff Airport. So, Deputy Minister, my final question is: do you agree that your ownership of Cardiff Airport has proved a woefully inept use of taxpayers' money, and that the best solution right now is to remove the dead hand of the Welsh Government and return Cardiff Airport to the private sector, where it rightfully belongs?

Well, it is a staggering level of ignorance, really, about the set of realities facing us. The private sector are not interested in an airport that isn't making money. Very few airports, across the world, make money, and I would challenge Natasha Asghar to give me some examples of airports that she thinks we should model, from around the world, that are profit making. [Interruption.]

Well, I'd rather not, Presiding Officer. It's very distracting to have these constant noises-off—to ask a question when she won't listen to the answer.

I feel as if I have to point out that you're a master of noises-off yourself, at various times, so disregard them. Carry on. [Laughter.]

Touché, Presiding Officer. [Laughter.]

The extra information Natasha Asghar was trying to provide was hard to hear. The fact is, the fundamental question we need to ask ourselves is do we think Wales should have an airport. If we think Wales should have an airport, there is market failure, so the private sector by itself is not going to provide that airport. Therefore, just as with Manchester, just as with other regional airports, there is a role for us as a Government to provide that airport, and that requires investment. Now, she extraordinarily pointed out to the decline of passengers sine 2019; well, I think we all have noticed what's happened since 2019. There had been a rising growth in passengers of the airport up until the pandemic. Clearly, since the pandemic, across the world, demand for air travel has fallen and has not recovered. There is not a business model in the world that would withstand that kind of external shock. The enterprise plan that she wrote—she was telling me from a sedentary position—I would dearly love to read to see what we could learn from her wisdom. This is a collective challenge for us all. If the Conservatives have solutions rather than simply calling for us to close the airport, I'm all ears.


Gweinidog, this week, it's been reported that global pollinator losses are causing 500,000 early deaths a year because of reduced supply of healthy food. Scientists say that about 1 per cent of all deaths can now be attributed to pollinator loss. As species champion for the shrill carder bee, one of our most endangered bumblebees, this causes me concern. It should alarm us all, because the health of our pollinators is directly linked to our own health and our planet's future. Harvard's Dr Samuel Myers has said that this link between biodiversity and human health is often missing in these discussions. So, could you set out, please, what the Government will do to protect and recreate nature-rich habitats, particularly those with an abundance of flowers? Schemes like the environmental land management schemes and the Welsh sustainable farming scheme need to be well funded, of course, to incentivise farmers. Can the Government do more, please, to tackle the use of pesticides? The EU, I know, has proposed a 50 per cent reduction in pesticide use by 2030. We should be doing at least that, I would hope. Will there be a Welsh plan to help the transition to sustainable alternatives and the use of more resilient crops, please?

Yes, Delyth, I completely agree with you. Obviously, we have to do something very dramatic to help our pollinators, and actually all of our wildlife species. It's why we did the deep dive to find out exactly what the scientific community could help us with in terms of the plans. It's why we've been speaking to local authorities across Wales about the wildlife corridors, No Mow May—I would say June and July as well—and the whole issue about planting native wildflower species along our transport routes to make the corridors necessary for the pollinators to be able to move around and to make sure that they don't have diminishing gene pools in particular sectors—all of the things that affect them. 

There's an enormous piece that we can do about people's gardens as well as just in wider agriculture. The sustainable farming scheme is all about making sure that we can farm in that sustainable way with a diminishing use of both herbicides and pesticides, both of which have a really dramatic effect on our ability to have that biodiversity that we all actually need to survive—literally need to survive. So, we have a range of measures in place. One of the things, though, that I know you'll be interested in is that I will want to see, as part of the 30x30 targets, what we can say about the diminishing use of pesticides and herbicides across the piece for ordinary things, if I can put it like that. 

We've got a re-education piece to do here as well. All of us will receive complaints from constituents about weeds on the pavement, for example, but weeds on the pavement are necessary, they're necessary for insects to hide. I think we've got to learn that neat is not good, that actually sometimes a little bit of scruff is exactly what nature needs. Trying to get people to understand that the neat pavements with no green of any description on them are not in fact neat, they're in fact dead, is a really big part of this piece. So, working with our local authorities to change the regime of weed clearance and so on and to change it into native wildflower species and that people recognise it is one of the things we really do need to do. This is all about the attitude and what we see out of our eyes when we look at nature.

Thank you. That point about urban habitats is really important; I agree completely. I'm going to talk about something else that is in the Deputy Minister's portfolio next, but thank you very much for that, Minister.

I want to turn my final question to talk about women's safety on trains. A recent survey by Railwatch has shown that 60 per cent of women had experienced a situation where they were made to feel uncomfortable when travelling on a train in the UK because of their gender or their physical appearance. Some 35 per cent had deliberately changed the way that they looked on a train, like covering up or putting on a coat or something like that. LGBTQ women were 10 per cent to 20 per cent more likely to have these experiences. It's just the most dreadful situation. I've raised before how women can feel unsafe when travelling to and from—I don't mind who answers—trains as well. Something needs to change. The good news is that 9 out of 10 women in this survey said that they could feel safer if changes were made. If they saw changes, 60 per cent would increase how often they travel by rail. So, could you, please, tell me, Minister, what could be done to address these problems? And because it affects half the population, or it could potentially affect half the population, could a specific statement, please, be brought to the Senedd about this? Thank you.  


Delyth, that's something very close to my heart, and I will say I'm one of them. I've done that myself; I've put my coat around my hair, put a hat on, and tried to make myself as inconspicuous as possible, because I've been travelling alone at night on public transport and it hasn't felt safe. There are several things to say about that. First of all, I hosted a Women in Transport event just before Christmas in the Senedd, where we trying to highlight the role of women in transport—working in the transport sector, but also actually users of transport—about what changes we want to see. I would encourage everyone here to join up to the hub there, and start to try and influence it. The second thing is, of course, to make sure that with our unions we have the right level of staffing on our stations and so on, or the right level of lighting, or the right level of emergency provision. And the third thing is to make sure that our public transport is better populated, because, frankly, if you're on a well-used service, then you don't feel like that; it tends to be when you're isolated, alone in something that doesn't feel like there's anyone else around you.

I think there are a range of things that we can do that we're already doing with Transport for Wales around the way that our stations work, the way that our bus service works, the way that we have staffing on the stations, but I would encourage you very much to get involved in the Women in Transport hub. It is a really useful resource, where we can start to put that gender lens on many of the services we use. I really think it's a very important point about how different sectors of society experience different things. What we really want is a public service that welcomes everyone, and makes everyone feel safe. We could have a similar conversation about people with disabilities or other things as well. So, there is a plan in place, but I particularly want to recommend to you the Women in Transport hub, which I was very pleased to be launching in the Senedd just before Christmas. 

The Effectiveness of Rent Smart Wales

3. What assessment has the Government made of the effectiveness of Rent Smart Wales in increasing standards within the rental sector? OQ58918

Diolch, Peter. Rent Smart Wales has a key role in the sector, taking enforcement action on non-compliant landlords and providing training to ensure landlords are fully aware of their legal obligations. We are going to commission an evaluation of the delivery and impact of Rent Smart Wales later this year.  

Thank you, Minister, for your response. I recognise that Rent Smart Wales has an important role to play in ensuring high standards within the private rental sector in Wales, providing landlords and tenants with that important advice and support they need. However, since being elected to the Senedd, I have received numerous pieces of correspondence from local landlords and agents who have had issues with Rent Smart Wales. For example, they've spoken about the poor customer service, including the inability to speak to staff on the phone due to understaffing. Concerns have also been raised with me about the Rent Smart Wales website often being slow and inaccessible for some. Long waiting times for requests for information and help are really holding things up and stopping them complying with their statutory obligations. Due to these delays, some landlords have noted that they have experienced issues in things like registering and renewing their membership, which has caused even further issues. Minister, what assurances can you provide landlords, agents and tenants that the Government's external review—as you mentioned—of Rent Smart Wales will fully take their experiences into consideration and will learn from this? And what steps is the Government taking to help RSW to address staffing and capacity issues? 

Thank you, Peter. I'll just run through where we've been, because we absolutely acknowledge that we've had difficulty with keeping the staffing at the level we'd like it to have been all the way through, as a result of the pandemic and a number of other economic issues. Back in August 2022, Rent Smart Wales did take the decision to close the telephone lines to incoming calls, due to a severe shortage of staff during that period. That allowed them to concentrate their efforts on meeting their statutory targets for licensing landlords and agents. They deliberately made that decision to concentrate their existing staff on a body of work that they were undertaking. But all other contact from landlords was answered, and an accessibility line was introduced for those landlords who had no other means of contact, once that was drawn to our attention.

We've had significant staff recruitment and training in the meantime. The telephone line was reopened on 24 October between the hours of 09:00 and 11:00. I just want to assure everyone who's listening that if you phone before 11:00 and you're in the queue, you will be answered. So, if you want to speak to them make sure you're on that line before 11:00, and then all the calls will be answered afterwards. I'm very pleased about that. We also want to make aware that people are able to request a callback via the contact form on the website. If you don't want to sit on telephone line waiting, you can ask for a callback, and that will also be answered. So, I want to assure people that they will be responded to. We've had 12 new employees that have started with Rent Smart Wales this week, in fact, after a recruitment exercise. They're planning to extend the opening times of the contact centre further later this month, once those employees are trained and up to speed. We have seen a real improvement in the performance of Rent Smart Wales over the last few months, with response times to e-mails now down to around a week, which I'm really pleased to say.

Nearly 60,000 landlords and 10,000 agents have completed the core training, and we've had over 27,000 landlords complete the continuous professional development modules. We've written out to all registered landlords to remind them of the requirements to complete the free Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 training by the end of February. So, Peter, I think I'm saying I acknowledge the difficulties. We're sorry for them. There was a real, serious recruitment problem. A lot of measures have been put in place to address that. We've made sure that landlords are aware of that and that the backlog is being cleared. So, we really hope now that the service will find itself on an equilibrium and be able to roll out the training in a much more satisfactory way. And then, when we do the review—. That's why the review is later in the year; we want to get these new arrangements to bed in, and then we want to test their suitability, and of course we'll be asking landlords for their opinion once the new arrangements have bedded in.

Climate Change

4. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of climate change in Clwyd West? OQ58920

Thank you, Darren Millar. I am committed to addressing the impacts of climate change in every part of Wales. As evidenced in our climate adaptation progress report, which we published in December, across the Welsh Government we continue to develop evidence and policy to address the emerging risks to our health, communities, infrastructure and natural environment.

Thank you for that response. As you'll be aware, Minister, one of the biggest risks in my own constituency is the risk of flooding. We know that flooding is becoming a more frequent problem as a result of climate change and sea level rises. Along the coast, there's been significant investment in sea defences in recent years, and there are more planned for the Towyn and Kinmel Bay area. However, there has also been significant erosion of the beach, which is undermining the sea defences, in the Abergele, Pensarn and Belgrano areas along the coast of Clwyd West, and I'm very concerned that plans haven't yet been developed or brought forward to address those issues with beach replenishment or the raised height of the flood defences. What assurances can you give my constituents that there will be investment in those sea defences in those areas, and that the beaches will be replenished in order to protect homes and businesses from flooding?

Thank you, Darren. This is an ongoing situation and, as we adapt to the changing climate, we're going to have to address it more and more. We've had a number of schemes already in Clwyd West, which I know you're aware of. There's Eldon Drive in Abergele; Llansannan; Top Llan Road in Glan Conwy; Kinmel Bay; the Colwyn Bay waterfront upgrade; Chapel Street; and the natural flood management for the River Clwyd catchment. I'm particularly fond of that last one—I hope you've had a chance to see it.

The risk management authority is the local authority for this purpose, and what we do is we ask them to complete an assessment of the flood arrangements, difficulties and issues in their area, and to produce a management plan for us. We then discuss the investment in that management plan with them. We expect the local authority to be undertaking that and to bring forward their list of investments, in priority order, for us to consider as part of the flood management investment.

We've invested, as part of the co-operation agreement, actually record amounts of money in flood management. Only this morning, I was having a discussion with the flood management officials here about how the programme is rolling out. So, we are working very closely with the risk management authorities, as they're called for this purpose, to make sure that we are using an agreed set of criteria to be able to assess where the risk is and in which priority they bring it forward. If you've got particular concerns about a particular area, I suggest you ask your risk management authority to specifically look at that, and I'm sure they'll flag it up to us as part of that process.

Housing Stock Energy Efficiency

5. What plans does the Government have to improve the energy efficiency of the housing stock in Arfon? OQ58899

Diolch, Siân Gwenllian. There are a number of programmes designed to help improve energy efficiency of homes across Wales, including in Arfon. These include the optimised retrofit programme and the Warm Homes programme.


