Y Cyfarfod Llawn



In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

1. Questions to the Minister for Climate Change

Good afternoon and welcome, all, to this Plenary meeting. The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Climate Change, and the first question is from Jane Dodds.

The Warm Homes Programme

1. Will the Minister provide an update on the next iteration of the Warm Homes programme? OQ59427

Thank you, Jane. The underpinning policy for the new scheme was discussed at Cabinet on 24 April and will be published shortly, and I will also be publishing the tender specification for the procurement of a new, demand-led scheme.

Thank you so much. Diolch yn fawr iawn. It's good to hear that there will be a new scheme coming soon. It would be good, too, if you could just clarify what the timescales may be, if you know that. We've highlighted, as you know, on the basis of completion rates in 2016-17, that it would take 111 years to insulate every fuel-poor household in Wales, so we really can't wait. Also, it would be good to hear from you as well around your view of the Warm Homes programme. I understand that you might have said to the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee that the Warm Homes programme will make no difference at all to the households currently in fuel poverty. So, it would be good to have some clarity on that, if you don't mind. It's good to hear that you're moving forward, and it would be great to have a timescale, please, given that we know that this is really important for those fuel-poor homes. Would you also consider a green homes Act, reducing energy bills, reducing demand on the grid, and driving investment in warm, sustainable homes? Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Thank you, Jane. I think the point I was making to the committee was that this scheme doesn't cover all households—not that it won't affect fuel poverty. It's important to remember that this is a scheme that's aimed at owner-occupiers; we have other schemes for other tenures. There is a different scheme for social tenants, for example. So, I think that that's the point I was making—that it won't cover all households in fuel poverty.

The idea of the new scheme is to begin the process of tackling both the climate emergency and fuel poverty together. So, we will be moving away from an automatic assumption that the replacement of an inefficient gas boiler with a new gas boiler is the way to go, but we have to do that—and I will publish the policy process behind it—in a proportionate way, and guarding against making fuel poverty worse. Because, in some instances, if you swapped a house that was on a gas boiler to an electric source of heat, their bill might go up. So, it's a very careful judgment. So, what we're looking to do is a balance between those two things, so that if you have a gas boiler that's capable of a repair that would make it much more efficient, we will do that, but if it needs complete replacement, then we will look to have a whole-fabric approach to the house, to replace it with a heating system that doesn't contribute to the climate emergency. There'll be a balance to be drawn. And it's a difficult one, so we need to transition to that new scheme smoothly. We want to continue the scheme for fuel-poor households—that's who it's targeted at. We will also develop other schemes for households who aren't perhaps absolutely in fuel poverty but who live in very inefficient homes, with plenty of carbon footprint, but who might not meet the definition of fuel poverty. And fuel poverty is a difficult one, isn't it? Somebody can be in fuel poverty and have quite a decent income, but they might be spending 65 per cent of that decent income on fuel, and that will put them into that definition. So, it's quite a difficult judgment all the way through. We'll extend the current Nest contract in the meantime, so that there isn't a gap, so we still can help everyone. But I do want to get this next one right, because it will run for many years, and so we want to get that just right. So, I will publish that, Llywydd, and I will expect Members to be able to comment on it when I have.

Minister, whilst I agree with Jane that we urgently need the new Warm Homes programme in place, I'd also urge the Minister to ensure that the next iteration is fit for purpose. My constituents suffered greatly under the Arbed 1 scheme. Residents in Caerau, near Maesteg, had their homes made virtually uninhabitable due to faulty insulation—insulation totally unsuitable for the properties, and funded via the Warm Homes programme. Work was undertaken by a company owned by a Bridgend County Borough Council cabinet member, and, thanks to an internal audit, it was found that no procurement process was followed and no due diligence checks were carried out. The Auditor General for Wales said that, overall, contract management arrangements needed to be strengthened in any future schemes. This includes closer monitoring of the contract compliance, addressing significant variations of costs charged for supplying and fitting the same energy efficiency measures, and improving management information. Minister, how will you ensure that the next iteration of the Warm Homes scheme is not open to fraud and corruption and will not leave recipients' homes in a worse state?


Thank you. We are absolutely aware that, for some people, what was done during some of the other schemes, including UK Government schemes, was not right. And one of the real big lessons to be learnt is that one size does not fit all. So, many, many thousands of homes were helped during those programmes, but for those for whom the wrong thing was done, then that has had poor consequences, and we've put an amount of money aside to try and fix that, including UK Government schemes that also suffered from that. I just don't want to give people across Wales the wrong impression, because for some of the schemes that the UK Government ran, we're not able to step into that. I know a number of Members have brought that up with me, and we have been able to fix some of the others. 

We very much want to learn the lessons of that, so this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It's why the policy needs to be nuanced, and it's why the policy needs to evolve from where we were. So, we need to tackle the climate emergency at the same time as making sure that people have as affordable a bill as we can manage. The energy crisis really hasn't helped that. So, I can assure you that we will be learning lessons from the way that we've done it in the past, and that's why we're being very careful with this process. And, as I said, in the meantime, we've extended the current Nest contract so that there will be no gap in provision. I also don't want to give people the impression that there hasn't been provision in place. We had two programmes running. We've only got one programme at the moment; we'll then put another demand-led programme in place. 

The Net Zero Wales plan was published 18 months ago, so I'm concerned that the decarbonisation implementation group is only now looking at strategic themes. When will you be able to provide clarity to people who are renting privately, or asset-rich and income poor, privately owning their houses, in cold homes they can't afford to heat, and what help they might be able to get from the next iteration of the Warm Homes programme?

This programme is not designed to help people in the private rented sector; there are other programmes designed to do that, not least Leasing Scheme Wales.FootnoteLink So, any landlord that has a real problem getting their property up to spec really needs to look at Leasing Scheme Wales in order to get the assistance of the Government to bring that home up to spec. We have been liaising with the UK Government about their energy performance certificate E rating for the PRS. We're very concerned that, without a grant programme to go with it, we might drive some landlords from the market, particularly, Jenny, in your constituency, where there are larger homes with multigenerational families living in them, and they tend to not meet the EPC E rating. So, it's important that we cover off the bases. 

Vaughan Gething and I have recently announced some work with the Development Bank for Wales to put in place a loan—possibly a grant loan scheme—for people who don't meet the income criteria for this iteration of the Warm Homes programme. We will be bringing that forward. It is important to have a range of different measures in place, not a one-size-fits-all. And you'll have all heard me talking many times about the roll-out of the optimised retrofit programme. We're about to roll out that into a hub, which will give people the right advice on how to decarbonise their home, how to get the right advice to do it and how to get the maximum benefit out of it. So, I don't want you to think that nothing's been happening; quite a lot's been happening. But there's no doubt at all that the Government cannot afford to decarbonise all of the homes in Wales by itself, so we must find ways to lever in private sector investment, including the investment that individuals make in their own homes. 

The 20 mph Speed Limit

2. What discussions has the Minister had with businesses about the upcoming roll-out of 20 mph speed limits?  OQ59426

Thank you. The Wales 20 mph taskforce group set out the recommendations that the Welsh Government should take forward for the implementation of 20 mph on residential streets and busy pedestrian areas, and I was pleased that the Conservatives supported that at the time. Organisations representing businesses were invited to participate, and officials have continued to engage with them. 


Thank you for that answer, Deputy Minister. More often than not, the roll-out of 20 mph speed limits is a hot topic of conversation, especially when I meet businesses and residents in my region, whether that is because of the obscene amounts of cash being spent on it or because they realise that a blanket roll-out is indeed ridiculous, especially all across Wales. I spoke with one major business in my region recently and they are very concerned about the impact that 20 mph will have on their trade. At the moment, they make hundreds of deliveries every day, but with this Labour Government actively slowing Wales down, their ability to make so many deliveries could indeed be significantly hampered. And, of course, we already know that this 20 mph scheme will cost the Welsh economy £4.5 billion. So, Deputy Minister, what would you say to those businesses who fear that your 20 mph pet project will have a hugely detrimental impact on them, going forward?

It's disappointing that the Member keeps repeating falsehoods, even though she knows they are falsehoods. I think it does a disservice to all of us when this kind of inflammatory approach is taken. I'd hoped that she would be better than that, but I'm still awaiting the evidence. To say that an obscene amount of cash has been spent, we have published academic studies showing that the cost of implementation will be repaid threefold in the first year alone from savings to the NHS, from a reduction in serious casualties and deaths on the road. Every year in Wales, 80 people die in road accidents; half of those on roads where the speed limit is 30 mph. We've seen from experience and evidence in Edinburgh that there's been a 25 per cent reduction in casualties as a result of the 20 mph. And this is a policy being pursued by Conservative local government in England too. So, she does a disservice to a serious issue to try and reduce it to these kinds of cheap headlines.

It's also factually inaccurate to say that this is a blanket policy. It's not a blanket policy. We are changing the default speed limit on regulated roads from 30 mph to 20 mph. Local highway authorities have the legal ability to change them back where there is a good case. So, there's no blanket ban. And as you'd have seen if you'd taken the trouble to look at the detail of this, rather than just looking for a headline, you'd have seen that a number of local authorities are planning exceptions in their areas, proving once again that it's not a blanket ban.

As for the cost to the economy, the figures that we were obliged to produce by the Treasury Green Book are heavily discredited and academically disputed. They don't take into account the significant benefits to the economy from the figures I've just mentioned on road casualty reductions, and my experience of speaking to business, of which I've done a fair bit, is that views are mixed. I've certainly had conversations these last few days with small businesses who are very concerned about the impact it'll have on their businesses, and I understand the anxiety, and I've spoken to larger businesses who are very relaxed about the policy. So, I think that we need to approach this in a pragmatic way, working closely with communities and local government, and with businesses, and I hope that we will see the hysteria that the Conservatives are determined to generate, even though they supported this at the first stage vote in this Senedd—. They've sniffed an opportunity to stir up trouble, and that's all they ever do.

Minister, I'm very supportive, as I know so many are in Wales, of the 20 mph policy, which is, as you say, so positive for road safety and allowing communities and neighbourhoods to reclaim their streets. The pilots, I think, are very useful in allowing for possible tweaking once the experience of the pilots has worked through.

Minister, could you say a little bit in terms of the roll-out and how it will link with other very important policies that are of a similar nature, such as active travel, such as safe play streets, and such as the urban walking routes that are increasingly being worked up here in Wales, to allow people to get the benefits of exercise and being more familiar with our local environment?

Thank you very much. I once again pay tribute to John Griffiths in his role in campaigning for this policy over many years before it became more widely supported in this Chamber. John was among a small number of others who made the case for this. And, in fact, the first meeting I had on being appointed a Minister four years ago was with John and Rod King from the 20's Plenty for Us campaign—others in the Chamber have met him and some have even had their photos taken with him, although they seem to be suffering from short-term memory loss. That was instrumental, really, in setting us on the path of a default approach, rather than just extending the zones. I think that default approach, the trials are suggesting, is the right way to go.

He mentioned the way that exceptions have been used in Caldicot, for example, in one of the pilots where, sensibly, through real-life experience, the scheme was changed. That was the whole point of piloting it. And what we've seen consistent in the data coming through from the pilots is an increase in walking and cycling. So, that's where the main air quality benefits come from. The air quality evidence is somewhat mixed, but what is a very clear benefit is that a more friendly environment for pedestrians and for cyclists is encouraging more people to cycle and walk, and that is producing a meaningful modal shift. Interestingly, the project we're doing with Living Streets in primary schools—the WOW tracker—to try to encourage more children to walk to school, in those areas it's operating with a 20 mph zone, we're seeing significantly more uptake from children willing to leave the car at home and to walk to school.

He also mentioned the safe streets initiative, which is something that we've been rolling out. Some great work has been done in Newport on piloting that approach. I'm sure we all know, in this Chamber, from our constituency experience, that it's an issue in almost every school, and primary schools in particular, around parking by parents in the mornings, and this is a really exciting project to try and address that, and we're rolling that out gradually. It's all part of a package; it's a coherent vision for a more civilised and safe local neighbourhood as part of our broader efforts to tackle climate change.


Can I commend the Minister for taking forward this policy, but also many of our local authorities, who are indeed taking it forward in a very considered, pragmatic way as they look at moving to a default of 20 mph? They are in open public consultation, and I've been through every map in my constituency to look at it. It's very sensible, and some of the suggestions of where there should be exemptions seem like sensible ones. But would he join me in encouraging not only local residents, but also businesses to get involved in those consultations right across Wales—in Bridgend, RCT and elsewhere—and to put their views in? Would he agree with me also that the evidence internationally shows that, where you actually put this in place—yes, it's a bit of a mind change, it's a bit of a culture change—the effects on communities, on people, are manifold, and people rapidly say, 'What was all the fuss about?'

Thank you very much. The Member makes some very strong points. It is significant, isn't it, that more and more towns and cities across the UK and across Europe are now adopting 20 mph as a default limit. None that I'm aware of have reversed that decision after having brought it in. I do understand the anxieties people have and particularly understand those that some businesses have who are in logistics and rely on just-in-time delivery, because even though the average increase in journey times is one minute, clearly, if you're doing multiple trips in one day and your business relies upon it, that is a concern. I met this morning with a number of business representatives and offered to meet with them again some three months into the implementation, so that we can review how it's going, and if there are some sections of road—and we've had the same conversation with bus companies—where they think, in practice, it's turned out to be a problem, then local authorities are able to change the default, and we will make some funding available to allow them to make some small changes where there's a good case for those to be made.

And it is important, as the Member said, for councils to properly consult with people. I've been a little concerned about the amount of consultation they've had to do—it's patchy—but I think that the reality is that, because of the Tory austerity cuts, the number of people in local authorities now who are dealing with this is much depleted, and that has constrained their ability to openly engage. But the message I've emphasised to them is that I expect to see a commonsense approach. We've changed the enforcement guidelines as a result of the pilot project we had in Buckley in Flintshire, to demonstrate the flexibility they have to adapt their decisions to the local environment, based on a good case. So, I'm sure, in every single street in Wales, it's not going to be completely plain sailing come 17 September. It'll take a little while to bed in. From the pilot, certainly, in Dafen in my own constituency, for the first six weeks there was a lot of noise. That has died down. We do need to keep iterating it and adapting it to make sure it fits with local circumstances, but I don't think, once we've done it and once it's bedded in, we will think of going backwards.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

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

Thank you so much, Presiding Officer. Deputy Minister, I know that I've already mentioned the 20 mph speed limit today, but I'm going to stick to that theme for the first question—[Interruption.] Yes, I am going to. The price tag involved in rolling out 20 mph speed limits across Wales is upward of £30 million. But now we've learned that the price is already rising, with extra cash being made available to pay for extra speed camera enforcement. I'm really glad that you mentioned health before, because let me tell you the reality of the health service. It is in a dire state across Wales—north, south, east, west—with incredibly long waiting times, leaving patients languishing in pain. Fixing the NHS is a top priority for the people of Wales, and I'm sure every politician from all benches would agree, yet it appears that the Labour Government doesn't see it like that. Instead, you're pumping money into ridiculous vanity projects such as politicians in this place, a failing airport and 20 mph schemes. How can you justify wasting this much money on pet projects, whilst there are much bigger problems out there to be solving?


