Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd

Plenary - Fifth Senedd


The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

1. 1. Questions to the First Minister

[R] signifies the Member has declared an interest. [W] signifies that the question was tabled in Welsh.

The first item on the agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question, Vikki Howells.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

1. How is the Welsh Government supporting people who have been affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? OAQ(5)0263(FM)

Our approach to respiratory health is set out in the national delivery plan, and is being led by the respiratory health implementation group.

Thank you, First Minister. I recently met with the British Lung Foundation to discuss access to pulmonary rehabilitation services for the 2,000 people in my constituency living with COPD. While those in the north Cynon GP cluster are transported to Merthyr with relative ease, those in the south can face difficulties, having to travel to Tonypandy, often over two mountains, for their pulmonary rehabilitation. Ahead of tomorrow’s World COPD Day, what can the Welsh Government do to improve access to this cost-effective treatment in the Cynon valley?

Well, we do recognise that there are areas where access is difficult, and it’s why we’re improving access to validated exercise programmes as part of the respiratory disease implementation group’s priority areas. The group is creating an all-Wales data set, to better understand provision and uptake, in order to make sure that the reach is as deep as possible, in order for the programmes to be delivered properly. So, access is an issue that is being considered at this moment in time.

The national exercise referral scheme can help with the rehabilitation of people with COPD, as well as, of course, people with other health issues. The scheme is funded by Welsh Government but, nevertheless, local authorities in South Wales West charge for the service. Access to the scheme is through GP referral and, bearing in mind that, obviously, your Government supports free prescriptions, why is this, which is effectively exercise on prescription, any different?

Well, if somebody receives a prescription, of course, then the approach can be different. But we want to make sure that there is a fair balance between what an individual is expected to contribute and what is available to that individual. And we see that there are good results. For example, there’s been a decline in the overall rate of people dying from a respiratory health condition by 10 per cent, as well as an 11.1 per cent decline in the number of emergency admissions related to respiratory conditions between 2013 and 2014.

The President-elect of the United States of America

2. What discussions has the First Minister had about welcoming the President-elect of the United States of America to Wales? OAQ(5)0266(FM)

I thank you for your concise answer, First Minister. Now, I understand that arrangements about the new President—the President-elect—visiting Wales are in the future, but, in terms of trade, I wonder whether you would acknowledge that we now have a future President who is in favour of, and he’s vocally enthused about, striking a trade deal with the UK, and this may lead to a better prospect—[Interruption.] It may lead, despite the naysayers, it may lead to better prospects for a post-Brexit Wales—[Interruption].

Thank you, Llywydd, for telling them off. First Minister, are you enthusiastic, as I am, about the future prospects for a post-Brexit Wales with President Trump?

Well, I remain to be convinced. And the reason why I say that is that Donald Trump was elected on the basis of putting America first. On that basis, I don’t see that free trade agreements are going to be high up in his agenda. He has said that he wants to unravel global trading arrangements. So, we will have to wait and see. I mean, clearly, there’s work to be done in order to make sure that the UK is in as strong a position as possible post Brexit, but I see no evidence yet to suggest that America will become an exponent of free trade agreements that are balanced and not wholly in favour of one side rather than the other.

In Islwyn, we celebrate the historic USA-Wales special relationship with great pride, in General Dynamics, with their base in Oakdale. And, at the important recent summit, those close ties between Wales and the USA were reaffirmed, with the Ministry of Defence signing a £3.5 billion deal, to order 589 SCOUT specialist vehicles. That deal ensured that the 200 employees employed by General Dynamics in Oakdale will have guaranteed work for the next decade. So, will the First Minister outline what plans he has to build on his very successful trip to the USA in September of this year and ensure more American companies want to invest in Wales and our wonderful workforce?

Yes, the message has been that Wales is open for business, and we carried that message to America. The US is a hugely important investor in the Welsh economy. There are two questions that are still posed by US investors: firstly, will they be able to access the large European market if they are based in the UK on the same terms as now? That’s not yet been answered. Secondly, will the regulatory regime be different in the UK compared to the EU? That’s a question that troubles them. So, we need to see answers to those questions as quickly as possible in order to make sure that the flow of investment continues.

First Minister, I think it would be funny if it wasn’t so serious that UKIP is rushing to welcome the President-elect to Wales without actually discussing the fact that this candidate, President to be, has been espousing misogyny, sexism and homophobia to the rest of the world, and we should be very, very concerned about this. I wonder, in the whole debate around Brexit, the United States and the current discussion around politics, how you will be working to restore faith in politics so that we can try to see through the darkness of some of these discussions. I was at an Asylum Justice meal last night trying to support those who need our help, as opposed to building barriers against supporting them. How can we, as a nation, support those very people who need our support when we have such leaders as Trump in this world?

Real leaders build bridges, not walls—that’s the one thing we have to remember. Humanity does not prosper when countries try to cut themselves off from each other. That leads to conflict, and we see from history where that leads. The President-elect will have a huge task on his hands to unite his very divided country—there’s no question about that. We’ve seen in the past week that America is far from being a country at ease with itself, and he will have a significant task to do in order to move forward towards a more united country. He will clearly have to tone down, at the very least, some of the remarks that he made during his election campaign. There are signs that that might be happening, but we wait to see what happens when he is inaugurated in January.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Diolch, Lywydd. First Minister, do you agree that cuts to disability benefits and changes to assessments brought in by Westminster Governments have gone too far and are now harming people who are in genuine need?

There’s no question at all in my mind that what’s been done by the UK Government with regard to benefits has targeted the most vulnerable. The bedroom tax is one example of that, and she has mentioned another example there. From my perspective, society is judged according to how well it looks after its most vulnerable, not by targeting its most vulnerable.

Thank you, First Minister. The Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is resonating with people everywhere. I’m sure you’ll be aware that that film explores hardship, the root causes of hardship and how the system seems to be rigged against those people who are most in need of help. A major part of the hardship experienced by disabled people has come down to flaws in the way in which assessments are carried out. Will the First Minister accept that general practitioners and doctors should be the people making assessments of disability, and that there should be no barriers for disabled people to getting the support that they deserve?

I could not disagree with either of those comments that she’s made. GPs are perfectly well qualified to make an assessment as to whether somebody should qualify for a particular benefit or not. Similarly, of course, I do worry about the fact that those people who are having to go through a number of obstacles in order to claim a benefit are being dissuaded from doing so, and that means greater hardship for them. There are some who may not even want to go through that process in the first place, despite the fact that they may be entitled to benefits. That is where we are, unfortunately, at the moment as a society, where those people who most people would accept need help from the state are being dissuaded from getting that help.

I share your concerns, First Minister, and I’m glad that you agree with my position. I’ll give you an opportunity to demonstrate how much you agree. I’ve got a constituent who is claiming employment support allowance and wishes to claim a disability grant in order to enter education. Her GP is demanding that she pays a charge of £95 for completing the forms. Without those forms, she won’t get the grant and, therefore, won’t be able to study. I’ve had it confirmed that students may have to pay to get disabled students grants, and that GPs may charge for this work, which the British Medical Association guidance suggests could be a charge of £90 for 20 minutes’ work. That’s what they say is appropriate, and that is more than you are earning as First Minister. Do you think it’s appropriate that the NHS that you’ve been running for 17 years is putting substantial financial barriers in the way of disabled people trying to improve their lives? And will you commit to getting rid of these charges as soon as is possible?

Well, this is the difficulty with the independent contractor model: GPs do charge for services that go beyond the contract, which is why, of course, as Members have heard me say in this Chamber before, there are other models that we need to consider in the future. She has raised an important point on behalf of her constituent. If she writes to me with more details about the case she has raised, I will, of course, write back to her with a personal response.

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. First Minister, the Government announced last week that an extra £50 million was to be made available for winter pressures—something we hope will actually alleviate some of the pressures that the acute or primary sectors faced this summer, so that people don’t have the waits they’ve historically had to endure. One of the things that people do dread undertaking these days is ringing their local GP surgery to try to get an appointment, especially an appointment on that particular day, because obviously the demand is so great. Can you tell me exactly how that £50 million or what part of that £50 million will go into general practice to alleviate the pressures that general practice in particular is facing in accommodating the extra demand that it is facing?

Well, GP surgeries organise themselves in different ways. Some do offer appointments on that day, and I’ve seen them. Others, for reasons that they have to explain, will wait for a week or two, or sometimes even longer. That’s not acceptable for the people who they serve, but the money for winter pressures is designed, of course, to ensure that the health service is able to deal with any pressures that may arise as a result of colder weather, where people come in with respiratory conditions, for example. We know that if they’re admitted to accident and emergency departments with respiratory conditions, they tend to be admitted and wait longer in hospital. And we know that the health boards, as they have done in years gone by, are planning for winter pressures, and the money will be available in order for them to be able to meet those pressures.