As you'll know, the problems experienced by some of my constituents with energy efficiency measures under the Arbed 2 scheme still haven't been resolved. I am grateful that your officials are dealing with cases relating to two specific contractors, and it would be useful to hear when we can expect an update on this.

As we look to future schemes, it's exceptionally important, isn't it, that quality assurance is available in terms of the work that is done. One way of doing that would be to create a skilled workforce locally, and that's one aim behind a new initiative, the Tŷ Gwyrddfai initiative in Penygroes, which is a new and innovative decarbonisation centre that I visited recently. This is the first centre of its kind in Wales, and indeed in the United Kingdom, which is drawing several partners together under the Adra housing association, on a factory site that closed a few years ago, namely Northwood Hygiene.

I feel very excited about this project and the important work that could be achieved there to tackle energy poverty and climate change, as well as creating a skilled workforce and local supply chains for the decarbonisation agenda. So, I would like, on behalf of the partners—the Tŷ Gwyrddfai partners—to extend a warm welcome to you to visit the centre, and there will be a very warm welcome for you there.

Diolch, Siân. I very much want to visit, and I hope you will invite me formally and I can do that very soon. We're very pleased with the way the decarbonisation hub is working out. You've set out the history of the factory that closed and so on there. We were very pleased to be able to give £239,000 worth of a Transforming Towns placemaking grant to enable the transition into the hub—very delighted to have done that.

We know that the in-house contractor for Adra is going to do a retrofit of Adra-owned social homes and will have itself a space in the hub. As you rightly say, what we're hoping from all of these programmes that we're supporting—the optimised retrofit and these programmes—is that we will both overskill the workforce to produce the skilled workforce that you were just talking about, which we absolutely need to do, that we'll be able to identify what the skills are and where the shortages are, so that I can work with my colleague the education Minister and my colleague the economy Minister to make sure that our FE colleges are providing the right kind of provision for the workers of the future in the retrofit space, and that we can do the learning so necessary to ensure that we don't have the problems that you've rightly identified we had with previous schemes, which not only didn't always do what they said on the tin, but actually didn't even come with guarantees of the work and so on, so we've certainly learnt those lessons. We don't want to be in that position in the future. So, I'd be delighted to come and visit. I think it's a really good exemplar scheme of its type, and it is exactly the way that we're rolling out the right fit, the right tech for the right home, right across Wales, rather than the one-size-fits-all that has led to the problems in your constituency and Huw Irranca's and others', with the resulting misery to the homeowners, which we certainly wish to avoid in the future.

Responding as chair of the cross-party group on fuel poverty and energy efficiency to your statement on improving the energy efficiency of Welsh homes on 8 November, I referred to the Equality and Social Justice Committee recommendations for the Welsh Government to ensure that the Warm Homes programme embeds the fabric and worst-first approach to retrofitting, as well as targeting the poorest households and the least efficient homes, and asked how you will ensure that the programme embeds this. Your reply concluded,

'we constantly look to see whether it's better to help more people do one thing than it is to help very much fewer people do everything, and I'm afraid that's one of the balances we're constantly wrestling with.'

I thank you for subsequently agreeing to work with the cross-party group on this, and to attend our next meeting on 13 February. But in the meantime, how do you respond to the concern raised by Gwynedd Council's fuel poverty officer at the cross-party group's last meeting in November, that there are high levels of non-compliant stock with the Welsh housing quality standard in Gwynedd?

I would respond with some surprise, Mark, because all authorities have met the standard for the Welsh housing quality, which is EPC D, apart from what are called 'acceptable fails'. So, if you have details of why he's concerned that the stock isn't up to standard, I'd certainly like to see it. His own council has submitted returns to us saying that they are satisfied that they have rolled out the Welsh housing quality standard, so, I'd genuinely like to see what's being referred to there. So, I'd like to understand that. 

We are in the process of discussing with registered social landlords and stock holding councils right across Wales the next iteration of the Welsh housing quality standard and to what level we expect homes to be retrofitted yet again. So, we're going to bring them up from the EPC D that we currently have, which I'll remind you we were told we could never possibly do in the time but we have actually managed to do it. We're in advanced discussions about where the next stage will be—EPC B, A—what can we bring homes up to and for what level of money, and over what time period. So, it will be very important to understand any difficulties in the previous iteration, and I would really very much like to see the evidence that has been put in front of you, so that we can have a look at it. But, I assure you that our gold standard is to make sure that all homes capable of being brought to the standard of the Welsh housing quality standard are brought to that standard, and there's a rigorous investigation of why any home couldn't be brought to that standard, and the acceptable fails are minimised and we understand the reason for them, rather than not doing anything to the properties that we think couldn't come up to the full standard. So, that's the situation as it is at the moment. 

The Menai Bridge

6. Will the Minister provide an update on the work to reopen the Menai bridge? OQ58910

The emergency programme of works to reopen the Menai suspension bridge began on 5 January. The programme is scheduled to be completed within four weeks, subject to weather conditions. The 7.5 tonne weight limit will remain in place when the bridge reopens. 

Thank you very much. It is very important to stick to that timetable. We can all agree, I hope, that the experience of the past few months has proven just how vulnerable the infrastructure is in terms of the Menai crossings. The closure of the Menai bridge and the traffic jams on the Britannia bridge have created great inconvenience and had a great impact on business, not only in the Menai Bridge area but across the island. And I will draw the Minister's attention to the fact that Isle of Anglesey County Council wrote to the Minister for Economy in the past few days asking for further business support—something I've also requested, and I'm happy to endorse that again. But, given how vulnerable the crossing is, it's clear that we need a more robust crossing, and the solution is to dual the Britannia crossing or to erect a third crossing, and it was agreed that that would be done in 2016. I realise, of course, that we need to secure the need for new developments before they proceed, but can I ask the Minister to make an early decision to ensure that resilience for the future?

Well, thank you. I note that we have supported, through Business Wales, some 288 businesses on the island, and I acknowledge the impact that the closure has had at a time that is already difficult for businesses and this has been another pressure on many of them. In terms of the future of the crossing, as he knows, we have a programme of works planned, which we are still confident, weather permitting, will be completed by the end of January. And then, as we've explained, a more permanent solution will be scheduled in consultation with the local council at a time that is best not to interrupt tourism trade through the course of next year. 

I noticed, over Christmas, that the Member had managed to persuade some in the media that we had changed our position on the future of the third crossing, owing to its inclusion within the Wales infrastructure investment plan, along with a number of other legacy schemes, but it also made clear that all of these were subject to the roads review. So, the position in fact has not changed at all, despite the spin that was put on it. We'll be publishing the roads review within the next month, and we'll be asking the Burns commission to look at the future of the crossing as part of its work. We are expecting an interim report from the Burns commission shortly, and I think we all need to think about the role that infrastructure has to play in achieving both economic development but also achieving our carbon targets. 

I thank the Member for submitting today's important question, and I certainly support much of the sentiment expressed by the constituency Member for Ynys Môn there as well. And it is welcome news, of course, Minister, to see the work taking place to reopen the bridge. But myself and Mark Isherwood as a fellow north Wales MS, have been joining meetings with the MP Virginia Crosbie with local businesses in Menai Bridge that are expressing their continued struggle and concern with the level of business and footfall that they're seeing. And it has been welcome, of course, to see some of the interventions take place to date. But with the reopening of Menai Bridge just a few weeks away, hopefully, I wonder what activity and promotional activity you have planned to let as many people know as possible that Menai Bridge is open for business and that the bridge itself will be back open so that those businesses can flourish again very soon.


Of course, the town of Menai Bridge has never been closed, and what's been very interesting is that the data, rather than the concerns and claims, have shown still a significant level of activity through the Patrwm project using long-range wide area network, which we've been pleased to support. So, I think it's important to put facts alongside concerns. I note that the Member of Parliament that he mentioned has been heavily ramping up the concerns. But actually, the data doesn't fully bear that out, and the nature of the custom and people staying actually longer in the town centre, has been quite striking.

But there has been, of course, an impact, we don't deny that, and mitigation measures have been put in place, including free car parking, which will remain available in Menai Bridge town and the two park-and-share sites throughout January. Also, to assist with the loss of bus services on the island, the council has provided additional stops closer to the Menai suspension bridge, which is proving successful. I was pleased that Ynys Môn had done that. Gwynedd, I think, has yet to match that level of activity on their side of the bridge, and I think they should be encouraged to do so. And some behaviour change has already started to take place with people increasingly walking across the bridge and heading beyond because of its closure. But of course, we will continue to work with the council to see what more we can do to make sure that the area is promoted, and that we are able to restore confidence in the area as quickly as possible.

Local Renewable Energy Projects

7. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to facilitate local renewable energy projects in Mid and West Wales? OQ58915

Diolch, Cefin. As we move towards a more localised, renewables-based energy system, we are taking steps to ensure that the wealth from renewable energy projects remains in Wales. We are building on our support for communities and public bodies, developing additional offers for local businesses and supporting energy plans to highlight local opportunities.

Thank you very much. The energy crisis—which has been made worse, of course, by the war in Ukraine—has emphasised the need in Wales to be far more resilient in terms of producing our own energy. The Welsh Government is committed to producing 70 per cent of electricity in Wales through renewable means by 2030, and I welcome that very much, and the emphasis on local ownership is part of this, and mid and west Wales has incredible potential to contribute to reaching that target. However, as has been noted in a recent report by the Welsh Affairs Committee, the national grid capacity in Wales—and I quote, 'has been limited significantly'. This is very frustrating, of course. For example, it's a barrier to farmers in the Elenydd area to move forward with decarbonisation plans; it endangers more fundamental developments in the Celtic sea. So, what discussions have you had with UK Government to improve grid capacity so that communities and businesses in Wales can move ahead with their renewable energy projects?

Diolch, Cefin. Yes, a very important point. So, we have 897 MW of locally owned renewable electricity and heat capacity in Wales in 2021, which was 90 per cent of the way towards our 1 GW target for 2030, which is really good news. We've got a total of 2,201 new renewable projects commissioned across mid Wales and the Swansea bay city region in 2021. They represent a capacity increase of 31.5 MW and comprise mostly small scale and domestic installations, exactly as you said. We've been supporting a wide range of community and publicly owned renewable projects which are around 4.8 MW of capacity. I'm telling you these things because I don't want a doom and gloom effect for this industry, because I think it's pretty vibrant and people are really interested in it, and this kind of diversified community energy is very important to energy security, of course. But there's no doubt at all that the grid is a limiting factor. As I've said in this Chamber a number of times, and it still remains the case, I'm very pleased to say that the UK Government has belatedly understood the need to plan the grid. We have a process in place now to put a planned grid in place, a higher network operator arrangement, and we've got a lot of work going on to understand how and where that will be, what needs to be upgraded.

A lot hinges on a pipeline project that will be put from north to south Wales to connect the two offshore wind projects, both the fixed offshore wind and what we hope will be an enormous project of floating wind in the Celtic sea. The exact route of that pipeline is up for consideration. I have officials very much involved in that and I'll be meeting the energy Minister again soon. I've already had a really good encounter with the energy Minister, to be fair, so I think they are on this page at last. The big issue for us will be to make sure that we get the new grid we need coming down through the middle of Wales, which we absolutely do need, and that we have that in a way that allows the connections in, but we also need the grid strengthened right across south Wales and in north Wales. It's not good enough to say, 'Well, those two bits are all right'; they are not. I have to tell you that, if you live where I live in Swansea, you get brownouts quite a lot. So, we need the existing grid to be strengthened and we need the incoming energy from the new Celtic sea and from the huge investment in the north-Wales coastline to benefit the people of Wales. I want that energy to come here. I don't want it to go to Devon or the Republic of Ireland or into Liverpool or somewhere. So, we've been working very hard to make sure that that stays on track and that we get the right level of consultation and involvement in Wales, and so far so good, but watch this space.


Minister, I agree with much of what you say there, so it would be great if you would join us on Tuesday evening, because Cefin and myself, Jane Dodds and Joyce Watson are hosting a reception on Tuesday evening here at the Senedd entitled the 'Haven Waterway Future Energy Cluster Reception', focusing on floating offshore wind and the opportunities available to us in Pembrokeshire, specifically on the Haven Waterway. 

In agreeing with what you've said so far, I'd be interested to know, given that we require additional infrastructure, what discussions you're having with NRW and local authorities, when it comes to the planning for this infrastructure on land, that they have the funds available, the resources available, to make sure that they're done in a timely manner. Diolch. 