I'll just remind Natasha Asghar she's no longer at the Welsh Conservative conference in Newport. I think we deserve to have a more serious consideration of matters in this Chamber. She seems unable to adapt the question from the one I've already answered, where I covered the cost and the benefits of 20 mph. I would just refer her to the study by Edinburgh Napier University, which showed the expected modelled impacts on the NHS of reduced deaths, reduced casualties and reduced injuries, which will more than pay for the introduction costs, three times over in the first year alone. 

Thanks, Deputy Minister. For anyone who would like to know, I do feel that I'm very much in the Senedd today. I think you're really going to appreciate this next question, because it's going to bring everyone back to reality. I would have thought, based on the rhetoric we hear from you in this Chamber, that you would be tucking your trousers into your socks and jumping onto your bike, or maybe catching a bus or a train, every time you needed to go somewhere. But as we found out recently, that simply isn't the case, and you have claimed expenses for nearly 12,000 miles, totalling nearly £5,500, and submitted just three claims for rail tickets. And that's not all—[Interruption.]

I can't hear the question. I really do need to hear the question, as does the Minister. 

Thank you. It turns out that you've been regularly using one of the Welsh Government's ministerial motors to travel just 5 miles, give or take. In fact, you have made the short trip from Penarth to Cardiff, or vice versa, in a luxurious chauffeur-driven car just shy of 40 times, racking up 200 miles. So, Deputy Minister, do you not think that you have been a total hypocrite here, especially as you've been the poster boy for Labour's project to get people out of cars and onto public transport? 

Llywydd, I really do regret the tone the Member has struck yet again. Our exchanges are becoming, I think, caricatures of themselves and are degenerating from a pretty low base, I must say. Let's try, both of us, to do better.

Let me just set the facts out. She claims that I claimed, in a personal Senedd Member capacity, for 12,000 miles of trips. This was, she should explain, over four years. That equates to one journey a week between Llanelli, which I represent, and Cardiff, where I represent the constituency in the Senedd. I'm sure if she were to compare that to the claims of other Members, she would find that would be in the bottom half of the league table.

Indeed, I've claimed for three train journeys over four years. That's because I don't claim for every train journey I make. In fact, and as I've said, since last summer I've abandoned my second car and am now regularly travelling by bike and by train. The job of a Minister, which I'm pleased to say she will never discover, is an extremely complex and stressful one, involving very difficult journey patterns, where it's often not practical to use public transport, because you have to be in multiple places in very tight timetables. You have to read and carry sensitive papers and there are also security considerations that need to be taken into account.

I think she has quoted a Freedom of Information Act 2000 request on how many times I have used a ministerial car. Again, she will find that most times of the week I am travelling by bike, but there are some times when a ministerial car is needed.

I think this sort of cheap personality politics, where you're trying to denigrate my motivations and my motives for a policy that has cross-party support here as somehow I'm a hypocrite, really is beneath her. It should be. I hope we can strike a more elevated tone in future. 

Thanks, Deputy Minister. I appreciate the response you just gave, but I must say details of your ministerial trips did make for some interesting reading. Not so long ago, you were chauffeured from Penarth to Coventry, a trip of around about 125 miles—[Interruption.] I'm going to make my point. You then travelled 6 miles or so to Kenilworth, before being taken back to Penarth, 117 miles or so, a little excursion amounting to 250 miles. And then you took a 100-mile or so round trip from Penarth to Bristol in a ministerial car. As I mentioned, I appreciate the fact of sensitive documents—I get all of that. However, what's wrong with taking the bus or the train, Deputy Minister? In this case, it does seem to be one rule for Labour Ministers and another rule for the rest of us. 

I think I've addressed that, and I regret that she's continuing this line of argument. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, we are now in the month of May, which is once again being marked as No Mow May, a chance for all of us to change our habits and encourage wildlife to thrive in our gardens and parks. I'm sure that you, like me, will be urging people to step away—[Interruption.]


Okay. Let me hear the question, now. I don't think we need the previous question to continue into this one. Delyth Jewell.

So, talking about No Mow May, I'm sure that you, like me, will be encouraging people to step away from the lawn mower; to resist the urge to start cutting the grass now and to embrace, yes, a more messy garden, but also one that is vibrant, that's teeming with wildflowers to give pollen to bumble-bees—grassy spaces that aren't manicured but wild, just like our wildlife needs. And our bumble-bees do need help. I wrote to the Government recently asking for a meeting about how Wales can push to strengthen pesticide regulation across the UK. I know that Pesticide Action Network UK have been leading a campaign for pesticide-free towns. As far as I'm aware, no town or city in Wales has yet to take up that pledge, so we are lagging behind. So, could you tell me what work you're doing to minimise the risks of pesticides? And any comment you could make about No Mow May would also be useful, please.

Yes. Thank you very much, Delyth. I'm very much a fan of No Mow May and have been a fan of No Mow May well before I even heard the phrase 'no mow May'. The point of it is to let wildflowers flower and then seed, because they provide shelter and food, both for invertebrates and also for birds, particularly returning birds. It was delightful over the last weekend to see the swallows back again. It always lifts your heart, doesn't it? But, watch what they feed on; they're feeding on the small insects that are feeding on the things in your grass that aren't there if you cut your grass with nail scissors, and it is that kind of bowling green-type effect that some people like. So, I'm a big fan of that. But, it's actually not just No Mow May; I'm afraid, it's No Mow June and No Mow July, if you want to get the seeds as well. And I'm a big fan of that, so for many years now, we've only cut our lawn twice a year. It also reduces the need to mow the lawn, which I'm a big fan of. [Laughter.]

But you absolutely can see the difference in a garden or a park where that is the policy, because you can absolutely hear the buzz of insects, and so on, which you cannot hear on bowling green lawns. So, we've been encouraging councils to do that and I'm very happy to write out once more to councils—I've brought it up with the local government Minister as well—to ask councils to review their pesticide policies. But this is a big mind change, isn't it? People have learned to think that neatness is a lack of weeds and that weeds are anything you don't want there, so dandelions are the classic one—'Dandelions are weeds.' Well, dandelions are an enormously valuable source of food for a huge range of insects and the birds that feed on the insects, and actually need to be encouraged, as do buttercups and others—cowslips, all of those sorts of things. So, for some time now, we've been encouraging local authorities to allow their verges to grow and to actually plant native wildflower seeds. And Carolyn did a really good job with the local authorities of pushing that forward for us and I know that she's a big champion of this. But it is important that they're native wildflowers. Some local authorities have wildflowers planted, but they're not native wildflowers and they need to be replanted every year—that kind of defeats the purpose, really; they might be pretty, but they're not really performing the function.

So, Delyth, I'm very happy to reiterate that. People really should think very seriously about what 'pretty' really looks like, and what 'neat' really looks like. And I'm more than happy to write out once more to the local authorities asking them to sign up to the pledge.

Thank you very much for that.

I'll be asking the second question on renewable energy. One of the recommendations arising from the deep-dive into renewable energy will be to encourage greater investment in Welsh ports and to call on the Crown Estate and Westminster Government to maximise the opportunities available to develop infrastructure and the value of our supply chains. In Wales, in a way, we are uniquely positioned to be able to benefit from these opportunities in the context of wind energy generation and green hydrogen, but our ports need infrastructure to fulfil that potential. What change or progress, please, has been made in developing the multiport strategy for FLOW—floating offshore wind—to develop Port Talbot and also Pembroke Dock? Can you give us additional information about the discussions you are having with the UK Infrastructure Bank about the possibilities there in terms of investment?

Diolch, Delyth. Actually, only yesterday, Vaughan Gething and I met with both the Associated British Ports chief executive and investment team and then, later in the day, with the Crown Estate for exactly the discussion you've just outlined. We will be writing, together, to the UK Government about the eligibility criteria for spend under the floating offshore wind manufacturing investment grant scheme. It's very important that development costs are included in that so that some de-risking can take place. We've also been working with what's called the south Wales industrial cluster around the free ports for the Celtic sea opportunity. So, there's been quite a lot of work done on trying to encourage the supply chains to come forward, to get the right kind of investment opportunities, to understand what the skills mix looks like and, actually, at what point what is needed. So, we're going to go into a build and develop phase, and different skills are needed at different stages. So, officials have been working for many years now, actually, on developing that, and large numbers of businesses have come to supply chain days, tier 1 days and so on for that, so we're very hopeful. I'm also hopeful that the Crown Estate will firm up its policy on local procurement and local supply chains, and that will be very important, and there was an encouraging meeting yesterday.

And then we've also got an ask of the UK Government around steel. So, we need to be able to ensure that our steel manufacturing can green itself up as fast as possible, and, actually, and much more importantly, really, produce the right kind of steel to build the towers and the blades for the floating offshore wind, because otherwise they'll be imported and we'll just be assembling them, and, whilst the assembly jobs are great, the real benefit is to get the engineering and design and construction jobs here.

So, it'll be really important to have all of those aspects, but, both separately and together, Vaughan and I have met with all of the ports and the Crown Estate, and, indeed, only this morning, I met with Ofgem, with the Minister for Social Justice, to talk about the grid roll-out and the connection timescales and what we can do about that.

Flood Action Groups

3. What support does the Welsh Government provide to communities that want to establish flood action groups? OQ59428

Diolch, Heledd. The Welsh Government provides funding to Natural Resources Wales to provide guidance and advice to the public, including on establishing community groups. NRW run volunteer network support events across Wales and advise community groups on the completion and testing of community flood plans to enable communities to be more proactive and resilient.

Thank you, Minister, and, certainly, in looking at the region that I represent, where NRW has funded flood action groups in Dinas Powys and Gelli, they have been successful, but, unfortunately, particularly when the funding comes to an end, in the case of Gelli particularly, that activity does stop, whereas in areas such as Dinas Powys, where you have many professional people, perhaps some working in flood management and who can drive this work forward, a group like that can be successful. What concerns me is the number of areas within Rhondda Cynon Taf specifically—a number facing ongoing risks of flooding are disadvantaged areas and perhaps they don't have the skills to write a plan and so on. So, can I ask, therefore, is there additional support available? Because there are excellent resources from NRW, but you have to know how to write up a plan and how to implement that plan. So, are you looking, or can you look, further perhaps at what specific support we can provide to every area in order that they can benefit from these resources?

Diolch, Heledd. That's a very good point, actually. It's not one I'd considered, but I'm more than happy to. I can quite see that some communities will want some additional help to actually come together in the first place. So, I'm more than happy to help with that. If you want to write to me with some specifics, that would be great. It's always to good to have an example; it doesn't have to be every example. If you also want to highlight to me the one where the funding has stopped, I can have a look at that as well, because it's certainly not the intention. The idea is that they become resilient groups, so that they go on. So, it's not the intention that, if the funding stops, the whole thing just stops. Clearly, that's counterproductive. So, if you want to highlight that to me, I can have a look at exactly what's happened there and see what we can do.

I thank Heledd Fychan for raising this important issue today, as well. And, Minister, you'll be aware that the area that I represent in North Wales has huge risk in terms of flooding, particularly on the coastal stretches of north Wales, and I'm really grateful and pleased to see the investment that Welsh Government, working with local authorities, is making in those flood defence schemes. I'm aware that the flood defence scheme, for example, in Kinmel Bay is due to start work a little bit later this year, and the residents in the town of Kinmel Bay are really supportive of that work going ahead, because we know of the terrible flooding that took place back in 1990, of course, and that continued flood risk in the area. And I'm also aware that flood action groups in places like Kinmel Bay are in place and want to continue to work successfully. I know that it's an obvious point, but, of course, flood waters don't take any account of local authority boundaries. I'm aware that a place like Kinmel Bay is right on the boundary between Conwy and Denbighshire, and that this happens elsewhere across north Wales. I wonder if you would be able to make a statement outlining how you would expect local authorities to work together to ensure that these action groups are able to tap into these resources, especially when it crosses local authority boundaries—whether it is formally through things like PSBs or other fora, or just informally, to ensure that these flood action groups can have the resources and support that they need across local authority boundaries, in particular. Thank you. 


Again, Sam, I'm sorry but I didn't realise that the local authority boundary was causing any kind of problem. If you have got an example that you would care to share with me, that would be great. It's NRW that support this. They do work with the local authorities to do it, and obviously, NRW are not bound by local authority boundaries. So, I would quite like to understand, in a bit more detail, quite what the problem is there. But I absolutely want to agree with you that that isn't the intention at all. Of course, floods don't recognise local authority boundaries, and you will know from a previous job that I have got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the invisible force fields that go up on boundaries of that sort. So, I would be more than happy to engage with you if you have got an example that we can have a look at.  

Nature Recovery Plan

4. Will the Minister provide an update on the implementation of the nature recovery plan? OQ59430

Thank you, Mark. Our nature recovery action plan is currently being refreshed to take account of the new global biodiversity framework agreed at COP 15 and the biodiversity deep-dive recommendations. As part of the refresh, officials will consider how the current plan has been implemented and what further actions are also needed.

You won't be surprised to hear me refer to the iconic curlew, because it is our most pressing bird conservation priority. Although curlew recovery would benefit multiple species, estimated at around 70, it will be extinct as a breeding population in Wales within a decade without intervention.

Questioning you here in March, I asked you what specific action you are taking to ensure that the Welsh Government's target for woodland planting in Wales takes account of the fact that woodland in the wrong places provides an ideal habitat for apex predators, whose predation of nests and chicks is a primary cause of curlew breeding failure. In your reply, you stated that you were really pleased to be working alongside Gylfinir Cymru's curlew recovery programme, which identifies specific important curlew areas requiring focused conservation action.

How, therefore, will you act to protect these areas in the context of e-mails subsequently received from Gylfinir Cymru members, stating, for example:

'I visited one site yestereday where, last year, there were two pairs of curlews present, to find that one of their main feeding fields has just been planted with trees. Incidentally, this was also a favoured winter feeding area for golden plover, lapwing, woodcock, snipe and jack snipe'?