It wasn’t a trick question, First Minister; I genuinely do want to see this money used to help people get the appointments they require. Forty per cent of people do say that they have problems in getting an appointment on the day that they ring their surgeries up, whatever part of Wales they live in. So, I’d be really grateful if you could say exactly how the improvements can be brought forward in general practice, with this additional money—the £50 million that will go into the acute and the primary sector—to alleviate some of those pressures, but, importantly, how, over the lifetime of this Assembly, with the budget that you have, you will increase the availability of services within the primary sector and get more GPs into surgeries, wherever they may choose to operate in Wales, because that clearly isn’t happening at the moment.

It’s not just about GPs; it’s about all the services that the health service offers. For example, people can be diverted away from needing to go into hospital if they get support at home through social services, which is why, of course, we’ve made sure that the social services budget has not been cut to the extent that it has been elsewhere. We’ve ensured, of course, that where GP practices no longer exist, that the health board takes those practices over and they offer a better service, actually—they offer a better and more holistic service than what has gone on before, as the people of Prestatyn will explain. But, of course, we know that there’ll be many people who have to be admitted to hospital, and it’s hugely important that that money is available for the hospitals to deal with any extra increases in A&E admissions.

First Minister, we’ve actually seen the money going into general practice declining over the last four years—a £20 million decline over the last four years. That’s why the Royal College of General Practitioners have a campaign at the moment to increase the overall take of the NHS budget going into general practice up to 11 per cent of the budget by 2020. Can you commit to meeting that aspiration from the royal college and, indeed, will you commit to there being more general practitioners in Wales at the end of this Assembly term than there are at the moment? We understand these things do take time, but you have now four-and-a-half years left of the mandate where you can make those changes, you can make those investments that the royal college are talking about, and you can start to recruit the extra staff that are required to create that doorway into the NHS, given that the first point of contact for most people—90 per cent of people—is their general practice.

Well, the royal college of GPs look at it purely in terms of the number of GPs. That’s not sufficient. We have to look at other professionals, such as occupational therapists, such as community nurses. What we don’t want is for people simply to feel that they go and see their GP as the first port of call. That would go against what Choose Well has been saying. We ask people to go to see a pharmacist first, in many GP practices to see the nurse available at the practice, and then see the GP. What I wouldn’t want to do is be in a position where people think that they can avoid seeing a nurse or a pharmacist and go to a GP with a condition that could easily have been dealt with elsewhere. Yes, of course, we want to see sufficient numbers of GPs in Wales, but we also have to make sure there are other alternatives to seeing a GP in order to help take the pressure off GPs.

Diolch, Lywydd. Further to the question from Gareth Bennett earlier on about President-elect Trump, will the First Minister acknowledge the vital importance to Wales of trade with the United States? Twenty-two per cent of our exports go to the United States. That amounts to nearly £3 billion a year. It’s the biggest single national destination for our exports, compared with Germany, for example, were we export about £1 billion—that’s a third in comparison. Therefore, whatever we may think about the individual who is about to become President of the United States, it’s vitally important for the Welsh Government to get on with the United States administration and to encourage them to invest in Wales and to trade with us as much as possible.

Well, it’s right to say that the US is a major market for us. The EU is twice as big as a market and in the same way as he’s right that we have to make sure that we continue to attract investment from the US and export to the US, we also have to make absolutely sure that we’re able to access the European single market on the same terms as now. Why would we want to jeopardise our position in the biggest single market that we have?

Well, nobody wants to do that, of course, and almost everybody in Britain at any rate wants to continue to trade with the EU on the same basis as we trade now, with tariff-free access. The danger with the EU is that the European Commission and protectionist forces inside the EU will want to put up trade barriers against us, which will be cutting off their nose to spite their face because they have a massive trade surplus with us. But as regards the United States, I want to return to this point because that was the point of my question, what is the Welsh Government going to do regardless of the domestic policies of President-elect Trump to encourage the United States Government to build upon the natural inclination to be friendly to Britain and to encourage trade between us? President Trump has business interests in the United Kingdom. He is, as we know from what he has said, prepared to put Britain at the front of the queue in negotiations for a free trade agreement. What is the Welsh Government going to do to encourage that process forward?

Well, he has said that he’ll put America first and any agreement with the UK will put America first and that’s what we must guard against in that respect. We will continue, as we have before, with our offices in the US, working with US companies and seeking to attract investment from the US. That will not change. Why would it change? I’m surprised when he said that nobody is advocating tariffs because I have heard people talking about tariffs. I heard David Davis talk about tariffs. I’ve heard Liam Fox talk about tariffs as if tariffs are unimportant. Why would we want to make it worse for us to access our biggest single market? That’s completely senseless. In the same way, regardless of the political situation in the US, we will continue to work with US companies, to attract investment from the US and promote Welsh produce in US markets. That won’t change.

Will the First Minister acknowledge that perhaps UKIP can assist in this process? He will no doubt have seen the charming photograph that appeared very recently of the interim leader of UKIP with the President-elect of the United States, and whatever he and I may think about both those individuals, nevertheless, insofar as we do have personal contacts that can be used for the benefit of Wales, then they ought to be used. In the ‘Taking Wales Forward’ document, which was issued by the Government not so long ago, it says:

‘Ours will be an open government, receptive to new ideas and willing to work with others.’

Is the First Minister willing to work with UKIP in the interests of Wales?

The only thing that Nigel Farage has run is away. He’s never run anything. He is an individual who has no experience in terms of running anything or in terms of diplomacy. The idea of Nigel Farage being a diplomat is the equivalent of giving a child a chainsaw it would seem to me. Yes, I did see the photographs of Nigel Farage, but without his poppy, on Remembrance Day—a point I made yesterday—even though Arron Banks, the money man, did have a poppy on. It’s one thing for UKIP to say how important it is to remember—and they’re correct in that sense. It’s one thing for Nigel Farage to say that he wants to be at the Cenotaph and that is a point that he is able to make. But, he was not at a remembrance parade yesterday, he was not even wearing a poppy. If Mark Reckless had done that, he’d have been criticised. If Neil Hamilton had done that, he’d have been criticised. If any one of us in this Chamber had done that, then we would have been criticised, but the great Nigel is beyond criticism. Well, I’m afraid yesterday he was hoist by his own petard. Somebody who lacks the wit to be photographed on Remembrance Sunday at an event, grinning, without a poppy, does not deserve to be given any kind of diplomatic role.

Improving Public Health

3. How does the Welsh Government monitor the effectiveness of its strategies to improve public health in Wales? OAQ(5)0259(FM)

We’re committed to using a range of evaluation mechanisms to ensure that our approach has a positive impact on people’s lives in Wales.

Thank you very much, First Minister. The Welsh Government figure reveals that more than 60,000 people attended drug and alcohol treatment services between January and March this year, and only 13 per cent successfully completed the treatment. It means that 87 per cent of people never completed the treatment. What plans does the Welsh Government have to review the effectiveness of drug and alcohol treatment services in Wales, which are clearly failing to help the majority of those who need them here?

We know that when it comes to drug rehabilitation, it is a long road for many, many people. For some, they don’t manage at the first opportunity to kick the habit. We know that for many it is a process that takes some time. If we look at our substance misuse strategy, the review of that concluded that the main elements of the strategy had been implemented. It did identify a number of areas where additional work would deliver greater benefits, and actions were built into the 2013-15 substance misuse delivery plan in order to take those recommendations forward.

First Minister, your preventative agenda is important to ensure the good public health of people in Wales. Vaccinations are part of that preventative agenda, and particularly in this case, flu vaccinations. We have seen improvements in take-up, but there is still a challenge to NHS front-line staff. What’s the Welsh Government doing to ensure that NHS front-line staff increase the number who take up flu vaccinations to ensure that they can deliver?

I know that GP surgeries in particular have been particularly proactive in ensuring that people are aware of flu vaccinations, and are aware particularly of flu vaccinations that are available without charge to vulnerable groups. And that has proven to be successful over the last few years, and I thank GP surgeries—and pharmacists, for that matter—for the work that they’ve done.

First Minister, you will naturally be aware that smoking rates have declined over the years, partly of course because legislation has been put in place because the number that smoked was still stubbornly high until we had that ban on smoking in public buildings. In the same period, in the last decade, the rates of obesity have increased rather than fallen. Would you agree that legislative measures such as a sugar tax and a minimum price per unit of alcohol could also have a place in all of this obesity agenda? Would you agree that those two steps would strengthen any public health Bill in Wales?

Yes, I would. As regards alcohol, we welcome the fact that the Scottish courts have granted the will of the Scottish Executive, and that’s something that we are now studying in Wales. But, of course, the problem at the present time is the UK Government’s plan to shift this matter from Cardiff to London, and therefore the National Assembly’s powers as regards drafting legislation on this would be curtailed. So, that’s not to be welcomed.