Sorry, I have absolutely no idea whether I'm in the Senedd next Tuesday, but, if I am, I'll happily come along. Absolutely, but we've got to do it in the right order. So, we absolutely will want to make sure that the planning arrangements are in place, but, depending on the level that we're talking about, it might be a nationally significant infrastructure development, so it might be the UK Government that's consenting some of this stuff. The 'might be' is the important bit, isn't it, because we need to understand exactly what's being planned for, when it's being planned for, and when it will come on stream in order to get—forgive the colloquialism—our ducks in a row. So, we're very keen to make sure that the Celtic sea projects, the floating wind projects in particular, use the wealth of experience and opportunity that there is in all of the south Wales and north Wales ports, that we get the actual infrastructure build here in Wales, not just the maintenance contracts, and we actually get the wealth from the project coming here, and, in particular, we get the energy input here so that we do get the strengthening of the grid, which would then, of course, allow all of the other projects that we've got, which we know are ready to go, including all our Homes as Power Stations and all the rest of it.

So, I can assure you that all of that is very much on the table. Vaughan Gething and myself have met the Crown Estate and the energy Minister a number of times. There are a number of fingers in the pie at the moment. We've spoken to all the ports and the port authorities and so on, so we're very much in the same space as you, and what we need to do now is just make sure that we stay ahead of that game so that we get the investment we want. 

Supporting Renewable Energy

8. What discussions has the Minister held with other governments in order to share good practice in relation to supporting renewable energy? OQ58921

Diolch, Sioned. My officials and I hold regular bilateral and multilateral discussions with other Governments to share our experiences, good practice and challenges. Examples include the net zero interministerial meetings of the four UK nations, the British-Irish Council and the Under2 Coalition of state, regional and provincial Governments. So, we have quite a lot of contact, inter-government and otherwise. 

Thank you, Minister. Given the need to respond to the climate crisis and the need, as we heard from Cefin Campbell, to increase the energy produced locally, it's good to see that these discussions are ongoing. Until we have a public transport system that is fit for purpose and is cheap to use, car parks will be part of the landscape of every town in Wales, I'm sure. But legislation approved last year by the French Parliament makes it a requirement for every car park with a capacity of 80 or more vehicles to have a canopy of solar panels over the site. The Act includes current car parks as well as new ones. By placing solar farms on sites such as this, which are already developed, the aim of the strategy is to solve one of the great challenges of solar power—the need for land, which could threaten agricultural land and greenfield sites. So, Minister, will you look at the feasibility of introducing a similar scheme for solar panels in places such as car parks in Wales, held by public bodies and perhaps private companies too? 


Yes, I was really aware of that. It's a great idea. Obviously, if you travel in Europe at all, you'll notice that car parks have canopies over them anyway, because they're shading the vehicles from the sun. We don’t entirely have that problem in Wales yet. We have the rain problem, absolutely. The old joke about, 'Did you know that you could take your cagoule off when you go to England?’ springs to mind at that point. I’m not sure that we could justify building a canopy in order to put a solar panel on it. But I absolutely take the point that, where there is capacity to put a solar panel on an existing roof, or we're building new, deliberately, we should be doing that.

The whole issue with the grid that we were just discussing comes to play there. What would we do with that energy? If there’s a local use for it, then, okay, that’s fine. But if you are looking to feed it into the grid, then we have all of the issues that we've got. I'm actually very interested in looking to see whether that kind of system would support an EV charging network, even if it was a slow one.

So, there are some things afoot to look at that, and we are very interested in taking that forward. It’s a slightly different landscape to the one in France, but, nevertheless, I'm very interested in the project. And if you're aware of anyone who is interested in taking it forward—local authority-wise or private sector car park-wise—then do let us know, because we are very happy to talk to them.

Phosphate Levels

9. Will the Minister make a statement on phosphate levels in Welsh rivers? OQ58928

Yes. Thank you, Ken. On 9 February, the First Minister will reconvene a summit of key partners in tackling excessive levels of phosphates in Welsh rivers, to discuss current progress and establish next steps. I'll set out the outcomes of that discussion, together with an action plan, in a written statement, which will go out shortly after the summit.

Thank you, Minister. That’s really helpful to know. I recently met with small businesses in the house building industry, and they were raising this matter as a concern. Will the housing industry be present at that meeting on 9 February, and will you be able to give some reassurance that their concerns have been paid attention to?

Yes, absolutely. So, I'll just reiterate what I said to Huw Irranca-Davies earlier on in this session. What we've asked each sector to do is to look to see what they can propose to help solve their part of the problem. So, for house building, we know that surface water drainage systems, SUDS, are part of the solution; there will be others. We have asked each sector to come back to us, and we have been working all the way through. This isn't a one-off in July, and and then another one-off in February. We had a whole series of meetings going through the piece, chaired by officials, chaired by NRW. A whole range of things have been going on. But each sector has been asked to look to its own to see what it can do. 

The house builders have absolutely been a part of that. They are part of the problem. They need to be part of the solution. I would say that about whichever sector you'd ask. So, rather than everybody saying that it is somebody else's fault, look to put your own house in order, to come forward with practical, sustainable solutions that we can help implement and fund. Then, together, we can make sure that our rivers go back to the state that we'd all like to see them in. 

2. Questions to the Minister for Education and Welsh Language

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

Improving Educational Outcomes

1. What action will the Minister take to improve the educational outcomes of school pupils in 2023? OQ58911

The roll-out of the Curriculum for Wales continues to be central to our reforms to improve the quality of, and engagement with, learning in schools and settings. We will continue to actively promote this, alongside our focus on cross-curricular and integral skills as a foundation for all learning.  

Thank you, Minister. I've recently been contacted by a constituent who is the head of science and technology at a school in Wales and who is opposed to proposals to integrate physics, chemistry and biology into one award. My constituent strongly believes that these proposals remove choices from pupils and will seriously dilute the quality of science teaching in Wales by reducing the breadth of a student's science education. One of the reasons that UK science degrees are so widely respected worldwide is because they are so specialist, and less broad than in many other countries. My constituent goes on to say that these proposals present a threat to the Welsh economy, which needs highly skilled, highly paid jobs in Wales, many of which rely on high-quality science education, which would be put under risk with these plans in place. Concerns have also been expressed by the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry, who fear that the core sciences will lose their identity and will mean people missing the opportunity to develop a fascination for science that would lead them to rewarding careers moving forward. What can you say, Minister, to my constituent, colleagues in the teaching profession, professional bodies, and to parents in Wales who are concerned that these proposals will seriously damage science teaching here in Wales? Thank you.


Actually, the view of the two institutions that you referred to is that the proposal that Qualifications Wales has brought forward is likely to increase the number of young people learning science and going on to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. That is actually the view they've expressed to us. Qualifications Wales is currently consulting on this matter, so your constituent—I would encourage him or her to contribute to the consultation. It’s important that all voices are heard as we approach the question of recasting our qualifications in Wales.

One in five schools in Wales currently teach three separate sciences at GCSE level, so the overwhelming majority do not. The proposals that Qualifications Wales have brought forward do not combine the sciences. They will retain their separate identity, but will be taught in a way that enables the linkages between them, which is really important for those who go on to study sciences to understand the fuller context in the widest range of sciences. That is the mechanism that Qualifications Wales suggests. Qualifications Wales has done a significant amount of work with higher education institutions to ensure they understand the perspectives that they have. That work continues in the early part of this year, but I'd encourage your constituent to participate in the discussion, which Qualifications Wales is keen to encourage.

Welsh-medium Education and Childcare

2. How does the Welsh Government support the provision of Welsh-medium education and childcare across Bridgend? OQ58909

The Welsh Government is working with the local authority to deliver on its Welsh in education strategic plan commitments to expand provision of childcare and education through the medium of Welsh. Forty-two million, seven hundred thousand pounds of funding has been approved in principle through a combination of our childcare, Welsh-medium and Sustainable Communities for Learning capital grants and programmes.

Diolch, Minister. I am really pleased with the announcement that there will be more access for learners to receive their education through the medium of Welsh across my community and Wales; it’s been very much welcomed by my constituents. I just wanted to highlight some good news, really, which is that in Bridgend there are plans to build a replacement Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Ogwr school, and they have moved now a step closer. So, even though it’s only going to move a short distance, it is going to increase the amount of pupils from 378 to 525, aged four to 11 years. On top of that, Bridgend County Borough Council have approved to also co-locate Welsh-medium childcare provision at the site. And then in Porthcawl there is going to be a Welsh-medium seedling school and care provision on the land next to Porthcawl Primary School, and that’s going to offer full care from potentially zero to four years old as well as after-school and holiday provision, so, really offering that full wraparound care in the medium of Welsh. I know as well that we’re very keen in Bridgend to make sure that there’s that choice to have those transitions from childcare to early years, primary and secondary school. So, really my question is just that I know that they’re very keen in Bridgend if you would be able to come and visit and meet with some of the existing Welsh-medium schools, and that would be wonderful. So, that’s what I’d like to ask today, Minister. Thank you.

I thank Sarah Murphy for drawing attention to the positive developments happening in relation to Welsh-medium education in her area. I had a very productive meeting with both the leader of the council and the cabinet member for education a few weeks ago to discuss the Welsh in education strategic plan and their level of ambition and the importance of pursuing the proposals that are set out in the plan. The developments in Ysgol Bro Ogwr and the proposed, I think very exciting, seedling school in Porthcawl are positive, and I very much look forward to seeing them progress. That’s very much the message that I gave to the council leadership when I met with them very recently.

I’ll be visiting Ysgol Gyfun Llangynwyd next month, and, if arrangements can be made, that could provide a good opportunity to meet with cabinet members and with teachers from the Welsh-medium sector in the way that she suggests. We know that improving access to Welsh-medium education goes beyond the important question of planning school places; it requires effective co-operation across sectors, across organisations and Government at all levels, and, for my part, I will certainly ensure that the communication channels, which are so vital to delivering that, remain open between my officials and the local authority.


Minister, although the new schools in Brackla and Porthcawl, which Sarah just mentioned, are worth welcoming, it’s important to remind ourselves where Bridgend County Borough Council is in terms of the provision of Welsh-medium school places. We know that Bridgend is one of the areas with the lowest numbers of Welsh speakers anywhere in Wales, and one of the reasons for that is that there are only five Welsh-medium primary schools in the county, as compared to 52 English-medium schools. This means that Bridgend county has fewer Welsh-medium primary schools than every one of its neighbours and the council has no real plans to close that gap swiftly. So, what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that councils take the language sufficiently seriously and what steps is he taking to ensure that every pupil can get a place in a Welsh-medium school in their community?

A very important question there from the Member, if I may say so. I believe, in the context of Bridgend particularly, one of the challenges is that there hasn’t been enough progress in the past, and that’s an important part of the context that he set out in his question. But I am clear from my discussions with the current leadership that they understand that and that there is a commitment to making progress in terms of what they have in their WESPs. And that includes four new childcare hubs—two have already opened—also increasing the number of Welsh-medium places in nursery provision, as well as plans in terms of Ysgol Bro Ogwr, Ysgol y Ferch o Sgêr, and looking at expanding Ysgol Gyfun Llangynwyd too. And if that happens as the plan sets out, then there will be a significant increase in the number of Welsh-medium school places, and that’s to be welcomed.

On the broader question, I’ve been clear with every authority that I’ve spoken to that I’m grateful for the level of ambition in all WESPs. Every county has taken on the challenge that we have set as a Government—and that's for the first time, by the way—and have accepted the range of progress that is needed in all counties. And if all councils deliver against what they’ve pledged, then we will certainly reach our targets in ‘Cymraeg 2050’. But it’s one thing to agree on what the document says; it’s another thing to deliver against that, and we need to ensure that that happens. Although this is a 10-year plan, we need progress every year, not just over a decade.

Of course I welcome the developments in terms of Porthcawl and Ysgol Bro Ogwr—my former primary school. It was a great pleasure for me to return to Bro Ogwr to see how they were providing free school meals. The classrooms felt a lot smaller than when I was a pupil there, but I don’t know what that means—maybe I’ve put a little bit of weight on since then.

Mention has been made that the former site of Bro Ogwr is going to be turned into an English-medium school. This causes some concern for people, particularly those campaigning for more Welsh-medium provision in Bridgend. So, could the Minister confirm that he will be contacting the council to ensure that the former Bro Ogwr site will remain a Welsh-medium school and won't be turned into an English-medium school?

Well, I have an opportunity to visit primary schools throughout Wales, as the Member described, and I have to say that I also feel that schools have got a lot smaller since I was a pupil, so I possibly share that concern with him.

What I'm committed to doing is ensuring that I insist that progress is made against what's contained in the WESP. They will have a partner in the Welsh Government to ensure that the necessary support is available to them, but there is also an expectation that they deliver against their plan, and I'm confident on the basis of the conversation that I've had that they intend to do that.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from party spokespeople. Conservative spokesman first, Samuel Kurtz.