And, a second one:

'I have sent my records in but didn't stop tree planting. Surely, planting needs consent, so why is curlew presence not being taken into account?' 

Thank you, Mark. You have been a really excellent champion for the curlew. I was really very pleased to attend the launch of the recovery plan, and I'm very delighted to have put £1 million into the programme. I'm really sorry to hear that we have got that kind of e-mail coming in. If you want to send it in to me, I'm more than happy to have a look at it. A number of explanations spring to mind but I'm not going to hazard them because I don't know the exact circumstances of that. But we are looking to protect open grassland areas.

Obviously, tree planting is an issue for ground-nesting birds, and the whole point of some of the peatland recovery plans, for example, is to encourage the kinds of grassland that curlew and other ground-nesting birds particularly like. We are very aware of the fact that nearby woodlands can harbour predator species, and that's very much part of—. I'm teaching you to suck eggs now, and I know that you know what the plan says. So, if you want to give me some detail of that, I am more than happy to have a look at it for you.

Affordable Housing in Monmouthshire

6. How is the Minister working with Monmouthshire County Council to increase the provision of affordable housing? OQ59433

Diolch, John. I am committed to working with Monmouthshire County Council and all local authorities and social housing providers to support them to deliver 20,000 homes for rent in the social sector. I have allocated record levels of funding of £1.2 billion over the first four years of this Senedd term to do so.

Thank you very much, Minister. As you will know, as is the case right across Wales, there is a great deal of pressure in the local housing market in Monmouthshire. Prices are relatively high, Minister, both to buy and to rent, and we have a new administration, of course, in Monmouthshire, and it's taking forward a replacement local development plan. They're in the process at the moment of going through the plan preparation procedure. Part of that is very much about affordable housing, Minister, and I know that the administration is very much committed to understanding and meeting local housing need in terms of affordability, as well as many other factors, and also in terms of taking forward the associated infrastructure that's necessary to support that. So, could you just reassure me today, Minister, that you will continue working with the new administration with new ideas to make sure that these plans come to fruition and the provision locally of affordable housing is much closer to identified need?


Yes, of course, John. We're working very closely with officials in Monmouthshire council to align their replacement LDP more closely with the national policies, and I absolutely do welcome the renewed focus on the delivery of affordable housing in that replacement LDP. We absolutely will continue to liaise and offer support to Monmouthshire as they work to replace their LDP and deliver the affordable housing required and to ensure the plan is compliant with national policy.

We tripled Monmouthshire's social housing grant allocation between 2020-21 and 2022-23, and provided funding for schemes that I know you're familiar with, like the one at Melyn Bach and the one at Brynteg. I've definitely met you at one of those, I can't remember which one it was. We support a range of initiatives being brought forward as well towards the 20,000 target, like acquiring properties that are already built or off plan, remodelling existing accommodation and converting buildings into good-quality accommodation. We've got £76 million in more homes projects through the transitionary accommodation capital programme, and that's got £3.2 million funding in Monmouthshire for the registered social landlords there to bring forward those homes as well. So, I think the short answer is yes, absolutely, we're very keen to work with councils right across Wales, including Monmouthshire, to make sure that the LDPs are fit for purpose and bring forward those homes as fast as is humanly possible, because we really need them.

It's refreshing to see the rising focus on Monmouthshire as, during my 13 years as leader, I felt like a lone voice. The need for affordable housing, as John pointed out, in Monmouthshire is undeniable, and the need is constantly growing, with over 3,000 people currently waiting. Under Conservative control, our replacement LDP had an ambitious target, with our preferred strategy back in June 2021 planning to build over 8,000 houses, which included 2,450 affordable homes. But due to an objection from the Welsh Government, our target had to be reduced dramatically, reducing the number of affordable homes to between 1,580 and 1,850. Minister, I now note that the new Labour-controlled council revised their preferred strategy again in December 2022 and has reduced the number of affordable housing proposed from between 1,400 and 1,600 with total house building projected at 5,500 over 15 years, only 2,000 of which are new homes, with the others currently land banked. Minister, would you agree that the new Labour administration, and, indeed, it would seem, the Government, lack ambition for housing and affordable housing in Monmouthshire?

Well, Peter, I'm very surprised that you found that you were a lone voice when you were leader of Monmouthshire council, because I felt I was practically living with you. [Laughter.] So, that's a very interesting difference of opinion. We spent a very large amount of time together, as you know, so I don't quite see how those two things match up.

We spent a lot of time working with you and the previous administration on the LDP. You know as well as I do that one of the big problems that we had was that the affordable homes you're talking about came on the back of private development that was against the LDP policy on greenfield. We had many, many conversations about it, as you know, and, actually, I tried very hard to help you get to where you needed to be with that LDP. So, I'm a bit disappointed, Peter, to find you saying that that's a political thing, because it certainly was not, and we spent a lot of time together doing that. And, similarly, we've worked very closely with the current administration too, as we work with every administration across Wales to make their LDP fit for purpose. 

The Proposed Nant Mithil Energy Park

7. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with Bute Energy about the proposed Nant Mithil energy park? OQ59434

I have regular discussions with industry at pre-planning stages. Notes on my meetings with Bute Energy are freely available. Regarding the proposed Nant Mithil energy park, Welsh Ministers are the decision makers on developments of national significance and, consequently, I'm unable to comment on the specifics of the project.


Minister, Bute Energy's proposals in the Radnor Forest—as it's known locally—to construct an industrial-scale windfarm has actually gone down extremely badly with a lot of my constituents. Minister, many of the turbines sit outside of the pre-assessed area in the national development framework. Does this now mean that the NDF is no longer valid, and that energy companies with the biggest cheque books can do what they want in rural mid Wales?

National planning policy sets out the Welsh Government's preferred position on new power lines that, where possible, should be underground. It also sets out where pre-assessed areas are. As I have said repeatedly in this Chamber—I do wish the Conservatives would listen to the answer instead of just reading out the question—that does not mean that they can't go anywhere else. It simply means that the planning hurdles there need to be crossed. This is a development of national significance, so I certainly am not going to discuss it with you in this Chamber, as I have made very clear. I am the planning Minister; the decision needs to be made properly in a quasi-judicial manner, and that is what we will do.

Off-road Vehicles

8. What is the Welsh Government doing to tackle off-road vehicles damaging the environment in remote rural communities? OQ59419

Thank you, Ken. Illegal off-roading damages our open spaces, which are crucial for the environment and the health and well-being of those accessing the countryside for legitimate recreation. We are providing £5.6 million during 2022 to 2025 to authorities via the access improvement grant, some of which will be for improvements to tackle this issue.

Minister, I'm incredibly grateful for your answer. The £5.6 million will be immensely helpful in trying to crack down on irresponsible 4x4 tourists, who are tearing up the countryside. I do appreciate that this matter crosses portfolio boundaries, so I appreciate your concern in this area. We have a particular problem in the Ceiriog Valley here in Clwyd South, and also in the Dee Valley—fabulous natural environments that are being torn up regularly by people who are driving irresponsibly, often using green lanes to access fields, and then causing immense damage. So, I'm very grateful that the Welsh Government is taking action in this area. Minister, if further action is required, would the Welsh Government consider any measures that might be necessary to deal with this problem?

Yes, indeed, Ken. Thank you very much. Welsh Government launched the first Wales wildlife and rural crime strategy on 27 April, earlier this year. Habitat protection is one of the six rural priorities and part of the habitats work is Operation Taurus Cymru, which is an ongoing joint police operation that addresses illegal off-roading across the whole of Wales through education and enforcement. Already, officers are seeing significant progress by the use of joint targeted days, use of drones, and social media. Several vehicles have already been seized and the operation is proving very effective.

The operation tourist Cymru partner, North Wales Police, are responsible for policing the Dee and Ceiriog valleys. They have a well-established rural crime team, with officers trained specifically in enforcement and education of rural crimes, such as illegal off-roading and other forms of habitat damage. I think, though, it is worth mentioning that off-roading can be within the law, and there is a need to draw a distinction between illegal off-roading and legitimate recreational activities, such as driving on byways open to all traffic. But I do agree with you that people using those byways should do so in a proportionate way that doesn't then cause a nuisance to other road users or other users of the countryside, and that good maintenance of all public rights of way, including good signage about where it is and isn't permissible to do these things, is necessary, and we have taken that into account in designing the scheme.

The Quality of Rented Properties

9. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to improve the quality of properties rented in Wales? OQ59438

Diolch, Rhys. The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 transforms renting in Wales, bringing in strengthened regulations around standards in rented properties. The fitness for human habitation regulations, introduced in December 2022, give tenants the power to act if their property is below standard, including the ability to withhold rent.

Thank you very much for that answer, Minister. I'd be interested to know what work is being done to make sure that renters know their new rights through this piece of legislation, because I'm sure that you're contacted often, like I am, with housing issues—damp and mould in people's properties. And another thing that comes up time and time again is that contractors that are used by social housing, used by local authorities are constantly not finishing the work and charging too much for that work. So, what further discussions are you having with renters and also housing associations, councils and private landlords to improve homes in Wales?


Thank you, Rhys. Those are different categories of tenure, and we have a slightly different approach depending on the category of tenure. For social homes in Wales, I very recently wrote out to social landlords and council stockholding authorities, reminding them of their duty under the human habitation arrangements, and reminding them to make sure that they have the right procedures and processes in place and are transparent to their tenants to make sure that we don't have issues with mould and damp, which have caused such problems elsewhere. We monitor that very carefully, and I'm very happy to write again, but I have very recently written out to say that.

As I say, in private rented accommodation, the new Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 has done that. We have written out, in a number of ways. We work very closely with TPAS, the tenant organisation, for example. We've got a tenant liaison group that we highlight it through, and we also do it through Rent Smart Wales, asking each landlord to be in touch with their tenants. I'm very happy to contemplate anything else that you think might be useful, and if MSs feel that they could do something via their own websites and so on, materials can be made available. We're more than happy to try and do anything at all that helps tenants understand their rights. We also fund Shelter to give advice to tenants on their rights, and we fund them to do that on an ongoing basis. I'm more than happy to engage on anything else you want us to do, but we are trying very hard to make sure that tenants understand their new rights. This is a step change in the way that housing is conducted in Wales. It will take a little while for people to understand exactly what their rights are, but I'm very pleased that we've finally implemented it, and I'm sure, as it beds in, people will become more aware of their ability to take action.

2. Questions to the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language

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

Priorities for Schools in Pembrokeshire

1. What are the Minister's priorities for schools in Pembrokeshire for the next 12 months? OQ59436

Schools in Pembrokeshire will continue to benefit from significant capital investment through the Welsh Government's sustainable communities for learning programme. The local authority will also continue the roll-out of universal primary free school meals across all primary schools and the delivery of its Welsh in education strategic plan.

Thank you for that response, Minister. I recently visited Haverfordwest high school, where I had an excellent tour of their facilities and a really interesting discussion about everything from teacher recruitment and retention to how we can best eliminate bureaucracy from the education system. Now, during the discussion, the headteacher made it very clear that she would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss some of these matters further. Therefore, Minister, can I extend an invitation to you to Haverfordwest high school, so that you can see their excellent facilities for yourself and so that we can discuss some of the pressing priorities, and indeed challenges, facing schools in Pembrokeshire for the next 12 months?

Yes. Haverfordwest high school is one of the investments in the county that, of course, we've been able to co-fund with the council—a £48 million investment. As well as the fantastic facilities, it has community facilities as well, including sporting facilities. I am keen to speak to as many heads as I can. I would be very, very happy to speak with the head. In fact, I've had the opportunity of meeting with her virtually in other contexts, but I would be very happy to visit the school. I have a standing invitation each week to heads to join me for a headteacher round-table, which I hold every month, and I try to speak to one or two heads by Zoom every week, so any head watching the proceedings today is welcome to get in touch and to be put on the list for contact, but I'd be very happy to visit the school with the Member.

Neurodiverse People

2. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Health and Social Services about Welsh-medium assessments for neurodiverse people? OQ59447

We are delivering a neurodivergence improvement programme, which is backed by £12 million. We are taking a whole-system approach to developing sustainable services that meet identified needs, including improved access to Welsh language assessment. We want to develop capacity amongst our workforce to increase the availability of services and support in Welsh.

I thank the Minister for that response. Until recently, the north Wales health board had contracted the Healios company to carry out neurodivergent assessment. As I understand it, they didn't offer Welsh-medium assessments. These children and young people need assessment for communication difficulties. There is a clinical need, and it is crucial that they get that assessment in the individuals' first language, the language of their choice. But the system in north Wales means that people don't get the assessments in their language of choice, and those who want Welsh-medium assessments have to wait far, far longer for Welsh-medium assessments rather than those not through the medium of Welsh. This is contrary to the 'More than just words' policy launched by the Government last year, and is contrary to the human rights of vulnerable people who should expect to have these assessments through the medium of Welsh. Are you therefore content that the health board is not in breach of the law in failing to provide these services through the medium of Welsh? And what steps will you take in order to ensure that Welsh-speaking people with neurodivergence issues in north Wales are treated like everybody else?


Well, I thank the Member for the question. I'm content to look into the specific matter that he's raised with me today. In terms of the 'More than just words' programme that he referred to, the five-year programme, one of the objectives for 2027 is to ensure that we have Welsh-medium diagnostic assessments as a rule, and that there are resources available to support Welsh speakers. That's a priority in that plan. Of course, we'll be looking at what is happening in terms of progress on an annual basis and will be reporting back to the Senedd on an annual basis about progress against that objective. The point that the Member makes is very important, and I'm very happy to look at the specific example he gave.FootnoteLink

Minister, it is very important that anybody gets the support and assistance they need if they've got a neurodiverse condition, and in the language in which they choose to speak, but a lot of young people who have those conditions are leaving school altogether and not returning to the education setting. So, I'd like to know what work are you doing as the education Minister to make sure that, if young children are leaving school settings, our schools are supporting families to get those young people back into school so that they're not missing out on any of their education, whether that be through the medium of Welsh or the medium or English.

Well, I know that schools right across Wales and education settings right across Wales are doing absolutely everything they can to make sure that young people are in school, in college, being able to take full advantage of their education. There are some very innovative approaches that schools are undertaking. They can be quite challenging circumstances, but I know that all heads and principals are focused on that as a priority.

Thank you very much and good afternoon, Minister.