First Minister, the Public Health (Wales) Bill was introduced into the National Assembly on 7 November. If passed, the Bill will, amongst other things, create a national register of retailers of tobacco and nicotine products, create a licensing scheme for special procedures such as acupuncture, body piercing, electrolysis and tattooing, and it will require public bodies to carry out health impact assessments in specified circumstances, as well as requiring local authorities to prepare a local strategy for toilet facilities for public use. So, the Welsh Government is seeking to enact laws that have, at their heart, measures to systemically monitor activities on the ground. What advice would the First Minister offer Members such as the Member for South Wales East opposite, when they come to vote on the Public Health (Wales) Bill, if they wish the Welsh Government to monitor the effectiveness of strategies we pass in law in this place?

I take it the Member refers to the Member who asked the question originally.

Well, it’s hugely important, of course, that Members understand that the public health Bill is part of an overall strategy to improve health and well-being; they’re not standalone measures. The intention is, of course, for us to present a Bill that is as comprehensive as it can be whilst remembering, of course, the difficulties that were experienced and the strongly held views of some Members in relation to bits of the previous Bill. And we know, of course, the history of that.

The World Expo

4. Will the First Minister make a statement on whether or not the Welsh Government will explore the potential benefit to Wales of a Welsh bid to host the world expo in 2027/28? OAQ(5)0264(FM)

We are currently reviewing the scope for attracting major international business events to Wales and, of course, any decision to bid for such an event would need to take detailed account of the costs and the return on that investment.

Of course, the UK Government has stated that they would support a British bid to stage the Expo for the first time in over 150 years. Manchester has already stated that they intend to submit an application for the main Expo in 2025, with a target of 28 million visitors. That’s almost three times the number that attended the Olympic Games. Considering the benefits, shouldn’t Wales also be submitting a bid?

Well, at present, we must first of all consider the cost for us, and, secondly, the location. Where would you locate the Expo? These are issues that we are currently considering. We know that the cost of the Expo is in excess of £1 billion, so it is a significantly expensive event, but we will consider what might be possible.

First Minister, an Expo in Wales would have to build, of course, upon our business community’s success. We know that there’s a clear gap in young people’s business skills. The UK Government has announced that the apprenticeship levy is to be apportioned to devolved institutions. Will you commit to ring-fencing funding, so that Welsh businesses will be able to benefit from the apprenticeship levy?

Of course, we wait to see what the figure—. Well, we have an idea what the figure will be and we wait to see how that figure will be distributed, bearing in mind, of course, that of the figure of about £130 million, £30 million has already been paid by the Welsh public sector. So, it’s money being returned, in effect, to the Welsh public sector, and we will look to use that money, as we have always done, to ensure that we can create as many effective apprenticeships as possible.

NHS Treatment in North Wales

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on access to NHS treatment in north Wales? OAQ(5)0256(FM)

Yes. We expect the health board to continually improve access to services for the people of the north.

First Minister, like me, I’m sure you were very disappointed and horrified to read of the ombudsman’s case last week in terms of Mr Eifion Wyn Jones, who waited 132 days for prostate cancer treatment. This week, there’s been another case reported in the ‘Daily Post’ of a gentleman from Prestatyn, Mr Ian Taylor, who waited over three months for his treatment. I’m currently working on a case where a gentleman waited over six months for treatment to start. This is in spite of your Government having a very clear target that people should start their treatment, if they’re diagnosed with cancer, within 31 days. What action are you taking, given that the Welsh Government has put this organisation—the Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board—into special measures, to make sure that your target is met for the people of north Wales, so that they can have access to the treatment they need?

Betsi Cadwaladr, over the last 12 months, has been one of the best performing health boards against both cancer pathways, with performance against the 62-day pathway normally around 90 per cent and 98 per cent for the 31-day pathway. So, the experience of his constituents—I’ve no reason to doubt them—are not usual, but if he wishes to write to me with the details, I will, of course, investigate.

I’ve spoken in this Chamber on a number of occasions about the importance of diagnostic tests. It’s been drawn to my attention by GPs in my constituency that waiting times for endoscopy tests have reached worrying levels over the past few months, with talk of patients having to wait a year and seven months having got to the top of the list. Would the First Minister give a commitment to look at what is happening in terms of endoscopy tests in north-west Wales, to ensure that patients do get appropriate and timely tests and care—tests that can, of course, save lives?

Of course, I will look into that and I will write back to the Member with a response.

Since Flint hospital closed, step-down care from Glan Clwyd Hospital to Holywell for Flint patients isn’t working, and there are now excessive waiting times for hospital beds. Why are you reducing local bed availability when we have a shortage of beds, for example, by closing Flint hospital? And, by the way, there was a referendum in Flint that found that the majority of people in Flint wanted their hospital back, so when are we going to get our hospital back in Flint, please?

I’m confident that the service the people of Flint will get when the new health centre is open will be far, far better than what the hospital was able to provide. We have seen this before in different parts of Wales, where people naturally feel concerned when a hospital is lost. But when they see what comes instead, and the facilities that are available, that tends to provide them with reassurance.

Prison Violence and Suicide

6. What assessment has the First Minister made regarding the call for an independent inquiry into prison violence and suicide? OAQ(5)0260(FM)

Prisons aren’t devolved, and any call for an independent inquiry is a matter for the UK Government, but there clearly are problems within the prison system that the UK Government needs to tackle.

I thank you for that, and I’m sure you are aware, First Minister, that a prison safety and reform White Paper from the Department of Justice was released at the beginning of this month. We cannot divorce the Conservative Government budget cuts in recent years from the reduction in prison staff that has had disastrous consequences for both prisoners and the staff. The Westminster Government has now budgeted an additional £104 million to help recruit 2,500 new prison staff, and some prison reform, and I hope in a way that that will help. But my question is: what representation has the Welsh Government made to the Westminster Government in terms of our Barnett consequential and how that might help us here in Wales in picking up the pieces of their mess?

They have the responsibility to pick up the pieces of their mess, primarily. The reduction by 25 per cent of front-line prison officers means that those that remain are overstretched, overwhelmed, and without support, and both prisoners and staff are being left in a vulnerable position. I was the local councillor when the Parc prison was built in my council ward, and the major problem the prison had was that it was understaffed, and the staff were undertrained. There were riots there on a regular basis, while staff from Swansea and Cardiff had to come in to assist the situation. One gentleman managed to escape by hanging on to the underneath of a lorry and he was never found. All those first years of the Parc prison’s operation were shambolic because of the fact that it was all being done on the cheap. Now, of course, it’s in a far better position, but it does show that, if the UK Government isn’t willing to invest in prison officers, then the result is chaos and vulnerable prisoners and vulnerable prison officers. They need to re-examine their plans.

The prison system’s in crisis and thousands of prison officers are protesting at their dangerous working conditions. At what point will the First Minister deem it essential for Welsh prisons and the well-being of Welsh prisoners and prison staff to come under the jurisdiction of the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly?

An interesting point, but it’s not quite as easy as that, because we don’t have a self-contained prison estate. For example, you’d still to need to buy in, as it were, prison places in England, at a price that England wanted to charge—we’d have no particular control over that. We lack certain high-security prisons as well, so all this has to be examined to make sure that we don’t end up with control over prisons, which in principle, actually, I’ve got no objection to, but end up with a financial deal that’s far, far worse. Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, we’ve never had that self-contained prison system. It is something, of course, that we’ll have to consider when we look at the devolution of prisons.

Awareness of Pancreatic Cancer

7. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to promote awareness of pancreatic cancer in Wales? OAQ(5)0262(FM)

The refreshed cancer delivery plan for Wales, launched today, continues to include a commitment to deliver a programme of awareness campaigns for cancer, including pancreatic cancer.

Thank you, First Minister. Today, I was very proud to once again host an event to mark pancreatic cancer awareness month here in the Senedd. Last year, when I asked you about this, I pressed you on the need to raise awareness. This year, Pancreatic Cancer UK have undertaken research that shows that three quarters of the public in the UK cannot name a single symptom of pancreatic cancer. Would you agree with me that we do now need a step change in this area and will you agree to look at what more we can do to ensure that the public knows what to look for, so that they do go to the doctor’s quickly and give themselves a better chance of survival against what is a very aggressive and difficult cancer to treat?

Hugely difficult: I’ve seen it in more than one individual in my family, and, once it’s diagnosed, it’s hopeless. That’s the usual way with pancreatic cancer at the moment—a 4 per cent survival rate. The difficulty is, of course, that the symptoms are quite general and non-specific, and can be symptoms of any number of conditions. That said, the cancer delivery plan does include the commitment to regular national awareness campaigns. Given the fact that pancreatic cancer is, it seems to me, not hugely unusual as a form of cancer, and given its deadly nature, we do need to work with the medical profession in order to assist not just patients, but GPs as well, in terms of them being able to identify the cancer as quickly as possible, difficult though that is.