Thank you, Llywydd. Happy new year to you, Minister. I'm sure that you are as concerned as I am about the decrease in the use of the Welsh language in the report outlined in the census results for 2021. In your response to a question from Heledd Fychan on this issue before Christmas, you said that some data sources show an increase in the use of the Welsh language, whilst others, including the census, show a decline. This inconsistency in the data is a problem because we need accurate information to make good decisions about the future of the language. 

Bearing that in mind, what is the Welsh Government doing to ensure that all of the methods of gathering data are accurate and consistent, and on the basis of what data should we judge the success of 'Cymraeg 2050'?


A very important question, if I may say so. The census has shown a decrease, particularly among schoolchildren between the ages of five and 15, and that's a cause of concern. But, as the Member said in his question, that's not the only data source that we have. The annual population survey shows that there's been an increase over the same period, and that's the first time that the two sources have shown a different direction over the same period. So, that's an important part of the broader landscape.

It's not the Welsh Government that gathers the data; that is done by the Office for National Statistics. They gather the data for both sources. So, the First Minister has written to the national statistician about these differences to see what we can do to understand what underpins that, and I look forward to seeing the ONS working with our statisticians within Government on the issue. And the Member is quite right in saying that, in order to have an evidence base that is reliable for drawing up policy, we need to understand why different sources show different things. The way the data is collected, and the questions asked, are different in both data sets. So, that, certainly, is part of the explanation, but we need to understand the broader context too. 

Thank you for your response. It's important for us here, and everyone who wants the language to succeed, to be able to scrutinise the policies and the data used to support them. Local authorities use data to measure the success of their Welsh in education strategic plans, or WESPs, as we heard earlier. If the data is unreliable, it could frustrate their attempts to increase the number of Welsh speakers. During a committee meeting, you said that you can't make it a requirement for local authorities to meet their targets or their commitments under the WESPs, but that perhaps you would try to give greater authority and accountability to yourself through a Welsh-medium education Bill, if possible. If this legislation is passed, what powers do you intend to give yourself to ensure that these WESPs succeed? 

Well, just in terms of gathering data at a local level—it is important, of course, as the Member said—there is a piece of work happening already with a small group of local authorities to understand, for example, in the context of the language skills of the local education workforce, what that looks like in terms of the local footprint, and how we can standardise that data nationally, so that we have a broader picture. That's just one example. So, there is some work ongoing in terms of standardising the methods of collecting and analysing that data. 

In terms of your further question, that's part of the discussion that we're currently having with Plaid Cymru on the content of the Bill. Of course, I will be eager to ensure that that is discussed publicly as soon as possible, and the intention is to have a White Paper before we legislate, so that there's an opportunity for a broader discussion on the kinds of powers that would be appropriate for the Government to hold in that context.

Thank you, Minister. Both of us want to see the Welsh language being used confidently and naturally in every situation, for example, in this Senedd, on the street or in the classroom. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. For example, it was only online that the final full Pembrokeshire county council meeting could be held in December because real-time interpretation wasn't available. And, also, previous council meetings have been hindered, with Welsh-speaking councillors being forced to speak in English because the bilingual interpretation services in the chamber were causing significant delay in terms of real-time translation.

It's a requirement according to the law for local authorities to provide translation services. So, how will the Welsh Government ensure that the Welsh language is being used confidently and naturally in county councils and community councils across Wales? Thank you.


Well, local councils have legal requirements in that context of course. So, there is already a system in place to ensure that standards are complied with locally. So, that's already in place, so people do have rights, and those rights should be implemented. One of the things that we've been doing as a Government—and he mentioned that question of face-to-face meetings and online meetings—we've been working as a Government to support innovation in that area, so that we can ensure the broadest range possible of ways of holding meetings where the Welsh language is a core part of that. So, recently, we've taken forward work with Microsoft so that there's now functionality in Teams, as there was in Zoom—and lots of public bodies do use Teams rather than Zoom—and it's now possible to have interpretation through Teams. And this is the first place in the world that this has happened. And in light of our work with Microsoft, any international organisation working bilingually, in any part of the world, will now be able to take advantage of that flexibility. So, digital innovation to ensure that a range of meetings can happen is a very important part of expanding use in people's daily lives in the way they live now.

Thank you, Llywydd. The majority of specialist disability assessments for university students who are eligible for the devolved disabled student allowance are currently held in specialist assessment centres in Wales, who understand the needs of university students in Wales, and the devolved landscape of higher education in Wales. These experts are in assessment centres that are located in the disability services of universities in Wales, and they're experienced staff who understand the Welsh disability support systems and the courses and the educational environments that the Welsh students are part of. And so, the allowance is being targeted in a personal way to the need of every individual student—something that the Welsh Government has recommended as best practice. The DSA in Wales is provided by the Student Loans Company through Student Finance Wales, and they are in the process of tendering DSA services, including assessments, currently. Although the DSA has been devolved, it appears that Wales has been thrown into a zone with the west of England and the east midlands for the tendering process, which will, to all intents and purposes, mean that the DSA assessment services could be taken out of the hands of these Welsh experts, perhaps leading to disadvantage for our students. So, I'd like to know why the Welsh Government has allowed Wales to be treated like this in the tendering process, and what part the Minister has had in the process, in order to ensure that the opportunities for students with disabilities in Wales aren't endangered, and specialist businesses in Wales aren't under a disadvantage. I'd also like to know how the Welsh-medium requirements of disabled students will be assessed correctly with regard to their disabilities if an organisation outside Wales, without any specialist information about the educational landscape in Wales, and no knowledge of language commitments and practice, wins the tender.

Well, I thank the Member for raising this important question. I don't know the answer to her question, if I'm entirely honest, but it appears to me that I do need to look into this. It's clearly an important issue, and clearly any barrier to students in Wales having full and equal access to their rights, and certainly in terms of benefits, is very important. So, I will commit to looking into that.

Thank you very much. Many of us were present at the rally organised by the National Union of Students Wales on the Senedd steps in December, and I know, Minister, that you called by to speak to the students, who told us terrifying stories about their difficulties with the cost of transport, energy bills, rent, food bills, and so on. And I've raised with you before how FE and HE students and those in training are being impacted in a unique way by the cost-of-living crisis, because they're not eligible for the majority of support payments available and they're not in a situation to be able to increase their income. And so, it was disappointing that the Welsh Government's draft budget didn't tackle this, despite the serious impact of increased costs on students. Minister, how will the Government ensure that students and post-16 learners of all kinds will be supported beyond the funding support package?

And focusing on apprenticeships particularly, with an increasing number of young people being drawn into national minimum wage posts or national living wage posts without training, what is the Welsh Government doing to support apprentices during the cost-of-living crisis, particularly those on the national minimum wage for apprentices of only £4.81 an hour?

I thank the Member for that important question. I had a very detailed conversation with the students that had come to campaign outside the Senedd, and it was important to have that opportunity to hear their concerns directly in terms of cost-of-living pressures.

In FE and in HE, the Government has a range of things that we're doing to support students. In terms of FE, we continue with the education maintenance allowance. We're ensuring that there is a means to expand the reach of EMA, to ensure that people can apply in-year if their circumstances change, and can ask for backdating in terms of their eligibility for that benefit. We are also continuing with the financial contingency fund. I stated in the Senedd recently that I intend to increase that. That's still the intention. That's an important way of ensuring that colleges can support students who are facing hardship. 

In terms of higher education, we have a range of ways in which we support students. We have the most supportive financial support package in Wales of any part of the UK. As part of that, I will be announcing in the next weeks the increase in the level of support that will come to students. I intend to do that before the end of the month, hopefully. Every student in Wales is eligible for a minimum grant, and then there's a combination of grant and loans available to top that up. We are the only part of the UK that is reducing the student debt level when they start paying that back, by around £1,500. We are doing that. We've also announced a further fund for HEFCW to distribute to students in terms of support for financial support services and mental health care services. So, there are a number of ways in which we are seeking to support students, as well as the work that the institutions themselves do on the campus and off campus to support students. But, certainly, the pressure on some students is very significant indeed.

There is a particular challenge facing students coming from abroad who don't benefit from the financial support we give as a Government. There is some evidence that we can expect to see more and more of those applying for hardship funding. So, certainly, and I heard it myself from those students in the Senedd, the situation can be very difficult for them. 

Rural Schools and Communities

3. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to support the Welsh language in rural schools and communities? OQ58914

I thank the Member for the question. Last August, I launched a commission to safeguard the future of Welsh-speaking communities. I also approved all 22 local authority WESPs, which set out how local authorities intend to improve education through the medium of Welsh over the next 10 years.

Thank you very much, Minister. I want to focus, if it's okay, on the WESPs—you've talked about the WESPs in a previous question—and particularly the part of the WESPs that mention secondary schools and how primary schools in rural areas can ensure that the secondary schools have an adequate number of pupils entering them. There is a balance to be struck here, as I'm sure you can see. In Powys, the decision has been made to close Llanfihangel Rhydithon school, an English-medium primary school that wishes to become a Welsh-medium school. How can the WESP for secondary schools ensure that primary schools survive in rural places? Thank you very much.

I thank the Member for that question. In terms of the closure of the specific school that the Member mentions, that decision was taken earlier last year. The decision has been delayed in terms of it taking effect this year, in order to consider whether it's possible to put an alternative proposal in place in order to establish a Welsh-medium school in the area. That review, as I understand it, has taken place and, at its most recent meeting, the council has decided to proceed with its original decision. I as Minister don't have any further opportunity to be part of that process. I received no complaints from the public within the window available to me as a Minister to get involved in that decision, therefore that is no longer an option.

As the Member says, it is important, when looking at the provision of primary and secondary schools, that councils do tackle the issue of geographical distribution of provision. That's a very important element. We've already mentioned in the Chamber that it's not just numbers that matter, but the distribution and location of provision are a fundamental part of ensuring the prosperity of the language. I have met with the council in Powys to discuss their own WESPs, and they've already talked about plans to look again at some of the things they had to say about secondary provision. So, Welsh Government officials are discussing that with them at the moment. 


Diolch, Gweinidog. Minister, you said this morning in the education committee that there is money available in the Welsh Government budget to establish new Welsh-medium education. That's really welcome. A political choice was taken in Powys County Council by the Liberal Democrat administration not to establish a Welsh-medium primary provision in Dolau. Minister, narrow-minded decisions like this, based on the lack of Welsh speakers in an area, are the reason why the language in Radnorshire is not being developed further. So, Minister, what I'd like to hear from you is, what can you do as the Minister for Welsh language to ensure that councils like Powys develop the language in Radnorshire and they don't make narrow-minded decisions, and actually look to the future of developing the language in rural places like Radnorshire?

I've been clear with every council—I'm not going to single out any one particular council—I've been clear with every council that I expect the ambitions that they have outlined in their Welsh in education strategic plans to be fulfilled, and that is obviously also the intention of the councils themselves. I have also said that we will have regard to the extent to which the WESP obligations are being fulfilled when looking at the broader requests for funding across the education estate. So, I will expect to see that progress is happening in a comparable way with the WESP, as with all other education plans, when making those funding decisions. But the point I made in committee this morning was: the Government provides funding, and indeed significant funding, to enable authorities to deliver their WESPs, and we are happy to do that. We will continue to do that, and we look forward to seeing authorities comply with the ambitious plans they've all set out. 

STEM Subjects

4. How will the Welsh Government increase the take-up of STEM subjects amongst students in South Wales West? OQ58908

The Welsh Government has provided almost £1.5 million in grant funding this year to support the delivery of STEM initiatives, with the primary aims of supporting and developing STEM enrichment activities, narrowing the attainment gap and encouraging the take-up of STEM subjects both at GCSE and A-level.

Thank you, Minister. Last week, the retiring managing director of Sony Bridgend said that Wales needs to be more innovative, and that the key to our success will be in educating, nurturing and retaining talent here in Wales. Mr Dalton believes that manufacturing in Wales has a great future if we can only learn to innovate, develop green technologies and focus on untouched markets outside the EU. Minister, do you agree that we have to adapt and develop our skill strategy? How will you encourage more young people to take up science and engineering, and, above all, encourage students to study these topics at Welsh universities and then stay in Wales? 

Thank you, Altaf Hussain, for that really important question. We need to equip our learners. Whether they choose to lead on to careers in STEM subjects or not, we need to equip all our learners to face a future of rapid technological and economic change, and digital skills and the kind of adaptability and creativity that go with some of those, alongside the knowledge itself, are absolutely crucial requirements for our young people. The new Curriculum for Wales, of course, has that as a central part of the offer, whether that's through the areas of learning and experience or the specific focus on STEM careers in particular.