I'm sure that you recognise that forward planning is essential to developing pupil numbers across Wales. There are more young people in full-time education than ever before—something we should be incredibly proud of, but we must ensure that there is sufficient planning in place to support growth in pre-existing numbers. One school in west Wales, built in 2019, has already exceeded their safe accommodation levels and have had to invest in extra portakabins in order to accommodate a surplus of pupils. Another school known to me has been noted as having serious concerns about the structure of buildings on site, leaving parts of the estate at risk of falling debris. These issues are beginning to have a significant impact on educational standards. Headteachers and local authorities are having to choose between funding refurbs or recruitment, between purchasing equipment or delivering the new curriculum. So, how are you, Minister, working with our schools and local authorities to assist with successful forward planning amidst constraining budgets?

I thank the Member for that question. Obviously, we want to make sure that local authorities are planning for the number of school places that they require in their local authority areas, and that the school estate available in that area is adequate and in good condition in order to provide our young people with the education that they deserve. So, right across Wales, local councils are in a continuous process of projecting numbers of school pupils and, obviously, looking at the school estate. As the Member will know, for the larger projects—major refurbishments and new investment in new schools and colleges—the Welsh Government supports local authorities very significantly with a £1.5 billion programme through the sustainable communities for learning fund, and there are other refurbishment projects, which are at a smaller scale, in which local authorities invest their own capital. He will also be aware that, very recently, I provided extra funding of £50 million to local authorities to assist with some of those refurbishment requirements, in particular in relation to sustainability challenges.

I appreciate the answer, Minister. And, as you mentioned, this is an issue that's being felt right across local authorities in Wales. Because of budget constraints, schools are unable to meet their statutory obligations. We've seen this first hand in the Vale of Glamorgan. I'm sure that you'll be aware of the recent letter addressed to you by the Vale School Governors' Association. In that letter, school governors from across the county stated that the low level of education funding received from Welsh Government borderlines unlawful, will result in mass redundancies and will cause education standards to plummet. As it stands, most of the schools in the Vale are in the position of setting unsustainable deficit budgets for 2023-24; even schools who carried a surplus forward in 2022-23 are forecasting considerable budget losses for the current financial year. One school has forecasted a positive carry-forward of £140,000 for 2022-23, and a budgeted loss of £312,000 for 2023-24. With budgets in the red, and reserves being used up, we are in a position where schools are going to struggle to meet their statutory obligations, due to the drastic spending cuts that will be needed to be made. Given the serious concerns outlined in this letter addressed to you, what response have you provided to the Vale of Glamorgan governors' association?


Well, the letter was—I think I read it in Wales Online on 31 March, actually, from the governor of a school in the Vale. And as it happens, we had already written to each authority, explaining the further funding we're providing to each authority in order to help them with the new pay liabilities, as a result of the successful negotiation with the teaching unions here in Wales. There is no question that schools are facing budgetary pressures, despite the further funding that we have been able to provide for them, and that is, frankly, as a consequence of a period of Tory austerity right across the UK, which has underfunded public services, and, as a result, devolved Governments do not have access to the funding that they would like to have to fully support public services for the ambitious programme that we have for our young people in Wales. I know, though, that he will have seen recent figures by the IFS, which show that the per-pupil spend on schools in both England and Wales is comparable. Certainly, in Wales, we'd like to be able to increase that, and, with a Government in Westminster also committed to public services, I'm hopeful in future that we can.

I take it from the masked political response there that the Vale governors have not received a response from you, Minister, and I'm sure they will find that disappointing, given that you are the education Minister here in Wales. But the situation is untenable. Very real pressures—your words from this morning's press briefing—have left our education workforce on its knees. I recently met with a deeply concerned headteacher. They contacted me to express their anxiety about the direction of school budgets. Inflationary pressures, a substantial rise in energy costs, paired with being tasked to partially meet staff pay rises, has left schools unable to meet their day-to-day financial commitments. As a consequence, governing bodies are being forced to make monetary decisions that push schools into budget deficits. If this situation is not dealt with, schools will be forced to lay off a greater number of staff, educational standards will falter, and our young people—often the most disadvantaged—will be left at the wayside. A previous Welsh First Minister admitted to taking his eye off the ball when it came to education. Is this Government in danger of doing that again?

Llywydd, this is completely Kafkaesque from a party that does not believe in funding public services, and the only party in the Senedd that pledged at an election to cut education spending by 12 per cent. So, I'll take absolutely no lectures from Samuel Kurtz in relation to the funding of public services. He will absolutely know that the way forward for public services across the UK is a Labour Government in Westminster, committed to public services in a way that his party is absolutely not.

Thank you, Llywydd. Recently, Minister, you announced capital investment of £44.7 million for three new net-zero schools. In making that announcement, you said, and I quote:

'These three projects are extremely exciting as well as a blueprint for our future school developments. They offer an opportunity to learn about sustainability, but also for learners to have an opportunity to be involved with the design and delivery of these buildings, to shape the environment they will learn and to understand how decisions taken today have an impact on their future'.

May I ask, therefore, to what extent linguistic sustainability was part of the decision, and whether the Government assessed the linguistic impact on the areas in allocating this funding?

I thank the Member for the welcome that she gave to this programme. Two of the three schools are Welsh-medium schools, and in the third—which I think is in the Member's constituency—the council has committed to make an assessment of capacity to ensure that there is appropriate Welsh-medium provision in that school. I have written to the Member about that, as she will perhaps know by now. The authority is committed to establishing Welsh-medium and English-medium childcare separately on the school site, and also committed to reducing the school's proposed English-medium capacity in order to ensure that this reflects the actual and predicted demand within the catchment area, and, following the reduction of the proposed English-medium capacity, is committed to considering using what is left to make provision for Welsh-medium provision as part of the change to the language category in the future. 


Thank you, Minister, and, certainly, we have communicated a great deal about that specific case, but I want to look at the wider point in terms of investment in new schools across Wales. And specifically, Rhieni dros Addysg Gymraeg have been part of a number of campaigns across Wales where there are English-medium schools that have been built, and then the impact that that has on the Welsh language provision. Perhaps there is a Welsh-medium school, but there is evidence that has been put forward that the parents choose brand-new schools, because of the kinds of resources and facilities that they have, often in terms of sport and the extracurricular opportunities related to that, and also some teachers choose to leave their posts in a Welsh-medium school because there are better resources available elsewhere. 

So, I wanted to ask: when this is Welsh Government funding going towards new schools, and we have that target of a million Welsh speakers, how do you not only allow the local authorities to assess, but also ensure that the Welsh Government isn't funding any scheme that is damaging the future of the Welsh language in any area?

Well, we don't do that, and we're very careful to ensure that our investment does reflect the principles that the Member explained in her question. So, in looking at the plans of all local authorities, we have to ensure that the plans, not only within the WESP, but also broader plans in terms of the investment in local school estates, don't have a detrimental impact on the Welsh language. The point that the Member makes is important: that is to say that people see a new school as being very attractive. That can have an impact, so we need to consider that when authorities are planing their school estates, and we work with all authorities to ensure that they do that. 

Neurodevelopmental Assessments

3. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of delays in completing neurodevelopmental assessments on the educational development of pupils in Arfon? OQ59421

The individual needs of pupils in Arfon will have a central role as we take through our reforms in education. We'll secure that through person-centred planning and support for individual progression. A medical diagnosis is not required to access support in education or to inform a decision on a learner’s additional learning needs.

I was very pleased to hear yesterday in the statement by the Deputy Minister for Social Services that steps are being taken to improve the waiting times for assessments with regard to neurodevelopmental conditions. An increasing number of constituents in Arfon are contacting me to complain about the delays. Accepting what you’ve said, that you don’t have to have that medical diagnosis, the delay in the assessments can lead to a delay in the additional support that is available through schools.

In January of this year, the north Wales health board said, in correspondence with us as an office in Arfon, that there is between a two- and three-year waiting time for assessment, and that 2,645 children are on the health board’s waiting list for an assessment; 1,669 of them have been waiting for over 26 weeks, which clearly isn’t an acceptable situation. So, will the steps announced yesterday be sufficient to accelerate the process of holding these assessments, and will we see an ongoing improvement in the situation, particularly in north Wales?

I thank Siân Gwenllian for that question. What the Deputy Minister has announced is a three-year plan, with £12 million of investment. The intention there is to tackle the current pressures on the services, as she’s described them in her question, but also to improve the support that’s available within the services that people are currently waiting for. So, I do very much hope that that will have a positive impact, not just at the end of the three years, but in the meantime too. But it is truly important, that principle that you don’t need a diagnosis to access support. Now, on the ground, I understand that that can be challenging, but it is very important that that is a founding principle of the system. But the Deputy Minister will have heard the Member’s comments today too.

I thank Siân Gwenllian for raising this important issue again here today. As we will know and certainly sympathise with, any delays in this process will certainly have an impact on pupils and parents not just immediately, but long term as well. So, I appreciate the comments in terms of understanding the seriousness of this issue, Minister. Your own report, Minister, last year, said that demand for diagnostic assessment for neurodevelopmental conditions has outstripped the capacity of services for many years. That capacity and the staffing, therefore, is an issue. And I appreciate the comments made in terms of other ministry areas or other Government departments playing their part in this as well, but, in terms of your ministry, I wonder if you could expand on your thoughts on the role of schools and the role they can play in supporting the process and identifying issues with their learners. And also how are you looking to utilise things like higher education support, with the likes of Cardiff University's neurodevelopmental assessment unit, to support schools and teachers as well? Diolch yn fawr iawn. 


Well, he's right to identify the connection between healthcare and education in relation to the additional learning needs regime, if you like. That cooperation between both public services is obviously at the heart of that. And as I just mentioned to Siân Gwenllian, whilst the diagnosis can be helpful it's not required for a decision on a learner's additional learning needs, and, wherever possible, from a school's perspective, the individual development plan or the support required should not be delayed whilst waiting for a diagnosis. One of the points I think he was referring to in his question is what can schools, what can staff, do in order to help identify some of those needs. I think it's really important to note that, in both initial teacher education and our continuing professional learning for teachers and teaching assistants in practice, that ability to identify and meet the needs of all learners is a priority within that. Supporting learners with ALN is now part of the student teachers' core early years studies, and we've alongside that developed an online ALN national professional learning programme, aimed principally at additional learning needs co-ordinators, but teachers and also lecturers, so that they can, if you like, develop their ability to support learners with ALN. So, there's a range of interventions that we're making in the education space, obviously complementing the reforms that the Deputy Minister has announced in relation to the neurodevelopmental waiting times, and I think the aggregate picture is designed obviously to support each learner. 

Further Education Provision in Newport

4. How is the Welsh Government supporting further education provision in Newport? OQ59432

I'm proud of this Government’s investment in Wales's further education sector, which has allowed more learners to stay in post-16 education. I announced on 17 April that Wales is the first UK nation to increase the education maintenance allowance, benefiting around 16,000 further education students, including over 1,000 in Newport.

Minister, as you know, there are exciting plans to relocate Coleg Gwent to Newport city centre, which would put further education at the fore in the city and would also be part of the knowledge quarter, being alongside the University of South Wales city centre campus. It would also involve a new leisure centre and other development, which would increase footfall in the city centre, and, basically, take forward, I think, a great deal of development. At the time the project was announced, Minister, Coleg Gwent's principal said: 

'This is a very exciting opportunity to create a home for the College in the heart of the city, as well as delivering brand new leisure facilities. It will enable us to provide excellent education and training, in state-of-the-art facilities, for all the people and businesses of Newport.'

So, I think this potentially would be a real game changer in many ways for the city and for further education in the area, Minister. So, I wonder if you could just update the Senedd, really, on Welsh Government's work with Coleg Gwent and Newport City Council in taking this project forward. 

I thank John Griffiths for that question. And I absolutely would recognise the points that he made in his question about the importance of modern facilities to give every young learner in Newport the opportunity of having the best possible post-16 experience at Coleg Gwent. And as he said, it enables also the coleg to collaborate with the University of South Wales. I actually met both with the University of South Wales and Coleg Gwent only last week to discuss the work they're doing together. We met in the USW campus in Newport and learned more about the work they're doing too in very exciting technology sectors and others through their partnership arrangements to offer that wider offer to students in Newport. I know that the college is in very regular discussion with my officials about these plans, which I regard as exciting plans, and I hope very much that those will be able to come to fruition.

Support for Deaf School Pupils

We continue to support deaf pupils. Equity and inclusion are at the heart of both the additional learning needs system and the Curriculum for Wales, which aim to help ensure all children and young people have access to an education that enables them to reach their potential.

During the business statement here on 8 February, I stated that

'National Deaf Children's Society Cymru have warned of a looming educational crisis for deaf children in Wales. Their Consortium for Research into Deaf Education survey of local authorities shows that the numbers of teachers that are deaf in Wales has fallen by 20 per cent over the last decade. In addition, more than a third of teachers that are deaf across Wales are over the age of 50, meaning they're likely to retire in the next 10 to 15 years.'

After I then detailed their calls on the Welsh Government, the Trefnydd told me that she would ask you to write to me. During a follow-up meeting with the National Deaf Children Society, I learned that, across Wales, there are 59 children per teacher that are deaf, rising to 81 in north-east Wales. How do you therefore respond to their call for the Welsh Government to look at the teacher of the deaf network and workforce planning in Wales, with sustainable, affordable, long-term funding, where, without these actions, deaf children will continue to fall behind, and the gap between them and their hearing peers risks becoming even wider than it already is?

I thank Mark Isherwood for this important question. I also received correspondence from George Baldwin of the National Deaf Children's Society back in February, to which I responded at the time, and I've also read the report that was helpfully sent to me at that time in relation to the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education report, which is a very detailed and thorough analysis of the situation. I recognise the points that NDCS Cymru make in relation to workforce strategy and ensuring sufficient provision in relation to teachers of the deaf.

As he will know, the ALN reforms include the ALN code, which lists teachers of the deaf amongst those that local authorities should consult to obtain their views and emerging needs and patterns of needs, and the workforce skills profile, in order to ensure that we can support learners with hearing impairment. A key part of our reforms is to ensure that the teaching workforce is sufficiently skilled to be able to provide for the needs of each individual child and also to be able to make best use of experts' advice and support provided by specialists like teachers of the deaf. We have in the past provided funding, as I'm sure he will recall, to ensure that we have postgraduate training of local authority-based specialists and advisory teachers of learners with sensory impairment, including teachers of the deaf. But, we will reflect further on the report to see what more we can do.

Manufacturing Apprenticeships

6. How is the Welsh Government ensuring that school leavers are equipped to take up manufacturing apprenticeships? OQ59439

Our Have a Go programme encourages greater engagement from schoolchildren in apprenticeships and raises learner awareness of work sectors, including manufacturing. The integral skills taught under the Curriculum for Wales are designed to give learners the planning, organising and problem-solving skills that they need to transition successfully into apprenticeships.