First Minister, I’m sure you are aware that there’s been no progress in survival rates for pancreatic cancer during the last 40 years, despite the extraordinary leaps and bounds we’ve made in many other medicines and with many other conditions. Now, there’s currently a research project collating samples from six hospitals across England and Wales, including Swansea’s Singleton, and it’s being undertaken to form a bank of tissue that will help scientists to study genetic changes in the cancerous cells. The aim will be to help detect cases more quickly, because, as we’ve just discussed, once you’ve been detected, it’s usually a bit too late. First Minister, would you take a look at this project and see if there’s any assistance that your Government could provide to support this project, either through our research facilities or in terms of funding to try to move this agenda forward?

I can say to the Member that we are currently funding research trials for pancreatic cancer through Health and Care Research Wales. That’s in collaboration with Cancer Research UK. Researchers in Wales are also part of the European study group for pancreatic cancer trials. That includes population-based studies of genetic predispositions to pancreatic cancer. So, yes, some work is already being funded by ourselves as a Government. She’s right to point out that survival rates have not budged in a long time, so, finding ways where early diagnosis can be improved will be absolutely crucial to increasing five-year survival rates in the future.

Closing the Pay Gap between Women and Men

8. What plans does the First Minister have to close the pay gap between women and men in Wales? OAQ(5)0270(FM)

There is still a long way to go before we close the pay gap. It remains a priority. We do continue to tackle the underlying issues that create gender pay inequality, and those plans are to be found in our Welsh-specific equality duties and our strategic equality plan objectives.

I thank the First Minister for that response. Figures released from the Fawcett Society last week show that the full-time hourly gender pay gap in Wales is 7.1 per cent, which is actually lower than the UK average, but it is against a background of lower wages in Wales. On a UK-wide basis, the gender pay gap means that women are effectively working for free from 10 November, when you compare their wages with men’s, until the end of the year. So, what further could we do to try to tackle this glaring inequality?

We are proud supporters of Chwarae Teg, who, of course, work tirelessly to challenge gender stereotypes, occupational segregation, and to promote modern workplace practices through, for example, the Agile Nation 2 programme and campaigns such as Not Just for Boys, but we are also continuing to challenge gender stereotypes. We held Girls Make a Difference conferences in 2014 and 2015, encouraging girls to aspire and to achieve in Wales.

What action or engagement is the Welsh Government taking following the new Equality and Human Rights Commission report estimating the financial cost of pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage, which found that UK businesses are losing nearly £280 million each year as a result of women being forced out of their jobs by pregnancy and maternity discrimination in work?

It’s a matter for the UK Government to deal with, given the fact that we’re talking here about employment rights, but, nevertheless, any loss of talent to any business is something to be regretted. That means, of course, ensuring that, where there is any discrimination on the basis of maternity leave, that is challenged and dealt with by the employment tribunals.

The European Week for Waste Reduction

9. What preparations has the Welsh Government made for the European week for waste reduction? OAQ(5)0268(FM)

We take the view that every week is a week for waste reduction. We are the only country in the UK to set waste reduction targets, and, since 2006-07, we have reduced our household waste by 14 per cent.

I think Wales has an excellent story to tell, and our very modest levy on plastic bags has had an unbelievable impact in terms of 70 per cent reduction of plastic bag use. The focus of the European week is on reducing the amount of wasteful packaging, and we know from Plastics Europe, which is a trade association for plastics manufacturers, that about two thirds of the plastic used each year in the UK is on packaging. Now, the German Government introduced legislation on this in 1996, which compelled manufacturing companies to redesign wasteful packaging out of their processes to avoid waste, and Germany is now the top European nation for recycling: 70 per cent of the waste generated is successfully recovered and reused each year. What do you think Wales could do to follow the example of Germany, as we know that people in our community rail against the fact that there is so much unnecessary plastic wrapped up in whatever they purchase?

The difficulty with it, of course, is that much of what we buy comes from outside even the EU. With China particularly, the packaging is substantial because of the distance that goods will travel. So, there is a difficulty for me in saying, ‘Right, we're going to have a closed cycle in Wales’, because Wales is so small. I think there is scope for doing it at a UK level and an EU level to encourage there to be fewer—for there to be less possible waste at the beginning of the process to not have to deal with the arisings at the end. But, for me, this is something that should be dealt with at a much bigger level, an international level, a global level, to make sure that we reduce the amount of potential waste in the first place.

There is one thing that we can do in Wales, First Minister, on the basis of the plastic bags levy, and that is a deposit-return scheme so that the plastic bottles that are used today in Wales are re-used and returned, and that deposit is repaid, rather than them ending up on our beaches.

Well, as regards the plastic bottles, of course, it is possible to recycle plastic bottles. I know that local authorities collect those bottles separate—some of them, anyway—to ordinary waste. So, it was very important for us to ensure that plastic bags are dealt with in this way, because of the fact that they are not recycled and also not biodegradable. But, of course, ultimately, we will have to consider alternative ways of recycling more.

Access to the Planned Special and Critical Care Centre

10. Will the First Minister make a statement on access for patients from Caerphilly to the planned Special and Critical Care Centre? OAQ(5)0261(FM)

Yes. We’ll continue to work with the health board to address the transport requirements of patients and others who require access to the SCCC, and that will, of course, mean working to ensure that his constituents have the best transport access possible.

He’s anticipated my supplementary. I very much welcome the long-awaited special critical care centre. One of the biggest—[Interruption.] No, I didn't. One of the biggest concerns for my constituents, though, is transport links, as you say, to the super-hospital. We need a modern, integrated public transport system for the twenty-first century. Therefore, would he agree to work with his Cabinet colleagues to ensure the new super-hospital is adequately served by the south Wales metro, preferably with a specific stop there? And would the First Minister also accept that a number of my constituents, particularly in the south of Caerphilly and the Caerphilly basin, will need to continue, and should be allowed to continue, to use the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, in the Heath, even though it lies outwith the Aneurin Bevan university health board?

It's fairly common for people to use a hospital that isn't technically within the health board area that they reside in. For example, people in Ogmore by Sea or Ewenny naturally use the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, even though they're not within the local health board area, and that will continue in the future. He's absolutely right to point out that there are opportunities with the metro to make sure that people are able to travel more easily, and he makes an important and interesting point about having a stop at the SCCC.

In terms of transport generally, I know that the Cabinet Secretaries who are responsible for transport and health will work together to make sure that the SCCC has those transport links, and I know that the ambulance services trust has also been very closely involved in the local development of plans for the SCCC.

Trade and Transport Connections Post Brexit

11. What discussions has the Welsh Government had with the government of the Republic of Ireland on trade and transport connections post Brexit? OAQ(5)0255(FM)

Well, I called an extraordinary summit of the British-Irish Council in Cardiff in the summer, where the economy and trade and the common travel area were key points of discussion, and EU exit implications will figure prominently, I'm sure, in future British-Irish Council meetings.

First Minister, two of the most important trade routes with Ireland run through Wales, north and south, and they've received substantial funding over the years from European programmes, and, as we're seeing the UK Government talk about infrastructure investment as being key now, post Brexit, can you assure us that you are discussing these matters with them and the Republic of Ireland, because maintaining the quality of our ports and the roads and rail that serve them is crucial?

Well, there are issues for us. The issue of the border in Ireland has been raised, not least by me. The UK Government has conceded that the UK will not control its borders, because it has said that it does not want to see a closed border between Northern Ireland and the republic. I’ve no quibble or disagreement with that decision, but it does mean, of course, that the UK will have an open border with the EU. If you can get into the Republic of Ireland, you can get into the UK. There’ll be nothing to stop you. That goes against, of course, what some said in the EU referendum.

What are the implications for Wales? Well, at one time there were customs controls at the three Welsh ports that have Irish ferries—I remember them well—but they were random customs checks. Not everybody was checked. But there have never been passport controls at those ferry terminals, so if there was to be a closed border between the UK and the EU via Ireland, that would mean, of course, passport controls at the ferry ports, which they’re not equipped for, and delays. There would be congestion, particularly going into those ports. So, nobody wants to see the introduction of a border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, but nobody has yet worked out how to avoid it.

2. 2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item on our agenda is the business statement and announcement, and I call on Jane Hutt.

Llywydd, I’ve clarified the title of the education Secretary’s statement on the national strategy for small and rural schools this afternoon, and I’ve added an oral statement on employability to today’s agenda. Business for the next three weeks is as set out on the business statement and announcement found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

There are two statements I’ll be asking for. Firstly, I attended two public meetings in Butetown on Friday and there’s a lot of anger in the community because, a stone’s throw away from this Assembly, people are injecting, there are hundreds of discarded needles lying around, in some cases children playing with them, and there are class A drugs being dealt openly. So, can the Government make a statement of support, ideally? As part of the solution, really, will you support indoor, medically supervised, safe injection zones so that we can take these most unfortunate people away from the street environment, so they can inject safely, and reduce the number of needles on the streets as well?