And it's also important, by the way, to address questions of inequality. There's still a gender bias in terms of access to STEM subjects and some of the stereotypes that go along with choosing STEM subjects. So, we talked a little bit in the earlier question with Natasha Asghar about how reforming our qualifications can encourage more people to take up STEM subjects, and that's a really important part of this. But, in addition to that, we provide significant funding to a range of initiatives aimed both at primary and secondary students, by the way. It's really important that we start that work in primary, whether it's the funding that we provide to Techniquest and Explore, for example, which encourages engagement from primary school kids, in particular, but also the funding we provide for things like the Engineering Education Scheme Wales, to Technocamps, which provide coding in schools right across Wales, the further maths support programme that we fund through Swansea University, the Stimulating Physics Network programme through the Institute of Physics. There's a range of ways in which we are encouraging young people to move into STEM subjects, and I agree with the person I think he was speaking to that there is a very bright future for young people in Wales in these sectors in Wales, and we as a Government are committed to ensuring that we support schools to do that.

The Teaching of Skills

5. How is the Minister working with the Minister for Economy to ensure the skills that industry needs are taught in the Welsh education system? OQ58905

The economy and education departments work very closely together to ensure that skills needs are met, with a key role for regional skills partnerships. Personal learning accounts is one example in my area, with targeted interventions in areas such as net zero and heavy goods vehicle driving already delivering successful outcomes.

I'm grateful to the Minister for that answer. Companies like Airbus in my own constituency are investing in decarbonising their operations to deliver the world's first zero-emission aircraft. This requires significant skills transition for the future to ensure Wales has the right talent to deliver the green manufacture of future wings in Broughton. Minister, can I ask you how your department is working collaboratively not only with the Minister for Economy's department, but industry partners and our trade union colleagues to ensure that our education system is delivering the future talent that a net-zero Wales needs? 

I think that's a really important point. That collaboration within Government and much more broadly than that is a really important part of our future in terms of skills provision in Wales. I think that collaboration between further education, higher education and big sector players like Airbus is a really exciting set of developments on the horizon, where you have technical, vocational, academic, applied research, and that offer being offered in a really joined-up, integrated way I think is a very positive future for our skills provision in Wales. 

In terms of what we're specifically doing in Government, the net-zero skills action plan that will be published by the end of February will, I think, set out much more fully the kind of questions the Member is asking today, but that presupposes close working between Government, industry, trade unions, but also schools and FE colleges as well, to make sure that this is part of the lifeblood of the entire system, really. One of the initiatives we're already doing is an e-module from September of last year. So, in this academic year, for the first time, every level 3 vocational learner is able to access a series of Net Zero Wales e-modules that are specific to their particular choice of vocation but which sets them in that broader green skills context, which is really important to give people an understanding of how what they're learning can be applied in the workplace. 

So, there is a lot of work of that sort going on, but the key to it is to break down the barriers across the economy and all the relevant contributors and actors to that, so that we can have that shared vision implemented on the ground. 

Minister, I'm grateful for your response to the Member for Alyn and Deeside, who raised a really important issue this afternoon. I am aware that the civil engineering sector are extremely concerned about the lack of suitable skills provision, particularly for groundworkers in Wales. It would appear that there is currently no provision at any of Wales's FE colleges for groundworker apprenticeships, despite, of course, construction being a high-priority sector for skills investment by both the regional skills partnerships and, of course, through Welsh Government funding for apprenticeships that are channelled through the FE sector. There does seem to be a disconnect there between Welsh Government priority skills and delivery through the regional skills partnerships and colleges in Wales. So, Minister, would you be able to look at this as a matter of urgency to make sure that those really important skills in relation to groundworks are not lost here in Wales? 

Yes. The whole point of the regional skills partnerships is to bring in that industry data, isn't it, to the planning that FE colleges are able to make in order to provide. But also, the relationship between FE colleges themselves and the particular sectors in their footprint is absolutely vital to enable them to respond nimbly and in a way that both addresses the needs of the local labour market and gives their learners the best possible range of options. So, I'm very happy to look further into that.

Modern Foreign Languages

6. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's strategy for the teaching of modern foreign languages? OQ58927

Certainly. 'Global Futures' is our strategy for international language learning, and I announced the publication of our revised strategy towards the end of last year. That outlines how we and our 'Global Futures' partners will continue to support international languages in schools for a further three years.

Gweinidog, the new curriculum has a commitment to making Wales a truly multilingual nation. There is also the programme for government commitment along those lines and, as you say, the 'Global Futures' strategy having recently been updated also. But despite all of that, Minister, we know that there has been a considerable drop in the number of students taking German and French at GCSE and A-level. I think the drop is roughly a half between 2015 and 2021. I'm sure there are various factors behind this, Minister, but obviously it is a trend that's very unwelcome, given the Welsh Government's stated ambitions. I'm sure all of us here want to see Wales as an international country offering opportunities to our young people in terms of work and travel and personal development. I just wonder, Minister, given the reality on the ground at the moment, what more the Welsh Government can do, working with schools, teachers and other education providers, to reverse this trend and see the sort of progress that the Welsh Government wants to see into the future.

I thank John Griffiths for that supplementary question. I do agree with him; it is concerning. We do want to make sure that young people are choosing to study modern foreign languages. He's corresponded with me in the past in particular around the decline in German provision, and I do recognise that. The pattern that we see is that, where students are enrolling for qualifications in those areas, they're still doing very well in them; it's just that the numbers in some of those areas are dropping, as he says. What we are doing as a Government is we've looked again at the strategy that we've had for the last three years, sought to identify the things that need a refocus, if you like, perhaps to take into account what we've learnt over that period. There are three priorities that we will be focusing on in the next three-year period we're committing to: obviously to support the development and delivery of international language provision across Wales—that's the underpinning objective—but in doing that, a focus on providing practitioners themselves with the skills that they need to deliver, and also challenging some of the misconceptions around language learning, which I think has a part to play in the challenge.

We'll be offering a range of support, including specific funding to primary teachers with the Open University's Teachers Learning to Teach Languages professional development programme, which offers primary teachers the opportunity to learn a new language, be that French, German, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and how then to teach that in the classroom. I visited my old primary school at the end of last term and heard the young people in one of the primary classes learning Spanish. I thought that was exactly the kind of thing that we need to see more of. We'll be continuing a programme that has been actually successful—the student mentoring programme—which provides direct support at a secondary level with students who are studying at Cardiff University going into the field to promote language study to GCSE and beyond, talking about their own personal experiences of that. But also, we're trying to link up the work that we do through 'Global Futures' with the work of Taith. I think there are some synergies in that area and I'm glad that that's been able to be linked up, so that we can link, in the minds of young people, the opportunity to study abroad, perhaps, with the opportunity to learn a new language and offer that more holistic opportunity.

So, I think there are a number of things that we can do. I'm very hopeful that we will see a better trend in the next three-year period than we saw in the last three-year period. But I think the point that he was starting with, the role of languages in the curriculum, over the longer term, admittedly, will make a significant contribution.


I strongly believe that our education system needs to adapt to reflect the needs of the future job market locally, nationally and, of course, internationally with the opportunities that now come because of Brexit and opening up ourselves to the rest of the world. Even though you've ploughed £5.7 million into your Welsh Government's 'Global Futures' programme, as John Griffiths outlined just now, we have seen that downward trend in GCSE take-up, and it is concerning. I welcome your intention in this updated plan, but if we're really serious about embedding modern foreign languages in the new curriculum and having success, we need a serious plan on how to recruit and retain modern language teachers for all age groups, across primary and secondary, and the money to follow that. Merely offering an upskilling programme to primary teachers is really not going to cut the mustard after years of failure in this area and the skills just not being available at present. So, Minister, what plans will you put in place to ensure all children have access to a fit-for-purpose modern language education, and how are you going to monitor that progress?

I thank the Member for the welcome that she's given to the work that's under way and refer her to the answer I've just given to John Griffiths in terms of the steps that we will be taking as a Government. I do think that one of the things that is really important is that the steps that we take in this policy area, as with any other, are based on the reality rather than on our particular world view. I do think that a world in which we claim that Brexit is an opportunity is unlikely to be consistent with promoting the value of European foreign languages to our young people, which is why I think it's important that we as a Government will respond to that by replacing one of the key benefits of membership of the European Union for our young people, the Erasmus programme, which they're now denied as a consequence of Brexit. I think remaking that link for our young people is a good way of solving the problem that Brexit has caused.

Active Travel

7. How is the Minister working with the Minister for Climate Change to increase active travel to schools and colleges? OQ58925

We want to enable more children to walk, scoot and cycle to school. We are supporting this through incorporating active travel into the appraisal of new schools and colleges funded through the sustainable communities for learning programme and by funding walking and cycling improvements through our active travel fund and the Safe Routes in Communities grant each year.

That's really good to hear. We've got a lot more work to do, I know, but Cefn Cribwr Primary School were in today and I asked them, 'How many of you scoot, walk or cycle to school?' and nine out of 10 hands went up. It's really great to see, and if we could only replicate that across every primary school. But, because of the climate crisis, because of the health and well-being challenges affecting our young people, because of air pollution and congestion problems at peak time, we really need to use that sustainable transport hierarchy—so, active travel first, but then public transport, buses. I want to ask you, Minister, in addition to the push for active travel, as part of the review into school and college transport that is currently ongoing, are you looking at the issue of the 3-mile limit—whether it should be 3 miles, 2 miles or whatever, or do we leave it to the discretion of local authorities? But also, are you looking at other models, such as those that they use in Finland and elsewhere, where you actually give young people, from a very young age, actually, vouchers or passes that they use for regular scheduled bus transport? We have to have the regular scheduled buses as well. That develops autonomy and independence in them as well as actually giving them that lifelong habit of using public transport as well as scooting, cycling or walking. Are you looking at those options?

That's a really important question, and thank you for it. I think the distance threshold, as the Member was referring to in his question, is important. It's a key issue, but that's one of a number of considerations in the area of home-to-school transport. That now accounts for a quarter of all local authority direct spending on education, and it's going up. So, it's a significant call on public funds, and we must make sure those funds are spent in the best possible way to make sure we get our kids to school. But it's part of a broader programme of work, and the Deputy Minister is listening as attentively as I am to the Member's question. That's partly about improving operator provision and better aligning transport with other wider policy aims. I think we're all agreed that what needs to happen isn't just a tweak to the Measure, but something probably much more ambitious than that. The Government's published a White Paper, as the Member will know, which sets out an ambitious vision for transforming bus services generally in Wales. I think it's pretty clear—and I know the Deputy Minister for Climate Change also feels very strongly—that looking at home-to-school transport entirely separately from the broader bus network doesn't make sense at all. So, the kind of thing that the Member has referred to in his question, certainly personally, I would be very interested in looking at.


Minister, it's a fact that fewer than half of children walk or cycle to school. Research shows that the encouragement of active travel to school is hampered by issues related to the amount of traffic outside school gates. I've always supported 20 mph speed limits outside schools to help keep our children safe, but some councils in Wales have gone further, introducing 'school streets', where roads directly outside school gates are close to non-resident traffic during drop-off and pick-up times. This seems to me to be a sensible way of encouraging pupils to walk or cycle to school. So, what discussion have you had, Minister, with ministerial colleagues and others about encouraging local authorities all across Wales to adopt this approach to help keep our pupils safe and healthy going forward?

We encourage each local authority to do that, and we provide some funding support in order for that to happen as well. I agree with what the Member says—it's really important that we create the environment around a school that facilitates active travel as well as setting the regulatory expectation. Setting the framework is one thing, but finding ways in which to make a difference on the ground is really what will make that practical difference, so I really commend those authorities that are making those decisions.

3. Topical Questions

The next item is the topical questions, and the first question is from Jack Sargeant.

The Right to Strike

1. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact UK Government plans to limit the right to strike will have on workers in Wales? TQ704

Thank you for the question. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is an unjustified attack on workers' rights and trade unions. The way to resolve industrial disputes is by negotiation and agreement. It is not through ill-conceived legislation that will do lasting damage to industrial relations across the UK and interfere with devolved public services in Wales.

Can I thank the Counsel General for his answer there? And, Llywydd, I will declare an interest as a proud trade union member of Unite the Union and Community union. Let's be clear here; the decision by the UK Tories to bring a Bill forward aimed at sacking key workers is an affront to democracy. Llywydd, this piece of Tory legislation will mean that, when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work, and then sacked if they don't comply. We should be looking to work with our key workers and our trade union colleagues, not seeking to sack hard-working people. Counsel General, the Trades Union Congress say that this legislation shows that the UK Tory Government are determined to attack workers' fundamental right to strike. I wholeheartedly agree with the TUC. This disgraceful piece of legislation has shown the UK Conservatives up for what they really are—against the hard-earned freedoms of working people. Counsel General, can I ask you: what more can the Welsh Government do to protect workers’ rights in Wales?