I'm grateful to the Minister for that answer. On Friday of last week, I visited Granada Material Handling Ltd in my constituency in Alyn and Deeside, who manufacture lifting equipment for a number of challenging applications sold across the globe. During my visit, I heard all about their work in meeting the needs of manufacturers producing next generation technology products like modular housing and the wings for the aerospace sector, just to name a few. But during that visit, Minister, I was particularly pleased to see their commitment to training apprentices, as a former manufacturing apprentice myself, Llywydd. Minister, we do need to ensure that our school leavers feel confident and are prepared to keep up with the pace of innovation from such employers like Granada Material Handling Ltd. Can I ask how your department works with employers like them, to make sure young people are aware of the opportunities in front of them and to support them through their journey?


I thank Jack Sargeant for the further question and his passionate advocacy for the cause of apprentices, based obviously on his own expertise and experience of that. I think the point he makes is really important. I actually had a conversation this morning, in a discussion with the Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales, about what more we can do at a school level to make sure that young people are aware, obviously, of STEM subject choices, but also of the range of opportunities in their local economy. And I've also commissioned a report from Hefin David, as I know the Member is aware, into what more we can do at a school level, which has just been submitted to us and contains some very interesting proposals. He will know that we've tasked Qualifications Wales with identifying how the qualifications system can support young people coming through the education system to be ready for the world of work or apprenticeships when they leave. The pre-vocational qualifications that QW have proposed, which are in the full-offer consultation that is currently open, are designed to give a broad progression to post-16 study or apprenticeships, and I think they will play a very important role in being able to support young people into the world of work and into apprenticeships particularly.

Minister, just as manufacturing is important to Jack's constituency, it's also a key part of my region's economy and is set to become more so as we seek to embrace the green energy revolution. Not only do we need to ensure that school leavers have the right STEM skills needed to equip them for a career in manufacturing, but we also need industry to work closely with schools and colleges. The excellent Bridgend College in my region has fostered many such links and offers a range of manufacturing apprenticeships with large employers like Sony. Minister, how can the Welsh Government foster closer links with industry and our education providers in order to not only equip students with the necessary skills, but also jobs at the forefront of the next industrial revolution?

I thank Altaf Hussain for that question. The careers and work-related experiences element of our new Curriculum for Wales, from three to 16, puts the world of work very much at the heart of school life and, obviously, that will be best delivered by schools working together with other organisations who can explain to young people what the careers available to them are and how best to go about qualifying for those roles. Careers Wales plays its role in relation to that as well, works closely with schools to help deliver a range of activities to showcase the world of work, and I hope the Senedd will have an opportunity very shortly to discuss the response to the report, which I mentioned in my answer to Jack Sargeant as well, which I think you will see sets out some quite innovative proposals.

The 2023 National Eisteddfod

7. What support does the Welsh Government provide to the National Eisteddfod 2023? OQ59422

The National Eisteddfod is a vital partner to us and, this year, we are providing a grant of £1 million to support a wide range of activities to increase the use of the Welsh language in the community. It's more than a week-long festival; it's the culmination of three years of community work in the Welsh language.

Thank you. To congratulate the Llywydd, local people raised over £460,000 towards holding the festival in Tregaron. Their enthusiasm reflected the efforts of the county of Conwy, where, for example, the town of Llanrwst alone raised over £50,000. I'm aware that the people of Llŷn and Eifionydd are this year continuing to organise fundraising events. Wales does so much to fund the Eisteddfod, and the Eisteddfod does so much to promote the Welsh language. Would the Welsh Government be willing to reward these efforts by funding free entry to the Eisteddfod in 2023? Thank you.


I thank Janet Finch-Saunders for her question, and for asking her question in Welsh. Congratulations to her on doing so, too. Decisions in terms of access and entry are issues for the Eisteddfod, of course. It’s a matter for them to provide affordable tickets, for example, but I know that they are having discussions with Gwynedd Council to discuss how everyone can benefit from having the maes in Llŷn and Eifionydd this year. I’m sure that the Llywydd will be pleased to hear tribute paid to the working group for the Tregaron Eisteddfod around their ability to raise funds, too.

The grant that we are paying to the National Eisteddfod this year is an increase on the award that we made last year. The purpose of the addition, the increase, is to enable and support the Eisteddfod to contribute to an outreach programme in the community. The point that the Member makes is important in terms of the wider contribution of the community financially, but culturally too, and in alternative ways. So, the opportunity for the Eisteddfod to engage with the wider community is very important. As a result of the additional funding we’ve provided this year, the communications manager, competitions manager and technology manager have already been appointed, along with two co-ordinators, with a vital officer, the fundraising officer, to come in the next months, too. So, we all look forward, I’m sure, to a successful Eisteddfod in Llŷn and Eifionydd this year.

Home Education Legislation

8. Will the Minister provide an update on the Welsh Government's plans to develop home education legislation? OQ59423

We intend to publish statutory guidance very shortly that will enhance learning opportunities for home-educated children, encourage greater access to universal services and ensure that all children have access to a suitable and efficient education.

Thank you so much for your update, Minister. I’ve been contacted by several constituents in recent weeks who have shared their concerns when it comes to the Welsh Government’s home education proposals. They said that they’ve tried to express their worries to you, Minister, but they said that, in their words, you weren’t listening or engaging with them. One parent told me, and I quote from them directly, 'I feel so let down by our Welsh Government'. The main concerns they have surround the mandatory meetings and the creation of a database of all children with data compiled from health records to keep track of home educators. Some of the reasons behind these concerns are extremely sensitive, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to raise them in public like this, but I’m more than happy to share them with you privately afterwards if you so wish. It’s clear many parents who home school their children have legitimate concerns that do need to be addressed. So, Minister, can I have a commitment from you, please, that you will take these concerns seriously and engage with the parents who home school their children in order to address them? Thank you.

In relation to the proposals to which the Member refers, the point I made is they haven’t yet been published, so she should, I think, take note of that. In relation to engagement with members of the elective home education community, there has been a very significant level of engagement. Obviously that hasn't encompassed every single home educator, but, in 2018, the Welsh Government facilitated a national meeting to look at discussions between home educators right across Wales; in 2019 and 2020, there were consultations; in 2022, I myself met with Education Otherwise. Welsh Government officials have had meetings with various organisations representing home educators. It’s really important that we hear the voices of all people, and I’m absolutely confident that we have engaged, and I’ve given you some examples of how that has happened.

As I say, the guidance will follow shortly, but an important part of that, alongside the arrangements to which she refers in her question, is a wider package of support for home educators, which is actually unique in its scale right across the UK. She’ll have heard me mention previously references to a fund of £1.7 million, which is the largest in any part of the UK, supporting home educators. And there’ll be a wider package of support that will be a core offer across all 22 authorities in Wales. That’s been informed, by the way, directly by feedback from families who home educate. They have been developed in partnership with local authorities and will include a designated examination centre that provides for external candidates, which home educators have said to us they would find very helpful. Also, access to local authority counselling services, access to youth support services, ALN support services, support from Careers Wales and a range of other ways as well, including a handbook for home educators. So, there is a wide offer of support alongside the regulatory change that we contemplate. I very much hope that home educators will find that a positive development when they see the publication.

Welsh Language Linguistic Accuracy

9. How does the Welsh Government encourage and ensure Welsh language linguistic accuracy by public bodies in Wales? OQ59444

The website is wrong, therefore.

We have facilitated this through funding resources such as Welsh language spell-checkers and grammar checkers. On top of this, we are funding the Association of Welsh Translators to develop the translation sector, and the National Centre for Learning Welsh to develop language skills. Of course, Welsh language standards and language schemes have a contribution to make as well. 

Thank you for answering that question, Minister. Everyone sees examples—some more unfortunate that others—of mistranslations or spelling errors from time to time. They can be amusing at first sight, but of course they do send a very unfortunate message in terms of the status of the Welsh language, when we see these examples being tolerated far too often.

We saw the UK Government's text message test claiming that they were going to keep us 'vogel' rather than 'ddiogel', safe. We also saw the UK Government's website encouraging us to 'rhegi i Dduw' omnipotent, rather than to swear an oath in the context of the coronation. But I’m not just pointing the finger at the UK Government; there are unfortunate examples across the public sector.

Will you as a Government, therefore, write to public sector bodies in Wales just to encourage them and to remind them of their responsibilities in this regard, and to convey the same message to the UK Government too?

I’m very happy to do that. Perhaps if there was less emphasis on complaining about renaming Bannau Brycheiniog, and more emphasis on accuracy, we might all be happier.

Schools Funding in Denbighshire

10. Will the Minister provide an update on access to twenty-first century schools funding for education facilities in Denbighshire? OQ59440

Certainly. Through the Sustainable Communities for Learning programme, £90 million has been invested in the education estate in Denbighshire in band A, and a further £51 million is planned for band B. Education facilities in Denbighshire have also benefited from other grant investments targeting Welsh-medium, childcare, school maintenance and community-focused schools.

I appreciate your answer, Minister. The reason that I asked the question this afternoon is that I undertake quite a lot of school visits in my constituency, where Christ the Word School has been built in the last few years, and also Rhyl High School, with fantastic modern facilities in my constituency, but then, in the neighbouring town of Prestatyn and just down the road in Denbigh, they have got science labs and some facilities that date back as far as the 1950s. Also in Denbigh, we have got Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn for children with additional learning needs, and although the building is only roughly 15 years old, it has become too small for the needs of the pupils.

So, in light of some of those issues, could I ask for an update from yourself about whether the likes of Prestatyn, Denbigh and Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn might have some good news on the horizon—that they can have twenty-first century schools fit for modern purposes? Thank you. 

Well, we have a £1.5 billion school building programme in Wales under the Welsh Labour Government. Obviously, the Conservatives scrapped the school building programme in England. But his constituents will be able to take advantage of the funding that we are making available here in Wales. Denbigh High School has been identified for investment within Denbighshire's original strategic outline programme for band B, and Welsh Government officials are working with the council in relation to that. He mentioned a number of the other investments, and they are, I agree, very important, so that we can make sure that young people, wherever possible, have access to the best possible facilities to get the best possible start in life. 

3. Topical Questions

The topical questions would have been the next item, but no topical questions have been accepted.

4. 90-second Statements

So, I will move on to the 90-second statements. There's one of those, by Natasha Asghar.

Thank you so much, Presiding Officer. During COVID, a lot of people across Wales lost loved ones, and for many dealing with that grief has indeed been incredibly tough. It's no secret that the death of my father was an extremely hard time for my whole family, but more so for my 70-year-old mother. Despite attending countless bereavement groups, counselling sessions and therapies, nothing seemed to help my mum with her painful grief. That was until we came across the STEPS bereavement programme, which is sponsored by Tovey Brothers funeral directors, a family-owned funeral directors in south-east Wales, established in 1860. And today I would like to pay tribute to the dedicated team of STEPS and also Tovey Brothers.

This free bereavement service is put on several times a year in Newport for anyone who is suffering with bereavement, and in the 10 years the group has been running, they have helped countless people in their darkest hour. The support group provides a caring environment in which people can work through many emotions, and tasks that lead to reconciliation and help them to live and accept their grief. It's a place where people can discover that their reactions to grief are normal and be amongst like-minded people who will understand exactly what they're going through. I would encourage anyone who is experiencing a bereavement, and is struggling, to get in touch with the fantastic team at STEPS and also Tovey Brothers. I would also like to reiterate that this is a free service, and to find out more about the support group, please get in touch with Tovey Brothers funeral directors.

Deputy Presiding Officer, thank you for giving me the time to raise awareness of this truly wonderful support group today.

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

5. Debate on the Health and Social Care Committee Report—'Connecting the dots: tackling mental health inequalities in Wales'

Item 5 today is the debate on the Health and Social Care Committee report, 'Connecting the dots: tackling mental health inequalities in Wales'. I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion. Russell George.

Motion NDM8249 Russell George

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the Health and Social Care Committee report ‘Connecting the dots: tackling mental health inequalities in Wales’, laid on 19 December 2022.

Motion moved.

Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I thank you today for this item? I move the motion in my name.

We all have mental health. Our mental health is strongly linked with our circumstances, including our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Sometimes our mental health will be positive; sometimes it may be poor. Some of us may become more seriously unwell through our mental health.

Sadly, the evidence shows that some groups and communities are at greater risk of poor mental health than others. Such groups may have the most difficulty in accessing services, and when they do get support, their experiences and outcomes are poorer. Part of our role is to shine a light on people’s experiences and amplify their voices. We do this by listening and understanding their stories, but we know this can be difficult and also traumatic.

We are grateful to everyone who has contributed to our work, and this includes partner organisations who helped organise focus groups and visits, and who made sure that everyone felt supported. And I would especially like to thank our online advisory group for their views, lived experiences, expertise and constructive challenge as we prepared our report and considered the Welsh Government’s response. And I am delighted that some are in the public gallery today, and I know others will be watching on Senedd.tv. And I’m also pleased that some members of the committee were able to meet the advisory group this afternoon prior to this debate.

Our central message is that the mental health and well-being of the population will not improve, and may actually get worse, unless effective action is taken to recognise and address the impact of trauma, and tackle inequalities in society and the wider causes of poor mental health.

The welcome our report had from organisations such as the Welsh NHS Confederation, Samaritans Cymru, Mind Cymru, and more than 100-plus clinicians, who have signed an open letter co-ordinated by Psychologists for Social Change Cymru, shows just how strongly this message resonates across the health and social care sectors. We want this message, and a clear ambition to reduce mental inequalities, to be at the centre of the Welsh Government’s new mental health strategy.

Throughout our inquiry, it became clear that the key to tackling mental health inequalities is connection. For example, connecting poor mental health with the wider causes gives us the opportunity to address those causes, not just patch up the symptoms. We know that addressing the wider causes isn’t easy—we appreciate that—and we have called for a frank appraisal of which policy, legislative and financial levers for tackling poverty and other social determinants of mental health are controlled by the Welsh and the UK Governments.

The Welsh Government accepted the recommendations in principle. It said that its ability to tackle poverty is limited without radical change in the UK Government’s approach. However, the response said nothing about how the Welsh and UK Governments are working together, and it lacked detail on many of the wider determinants of mental health and well-being, such as housing, transport and access to education and employment.

Mental health and well-being is not just a matter, of course, for the NHS or specialist services; it is much broader than that. It's a much broader public health issue. Mental health is made in our communities. Community connection is vital in preventing mental ill health, promoting and protecting mental well-being, and supporting people who are living with mental ill health.

It is disappointing, and we were disappointed as a committee, that the Deputy Minister only accepted our recommendation for the establishment of an online directory for community and digital mental health services in principle. The Government’s response said that rather than developing a new directory, it aimed to improve the information available and people's awareness of how to access resources. It also highlighted the 111 and 'press 2' services.