Thank you for that question. In fact, this was raised a few weeks ago at a business statement looking at the experience in Glasgow of setting up such a unit. I did assure Members then that we would look at the results of that and take into account the experiences that neighbourhoods and communities, and indeed vulnerable children and young people, experience in terms of that situation.

Neil McEvoy rose—

Diolch, Lywydd. Leader of the house, I’d be grateful if you could please ask the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children to bring forward a statement regarding the planned closure of Lloyds Bank branches throughout Wales. Llywydd, I should declare an interest as a former employee of the Lloyds Banking Group. Now, I know that I’m not the first Assembly Member to raise bank closures in the Chamber, and I suspect I won’t be the last, but this recent announcement for Pembrokeshire is wholly disproportionate to the number of nationwide closures that Lloyds Bank are proposing, given that three of the 49 planned branch closures happen to be in my constituency. Of course, these banks are a lifeline for many people living in and around those communities and their closure will have a devastating impact. Therefore, can you please encourage the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children to bring forward a statement on this issue so that people living in the affected communities can understand exactly what the Welsh Government is doing to mitigate against negative effects of these closures on communities in my constituency, and indeed across Wales?

Paul Davies does raise a very important issue, and indeed, as you have said, these closures, which are commercial decisions made by banks, do have a very negative impact on the communities that we serve. I understand that the three Lloyds Bank closures that you’re referring to in your constituency in Pembrokeshire are not due to take place until next spring, so I’m sure that you are engaging, as others will be, in opportunities to raise your concerns with the bank. Also, there will be opportunities to raise questions with Cabinet Secretaries on the issue. Of course, this is something, again, where we look at the impact not just in rural areas like Preseli Pembrokeshire, but also across Wales and in more urban communities, which are also now losing those vital services like the banks.

We’ve heard a lot about proposed transport changes in the Cardiff bay city region. I’m asking for a Government statement on transport proposals within the Swansea bay city region, specifically proposals such as reopening railway stations, further dualling of the A40, creating bus and train links and improving cycle path provision.

Mike Hedges raises an important point where we do need to look to the national transport finance plan in terms of measures to ensure that the Swansea bay region is connected, as you say, in terms of openings of railway stations where appropriate, ensuring that, mainly, we do have a reliable, modern and integrated transport network. Of course, this is something that I know the city region board is looking at, in terms of identifying priorities for growth and jobs, looking particularly at the region’s digital and transport infrastructure.

May I ask for two statements from Government, first of all on how the Government is deciding to use the apprenticeships levy? I understand that the Westminster Government has now announced how much funding will be distributed to the Welsh Government in the first and second years under the levy, but of course, as has just been mentioned by the First Minister, that includes funding paid by companies and public services in Wales towards the levy in the first place. But we do need to understand how the Government intends to use this levy, particularly, for example, for people such as North Wales Police, who have raised with me the fact that they as a public body are paying an apprenticeships levy, but traditionally the police do not use apprentices—they use other means of training new recruits. So, we do need to understand how the Government is to use that levy and respond to the concerns of people such as North Wales Police.

The second statement I’d like from Government is whether or not the Government intends to respond at all to the recommendation of the coroner in a very unfortunate case in Pembrokeshire of the death of crew members on the Harvester fishing boat. Two men from Carew died at sea because of misadventure, and one of the factors that was identified in the inquest was the fact that they weren’t, as fishermen, wearing life jackets. The coroner had said that there was a ‘culture’, as he described it, of not wearing life jackets among fishermen. He is going to contact the Maritime and Coastguard Agency directly in order to make it mandatory that fishermen from British ports should wear life jackets. As fisheries, if not the health and safety issues surrounding it, are devolved, is it the Government’s intention also to make a statement on this issue and also to contact the coroner and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in order to understand what could be done now in Wales in order to safeguard and enhance safety on our seas?

Diolch, Simon Thomas. On your first question, in terms of the apprenticeship levy funding, you will know, and it has been reported back in questions that have been raised with the Minister for Skills and Science, about extensive discussions between the Welsh Government, devolved administrations and the UK Government since the apprenticeship levy was announced. I think we need to look carefully at these figures by the UK Government, because they don’t mean significant new money coming to Wales as a result of the apprenticeship levy. You raise a very valid point about who is paying this across the private and public sector, but let’s look at what this money means—it’s really mainly relating to funds that already form part of our spending review settlement and are included within the draft budget. So, we must be realistic, and those discussions I know will continue in terms of the impact on the public sector as well as on the private sector, in terms of employers and what it then means for them, in terms of the Barnett formula.

Your second point is very important to us, because safety at sea is a key tenet of the Welsh Government’s fisheries management policy. You’ve referred to one tragic death already, and in 2016, we’ve suffered three tragic deaths of Welsh fishermen—completely unacceptable fatalities. So, we’ve prioritised access to funding though the current European maritime and fisheries fund, and this is also reflected in the Wales seafood strategy that Lesley Griffiths announced on 13 October, which I’m sure you’re aware of: a commitment to improve fishermen’s safety, minimise risks, working with them—with the fishing industry and other marine regulators. There are active discussions between Welsh Government, the fishing industry, the MCA and Seafish on fishermen’s safety, and I have to say that, again, this is looking at the significance of the European Union for us, because significant funding was directed to fishing industry safety equipment through the previous European fisheries fund.

I call for two statements, the first in relation to the role of local authorities in supporting women with multiple needs. This follows a report of that name, entitled ‘Leading Change’, sent to me by the North Wales Women’s Centre last week. They say that, although it’s from an England perspective, it has much useful information applicable to our aims and joint working and commissioning here in Wales. It identifies—a very small reference—that half to two thirds of women prisoners have depression, almost half have attempted suicide, and it calls on local authorities to review their joint strategic needs assessments, joint health and well-being strategy and suicide prevention strategy to ensure the needs of women are met accordingly. It also called to ensure that women with multiple needs are involved as equal partners in developing new and improved responses, working with women to design and deliver services that meet their needs.

Secondly, and finally, could I call for an oral statement on the very important matter of future support for former recipients of the independent living fund? The UK Government devolved responsibility to the Welsh Government for this from 30 June last year. Scotland appointed a full-time independent living fund business manager and embedded a project assistant within Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales’s sister body, months beforehand; and Northern Ireland appointed ILF Scotland to administer the ILF for Northern Ireland. The cross-party group on disability, which I co-chaired in the last Assembly and which I’ve been asked to chair in this Assembly, had taken evidence on the implementation of the Welsh independent living grant from 1 July last year, and having identified widespread concerns, wrote to the then Minister, received a response, and he then issued a written statement on this in February, stating he had asked his officials to work with stakeholder representatives on options including a potential arrangement with the body set up in Scotland to provide payments for former ILF recipients to do the same for Welsh recipients. And at that stage, I can confirm that the membership of the Wales disability reference group favoured this approach. Despite this, we’ve now had, this month, a written statement only from the now Minister for Social Services and Public Health, stating she’s concluded future support to former ILF recipients will go through normal social care provision from local authorities, this being the most effective approach, and she recognises some recipients would have preferred a different decision. This failure, apparently, in this statement to co-produce, co-design, co-deliver and work with citizens and communities doesn’t meet the requirements of the social services and well-being Act, the well-being of future generations Act 2015 or the directives from the Wales Audit Office on the future direction of services. This affects too many of the lives of too many disabled people, so it merits an oral statement, or even a full debate, and I call for that accordingly.

Well, Mark Isherwood does raise an important point, representing his constituents in north Wales, particularly regarding the North Wales Women’s Centre and its expertise. I, myself have met people when I had ministerial responsibility, to ensure that their voices, their experience and the needs of women who they represent and support are heard and influence not only Welsh Government policy, but local and regional policy as well, particularly those most vulnerable. You raise important issues, where they can assist us in terms of not only responding, but also devising appropriate policy. I’m grateful that you’ve raised that on behalf of women in north Wales.

But, on your second point, I do find it extraordinary—. I mean, so often, Mark Isherwood, you start to talk and often raise pertinent questions about something—the independent living fund, which your Conservative Government got rid of—for some of the most vulnerable disabled people in Wales. We’ve rescued it over the years. We rescued it by allocating precious resources, to make sure that we could continue with the independent living fund. And also, that has been welcomed by those groups that actually represent disabled people in Wales, and working in partnership with local government as well, and making sure that we’ve got allocations for social services in our draft budget for next year. Year on year, as a Welsh Labour Government, we’re seeking to protect disabled people in very much the ways in which we can respond to some of the points that were made earlier on this afternoon, about how disabled people are affected by welfare reform cuts and changes by your UK Tory Government.

So, yes, a written statement has been delivered. Of course, clarifications and updates on that will be forthcoming.

Can I request a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health on the work programme of the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group? While I very much welcome the introduction of the new treatment fund, and the review of the individual patient funding requests system in Wales, which, in my view, is long overdue, I am concerned that access to new drugs will continue to be constrained by the timescales set out by the AWMSG. I’m currently trying to help a constituent access Avastin, for cervical cancer. It is available on the NHS in England, and in Scotland, for advanced cervical cancer, which is putting my constituents at a disadvantage, because the AWMSG are only just beginning to evaluate it here.