Thank you for that supplementary question. The Bill is indeed misnamed. It is really a 'sack the nurses Bill', it's a 'sack the ambulance worker Bill', or an 'abolition of the right to strike Bill'. It removes the sacrosanct protections to workers and trade unions that were enshrined in legislation in 1906, legislation that was introduced after the Taff Vale case in 1900 that arose from a dispute that occurred, in fact, in my constituency in Pontypridd. It led to the Trade Disputes Act 1906, which established fundamental principles. What the Tory Government is doing would take workers' rights back 120 years.

What I can say on behalf of the Welsh Government is that there's been a total lack of engagement over this legislation with the Welsh Government. The first notice we had was last Thursday, just after the UK Government's press notice. The first correspondence I had was being copied into a letter to the First Minister from Minister Hollinrake on 10 January. That was yesterday. This isn't the way to resolve disputes. This lack of engagement is really just unacceptable. The legislation is wholly unnecessary. Where there are emergency issues that need to be put in place, they have always been put in place by the trade unions. Some of you may have seen the other day the coverage of a GMB picket line in Wales—and I'm a GMB member—of ambulance workers. The moment a message came that there was an emergency call-out, they immediately left the picket line; they went and they did that particular work. That has always been the case. It is a fundamental attack on freedom, and as Welsh Government, we will give it no credence or support. The legislation, also, in my view, is unworkable. It has not worked in other countries. It will not work here. It is an attempt to avoid dealing with the real issue in this country, and that is to provide proper funding to public sector workers in England and to devolved Governments, to enable our public sector workers to be properly paid. I say it is an act of desperation from a Government that is out of touch and has lost control.


Counsel General, as part of your assessment, have you considered the International Labour Organization's acceptance, which the TUC subscribes to, that minimum service levels are a proportionate way of balancing the right to strike with the need to protect the wider public? Secondly, yesterday, in her oral statement, your colleague the health Minister said that, and I quote,

'the impact on capacity as a result of recent industrial action...has placed additional pressures on our systems'.

Do you agree with your Cabinet colleague's assessment? If you do, do you not therefore also agree that guaranteeing minimum service levels, which doesn't limit workers' rights to strike, would be beneficial to both workers and the services that they deliver? Thank you.

Thank you for the question. Your interpretation of the ILO references to minimum service levels is taken completely out of context, as it refers to voluntary arrangements with trade unions, and those have always existed within the United Kingdom, and indeed within Wales, where they are necessary. This is not voluntary arrangement; this is statutory limitation of workers and the ability to respond.

It is, of course, right that industrial disputes cause disruption and pressures. That disruption and those pressures are put clearly at the door of the UK Government and its complete failure to properly engage, and its complete failure to honour the promises that it made during COVID—that, once we were through the COVID pandemic it would properly respect and reward our public sector workers.

With regard to the final point that you actually made—that it doesn't take away rights—I'm sure that you probably haven't yet read the explanatory memorandum attaching to the Bill. I'll just read out the one section on the purpose effect of the Bill: an employee who is identified in a work notice for a particular strike day and receives a copy of that work notice from the employer before that strike day loses the protection from dismissal. This is a 'sack public sector workers' Bill.

Today, I had the pleasure of co-sponsoring, with Carolyn Thomas, a drop-in event with Communication Workers Union members. As those who attended will know, what they had to say about Royal Mail's disregard for its employees was shocking: casualisation, pay cuts, hollowed-out conditions, even attempting to take away statutory sick pay, which is totally illegal, by the way—'Amazon on steroids', as one CWU member in Bridgend put it. Striking is central to protecting our services against this. It is central to the rights and bargaining powers of workers, and it is disgraceful, quite frankly, that, rather than actually address this systemic economic crisis, the Tories opt instead to attack workers.

It's clear to me, as it should be to everyone in this Chamber, that the rights of workers are not safe in the hands of Westminster. Workers can't continue to trust and rely on the goodwill or political make-up of Westminster, and as one CWU member put it to me, Wales might become the last bastion of fair work over the next few years. If the Government were serious about protecting workers' fundamental democratic right to strike, then the Government would support the devolution of employment law, so that we could ensure that those rights never come under attack again. Counsel General, will you?

Thank you for those comments. They're comments that I agree with, and I can say, certainly, that as we look at the Bill, as we explore and consider its detail far more carefully, we will look at every opportunity to ensure that it does not impact on the social partnership that we have in Wales, and that the fundamental protections in respect of those devolved public services are ones that we will abide by and commit to those standards that we have already embraced with our trade union partners. I'm not aware that there are actually any employers who want to see this legislation. In fact, all the information that I see from employers is that they see not only that this is unnecessary, that it is unworkable, but that it is actually a further disruption and distraction from good collective bargaining and proper engagement with trade unions. 

I see this legislation, in some ways, as having a number of motivations. I don't actually believe that the UK Government think that it is workable. I believe that it is firstly an attempt to sully the name and reputation—somehow they think this may break the support that there is from the public for those who are currently involved in these disputes, that somehow it will give them a higher ground in that. Or secondly, that it will somehow discourage people from the sort of support and solidarity. I think it will fail on all those particular grounds. I think it is a distraction from the real obligation of Government, and the real obligation of Government is to actually engage with those trade unions when you have a dispute of this particular nature. 

We have an umbilical link, I think, to the decisions that are taken—an umbilical financial link to the decisions that are taken at a UK Government level, and that impacts on the extent to which we can engage and the things that we can actually do. But, I know amongst all my colleagues and I know from all the people I speak to, whether they are members of a political party or otherwise, that there is considerable support and sympathy out there and recognition. And I believe that it is a recognition because of the promises that were made during the COVID period that we would do things differently. And this is an example of a UK Tory Government not only out of touch but that is reverting back to its old ways. And can I just make this one comment? I think it is a real disappointment that, at a time when we have legislation like this, when we have these levels of disputes, that we have a Tory Party in Wales that is content to act solely as poodles to the diktat that is coming out of 10 Downing Street, instead of standing up for the Welsh public sector, for Welsh workers and working collectively with us to achieve that sort of change. 


First of all, I want to declare my membership of Unite, the trade union. I believe, as others will, that this is an ideologically led attack on workers' fundamental right to strike. They have a track record on this, and they've brought in several pieces of legislation while this Government have been in power. Let's be clear about remembering that. They're going a little bit further than Thatcher did when she tried to destroy the miners' union; this lot are trying to destroy all the public sector unions. Perhaps we could have a legal minimum safety and service level applied to the UK Government, because the current lot are dangerously incompetent. Only an exhausted party out of ideas could think that a good way to solve labour shortages and low morale in Britain's key public services is to sack workers who strike for better pay and conditions. Who do they think would replace those workers? They created an economic crisis with Liz Truss—I don't know if you can remember her. She crashed the economy, and now they're trying to crush the workers' right to strike. It's an absolute affront.

I think you're right in saying that the public will see through this for what it is and that they don't have the level of support that they're hoping to gain by moving the blame for their failure to manage the economic crisis that they created by putting the blame firmly and squarely on the people who can now no longer afford their mortgages as a consequence of what they did, can't put their heating on and are unable to feed themselves. That's what these workers are striking for, and that is why they have joined a union, so that they can have a collective voice with which they can be heard.  

Thank you for those comments. It is an irony, isn't it, that the UK Government is a proponent of the free market, but the free market only when it comes to maximising the profits and directors' pay. When the free market dictates that we are actually not paying our public sector workers enough, the response of UK Government is actually to interfere with that free market, to undermine it and to actually impose legislative restrictions on people's ability to do anything about it. Can I say I very much welcome the comment that you made, that, in fact, we should have a minimum service level, and it should really apply to the UK Government? And perhaps for that reason, that's why I actually welcome the commitment by the leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, that the next Labour Government will introduce a ban on second jobs. Maybe that'll ensure that our MPs are working fully for the interests on which they actually have been elected.


Diolch. Can I declare also that I'm a member of Unite the Union, and I was formerly a member of the Communication Workers Union as a postal worker?

Counsel General, two years ago, we were standing on our doorsteps clapping the workers, and now we see what the Tories really think, by bringing forward a Bill to sack them. As you said, the Bill is known as a 'sack the workers' Bill. It's really important that we hear the voices of workers, because very often, what we hear is selected truth. To hide their contempt for key workers, they suggest that rules exist elsewhere, not admitting that Britain already has some of the most aggressively anti-trade union laws anywhere in Europe already, making it very difficult to strike. I want to ensure that we continue to work with our key workers, such as the representatives we met today—it was a really, really good session and we had 20 MSs that attended and listened to the CWU representatives. And Counsel General, doesn't this demonstrate the importance that we continue with the social partnership Bill in Wales and the social partnership to show that we're working with the workers? Thank you.

Thank you for those comments and I do agree with them, and I have the greatest of respect for the Communication Workers Union, and also for those postmen who deliver through all the bad weather. You look at the weather we have now and we have them out there in that appalling weather delivering—actually delivering now the Christmas cards that we didn't get before Christmas. I'm disappointed I wasn't able to be at that particular event, but I think that was an important expression of the support that people have in our society for the postal services, for the work that they actually do, and it is a pity that it's been being undermined and all the profitable parts of it have been, over the years, cherry-picked away and privatised, and I'm hoping that's something that will be addressed in due course.

Can I just say, in terms of the social partnership Bill, this is groundbreaking legislation that has been brought by Minister Hannah Blythyn? And I think it shows the real difference, that we will be the first part of the United Kingdom to create a statutory framework within which trade unions, employers and Government get together to solve these. It is one of the reasons why we just do not want this legislation; we do not want it to interfere in what are the relations, the constructive engagement we have to actually sort out those issues, those disagreements, and to work collectively for the common good of the people of Wales.

I thank the Counsel General. The next question is to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, and it's to be asked by Luke Fletcher.

Wizz Air

2. Will the Minister make a statement on the future of Cardiff Airport in light of Wizz Air's announcement that it is ceasing operations in and out of Wales? TQ705

Yes. We're disappointed that Wizz Air have decided to withdraw from Cardiff Airport. Our COVID recovery plan for the airport remains in place, but clearly, the current economic climate is incredibly tough for the aviation sector and this is not helped by the UK Government's lack of a recovery strategy for regional airports.

Diolch, Dirprwy Weinidog. It's a new year, but it's the same old story when it comes to Cardiff Airport. This time, it's Wizz Air; a few months ago, Qatar Airways pulled out, that after investment from Welsh Government; perhaps the Deputy Minister could confirm whether or not Welsh Government provided any similar incentives to Wizz Air. But what is it going to take for the Government to make Cardiff a better success? We need it to be a success. We want it to be a success. And can I just say, unlike the Tories, I don't believe that privatisation is the answer? If the private sector can turn a profit, then so too can the Government. The Deputy Minister mentioned earlier in answer to Natasha Asghar that the airport is on a pathway to profit, what is that pathway, and how long is it going to take?

Well, the £42.6 million rescue and recovery plan that was put in place during the pandemic remains in place, and is designed to help Cardiff Airport to become self-sustainable and profitable in the future. We are now working with the airport to understand the impact of the withdrawal of Wizz Air on the progress of that pathway. Clearly, it is a significant customer for the airport, but it's worth saying the airport remains a vibrant source of flights to other destinations. I've recently used the Belfast flight myself and found it an excellent experience; also KLM flies from the airport, TUI, Vueling, Ryanair and Loganair. 

Now, there is a problem across the whole sector, as I mentioned earlier, because of rising energy costs, because of inflation, because of the recession, and the margins that many of these operators operate within are very small. Much of the market is taken up by package holidays, which are becoming more and more competitive, meaning that the profitability is lower. So, it's a tight market and a difficult business model that we are dealing with. 

The management of the airport and the board are very strong, and we are very lucky to have them. And I met with them recently and visited the airport. I must say I have great sympathy for the range and number of challenges they've had to face over the last couple of years, and we are fortunate to have them. And we're in this for the long haul, but there are, clearly, some really difficult short-term challenges that are being faced across the sector, but by Cardiff in particular. Other airports, you will know, have closed in recent months across the UK, and this is the point I was making earlier—in the absence of a strategy for regional airports across the UK, the smaller airports face fixed costs the same as any other, larger airport. They have to maintain a full fire service, for example. There are now increasing costs through regulation about enhanced security screening equipment that all airports need to have, and the ability of a smaller airport like Cardiff to cushion that sort of cost is very challenging. Now, UK Government seems focused entirely on a London-based aviation strategy, and, clearly, from our point of view, there are tensions in the climate change department of our carbon targets on the one hand and a need to grow air travel in order to make the airport viable on the other hand. And we fully acknowledge these tensions. 

My view is that, if Cardiff Airport were to close, people would simply fly from other airports. So, from a climate change point of view, I really don't see any benefit in tackling this in a unilateral way. There needs to be an aviation strategy for the whole of the UK, on a four-nations basis, that is climate-proof, and we need to address these issues together. In the meantime, we need to make sure Cardiff is still in the game to be part of that strategy, and the UK Government recognising the needs of regional airports, the fixed costs base they face, and their willingness to help with that is essential, but, sadly, not forthcoming. 