When we spoke to our advisory group earlier today, our advisory group echoed our own views that they were frustrated with this response, saying that it failed to recognise the barriers people face in accessing the current systems. It isn't always that first port of call, that telephone service. There needs to be much more done in the community. Connection is also needed between services. Joined-up, person-centred working and co-production with people with lived experience and expertise is key to ensuring that everyone can get the help and support they need, when and how they need it.

In addition to a number of recommendations to address specific barriers affecting particular groups, we called for a clear road map setting out the actions at national and local level to improve mental health among neurodivergent people, including how the neurodivergence assessment and diagnosis process could be made more accessible. The Government accepted this recommendation, but disappointingly the response did not provide the road map that we had requested. Our advisory group was also disappointed. They wanted more detail about the make-up of the neurodivergence ministerial advice group, and the response didn't convince them that the Welsh Government was committed to the social model of disability or to prioritising support for neurodivergent people with co-occurring conditions.

Looking ahead, the review and refresh of the Welsh Government's mental health strategy provides a valuable opportunity to tackle mental health inequalities and embed the needs of diverse communities into Wales's approach to mental health. If the new mental health strategy is to deliver meaningful action and tangible impacts on the ground, we also need to have that connection within Government. We must see effective cross-Government working, including co-ordination with other relevant plans and policies, especially those relating to groups who experience disadvantage. To help us monitor this, we called for an annual update on the progress made in implementing our recommendations, with the first update to be provided in December 2023. Like our advisory group, we were disappointed and frustrated that the Government only committed to providing updates when the Government considers it appropriate to do so.

The acceptance by the Government of a recommendation is a commitment to implement that recommendation. Monitoring progress on such commitments is an important part of our role in holding the Welsh Government to account. Updates are essential in helping us to understand which recommendations have been completed, which require further work, and where evolving circumstances may mean that the Welsh Government's views on a particular recommendation may have changed. Such information is not only of interest and value to us as a committee, but also to other Members of the Senedd and to external stakeholders, many of whom have devoted significant time, energy and resources contributing to our work. Our view is that annual updates are appropriate and proportionate, and I would urge the Deputy Minister to reconsider her response and make that commitment today.

Overall, our report provides an ambitious and hopeful vision for reducing inequalities and improving mental health and well-being in Wales. I do know it's an agenda to which the Deputy Minister is personally committed, and it is welcome that she was able to accept most of our recommendations, albeit some in principle. However, as a committee, we share our online advisory group’s disappointment that the response didn't fully reflect our report’s ambition. Platfform recently described the response as a missed opportunity, and I’m quoting them here:

'This could have been another bold watershed moment in our country, to set a new direction in public services and beyond. Instead, it feels like the depth of the report, and the implications for Wales, were missed. We need clear vision and leadership to drive the shift needed here.'

I invite the Deputy Minister to share her vision for closing the mental health inequalities gap, so that we can ensure that Wales is a place that helps people to build and sustain their mental health and well-being; that supports people when they experience poor mental health; that sees people as more than just their conditions; and in which communities, health services and wider public services are connected and able to recognise and respond to people's needs. I look forward to the debate this afternoon. Diolch yn fawr iawn.


First of all, may I thank my fellow Members for being able to collaborate on this report? Thank you to all of the clerking staff, the research staff, and the support staff who have been part of this work. And also thank you to everyone who spoke so openly to us as experts and specialists and individuals with direct experience. And I want to give particular attention to the group that advised us based on their own experiences, and a number of them, as we've already heard, are joining us in the Senedd in the gallery today.

This is another one of those reports that we needed to undertake. Yes, it does shed light on mental health again in general, but it reminds us how important it is to talk about mental health and how important it is for the Government to take action to improve the provision available. But this is also a report that goes deeper than that too. It focuses on the fact that mental health issues are more likely to affect some people, some individuals, some communities more than others, and very often it's those who find it hardest to access help. The report goes to the heart of many mental health issues, with the first recommendation referring to the word 'trauma', which is heard more often these day, I'm pleased to say—those factors in life, to a great extent, that make us what we are.

The state of our mental health is shaped by our social circumstances, our economic situation and so on, and inequalities do create trauma. So we can't put a 'health' label on mental health alone—tackling mental issues means sorting housing, education, employment, the welfare state and so on. And that's why recommendation 2 asks for an honest appraisal by the Welsh Government of what exactly the levers it has are to tackle those factors that create and exacerbate inequalities and how to use those levers. We need to identify what powers the Welsh Government has, what powers the UK Government has, where the crossover is between those two, where we need to collaborate, because without tackling what causes those inequalities that are the basis of so many mental health issues, we won't be able to make a difference.

The aim, of course, is to try to prevent mental health issues from turning into crisis, but sometimes people will find themselves in a situation of crisis, and that's why ongoing weaknesses with a great deal of acute mental health provision is still causing so much concern. Just a week ago we had confirmation that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is being prosecuted in relation to a patient death in Hergest in 2021, after the board was taken out of special measures, although it was clear that there were significant problems continuing there, facing that particular service. So, we will continue to scrutinise the acute provision.

But returning to this report that places mental health in a wider context, I'll turn to the Government's response. I'm afraid that I, and that we as a committee, as the Chair said, are very disappointed with the Government's response this time around. In discussing with our advisory group—people, as I said, that can speak from personal experience; people who are very pleased and proud to have been able to contribute solutions, answers and ideas on how to strengthen services—I don't think I've ever seen such disappointment expressed with regard to a Government response. They welcomed the report by the committee; they described it as a document that truly reflected their needs and requirements. They were then disappointed by the lack of specifics in the Government response—the failure to agree to a clear timeline for action, for example.

I'll refer to recommendation 22, because that summarises the frustration. It asks for the Government to report back on an annual basis on progress against the series of recommendations that we've made in our report. Although they've accepted it in principle, the Government might as well have rejected it, because the response is that they will be reporting on progress in terms of the recommendations 'as appropriate'. This report is part of our scrutiny work as a committee and as parliamentarians, and yet the Government says that they will be accepting scrutiny on their own terms. That isn't acceptable, I don't think, Dirprwy Lywydd. 

I'm sorry for those advisory groups who fear that their time has been wasted, but let's give a commitment here today that their time hasn't been wasted and that we will continue to try to drive action on this until we can see that every step has been taken to tackle mental health issues and the inequalities that cause so many of them.


I'd like to start by thanking everyone who spoke to us about tackling mental health inequalities in Wales. We had 90 responses, and for many of those who gave evidence, it was based on their lived experience or their expertise in this area. Words cannot do justice to how selfless, brave and determined you are to do this, and your evidence is threaded throughout our report. It's this responsibility to you that I know that myself and my colleagues and the committee clerks and the support staff have had at the forefront of our minds. I'm also pleased that the report has been widely welcomed by stakeholders, and I appreciate everyone who has contacted me to share their views and responses. Thank you all, and to our Deputy Minister for your response today, and for accepting most of the recommendations.

There is no doubt that this is a really groundbreaking report that was published towards the end of last year, and it has the potential to revolutionise the way we approach mental health in our country. As our Chair has stated, our mental health is inextricably linked to our physical, emotional and spiritual health, and the circumstances in which we live. We all have human needs that must be met if we are to thrive, but evidence shows that some groups and communities are at greater risk of poor mental health than others, and that such groups may have the most difficulty then in accessing the services.

This has been supported by the Welsh NHS Confederation Health and Wellbeing Alliance. They gave some very stark facts and figures, where they said that nearly three quarters of mothers with newborn babies report that the cost of living is impacting their mental health and well-being. This is concerning given the already high incidence of perinatal mental health problems, which can impact on both the mother and the child, and the risk of suicide in this group across Wales.

Also, people with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, are at a greater risk of poor physical health, and die on average 15 to 20 years earlier than the general population. It is estimated that two in three of these deaths are from preventable illnesses. People from ethnic minority groups are at a significantly increased risk of involuntary psychiatric detention compared to those from white ethnic groups.

To start with, I'd like to say that I'm really pleased to see that recommendation 10 was accepted by the Welsh Government. This is to endorse recommendation 1 made by the Equality and Social Justice Committee in our October 2022 report on gender-based violence. This was on the needs of migrant women, and that the Welsh Government should consider creating and maintaining a directory of recognised interpreters. So, I'm really pleased to see that that has been accepted.

However, I would like to ask today for further clarification about why recommendations 11, 12 and 13 were only accepted in principle. Recommendation 11 is

'to publish key deliverables and qualitative and quantitative measures for the impact of the trauma-informed framework for Wales, and put in place a robust evaluation framework.'

I do understand that this comes under, potentially, another portfolio, but if you could expand, Deputy Minister, on your department's role in this, please, and how you'll work across those portfolios, that would be wonderful. Thank you.

Recommendation 12 is similar in that it's also calling for improvements in the provision of information on

'attachment and parent-child relational health for expectant and new parents'.

But this has also only been accepted in principle. Again, we asked for an update from the Welsh Government on this work by December 2023, but there was no mention of this in the response. It says instead that

'We will consider what further action we can take to develop parent relationships, work in planned learning to include potential areas of learning from the delivery models and approaches being piloted through the early years pathfinder projects.'

Can you please tell us today, then, more about these pilot projects and when they're due to be completed and what is hoped to be achieved from these?

Finally, in relation to recommendation 13, it states:

'The Welsh Government should work with partners including local authorities, Regional Partnership Boards and community organisations to use the outcomes of its recent community mental health service mapping exercise to co-produce an online directory of community and digital services available locally, regionally and nationally across Wales.' 

But, as we discussed today with the stakeholder advisory group, who came in to speak to us and give us some feedback, in the response from the Welsh Government, it states that we have the NHS 111 website. But if you have a look through the examples on there of where you can get support, mostly you need to have a GP referral. It was also said in the Welsh Government response about Dewis, but again, if you have a look through that, it's a directory that really only identifies your local opticians and your dentists and your GPs. And, actually, a lot of the links, we were told today by the advisory group, are actually broken.

I'd just like to point to some good co-production that myself and Huw Irranca-Davies, MS for Ogmore, have done in our Bridgend county borough, where we got together with all of our local mental health groups and services. We asked them what we could do to help them, and they said, 'We would love to have a website that is just for our local groups. Maybe we're not funded with public funding, maybe we're not constituted, but we're out in the community and we're making a big difference.'

Finally, I would just like to say, overall, a key part of our recommendations was to request the timescales for performance measures and how they should be developed and focused on reducing inequalities. They're a coherent cross-sector and cross-Government action to tackle these mental health inequalities. As we heard today from our stakeholders, they said, 'Nothing for us without us', and I hope we can hear more today, Deputy Minister, of how we can go ahead and do that. Diolch.


I'm not a member of the committee, but I would like to extend my deep and profound thanks to the committee and to those Members who've brought this report forward, but more specifically, to those stakeholders who contributed towards it. I don't think there's anybody here in this Siambr or indeed any Senedd Member who hasn't been directly affected by mental health issues. I'm sure we know of somebody or perhaps ourselves have been through these sorts of issues, and so it is such an important report, and I hope we'll be looking to have a good debate and looking to take things forward.

I just want to focus on three things, if I may, from the report: children and adult mental health services; the role of poverty in mental health; and community resilience. So firstly, CAMHS. As the chair of the cross-party group on children and families and children in our care, there is a continued deterioration in our CAMHS services. 'CAMHS is a joke.' That doesn't come from me; that comes from the Welsh Youth Parliament, who saw that young people see no point in the service, due to inadequate support and the lengthy waiting times. I know, from my previous role as a child protection social worker, that it hasn't changed. CAMHS is seen as a real twilight service, which is so hard to get into, and if you're in it, then it's so hard to be able to maintain a service that meets your needs. The situation with CAMHS across not just Wales but the UK is struggling massively, and it needs significant investment, it needs a surfeit of fresh funds and resources to ensure that young people have access to quality therapy.

Secondly, poverty. The report really highlights the devastating role poverty and inequality has upon mental health and the need for a more holistic, trauma-informed approach to mental health. Poverty and mental health are a two-way street. Poverty can be both a cause and a consequence of mental health, as well as a barrier to mental health. So, we really need to look at the issues around inequality and mental health, and to really turbo-charge our approach to mental health in those communities affected by poverty. As we've heard, Platfform has made clear in their 2022 manifesto for change that mental health difficulties disproportionately affect people in poverty, or who live in communities that have been left behind.

We need to have bold responses to tackling health inequalities, such as universal basic income, which have significant mental health consequences in those pilots that have taken place so far. I'll just mention two. In Finland's two-year universal basic income study, participants experienced less mental health strain, less depression, less sadness and loneliness than in the control group, and, in general, were much more satisfied with their lives. And secondly, in a similar experiment in Canada, there was an 8.5 per cent reduction in hospitalisation and reduced contact with physicians regarding mental health. Even the First Minister recognises the benefits of universal basic income upon mental health, writing a foreword to a recent Royal Society of Arts report into the mental health benefits of such a policy. And obviously, we're very pleased to see the universal basic income pilot with care-experienced young people here in Wales, and we hope to see a significant recognition of that particular aspect. The Welsh Government needs to use what levers it can to address inequalities and the huge mental toll that they place on our poorest communities.

And finally, community resilience. The report recognises, as we've heard from Sarah, the part that communities play in preventing mental ill-health. Yet, community and third sector organisations still struggle to get sustainable and long-term funding. More needs to be done to help build up the capacity of local groups so that they can deliver and develop services without fear of a collapse of funding. Again, as Platfform has put in their report, solving the mental health crisis isn't just about access to therapies or creating more services, it is about creating healthy, thriving communities in which people can grow, live and heal. Our mental health strategy recognises that we need to move forward in creating resilient communities, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response on those particular issues. Thank you. Diolch yn fawr iawn.


Presiding Officer, when the Health and Social Care Committee in this Senedd was formed, the committee members undertook a piece of work to highlight what areas they would like to look at in the next five years, and this was one that I was really keen to see take place, and I think I speak for all members of the committee when I say that. But I do say, Presiding Officer, that, actually, this inquiry took its toll on me personally; I found it personally difficult. I've no doubt in saying and I'm not ashamed of saying that I found this inquiry hard, I found myself struggling throughout its duration, because the content was just so close to home. I have spoken before in this Chamber, Presiding Officer, about my own issues following trauma, and this inquiry really challenged my ongoing post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. I'm mindful, though, that it cannot have been easy for other members of the committee, the committee team, the advisory group who have been here this afternoon, and, of course, those witnesses who gave evidence throughout the inquiry. And I would like to take the opportunity, Presiding Officer, if I may, just to pay particular tribute to my colleague and good friend Ken Skates, who stepped in for me, substituted for me, when it was just too difficult to carry on with.