Lynne Neagle raises a very important point, an opportunity for me to update on the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group consideration. They’re finalising, I understand, the scope and timelines for appraising Avastin. And, of course, this is a situation where we know that there is opportunity to make applications through the individual patient funding requests process, on patients’ behalf. But I think the overall appraisal, of course, is what is sought, and that will be very shortly forthcoming.

Can I call for two statements, please—one from the Minister responsible for lifelong learning and the Welsh language, on support for people with learning disabilities who are accessing further education? He’ll be aware of the concerns that were raised this week in the media regarding the system of support that is available to learners in post-16 further education with learning disabilities. Of course, there are statements available, which can be agreed with local authorities, in respect of people who attend schools, but the same system does not apply to those in further education. Rather, Careers Wales is given the opportunity to determine whether a system of support should be available. And there is no right to appeal against that system if those learners don’t get the support that they need.

I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify whether he’s prepared to look at this situation, to see whether there might be an opportunity to address the inequity that there is currently in that system, and, hopefully, also to ensure that Careers Wales can extend the offer of support, from beyond the current two-year cap to three years, or more, where necessary, because, of course, some of the individuals involved may need to be in post-16 education and further education colleges for a longer period of time than regular learners, because of their disabilities.

Can I also support the calls from Simon Thomas for a statement from the Minister for Skills and Science on the apprenticeship levy? There is clearly a lot of confusion out there amongst employers, and, indeed, training providers, especially with regard to individuals who might be employed by Welsh businesses but actually live over the border, and whether they may or may not be entitled to support, under the levy. I was very surprised to hear you say that there’s not a lot of money coming to Wales as a result of the levy. The reality is that, over the next three years, there’s going to be £400 million. So, I suggest that you speak to your finance Minister, and determine exactly how that money is going to be spent. I want to see that money spent on supporting apprenticeships across Wales. That clearly isn’t—we don’t get the impression that that’s the intention of the Government at the moment. We need some clarity on this—training providers, employers and employees do, too.

I think the point you make about adults particularly with learning difficulties is important. We’re committed, and this is an opportunity to restate—as a Welsh Government, we’re committed to ensuring everyone in Wales has an opportunity to access our education system. Of course, where specialist provision is identified, Ministers do consider applications and make every effort to respond in a timely fashion. We always try to fund provision that runs over a comparable time to provision in mainstream FE sector, and we continue to consider applications for longer provision, depending on individual need. But I think we also need to look to our additional learning needs transformation programme, and those plans for revised legislation, of course, to provide a smoother transition. The guidance is currently being revised to make it more clear what Welsh Government can fund through those routes. So, that’s a very important point to come back on.

On your second point, I think the Minister will want to clarify certainly what this actually will mean for employers in terms of the apprenticeship levy. I’ve said that the figures provided by the UK Government don’t mean significant new money is coming to Wales as a result of the apprenticeship levy. So, I think we need to straighten that out and make it clear what that actually means, because, you know, you’ve got to recognise that this will form part of our settlement, and so it’s going to be a question of, again, the allocation that we get through our block grant. It’s not going to be what you’re making it out to be, I don’t believe, today.

3. 3. Statement: National Strategy for Small and Rural Schools

The next item on our agenda is the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Education on the national strategy for small and rural schools. I call on the Cabinet Secretary to make her statement—Kirsty Williams.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. This Welsh Government, as set out in ‘Taking Wales Forward’, is committed to successful, sustainable rural communities. I am clear that there can be real benefits—academic, cultural and social—to pupils and communities through the delivery of high-quality education in small and rural schools. As I set out in my statement to the Assembly in July, strengthening and extending school-to-school relationships, and prioritising education leadership, are critical to raising standards and tackling the attainment gap. A specific national strategy for small and rural schools recognises that schools and communities in different parts of Wales face different challenges as we move forward with our reforms.

I know, and parents across rural communities know, that small and rural schools play an important role in raising standards and extending opportunities for all. Indeed, they are often critical in engaging pupils and families from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and raising pupil aspirations. As Members will be aware, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development was here last week testing our reforms. It is worth noting that Finland, a system that consistently performs well in OECD studies, has a significant proportion of small and rural schools, and actively supports their position and role within the education system.

I am committed to education reforms as our national mission. All our young people deserve an equal opportunity, regardless of background, to reach the highest possible standards. And I am ambitious for small and rural schools, as I am for all schools in Wales. In recognising the challenges and priorities for education in rural and smaller settings, we will take the following actions: I will shortly consult on amendments to the school organisation code, in respect of a presumption against the closure of rural schools. Let me be clear, Presiding Officer, this does not mean that rural schools will never close. However, it does ensure that a local authority’s case for closure must be strong, and that local authorities conscientiously consider all viable alternatives to closure, including federation. I propose to develop the first-ever list and designation of rural schools. When considering closing a school, local authorities will be required to establish whether the proposed closure involves such a school. And I will be making funding available to encourage and support the development of federations across all maintained schools in Wales, along with better information and guidance for those considering collaboration and federation. Our wider plans to develop school leaders will include proposals to build the capacity of experienced, successful leaders of rural schools to deliver effective leadership across groups of rural schools.

I propose to establish a rural and small schools grant of £2.5 million per year from April 2017, to be administered by the regional education consortia, in collaboration with their local education authority partners, which will be used to support greater school-to-school working, including informal association and collaboration; to encourage innovative use, for example, of how to use new technologies to combat the issue of professional isolationism by harnessing the power of information technology; to provide administrative support in schools where headteachers have a significant timetabled teaching commitment; and to increase the community use of school buildings.

Presiding Officer, this is not a strategy to stand still. It is a recognition of the importance of education in our rural communities, as it is across the country, but also to ensure delivery of innovative and ambitious education for pupils in those communities.

To conclude, just nine months ago, sitting over there, I was grateful for the opportunity to present a short debate to the Assembly on the importance of rural schools. Now, as Cabinet Secretary, I’m able to recognise and promote the essential role of small and rural schools in our national mission to reduce the attainment gap and to raise standards for all our young people.

May I thank the Cabinet Secretary for her statement this afternoon? I think it’s about time that we tackled some of the problems that have cast a dark shadow over some small and rural schools over a number of years. As someone who lives in a rural community, as someone who’s a parent of children who attend a small rural school, and someone who’s a governor of that very same school, I particularly welcome the statement, and also, of course, I do declare that I have an interest in that regard.

You mentioned, of course, the creation of a national strategy for small and rural schools, but you don’t give us many details as to how, perhaps, you’re going to go about doing that. So, perhaps you could tell us something about the process that you have in mind in that regard, and when you expect that strategy to be in place.

I warmly welcome the change in the presumption against the closure of schools in the school organisation code, and that’s certainly something that already exists in England. Of course, the main factor within the current code, if my memory serves me correctly, in considering closure is to protect educational outcomes, and I don’t think anyone would suggest that that should be changed. I know that placing a focus on the quality of education is what’s needed, rather than, perhaps, the more physical aspects, such as surplus school places and so on. You’ve mentioned the need to take into account a broader range of options rather than closure. Perhaps you could tell us a little about how we can broaden the menu of options available, because, as far as I can see, there are federation and clustering, and perhaps some element of more meaningful collaboration. But, more than that, what ideas do you have for schools to consider?

As I referred to surplus places, and as you make no reference to surplus places in your statement, which has, of course, been a strong focus for your predecessors at least in terms of the emphasis on the reorganisation of schools in rural areas, may I ask you, perhaps, to tell us whether you feel there’s been too much emphasis on that in the past? Are you going to reduce the emphasis on that? Certainly, it’s been a focus, of course, for the twenty-first century schools programme—one of the main objectives of band A, if memory serves me correctly. Therefore, will there be less emphasis on surplus school places in future, when it comes to looking at twenty-first century schools, as well as the wider issues in terms of school reorganisation?

For me, of course, a school doesn’t exist within a vacuum, and we also need to look and take account of the relationship between rural education and protecting, supporting and developing rural communities more broadly. Could I ask you, therefore, what discussions you’ve had with other Cabinet Secretaries on the need to tackle the wider problems, because closing a small school is very often a symptom of the fact that the local economy isn’t maintaining young families and people have to leave and there is depopulation as a result of that. So, trying to resolve one problem without a more meaningful effort to tackle the other can only be part of the solution.

I know that, in Scotland for example, following the commission they established a few years ago to look at rural schools there, they have set a clear focus on introducing family centres in rural schools as well as early years services in those rural schools. Of course, there is a clear link to that with some of the things that we’re hearing from the Cabinet Secretary on communities and childcare and these children’s zones that have been mentioned as a possible opportunity. I would like to hear what opportunities you believe there may be in terms of rural provision in that regard.