I stand here with my tin hat on, because I'm taking a very radical approach, which is I don't think we should support Cardiff Airport staying open at all. Back in 2013, the Lib Dems led calls to prevent the Welsh Government buying the airport from the private sector. The airport seems to be a bottomless pit for taxpayers' cash—cash that could go into public transport. You did say, Minister, that there needs to be a strategy across the country for airports. That is unlikely to happen. We have to make decisions here in Wales, which surely should focus on the most important issue, which is the climate emergency. And airports and flying does not support our ability to tackle the climate.

We heard last night about Wizz Air, and, actually, I did hear on the radio that most people in south Wales are going to Bristol Airport to fly. So, they're actually totally bypassing Cardiff now. So, please, I would ask you: how can owning an international airport, and all the carbon emissions that come from it, fit within the important portfolios that you and the Minister are very committed to and have worked so hard on? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

Well, I respect Jane Dodds's position, and, as I acknowledged, there are certainly policy tensions. But we take an overall view as a Government that Wales needs an airport. There are a significant number of people still flying from there who otherwise would be travelling to other airports in the UK. And from a business and economy point of view, having a regional airport remains a strong part of the offer. For example, some of the major events that are happening in the stadium in Cardiff would not be attracted to Cardiff were there not an airport here. Also, a number of the large manufacturing companies in south Wales regularly fly executives in and out of the airport—many on private planes, but, nonetheless, it's an important economic asset for the region. But there are tensions.

In terms of the quantum we spend, as I say, the rescue and recovery package was £42.6 million, and that's largely designed to be repaid. We did write off some of the debt. But put that in contrast to the £1 billion we are spending on the south Wales valley metro, and I think the claims that she makes about the public transport benefit from closing the airport are overstated. But it does remain a dilemma for us all, as we get increasingly closer to the 2050 target, given that aviation has been at growing level and has some of the most damaging emissions, then that is something—. As I say, as a UK, we need to confront the future of air travel. The industry makes increasing claims about increasing efficiencies, about biofuels, and we are of course interested in exploring them and we want Cardiff airport to play its part in that. We also want to maximise the role of Cardiff as a freight hub, and the airport management are doing a great deal to see if they can attract additional revenue streams. So, I think we should stick with them. I think there is support in Wales for maintaining an airport, but it is not straightforward by any means.

4. 90-second Statements

The next item on our agenda is Gareth Bale. I'm sure that Gareth Bale is blissfully unaware that he's about to be the subject of not one but three 90-second statements. And I doubt that in my time as Llywydd any other person, living or dead, will merit a trio of statements. Gareth Bale has been an exceptional footballer, an exceptional leader. He has allowed us all as Welsh people to walk just that little bit taller, and we owe it to him to continue to walk tall.

So, thank you to Gareth Bale.

And I'll call now on three Members to pay a tribute to our national treasure, Gareth Bale. And we'll start with Jack Sargeant.

Diolch yn fawr, Llywydd. And as you have said, this week, we heard the news that Cymru's men's record goal scorer, Gareth Bale, is retiring from professional pêl-droed. Llywydd, statistics alone do not paint the full picture of the joy that Bale brought us all. Our proud nation will be forever grateful to have shared in his immense talent. Gareth's achievements are simply phenomenal: five Champions Leagues at club level—incredible. But, Llywydd, as he himself said, it is the dragon on his shirt that was all he really needed. I'm sure Members will have seen the press conference from Rob Page this week, where he paid tribute to Gareth, and I want to repeat what he said:

'I liken Gareth Bale to how Gary Speed was when he was captain. Everyone is equal, and he drove that environment.'

Well, Llywydd, as a young boy watching Gary Speed, he was certainly my idol as a Welsh and Newcastle United player, and I can wholeheartedly agree with Rob Page's assessment of Bale's captaincy. I'm sure I speak on behalf of this Senedd when I say,

thanks for everything, Gareth Bale.

And finally, Llywydd, viva Gareth Bale.

When Gareth Bale made his first appearance for his country, as a substitute against Trinidad and Tobago back in 2006, we all knew, didn't we, as a nation, that we had a special talent on our hands, but nobody, I think, could have foreseen how exceptional his contribution and his footballing career would be: breaking the world record transfer fee, of course, when he moved to Real Madrid, and there, he won the Champions League five times; he won the UEFA Super Cup three times; the club world cup three times; he won La Liga three times; he won the Copa del Rey, the Supercopa, the MLS Cup, of course, in the United States last year; he won 111 caps for his country—the most in the history of Welsh men's football—he scored 41 goals for his country—again, the most in the history of Welsh men's football—he twice took Wales to the finals of the European Championships, reaching the semi-finals in 2016; and, most recently, of course, the holy grail for a number of us as Welsh football supporters, he led his country, as a captain, to compete in the world cup. He is a magnificent ambassador for Wales, and seeing one of the 'Galácticos' enthusiastically singing 'Yma o Hyd' with Dafydd Iwan was a watershed moment for the Welsh language, and underlined the fact that the Welsh language belongs to everyone. There are no words that can do justice to the contribution made by this modest man who said that the red dragon on his shirt was the only thing that he needed.

Diolch, Gareth, not only for making us believe, but for proving that we can. Diolch, hefyd, not only for being Welsh, but for taking Cymru with you everywhere around the world. Diolch as well for saying that you had a bad back. Viva Gareth Bale.


We've been blessed, I think, in Wales with a long line of wonderful footballers, from Billy Meredith to John Charles, Mark Hughes, Ian Rush and Aaron Ramsey, to name but a few. I think, as a small nation, we've always punched above our weight with the talent that we've produced on the football field. Whilst I never saw that 1958 team play, nor do I remember the myriad of teams that came oh so close in the last century, I do remember vividly what Welsh football's last era was like, because I think we'll always look back at the first decade of this century as pre Bale. We had talented teams, great individuals and some near misses, but we never had a Bale.

Most of us can only dream of having the same skill in this Chamber as Gareth Bale possessed on a football field. His list of achievements is really quite incredible: Southampton debut at 16; a two-time Professional Footballers' Association players' player of the year; held the world record transfer fee; three La Liga titles; Copa del Rey; most Wales caps and goals for the men's team; and five—yes, five—UEFA Champions League trophies. Liverpool fans will remember that last one in particular, where Bale came off the bench in Kyiv against Liverpool and turned the game on its head with a magnificent goal and a man-of-the-match performance to near single-handedly win football's biggest trophy, outshining the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah on the world's biggest stage.

But it was with Wales where you could tell Bale was at his best. There's a reason he held that banner that said, 'Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order.' He was instrumental in probably the greatest summer of my life in 2016 as we overachieved beyond all our wildest dreams to take us to the Euro semi-final, and then repeated the heroics last year by taking us to our first world cup since 1958. He will be responsible for the highs that we as Wales football fans would never have thought possible pre Bale, and he's given us our confidence back, both on the football field and as a nation. I know I'm biased, but I think he's Wales's greatest ever player. There'll never be another Bale, but I'll be forever grateful we had this one. Diolch, Gareth.

Diolch yn fawr, Gareth Bale, and we'll look forward to what comes next for you. We'll be watching you and you'll continue to be our national treasure. Yma o hyd, I'm sure.

5. Motion under Standing Order 10.5 to appoint the Chair of the Wales Audit Office Board

Item 5 is a motion under Standing Order 10.5 to appoint the chair of the Wales Audit Office board. I call on the Chair of the Finance Committee to move the motion—Peredur Owen Griffiths.

Motion NDM8169 Peredur Owen Griffiths

To propose that the Senedd, in accordance with paragraph 5(1) to Schedule 1 of the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2013, and under Standing Order 10.5:

Appoints Dr Kathryn Chamberlain as Chair of the Wales Audit Office from 16 March 2023 until 15 March 2027.

Motion moved.

Thank you, Llywydd. I am pleased to move this motion today on behalf of the Finance Committee and to ask the Senedd to agree to appoint Dr Kathryn Chamberlain as chair of the Wales Audit Office board in accordance with the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2013. Dr Kathryn Chamberlain has significant senior leadership experience in the public sector, with a strong audit and governance background. She also has vast experience of board-level working in both a senior executive and non-executive capacity.

I'd also like to draw Members' attention to the fact that the committee’s report on the appointment of the non-executive members and chair of the Wales Audit Office provides further details on the recruitment process, including the appointment process for David Francis for his second term as non-executive member.

I'd also like to place on record the committee’s thanks to the outgoing chair, Lindsay Foyster, and recognise her invaluable contribution to the Wales Audit Office over the last eight years, as a non-executive member from 2015 and as chair since 2020. Lindsay has led an inclusive and collaborative board, focused on delivering the Wales Audit Office’s statutory and strategic priorities during a particularly challenging period. We are grateful for her stewardship of the board, her selfless dedication to public service, and for providing a solid foundation for those who follow.

I ask the Senedd to agree the motion. Thank you very much.

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

I have no other speakers. Do you wish to add anything else? No, okay. The proposal is to agree the motion. Does any Member object? No. The motion is therefore agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. Debate on the Local Government and Housing Committee Report: 'Community Assets'

Item 6 is next, debate on the Local Government and Housing Committee Report, 'Community Assets'. I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion—John Griffiths.

Motion NDM8170 John Griffiths

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the report of the Local Government and Housing Committee, ‘Community Assets’, which was laid in the Table Office on 13 October 2022.

Motion moved.


Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I'm pleased to open today's debate on the Local Government and Housing Committee's report on community assets. I would like to start by thanking all those who contributed to our inquiry, in particular those groups involved in the community assets we visited: Maindee Unlimited, Abergavenny Community Centre, Market Hall Cinema in Brynmawr, Antur Nantlle, Ty'n Llan, and Partneriaeth Ogwen. It was very useful indeed for us to meet with these groups to hear directly of their first-hand experiences. Their evidence helped us to better understand the benefits of community ownership, but also some of the challenges and barriers faced by communities.

Community assets make a big contribution to the lives of the people living in those communities that they serve. There are many different types of assets across Wales and many ways in which these can make a difference to people’s lives and their well-being. They can be buildings, such as community centres, leisure centres, libraries and pubs, which act as hubs for their local areas and where people can access information, services, learn new skills, come together to socialise and to share experiences. They can be places, such as parks and green spaces, where people can relax or exercise and children can play; they can even provide homes for people.

In Wales, we can be proud of the great enthusiasm and commitment demonstrated by communities across the country to maintaining local assets and ensuring their sustainability. We heard that people want to be involved in running community projects to make sure they can access amenities in their local areas, now and in the future. However, maintaining a community asset isn’t an easy task. As well as enthusiasm and commitment, plenty of time and money are also needed. We would like to make it easier for local groups to be able to get involved in running assets that are right for their communities. In our report, we made 16 recommendations, which we believe will help to maximise opportunities for greater community empowerment. Eight of those recommendations have been accepted in full and seven accepted in principle by the Welsh Government. One was rejected.

Our overarching recommendation was that the Welsh Government should establish a commission to stimulate innovative thinking on community ownership of land and assets in Wales. The evidence we heard demonstrated a need for further explanation of some issues, therefore, we recommended that such work could be undertaken by this commission. The Minister for Climate Change had already indicated that she was minded to establish such a commission, yet the recommendation is only accepted in principle. I would, therefore, like to ask the Minister to elaborate on the reasons for not accepting the recommendation in full. The Welsh Government’s written response suggested that the 12-month timescale we recommended for establishing that body may be problematic. I would, therefore, like to ask the Minister to provide more detail on the amount of time needed to establish a commission. Cwmpas have already called for a commission, and we know that other committed stakeholders are ready and willing to get involved in the necessary work. So, as a committee, we do think that work should be able to start quite quickly.

Dirprwy Lywydd, as I’ve mentioned, several of our other recommendations refer to work that we believe could be undertaken by a commission, including exploring with stakeholders the package of support that should be available to community groups who wish to run a community asset. It isn't an easy process, and groups will need different support, depending on their circumstances. And, of course, some communities may have ready access to people with the skills, knowledge and experience needed, whilst others will need to draw on external support. Whatever their circumstances, we want all communities to have the opportunity to take forward projects.

Although there are already various sources of advice and support available, we heard that these are not easily accessible, especially to newly established groups who will be less familiar with arrangements. The Welsh Government's response refers to some of the sources of information, but doesn't address the accessibility of it. We believe it's important to learn from the experiences of people directly involved in running community assets to ensure that the right advice and support are accessed, which is why we believe a commission of experts would be best placed to take this forward. When the Minister for Finance and Local Government gave evidence to us, she referred to the work being done by the Welsh Government on a new community policy, including whether a central hub for advice and information is needed. We believe the evidence presented to us has demonstrated a clear need for such a provision, and, therefore, I would ask the Minister to explain why our recommendation was not accepted in full.