I wasn't going to speak today, Presiding Officer, but, actually, I felt the need to speak today. I think that this report and this debate emphasises the importance of mental health in Wales and in the United Kingdom. Presiding Officer, I've spoken many times in this Chamber about the importance of better mental health services. It will be no surprise, Presiding Officer, when I say that I want those services to be more trauma-informed, or, perhaps, kinder. This is not an add-on. If we're going to design services that support people who have often experienced trauma, who we know will react differently to anyone in authority, then we have to embed this approach in our mental health services. And I want to spend the small amount of time I have this afternoon to focus my remarks on recommendation 2, already referenced by the Chair of the committee in his opening remarks, and referenced by Jane Dodds, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats as well.

Now, poverty alleviation is key, and I think we all in this Chamber understand that all the levers do not sit with the Welsh Government. Frankly—and I've said this before, Presiding Officer—the UK Government's failure to address growing levels of poverty is at the heart of the mental health crisis that we face. But, I must say, I was surprised that the Welsh Government response didn't choose to highlight the work that is happening here in Wales. Poor and precarious housing—a huge detriment to people's mental health. This is part of the reason that we in Wales are so determined to build council housing at large scales. Similarly, the free school meal programme—a direct intervention to support people at a time when support has never been more needed. We've heard this afternoon the Minister for education about the increase in educational maintenance allowance—again, a vital intervention. And we've heard Jane Dodds reference the basic income pilot and what a universal basic income offers. And through our pilot, we are supporting one of the most disadvantaged cohorts of people—care leavers. And from the conversations I've had with care leavers, and care-experienced parents, through my role as the Petitions Committee Chair, I know the difference that this trial will make. 

These are all things I'm proud of as a Welsh Labour Member, and I'm proud of this Government for doing them. So, I would ask the Minister, the Deputy Minister, to reflect on this important piece of work in front of us today, reflect on the response, reflect on the things that are happening, because we do do stuff in Wales, but we should be doing more; there's no doubt about that. And in responding to this debate this afternoon, to respond in that collaborative spirit, which I do believe this recommendation in particular, recommendation 2, and the entirety of the report was drafted in. Presiding Officer, I'll close by saying at the top, this was a personally difficult inquiry for me, but this has to be done. I thank Members, and I echo the comments of Members, and what they've said about others, and everyone involved in this inquiry today. Diolch yn fawr.


I want to start off my contribution by thanking the Chair and members of the Health and Social Care Committee for their report into mental health inequalities in Wales, and for shining a light on the very real mental health epidemic that is too often mistaken and given a lower status than physical health, and that just simply cannot be right. A striking element of the report was in recommendation 1 for me, where it states that the mental health of the population won't improve, and will continue to deteriorate without effective action to address the impacts of trauma and tackle inequalities in society and the wider determinants of mental health. Now, if that doesn't shock Members in here, I don't know what does, because that does call to me that we need to do everything we can to address mental health issues in Wales. 

The report in total outlines 27 recommendation from the committee on how the Welsh Government could improve the mental health outcomes of the people of Wales. Whilst there are positives to be taken from the Welsh Government accepting 17 of the 27 recommendations, this still leaves us with the 10 recommendations that are yet to be accepted, and I hope that the Minister will look at these again with her officials and, hopefully, bring these forward. It was not just me who was saddened by the response from the Welsh Government. The advisory group, formed of lived-experience experts, said that they were disappointed and frustrated with the Welsh Government response. I know that many stakeholders who took part in this inquiry said that there was a lack of ambition, and that we don't have the joined-up structures to address the issues. These are not my words, but the words of experts and charities from across Wales, and unfortunately, this isn't isolated—this response from the Welsh Government. We're seeing time and time again responses from all Welsh Government departments, which basically fob off committee reports and committee letters, and it is simply not good enough, and the Welsh Government must do more to engage better with this Senedd. 

We can all read the report for ourselves and digest the detail of each of the recommendations. Some key standouts for me are the recommendations around moving away from the current status of sharing information as appropriate to moving towards an annual report, and I think it's very, very important that we have data in a timely manner so that we can scrutinise the Welsh Government and all elements of its performance. I welcome the moves to help children who are neurodivergent and suffering with mental health trauma. But I think it is disappointing that we don't see timescales or a road map for those improvements. I'd like to hear the Minister's views on those today. 

I want to draw attention to recommendation 21, which was accepted by the Government, which asks for Welsh Government civil servants and Ministers, when taking decisions on all Government business, to recommend how they will improve the mental health of the nation. As I said, I'm pleased that the Government took this up, because it is everybody's business across Government and in this Senedd to improve the mental health and well-being of the people in Wales, and it's very positive that the Government brought that forward. 

One of the things that was rejected by the Government was recommendation 16 on social prescribing. The Minister knows that this is something that's very important to me, and we've discussed this on a number of occasions—the key role that it can play in helping people to thrive and reducing their dependencies on medication where appropriate. I know that not all of the levers sit with you regarding this, but I'd like to hear more about what the Government is doing around social prescribing. 

Recommendation 26: working with police forces. That's also a very important recommendation, because all too often, our emergency services are picking up the pieces and dealing with acute mental health crises, at a time when our emergency services should be dealing with other issues. Our police and other emergency services are not social workers. So, any further work that the Government can do around working with the police is very welcome. 

The successor to the 'Together for Mental Health' strategy gives us a huge opportunity here in Wales to be bold and ambitious to start addressing some of the issues outlined in the report. And I think this report is a springboard to embed better practices across Government, and, as I said, embed some of the recommendations that have come forward in this report.

As the shadow Minister for mental health, I take my role extremely seriously in the Senedd. I have the platform and very privileged position to ask the Minister questions quite regularly and also to meet with her privately to discuss issues. So, I think it's very, very important that we also provide solutions to the problems that we face, because I want to see more accountability across Government portfolios and embed that whole-Government approach in designing policy to improve the mental health of the people of Wales. We need to be proactive and work on preventative measures where possible: better systems in our schools to support children and young people before they reach adulthood. Mental health services should be co-designed with the people who rely on the services at the core of everything they do. And that's why I'm very pleased about this report and the recommendations that it outlines. 

One of the things that I think we could do here in Wales to embed this report and make things better here in Wales is to implement and have an individual mental health Act specifically for Wales, making Welsh law in this area for Welsh people, moving away from the UK Mental Health Act 1983 and designing one for Wales, for Welsh people. And, at a minimum, I think we should be looking at the mental health Measure, and re-looking at that and setting new targets and standards on how we want to see mental health being improved here in Wales. My ex-colleague Jonathan Morgan brought that forward. It's outdated, it needs to be looked at again and made fit for purpose for the twenty-first century. 


I am finishing just now. So, I believe that this is a great report. It highlights a lot of important issues here that need to be addressed, and I think the people of Wales want to see action on this issue, Minister, and change cannot come soon enough. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.  

I'd like to start by thanking the committee for producing this report. I think it's a really important snapshot of where we are. We know that a substantial number of people in Wales experience mental health challenges. We know wider pressures, like the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic, had and are having a dreadful impact, but, as the report demonstrates, ingrained factors are also involved. So, it's vital that we have this discussion and work to ensure that the right support and services are in place.

Before I get on to the substance of the report, I just want to mention a few of the excellent groups in Cynon Valley who are working to make sure local people can get that support. Often, these are local people affected by some of the inequalities the report described. Signposted Cymru developed out of a community-based boot camp started by Darren Thomas during the pandemic. Those who have attended have been or were suffering from mental health issues, and the boot camp gave focus and goals. Since then, Signposted Cymru has become a self-sustaining charity, with a well-deserved reputation for developing and delivering community-based mental health and well-being services. They offer immediate intervention for individuals who are struggling, suffering and needing support. I know, with their Wales-wide remit, they would welcome the chance to engage with Senedd colleagues, and I look forward to my forthcoming visit to them with Lynne Neagle.

There's also Valleys Steps, who were founded as a well-being charity to help people take action to improve their mental health. Their focus is on everyday well-being, built on a passionate belief that everyone should have the opportunity to learn ways of managing the psychological difficulties that we can all face.

I also recently visited one of the support groups run by Mothers Matter. They offer prenatal and postnatal support for women and their families during pregnancies and after babies are born. There's also Friends R Us, a local support group for people affected by mental health challenges and their friends, family and carers. They offer the opportunity for people to meet, relax and socialise in a homely, happy atmosphere. I'm proud to serve as their president and to support them in their work.

To all these groups: thank you for all that you do.

Turning to the report before us today, I want to touch on three key recommendations. Recommendation 1 urges that effective action and a clear ambition to reduce mental health inequalities must be at the centre of Welsh Government’s approach. I'm glad that Ministers have accepted this recommendation. All the good work carried out by the groups I mentioned requires participation and frameworking from government. It's positive that this work is taking place. The programme for government, backed by £6.3 million of funding, prioritises service redesign to improve prevention, tackle stigma and promote a 'no wrong door' approach to mental health support. I'm also keenly following the progress of measures such as ‘111 press 2’ for instant mental health support.

Recommendation 14 talks about social prescribing. Another excellent Cynon Valley organisation doing exceptional work in this field is Cynon Valley Organic Adventures. Janis Werrett and her team have worked with Cardiff University to develop a green social prescribing model that saw them winning numerous awards, including the 2021 National Lottery Wales Project of the Year. They already have good buy-in from local primary healthcare services, but I would like to see this strengthened and deepened, and to see their success rolled out as a model in other parts of Wales.

And finally recommendation 24, which is all about collation and publishing of data. I think this is fundamentally important if we are to monitor and track progress to see if interventions are having the necessary impact. I was pleased to see the measures Welsh Government have taken in response to this. I look forward to the publication of this data in due course, so that we can follow progress and ensure good mental health, and good access to good mental health services, for all citizens in Wales.


Can I begin by thanking the committee for the opportunity to step in as a substitute for my good friend and colleague Jack Sargeant, who has demonstrated again today how trauma and mental ill health can affect every one of us at some point in life? 

I'd like to just focus on recommendation 21, if I may. It has already been raised by James Evans, and it has been accepted in principle by the Deputy Minister. Now, every one of us agrees that mental health needs to be a cross-Government priority, not just in aspiration, but in practice as well. And yes, recommendation 21 is about process, largely, but process counts—hugely so in combatting what is known as departmentalitis, which can materialise not just in Ministers, but also in civil servants. Implementing recommendation 21 would ensure portfolio boundaries don't get in the way, they don't hinder delivery and improvement. So, as a very minimum, I would urge the Welsh Government not just to accept in principle, but to accept fully, the implementation of recommendation 21 in regard to what are known as ministerial advice submissions—within Government, simply 'MAs'. These are vitally important submissions that require a decision from the appropriate Minister.

Mental health should be a consideration, in my view, in all ministerial advice submissions if we are to change the culture for the better within Government and ensure that mental health improvements, and tackling inequalities in terms of service provision, is truly cross-Government in its nature. This is a recommendation that comes with zero cost to the Welsh Government, which would, as I say, change the culture of the organisation for the better and most certainly help the Deputy Minister in her vital role within Government.

Finally, I'd like to thank, as many others have already done, all of those individuals and organisations that contributed so well to this inquiry. It's a hugely important report. The very many recommendations will, I hope, be considered further by the Welsh Government. Finally, I'd like to thank the Deputy Minister for her response, and I look forward to hearing her further thoughts and views today this afternoon during this debate.


Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I start by thanking the committee for their detailed work on this report? I know, from my own time as a committee Chair, how much work goes into producing a report of this nature. As Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Well-being, I am determined to do everything that I can to ensure that equity and access to, and outcomes from, mental health services are the very best that they can be.

I recognise that, despite improvements, there will be people who have not had the experience that we or they would want. Hearing from and working with people who have lived experience of our services is key to driving the improvement we need. I am very grateful to all those who engaged with the committee through their advisory panel.

As Members have said, from the 27 recommendations in the committee’s report, we accepted 17 in full and a further nine in principle. Now, I know, from my time as a committee Chair, that committees are often not fond of ‘accept in principle’ responses, and I understand that. But I will say—and I will try and pick up on some of those ‘accept in principles’ in my response—that, in every one where we've done that, it’s because work is already under way, or because we're unable to comply with the entire detail of the recommendation.

Let me also assure the committee and the advisory panel that we are fully committed to tackling inequalities in mental health. It is an area of focus in our current strategy, as I set out in some considerable detail when I came to the committee, talking about initiatives in employment, housing, tackling poverty et cetera, and it will be central to the development of our successor strategy in Wales.

To support this, we too are working closely with those people with lived experience of services, including our national service user and carer forum. We have also convened our ethnic minority task and finish group in the summer of 2021 to identify ways to better support access to mental health services amongst ethnic minority communities and to promote equity of access. This is one key reference group as we develop our new mental health strategy for Wales. I'm also in the process of establishing a young persons’ reference group for the new strategy.

I note the committee’s concerns about levels of detail within the response from the Government. I very much welcome the committee’s report, especially coming, as it did, at the start of our process to develop a new mental health strategy for Wales. But our strategy, I've been very clear, is going to be co-produced, in as transparent a way as possible, with people with lived experience and with stakeholders. It would have been quite wrong for me to have pre-empted that process, which is going to take several months, because it is going to be very thorough, by setting out in the response to the committee exactly what that strategy will look like.

One of the great strengths of committees has always been that they are evidence based. I know that the committee took a great deal of evidence on a range of issues, and I do feel that the committee has largely focused on the social determinants of mental health. The committee took very strong evidence on serious mental illness, where you heard that people living with a serious mental illness can often die 15 to 20 years sooner than people without a serious mental illness, yet there's been little reference to that in the committee's report. Multiple witnesses gave evidence about the inequalities facing children and young people, which is something that is very, very close to my heart and a top priority for me as Minister—again, very little reference to that in the report.

So, the social determinants of mental health will be a key part of our new strategy, but it will not be the only part, and I want to be really clear with Members about that today. We all have mental health, and, yes, people's mental health is affected by the social determinants of mental health and by trauma, but there are also many, many people who have had much easier lives, lived comfortable lives and who haven't experienced trauma who suffer with their mental health. And this Government will develop a strategy for all of those people.