Also, there is a need to encourage other sectors to play their part and to collaborate in order to support rural education. And I’m not just talking about the voluntary sector, but certainly further and higher education, especially perhaps in terms of secondary education in rural areas. I would like to know how you think there could be a possible contribution from that direction in supporting some of the things that we want to see developing.

Again in Scotland, there is additional funding provided to the highlands and islands university in order to encourage them to work more closely with rural schools. You refer to the creation of a £2.5 million fund, and, whilst I welcome that and do recognise the financial pressures on the Government, in the context of some of the other proposals and plans, it isn’t such a huge amount. Certainly, looking at the scale of the challenge and the need for additional support in the rural context, one would always want to see more funding. But, I will ask you perhaps whether that is the starting point, because one would assume that we would need a broader effort. One thinks about ICT, and you refer to it as one of the issues—of harnessing the power of IT with that funding. I attended a meeting last week where a teacher at a school told me that, if there are more than two pupils online at the same time, then the whole thing comes to a grinding halt. So, there are infrastructure problems. I know that the Government is aware of that, but one could perhaps feel that we are not making the progress that we should be making in that regard.

Attracting teachers to work in rural areas is also a challenge. If you’re a deputy head in a large school, then what’s the incentive for you to become a headteacher in a smaller school? You have to ask that question, because the financial incentive in terms of salary isn’t such a great one when compared with the additional burden and responsibilities that would come with that headship. So, how will the strategy that you mention assist in tackling the pressures in terms of staffing resources in that regard?

Finally, we can’t look at the situation of rural schools without also considering the issue of school transport in a rural context, because the provision as it has existed has been reducing. What we’re seeing, of course, is a number of parents taking their children with them to the towns or the centres where they work for their education because the transport provision that may have been there in the past is no longer there because of various cuts imposed. So, has any consideration been given to that? If not, what consideration will be given to strengthening the school transport provision because, without that, it makes it extremely difficult to ensure that people can take advantage of that service?

Thank you very much, Llyr, for, I think, what was a welcome of the policy statement this afternoon. To begin with the issue of the formation of the policy, I had hoped that, via my statement, I would give you a strong direction of travel. We will be formally publishing a full strategy that will guide us in ensuring that our investment of the £2.5 million is informed by that.

With regard to the schools organisation code, I will be going out to consultation on the issue of a presumption against closure. You’re quite right: such a presumption does exist in England; it also exists in Scotland. It hasn’t existed in Wales to date. But there are other aspects of the code that people may wish to comment on and this is an opportunity, given that it’s three years now since the code was introduced and we’ve had three years of experience of dealing with that code. I know, from meeting with the WLGA just last week, that they have some issues themselves with how they think the code could be improved. So, this is one particular aspect, but there will be an opportunity for wider discussion about the code. I think it will change the nature of the discussion, or the place where local authorities start from, and I think that’s what’s really important in bringing that presumption in. As I said in my statement, that does not mean there can never be any change. Sometimes, for very good, strong educational reasons, we need change, but at least we’ll be starting from that particular point, and local authorities will have to demonstrate that they have properly considered alternatives to maintain education in those areas.

With regard to surplus places, you’ll be aware that the agreement between me and the First Minister—the progressive agreement that brought me into Government—makes specific reference to the issue of surplus places. This in an issue in rural areas, but I must say that this is not only an issue for rural areas. If one looks at some experience in other parts, local authorities have been very quick to take surplus places out of the system, only to find themselves then with demographic changes within their particular area meaning that, for some people, it’s very difficult to get into the school that is their local school. So, actually, we need to look at surplus places in the round to make sure that we’re looking over a wider period of time, so we can better anticipate the peaks and flows that there inevitably will be in potential admissions into schools.

You’re quite right—education on its own cannot solve some of the significant demographic problems that rural communities face. I’m working very closely with my Cabinet colleague, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, around the issue of children zones, as well as the childcare offer. In some parts of rural Wales, Llŷr, you’ll be aware, as I am, that the opportunities for childcare are very, very limited indeed. The market simply isn’t there, so therefore working in conjunction with the schools would be a perfect opportunity to address some of those. And of course, the selection of Gwynedd and Anglesey as one of the pilot areas gives us that opportunity to test this significant childcare offer in a rural area. We didn’t want the pilots all to be done in an urban setting; we wanted to be able to test these proposals in a more rural area, and that’s why I’m very glad to see Gwynedd and Anglesey as part of the pilot, to see what we can do to work in those areas. But we need action, and work for people—high-quality paid jobs in rural communities. And crucially for me, we need access to affordable housing, which is one of the biggest barriers to young parents and families living in their communities—the sheer unaffordability of housing and accommodation in the areas where they grew up. We really need to make progress there, and that’s why this Government is committed to building significant numbers of extra affordable homes.

Llŷr, I agree that we can always do with more money, couldn’t we? But this is a start, to be able to look to see how we can use this money. I will be looking for evidence of real change though. This is not business as usual. This is not just additional money to support the status quo. This is additional money to drive forward real change in how we look at different models. And those models could be hard federations and collaborations, or soft federations and collaborations. We know we have some examples of primary schools working in clusters, but I’d like to see the development of the role of executive heads. You asked about recruitment and retention—why should somebody move on? Well, I think the prospect of being an executive head in a rural community is a very exciting prospect for an up-and-coming, go-getting, would-be school leader. So, those different kinds of arrangements are one of the ways in which we will attract people to be school leaders in rural areas. I’d like to see more people consider the idea of a federation between secondary and primary. Often, federations are only seen in the context of one particular age group. Why not look at federations across a particular community area—something that actually happens in the Isles of Scilly, for instance, as an example there?

With regard to transport, obviously this is a matter for my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for transport. The rules are quite clear: if a child lives a certain distance from their school, then they are entitled to transport to their nearest suitable school. There is ongoing work at the moment across departments to look at the issues around home-to-school transport in the round.

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for your statement. I know of your commitment to rural schools. I know you used to fight passionately when you were an opposition member on behalf of schools in Powys that were threatened with closure by that particular local authority, and, of course, you were matched by many other Assembly Members representing rural constituencies in this Chamber. Like your constituency, my constituency has also seen a number of rural schools close in recent years, and there are some, unfortunately, which are still threatened with closure. So, I do very much welcome the fact that you have said that there will now be, in the future, a presumption against closure and that local authorities will be required to look at every alternative and leave no stone unturned when looking at the way their schools are organised. It’s all too often been the case in some parts of Wales that local authorities have stubbornly dug their heels in as a result of the poor guidance, frankly, from the Welsh Government that has allowed them to do that, and, as a result, some very good schools have closed. So, there’s been a pretty rough ride for rural schools in recent years, and I’m very much hoping that that will change.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t some questions that I hope you will be able to answer today in respect of this additional resource that you are making available. I’ve seen the list of things that you hope to achieve with that resource. With every respect, £2.5 million is not a huge sum of money to be able to meet all of the aspirations on that particular list. I wonder whether you’ll be able to give us some clarity as to whether that is £2.5 million extra on top of your budget that is going to be available next year, or whether this is from within the education budget as a whole and it will mean that you are robbing Peter, effectively, to pay Paul, and also, just precisely what your definition of a rural or small school actually is. Because, obviously, that will determine very much where this money flows to. You’re giving it to the regional consortia rather than the local education authorities to distribute. If you can clarify precisely why that is the case, that would also be helpful.

Whilst I accept that federation can be a very effective model, and, in fact, it’s something that is working in respect of a school that was threatened and is still threatened with closure in my own constituency—Ysgol Llanbedr—which is now working with another school, against the local authority’s wishes, in order to survive, and is making a jolly good show of it, with increasing pupil numbers. But, if you could just tell us exactly how this cash will support federations, given that federations actually generally result in saving significant sums of money—is it just to prime the pump, are these long-term arrangements, or is this a short-term fund with these one-off grants having a period in which they are available to schools and then that period eventually coming to an end? So, I do welcome the extra cash, I welcome the statement and I welcome the direction of travel, but I think a lot depends on these definitions as to precisely what a rural or small school is. I think a lot depends on how the money is going to be used and how thinly that jam is going to be spread across the many hundreds of rural schools that we have here in Wales. So, perhaps you can give us some clarity on those things.

Thank you very much, Darren, for the welcome for the statement. To begin with, as I said to Llyr with regard to the presumption of closure, I hope that really does shift the basis from where we start these conversations—rather than closure being the first option on the list, and rather than the last option on the list. But I hope as well, via the consultation on the code, we can look at ways in which we can strengthen the consultation exercise. I’m sure you’ll be aware that many people find the current consultation exercise is not as strong as they would like it to be, and there is an opportunity to strengthen that with regard to all schools, actually, and how all schools are dealt with in the system.