We heard of the challenges often faced by groups acquiring privately owned assets. It takes time for newly formed groups to establish themselves and secure funding, and it can be difficult to compete against private individuals or businesses with access to finance. Several witnesses told us that communities in Wales have far fewer powers than those in Scotland and England. A community right to buy has been in place in Scotland since 2003, and English communities have a right to bid on assets through the Localism Act 2011. Time has moved on, and we're concerned that Welsh communities are being deprived of similar powers.

We also recommended that a commission should explore whether legislation is needed to empower communities and give them equal opportunity when competing against private investors to purchase assets of interest. So, we do believe that the establishment of a commission is key to taking forward several of our recommendations and those made by notable stakeholders, including Cwmpas and the Institute of Welsh Affairs. It is therefore crucial that work to establish a commission begins as a matter of urgency, so that Welsh communities do not miss out on opportunities to acquire and run assets that can enhance the well-being of their local populations.

We are disappointed that our recommendation to establish a community land fund for Wales has been rejected. Similar funds exist in Scotland and England, and several stakeholders called for a fund here in Wales.

As a committee, we are deeply concerned by the increasing evidence we hear around the difficulties people across Wales face in securing accommodation to rent or buy. We believe that community-led housing provides an opportunity for communities to provide their own housing solutions. While this will not be a viable option for everyone, we would like to see processes streamlined so that communities can access the land and funding they need to build appropriate homes. The Welsh Government's response refers to the social housing grant, which community-led groups can access if they partner with a registered social landlord. We are concerned that this approach has not maximised opportunities for community groups, and I ask the Welsh Government to reconsider its response to this recommendation.

Dirprwy Lywydd, access to affordable housing is a very important issue to us as a committee, and I'm sure to all of us in the Senedd and people across Wales. As a committee, we will be returning to this during the term of the sixth Senedd to see how our recommendations are being progressed. Diolch yn fawr.


Can I first put on record my thanks to the Chairman of the committee, John Griffiths, for his chairmanship and work in producing today's committee report, alongside my committee colleagues, the Ministers who gave evidence, the clerks, the committee's support team, of course, and the raft of organisations who provided evidence for the report we're considering here today?

And as in the Chairman's foreword to today's committee report on community assets, they make such a big contribution to the lives of people who live in our communities, and I think sometimes we forget about that and, sadly, we only remember that when it's too late, when those really important community buildings, assets, pieces of land are no longer available to our communities. I think it's important for all of us to take a moment and to consider those assets that are in our communities, amongst those people who we represent, to make sure they're being best used for our communities.

Throughout our committee work, we found that there are many different types of community assets across Wales, all of which bring immense benefits to the people we represent and their well-being. Those assets ranging from libraries to pubs, which we all seem to appreciate, community centres, and then we have to get ourselves down to the leisure centres as well. But such a range of these community assets make a difference. I think it's part of the challenge, when we talk about community assets, with such a broad group of things that we could be talking about here. But they are often crucial hubs in local areas, allowing people to learn new skills, come together, to socialise, to remove some of those barriers from people's lives that prevent them from meeting and being with friends. They are important for local communities in making sure that opportunities for community empowerment are maximised as well.

I was pleased to see Welsh Government accepting recommendation 2, calling on them to review and update existing guidance on community asset transfers. I think this is welcome, because there does seem to be some significant inconsistency across Wales, but also, at times, within local authorities when it comes to those asset transfers. I was also pleased that recommendation 12, which calls on the Welsh Government to establish a community asset fund, was accepted within there as well.

Of course, a key aspect of ensuring the importance and success of community assets is sharing good practice. I'll just take a few moments to focus on that sharing of good practice, because it's something that came up time and time again when, as committee members, we visited a number of these community-run assets. I had the privilege of going along to a few of these places, including Antur Nantlle, Ty'n Llan and Partneriaeth Ogwen as well, all of which had some great experience and expertise in that community asset transfer process, but all of which also said that they would like to work more closely with other organisations who've gone through similar experiences, to understand, to learn and to share some of that best practice. Because these organisations who have done it once have been through the pain, they know where the pitfalls are and are more than willing to share and work with others, because it can be quite daunting, of course, when it comes to looking to take a community asset on. So, I think there's a piece of work there that needs to be understood more, and making sure we're linking together those who've been through that experience with those who want to go through that experience as well.

We talked about the number of obstacles and challenges that face local communities when they attempt to assume control of these community assets, and, as stated by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, Welsh communities appear to be among the least empowered in Great Britain, with the limited system that is present being

'entirely driven by a top-down approach.'

There's also a concern across some local authorities—[Interruption.] Yes, sure.


Just very briefly, do you share my concern that the Welsh Government has failed to use the powers available to it since the introduction of the UK's Localism Act 2011 to introduce a community asset register and a community right to bid, to help tackle that top-down approach you refer to?

Yes, I think it is a real concern, and it's something that we as a committee looked into, and we're hoping the Welsh Government would be keen to look at further themselves as well. And I think, Mark Isherwood, you were absolutely right to raise it here this afternoon.

But there's also a concern across some local authorities in Wales that many are reluctant to give away or transfer their assets. I think, sometimes, rather than an asset transfer, what often takes place is a liability transfer, which is the completely wrong attitude from many local authorities. So, I welcomed seeing recommendation 4, which makes it clear that the community asset transfer process is not only applicable to local authorities, but also to all public bodies. I think there's a great opportunity across public bodies to make sure those asset transfers are taking place effectively. 

Just moving towards closing, Deputy Presiding Officer, it's clear that more needs to be done in facilitating greater power and collaboration for local communities, with local people being best placed to understand and handle local issues. I believe that there is a real need for urgency now to progress these recommendations. Public bodies, we know, are likely to face a challenging time ahead of us, during which use of assets and management of assets will be an important part of future planning. I am confident that our communities are ready, able and willing to take on these assets, but need the right tools and support. I would like to thank, once again, all those who contributed to this important report on community assets in Wales. I am looking forward to seeing these recommendations implemented as quickly as possible. Diolch yn fawr iawn.


May I make a declaration of interest that I am a shareholder in many community initiatives, which is on the public record? Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this debate this afternoon. As you know, I introduced a motion before the summer of last year on empowering communities—a motion that was passed by this Senedd. But, despite the fact that we had agreed on a way forward as a Senedd, the truth is that very little has happened, and things aren’t likely to happen soon either.

It was wonderful to be part of this inquiry, chaired by John Griffiths, and to visit some of the community initiatives in place. I take pride in the fact that Dwyfor Meirionnydd is in the vanguard when it comes to developing community initiatives, and that we have a very proud history of this in Gwynedd, with the latest news, for example, that Menter y Glan in Pennal has succeeded in raising the necessary funding as a community to purchase the Glan yr Afon pub. So, congratulations to them.

Indeed, all of this can be taken back to the UK’s first community enterprise, established in Llanaelhaearn—the Aelhaearn enterprise, formed by the late and incomparable Dr Carl Clowes and the residents of the area. Although Wales led the way in this area in the 1970s, it saddens me that we are now so far behind, particularly in looking to Scotland and England and the legislative powers that communities have there when it comes to the ownership of community assets and developing co-operatives in those areas.

This inquiry was interesting because of the wealth of evidence that it’s drawn together showing clearly the benefits of promoting these community enterprises. For example, communities that suffer more deprivation but have higher levels of community assets have better health and well-being outcomes, higher employment rates and lower levels of child poverty, as compared with deprived areas that don’t have high levels of community assets or community action.

This corresponds with research carried out by the Building Communities Trust, in collaboration with the Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion. The results suggest that deprived areas with community assets are less likely to be identified as those being at risk. So, in other words, deprived communities that have community assets are usually more robust than those communities that don’t have these assets. There is hard evidence to support that too.   

Another thing that’s worth mentioning here is what was made clear in our evidence session, namely to what extent support and advice is available to those community groups that are trying to take on a community asset. Ultimately, the support is a long way from being adequate. It is by no means consistent, and varies across Wales. The groups in the sector have told us that they need that additional support to be available free of charge.

I would like to rehearse the call for the register of community assets to look at nurturing community skills. We need to develop some of those softer skills that are required within community groups to facilitate the ongoing running of assets, particularly in developing and transferring assets.

The report mentioned the need for the creation of a commission. Personally, I would favour legislation, but the Government has made it clear that it will not legislate in this area, despite the fact that it has been a manifesto commitment since 2006. In the absence of legislation, the commission is to be welcomed, but it truly needs to be established soon, and to see action taken soon.

As we face austerity 2.0, the very real risk is that our county councils will be tempted by fire sales of their assets in order to bring funding into the coffers, which will mean that more assets will be lost and communities will be disempowered further. So, in the response to this debate, I would like to hear the Government committing to hasten the establishment of the commission and provide a clear timetable for the commission before we lose more assets and lose real opportunities to empower our communities.

On a final note on housing and community leadership, there’s no need to say that strengthening community rights can help to grow community housing movements. The Welsh Government needs to assist communities in getting over barriers to make housing led by the community a popular form of housing, which happens in most European nations. By introducing legislation that enables community ownership of land and assets, communities can provide affordable homes that are safe in this climate, more efficient, and are developed by and with local people to meet local needs and the needs of future generations. Thank you.


I would like also to thank the Chair and committee staff who put together this report and organised visits across Wales, and to all those who contributed. Community facilities can empower communities and ensure that nobody gets left behind. They can help with sustainability and well-being. Community halls, pubs, playing fields and other areas should be protected for people and nature, such as Penrhos nature reserve in Anglesey or the old school field in Llanfynydd in Flintshire, which has just had an asset transfer. Community energy, community foods and community houses are all great initiatives that need further encouragement and investment. A great example is Partneriaeth Ogwen in Bethesda, which we visited as a committee, owning an office, shops, flats, businesses, a community library, electric vehicles, a bike repair scheme, community allotments and a community hydro scheme. It’s amazing what they’ve achieved there.

Community wealth is massive and immeasurable. Canolfan Beaumaris is a community-run leisure centre and community transport enterprise, and they’re currently advertising for staff. It’s working on its five-year plan, looking to be a centre for well-being now, rather than just being classed as a sports hall, which shows how things have moved on. Rural communities are often more greatly impacted because they do not have the same access to public services, shops and facilities, but people are often more known to each other. This was the driving force of the community taking on Ty’n Llan, I believe. For some people, the only regular person they would see would be the postman or postwoman, and that may no longer happen should Royal Mail’s dreadful proposals succeed.

The UK Government’s failure to replace important EU structural funds will impact many communities and third sector groups. It helps fund investment in village halls, innovation, community energy schemes, community agriculture, community transport, and acted as seed funding for community events. I was a member of Cadwyn Clwyd and that funding was really, really welcome. The Welsh Government’s community facilities programme funding is very welcome, and continues to make a huge difference. It would be great to see the aggregates levy fund for Wales restored, especially now that quarries that were once mothballed are being brought back into use, and quarry lorries are impacting communities that are not used to seeing them anymore. The Welsh Government’s community asset loan fund distributed through the WCVA is also really important, and it was raised how difficult it is to get loans from banks. In particular, a loan through the WCVA was welcome but quite high; I think it was at 6 per cent then, it’s probably a lot more now. Maybe it’s an area for Banc Cambria to help with.

In Flintshire there’s a really good policy for community asset transfer, and there have been many successes, but it’s not consistent right across Wales. Perhaps it would be good if there were some national guidelines and a network to enable community groups to share experience, perhaps like a website or something. A commission has been proposed and could stimulate innovative thinking on community ownerships, and also register or map community assets. Quite often at committee we have discussed the importance of cadastral mapping, which would help regarding community assets, supporting social housing, creating areas for wildlife, and also possibly land value tax, should that go forward. Ystadau Cymru was mentioned, but I think it needs to be better promoted, because I hadn’t really heard of it before.

Community social enterprises are places where wealth is shared, not stored in banks, and where happiness and well-being should be the measure of success. And they are—we saw that. But they cannot totally replace public services. Core funding and leadership is essential, and we saw that. We went out to communities that had somebody who was leading all these great initiatives. They can be just as vulnerable as other public services, especially under this present cost-of-living crisis. Thank you.


I'd like to start by echoing the comments already made, and thanking John Griffiths for bringing this to debate and for all the work he does as Chair of the committee.

As someone who has spoken numerous times in this Chamber about how important it is to protect our natural heritage, to protect buildings of community importance even if they do not meet Cadw's overly strict criteria, and to protect our churches and repurpose buildings for community use, I can say that I wholeheartedly support the recommendations of this report. I believe that the effulgence of the nation comes from the pride that people have for where they live. The sad truth is that, in Wale