And I just wanted to say a few words now, if it's okay, about the work of your advisory group, which I really, really welcome. I know how hard it is for people with lived experience to talk about that lived experience, especially when it has not been all that they expected it to be. So, I really appreciate the contribution that the advisory group has made. I want to say to the advisory group that I have read your report and listened carefully to what you were saying in that report. I'd also like to give you some assurances. So, just referring to your report, you've talked about the levers for tackling poverty, where you've said that, apart from the police, the majority of everything else has been devolved and, therefore, the reliance should not be on the UK Government to do anything. But that is not the case, and the committee is well aware of that. The main levers, the tax and benefits system, aren't devolved, and this Government has spent £1.6 billion on schemes that target the cost-of-living crisis and on programmes that put money back in people's pockets—a cost-of-living crisis, I might add, that has been made and sustained by the UK Government.

Jack, I did set out in some considerable detail when I came to the committee all the steps that have been taken to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. If we had done that again in our written response, it would have been like War and Peace. I'm sure, if you want to go back and have a look at the Record, you can see some of the detail that I set out.

I am very happy to meet the advisory group to discuss any of these issues. I know that they had concerns about how co-productive the work on neurodiversity was. I know that one of the questions asked was: does anyone with ND conditions sit on the neurodiversity advisory group for the Government, or is it just a bunch of suits? Well, I'm very pleased to assure the group that the group is co-chaired by people with lived experience of neurodivergence. And as Julie Morgan set out very clearly yesterday, co-production is written through that work that she is leading like it is through a stick of rock.

Can I just, finally, reassure the advisory group on the workforce plan, where you said that the workforce plan will probably cost 2p, that actually we're investing £6.3 million in the workforce plan? That is absolutely critical if we are to have a sustainable, inclusive and diverse workforce to deliver our new strategy for Wales.

I would very quickly like to just pick up on a few of the areas where Members have raised particular concerns. On the 'accept in principle' on the trauma framework, Sarah, you won't find anyone that's more passionate about trauma-informed services than me. Julie Morgan and I fully support the framework. We attended the launch, we wrote the foreword, we're meeting Traumatic Stress Wales and the ACEs hub shortly to discuss it, but it's not our framework, and it is important that that framework is co-produced by people in Wales, by Welsh society, that it's owned by everyone in Wales, so we are taking that co-productive approach to that.

Several Members have mentioned the directory, and our accept in principle on that. Just to say that we have got no problem with improving information that's available to the public, but there are already lots of things in place, and we want to refine and improve that before we go to the lengths of duplicating effort. And it is not the case that you need a GP referral to access lots of the services that are advertised online: things like SilverCloud are open access; '111 press 2' is open access.

Russell, and several Members, and Jane as well, have talked about community connection—


Okay. Well, I'll just conclude on this, then, and just say that I recognise the strong approach to relational approaches in the committee report, and that's what you were talking about, Jane; it's about having strong communities and keeping people connected. All our approaches in Welsh Government are already based on that: our NEST framework, our whole-school approach to mental health. Only before Easter, the Gwent attachment team came in and did training for Welsh Government on attachment and trauma principles. So, we aren't just talking the talk on this; we are walking the walk, as Welsh Government.

I'm going to conclude there, because I can see that I've run out of time. I'm very happy to have further discussions with the committee about the areas of concern they have, and to assure everyone that our strategy will be cross-Government; it will tackle mental health inequalities, but it will also make sure that everyone with a mental health need in Wales has access to the services that they need. Diolch.

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Can I thank the Members who took part in this debate today, and echo some of the other Members' comments to thank the committee service and the wider integrated team for their huge support in helping us prepare this report? And I thank everyone who shared their lived experience with us as a committee, especially those who took part in the online advisory group. We're very grateful for the huge input into our work from the advisory group.

To comment on some of the comments from this afternoon: Rhun shed some light on mental health in general, and reminded us how important it is to talk about mental health and to take action to improve prevention. He went on to emphasise trauma and the role of communities, the need to tackle the root causes, if we're to make a real difference. And, of course, Rhun also outlined his disappointment that we provided—we think we provided as a committee—ideas and solutions that we don't think were adequately taken up. I'm disappointed about the failure to provide timelines.

And the bit I wrote down of what Rhun said: Welsh Government shouldn't be accepting of scrutiny on its own terms. Sarah: thank you, Sarah, for your comments, Sarah Murphy, talking about the groundbreaking report. Yes, I will take an intervention.

I know it's a terrible thing to try and intervene, but one of the points that I didn't get a chance to refer to was the updates. We will provide an update by December 2023. The only reason we didn't commit to doing that annually is because what I'd like to do is align the reporting against the new strategy with the reports to the committee. So, there is absolutely no attempt to avoid scrutiny.

That's certainly on the record, and it sounds like you're open to giving annual reports, but in a particular mechanism and I can see, for the record, the Minister nodding. So, that's very much appreciated, because that was a concern of our committee and the online advisory group also, so I very much welcome that, Deputy Minister.

Sarah was also talking about the difficulties for people from ethnic minority backgrounds and communities. And Sarah was also talking about recommendation 10, which endorses the ESJ committee's recommendations in relation to a directory for interpreters as well. We heard that, didn't we, in our visits last year?

Thank you to Jane Dodds for taking part, talking about CAMHS and the need for investment and funds, community resilience, lack of sustainable long-term funding—also raised with us as well in our evidence sessions.

Thank you to Jack for taking part in this debate today and talking very honestly about the impact this inquiry had on you. So, thank you, Jack. Jack went on to talk about the need for services to be trauma informed, and kindness. He highlighted the role of the UK Government, surprised that the Government's response didn't focus more on what work the Welsh Government is doing in Wales. Jack finished by asking the Deputy Minister to reflect on the Government's response and what the Welsh Government is doing in Wales.

James, thank you for taking part in this debate. A lack of parity between mental health and physical health, the need to engage better with the Senedd, echoed the need for timescales and clear road maps, social prescribing—a really interesting part of our evidence sessions. They were really fascinating sessions we had in regard to social prescribing. Working with the police, and again that whole-Government approach, as James raised, and James outlined his view about the need for reform of mental health legislation in Wales.

I thank Vikki. Thank you for taking part in the debate. Again, we need to address the causes of poorer mental health and the role of community organisations.

Thank you to Ken Skates, who took part in this debate today, but also who was a temporary member of our committee during the course of this session. So, I thank you, Ken, for your input and your focus on recommendation 21—mental health must be a cross-Government priority—and a focus on combating that 'departmentitis', I think you referred to it as, in terms of improving those barriers and improving as well.

Deputy Minister, I know that you're really personally committed—I can see the time, the clock is just going—to your role, and to tackling mental health inequalities. I should say that we know mental health is devolved, and that's why our recommendation 3 talked about research into the potential impact of devolving that area. But I think the online advisory group will be very happy that you've agreed to meet with them, and you indicated your support and willingness to meet with us as well, so as a committee I'll make sure we reach out and arrange that. It would be helpful to have that informal session, so we can explore some further possibilities. Thank you, Deputy Minister, for that.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Deputy Presiding Officer, to those who have taken part in the debate this afternoon.


The proposal is to note the committee's report. Does any Member object? I don't hear an objection, and therefore the motion is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Motion agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

6. Debate on the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee Report—'Decarbonising the private housing sector'

Item 6 this afternoon is the debate on the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee's report on 'Decarbonising the private housing sector'. I call on the Chair of the committee to move the motion, Llyr Gruffydd.

Motion NDM8248 Llyr Gruffydd

To propose that the Senedd:

Notes the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee report: ‘Decarbonising the private housing sector’, laid on 28 February 2023.

Motion moved.

Thank you very much, Dirprwy Lywydd. Thank you for the opportunity to open the debate on this important report. Wales has 1.4 million homes and they account for 11 per cent of our overall carbon emissions. Now, 1.1 million of those homes are privately owned, so it's quite clear that if Wales wants to reach its statutory carbon emission reduction targets then these homes will need to be retrofitted to improve energy efficiency and to enable the switch to low-carbon heating. Of course, this was forefront in the minds of committee members as we held our inquiry to consider how the Welsh Government is helping to decarbonise the private housing sector, and as we look at the progress made to date.

Our report, which was published at the end of February, makes 29 recommendations, and the Welsh Government has accepted 17 of these and 12 have been accepted in principle. While we're grateful for the Minister's response, we are disappointed that it's too often non-committal, that it fails to directly address the recommendations, far too often, or simply rehashes rhetoric about how difficult all of this is, and I will be commenting on this as I mention some of our key recommendations.

Now, the Welsh Government's efforts to date to decarbonise the existing housing stock have focused almost exclusively on social homes, through the optimised retrofit programme. There is deep concern among housing professionals, and others, that the private housing sector is being overlooked and left behind. As the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru so neatly put it, the private housing sector is the elephant in the room when it comes to decarbonisation. The Minister has repeatedly told us that the social housing sector is further forward on its journey towards decarbonising, with the Welsh Government choosing to prioritise investment in social homes because that's where it has the most powers and most levers. We're not disputing that, of course. Rather, what we're saying as a committee is that there are actions that can and should be taken by Government in parallel to prepare the private housing sector to decarbonise.


The Llywydd took the Chair.

Now, first of all, on the matter of a strategy, while stakeholders acknowledged the commitments made in 'Net Zero Wales', they called for a comprehensive, long-term strategy or plan for decarbonising the sector, not least to send a clear signal to consumers and the industry about the direction of travel, and also to help drive market behaviour. Having heard from the Minister, I have to say we're no clearer about whether the Welsh Government intends to publish such a strategy. The purpose of recommendation 2 was to try and get a definitive answer, and that answer it seems is 'no'. According to the Minister, 'Net Zero Wales' tells us as much as we need to know. Well, I’m afraid the overwhelming majority of stakeholders simply don't agree. And while the Welsh Government remains resistant to calls for a long-term strategy, it has committed, of course, to developing a residential housing decarbonisation route-map. Now, we're told this will,

'give direction and drive progress towards decarbonising Wales existing homes.'

In accepting recommendation 4, the Minister has agreed to report back to us on progress towards developing the route-map. We welcome this, clearly, but I'd like to press the Minister further on when the route-map is likely to be published. Are we looking at a year? Eighteen months? Maybe two years even? Clearly, it's needed sooner rather than later.

The Minister has accepted in principle our recommendation for the route-map to include key policy milestones and interim targets for the sector to help drive progress. Well, Minister, it's a simple question, I suppose: you're either prepared to include milestones and targets in your route-map or you're not. So, I'm not sure what 'accept in principle' means in this context, so we'd like maybe some assurance on that point as well. 

Moving on to learning from the optimised retrofit programme. From what we know of the programme, it is, in many respects, exemplary and has the potential to help support other tenures to decarbonise. However, over a year ago, the Minister told the committee the programme will,

'provide the springboard to rapidly start the decarbonising of homes in other tenures by 2023.'

Well, here we are, over four months into 2023, and we've seen no evidence of this. The Minister's response to recommendation 6 sounds very familiar, telling us again that the programme will,

'provide the springboard to start the decarbonisation of homes in other tenures as we move forward.'

Well, Minister, one thing is clear from that response: very little progress has been made. 

As part of our inquiry, we looked at existing support for energy efficiency improvements, including the Warm Homes programme. Members will be familiar, I'm sure, with the Equality and Social Justice Committee's report on the programme, which was published in July of last year. Since September, we've been waiting patiently for the Welsh Government to publish details on the next iteration of the programme. In responding to our report, the Minister told us this would be done shortly after the end of March. Well, it's May, still there's nothing. The delay in publication has gone, I have to say, from being mildly frustrating to deeply concerning. And you were asked about this earlier in questions this afternoon, but merely said that an announcement would be made shortly. So, maybe, in responding to the debate, I'll try again and ask you: how much longer do we have to wait?

Our report points to a combination of regulatory standards and incentives being needed to accelerate retrofit in the private housing sector. I don't want to take up time talking about regulatory standards, as these are outside of the control of the Welsh Government. That said, I'd like to thank the Minister for her comprehensive response to recommendations 15 through to 18 in our report, which relate to future standards and enforcement.

On incentivising retrofit, it's safe to say that, to date, policies and programmes designed to incentivise retrofit have failed to deliver at scale and pace. This has led to growing support for a tax-based incentive to stimulate demand for retrofit, with many experts heralding an energy-adjusted land transaction tax as a potential game changer. The Welsh Government previously ruled out a tax-based incentive, favouring more targeted grants and improved Government communication to encourage take-up of energy efficiency improvements. But the consensus outside of Government is that this approach isn't working. Our report calls for the Welsh Government to reconsider its position, therefore. Although the Minister has accepted in principle our recommendation, the response strongly suggests that a tax-based incentive is off the table, which is disappointing. According to the Minister, other types of, and I quote,

'more direct financial levers or incentives may be preferable.'

That obviously therefore begs the question, 'What are they?' What kind of things are we talking about and when will they potentially be introduced?

Finally, and crucially, our report considers financial solutions for those able to pay, recognising, of course, that public finances won't stretch to meet the cost of retrofitting all of Wales's homes. With grant funding mainly targeted at low-income, fuel-poor households, a significant number of property owners will need to find other ways to fund retrofit, and with cost estimates of between £17,000 and up to over £66,000, this obviously will be easier said than done, particularly given the lack of financial solutions currently on offer. Although work to evaluate financing options for the sector may be under way in Wales, the Welsh Government needs to step up the pace to ensure that retrofit is affordable for the many, not the few, as somebody once said.

Property-linked finance enables retrofit to be funded by attaching debt to the property rather than to the individual. It's well established in parts of the US and will soon be piloted in England as well. Calls for a property-linked finance model for Wales are growing, with the New Economics Foundation, the future generations commissioner and the Chartered Institute of Housing amongst its supporters. So, we recommend the Welsh Government bring forward fully worked-up proposals for financial solutions, including property-linked finance, within the next 12 months. Although the Minister has accepted the recommendation, there is no particular mention of property-linked finance in her response, so maybe, Minister, you could explain where you are in looking at this and developing such a model for Wales when you respond to the debate.

To sum up, there's a sense that the Welsh Government is kicking some of the tough decisions down the road when it comes to decarbonising the private housing sector. In the committee's view, it can't afford to do that. No matter how often the Welsh Government reminds us of the challenges and complexities involved in decarbonising the sector, the fact remains: it needs to be done, and we don't have much time left to do that work.

We must see demonstrable progress in the coming months and years. The route-map that I mentioned earlier needs to be put in place and to be delivered; we need credible policies to incentivise retrofit that meet the needs of Wales; we need a range of affordable funding options to make retrofit a reality for all, to name but a few of the things that the Government needs to do.

We as a committee, of course, look forward to following the progress of this work between now and the end of the sixth Senedd, and hopefully our report and this debate, indeed, will be a further incentive to see progress—the progress that we all want to see in this area.