Let me be absolutely clear, and I explained this to your colleague Mohammad Asghar at the committee last week, who was very kindly—no, Andrew, actually, was substituting in his absence. Let’s be absolutely clear, the education MEG is up by 3.5 per cent. There is an additional £53 million going into my portfolio in this budget round, which has allowed me to prioritise and bring forward new initiatives. The £2.5 million allocation is to support a range of specific proposals coming forward from local authorities on how they will use that money to support educational provision in their particular area to drive up standards. Alongside that, rural schools will also have the opportunity to participate in funding that we have available for leadership and funding that we will have available for federations and closer school-to-school working in our self-improving schools system. I will want to make sure that all that money is spent at the front line, driving improvements and quality in our education for our rural children. I do not expect that money to be sat in county halls or in regional consortia offices.

This is an opportunity to drive up and address the very specific challenges of standards in rural Wales: the challenge of being a headteacher with a high teaching workload, and how you manage that; what we can do to develop the role of business managers across a range of schools; the very real challenges of a stable workforce that doesn’t have the opportunity to get out and learn from other schools; the fact that, in a rural school, if you have a small workforce, how you can have the expertise to make sure that your curriculum planning and your resources are as wide-ranging as they could be. So, I’ve set out some ideas of how I expect the money to produce the change, but if schools and LEAs come forward to me with other radical ways that demonstrate how they would drive up attainment for our children, I’m willing to consider them. But, the crucial thing for me is that my expectation is that this money gets to the front line and makes a real difference for those children.

With regard to a definition, we don’t have one, Darren. That is part of the problem, and we will be working on exactly how we can get a robust definition. At the moment, the Wales Audit Office has figures that I would regard, in the context of my own constituency, as large schools. So, we need to work closely to be able to agree on that definition.

But, as I said, what’s really important is that people shouldn’t regard this as the status quo. This is a specific part of our overall commitment to driving up standards across Wales, and there are some particular challenges of how we achieve that in some of our more urban communities, and there are particular challenges of how we achieve that in rural communities, and this, I hope, will be part of the solution as part of our overall national mission.

Thank you for your statement, Cabinet Secretary. School closures, and even the threat of school closures, cause divisions within and between rural communities, especially when there is competition between pupils for school places. When the school is closed, there is a loss of a social and cultural resource and physical meeting place for members of the committee. The local school acts as an employer and consumer in the local area, and some studies note that parents feel less inclined to become involved in a new, larger school if their local school closes. Small, rural schools may have particular benefits for students, such as smaller classes and a community ethos.

What happens to the schools that are closed? The local authority makes a profit by closing the school and selling off the land for development, and at the same time, a major cog in community life is removed. Additionally, parents’ views are ignored or largely not taken into account. A local newspaper near me quoted that parents had been left shell-shocked by the decision to close Ysgol Maes Edwin on Flint mountain. Even the local Labour MP for the area, David Hanson, didn’t want the school closed. Mr Hanson spoke particularly about how new housing developments in the area, like Croes Atti, a development of 100-plus houses within the catchment area of the school, mean that it would be wrong to close the school, as the people moving into those new houses will probably need some school places for their children. The local authority should listen to him, perhaps.

I welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Education’s declared ambition for small and rural schools. However, I would have much preferred to have seen a full commitment from her, plus the appropriate use of resources being pledged, to support rural and small schools staying open and the reversal of recent decisions to close small schools in my region, for instance, the school on Flint mountain. Thank you.

Presiding Officer, can I thank Michelle Brown for her contribution? She makes a valuable point with regard to the importance of the physical building often in a community, and that’s why, as I announced in my statement, I will be looking to see what we can do to increase the community usage of school buildings as a way of maintaining part of the fabric of life in rural Wales. But, let’s be clear, schools are already doing this to great effect. Schools in my own constituency have stepped up to the plate and have taken over the running of sports facilities that would have been lost in the community. Schools are currently engaged, for instance, in taking on library facilities that would have been lost to the community, and I want to encourage the greater use of school buildings as a real asset for the people who live in that particular area.

The Member also makes a valuable point with regard to the economy. This was the point that was made to me by the members, and the lead member, for Gwynedd Council when I met with them on Friday morning. They recognised that. That’s why they are looking to themselves, and to support from Welsh Government, to find innovative ways in which they can maintain education settings in a whole variety of communities, because they recognise that very point and their responsibility across the board.

The consultation will begin shortly. I’m sure the Member will want to participate fully in that, but I must say it is not my intention at this stage to revisit any decisions that have previously been made.

Can I thank the Cabinet Secretary for her statement today? In particular, I very much welcome what you’ve said about making funding available to encourage and support the development of federations across all maintained schools, along with better information and guidance. I think that is very important. You’re aware of my concerns on this issue.

I was also very interested in what you said about the consultation on the school organisation code being an opportunity for all concerned parties to feed in. As you know, it is not just rural schools that find the issue of school closures very difficult. All schools, in my experience, tend to be very much the heart of their community, and I know that you’re aware that I have some concerns about the school organisation code. I think it is definitely timely to review it, and would just like to ask how you see that process going forward, and in particular, how you will ensure that parents and communities get a say in the reforms that you’re looking at.

Presiding Officer, can I thank the Member for the questions? I hope I’m not divulging too much of a secret that, in the previous Assembly term, Lynne and I would send messages across the Chamber on this very subject of our frustrations with the school organisation code.

I think it is timely, three years into its existence, to review its effectiveness. I particularly want to look at the issue of how we can amend it to look at the principle of presumption against closure, but I know that there are frustrations across the Chamber, from Assembly Members who represent all different types of communities, about whether it is as robust as it can be. I hope that we can avail ourselves of this opportunity to look at this in the round, because the Member is absolutely right: schools are important, whatever the nature of the community. I’m aware that in some Valleys communities the schools at the top end of the Valleys are probably equally as remote as some of the schools that I know and love very well. So, we need to look at this in a holistic way, and this is certainly not setting a different standard for one type of school as opposed to another.

The Member is right about how we can engage with parents and communities. I will be using the full range of publicity machines that are available to the Welsh Government. I hope we’ve had a good start today in publicising this. I’m grateful the media have highlighted the statement this afternoon, but I will be relying on Assembly Members themselves, actually—I’d be very grateful to Assembly Members across the Chamber if they themselves would take part in the consultation and if they would make the consultation widely available to people whom they know have an interest in this particular issue. The more voices we can hear, the more opportunities we can have to have an organisation code that’s on point and really reflects the concerns of the people that we all represent.

As you state, small and rural schools can provide real academic, cultural and social benefits. When I called on the previous Welsh Government to respond to concerns that Flintshire County Council was using old and inaccurate data and acting in breach of the school organisation code in respect of a number of proposed school closures there, including small and rural schools, Ysgol Llanfynydd County Primary School and Ysgol Maes Edwin in Flint mountain, referred to earlier, your predecessor said,

‘I can’t comment…in terms of the school organisation code and the guidance, because, of course, this may come before Welsh Ministers.’

Of course, in the context of small and rural schools, that hadn’t been the case since 2013. Now, although councillors must only consider material evidence relevant to the school organisation code and the accuracy of the data used by the council cabinet as the basis of their recommended decision to close schools, when these closures came to council, the highly political comments by the council leader were not material to the matters that the council must consider, and this political point scoring on both occasions raised serious concerns about the basis on which his cabinet took their decisions.

You state you’re not going to revisit decisions previously made. Does that therefore mean that you’re bolting the stable door after the previous Welsh Government and current First Minister allowed the horses to bolt, or, in circumstances such as this, will you reconsider the evidence used to justify the closure to members and the public, in the context of what the school organisation code actually required?

Mark, I thought I had made it quite clear in my answer to Michelle Brown that I’m not prepared to reopen cases that have been already discharged. Mark, I can only be responsible for the situation I find myself in now. This is not about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. This is a genuine opportunity to recognise the particular challenges of delivering education in a rural area and the barriers that may make it more difficult for that education to achieve absolute excellence, and I am determined to do that. I am sorry that you feel that this policy—. Unlike your education spokesperson, who sees that there is merit in what I am doing, I am sorry that you have not been able to share in that enthusiasm.

4. 4. Statement: Employability

The next item on our agenda is a statement by the Minister for Skills and Science on employability. I call on the Minister to make her statement. Julie James.

Diolch, Lywydd. Supporting people to enter, remain and progress within sustained employment is a vital part of ensuring a prosperous and secure future for Wales. ‘Taking Wales Forward’ commits the Welsh Government to reshaping

‘employability support for job‑ready individuals, and those furthest from the labour market, to acquire the skills and experience to gain and maintain sustainable employment.’

The Welsh Government is, therefore, developing an employability plan that I intend to publish in the new year, which will set out how we will create the conditions to deliver this commitment and how we will measure success.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.

I outlined in July the Welsh Government’s early thinking on the development of a single all-age employability programme, bringing together the activities from our current employability programmes to better meet the needs of those requiring support to enter, remain and progress in the workplace. As I said then, this programme will enable us to better respond to the labour market challenges we now face: the continued challenge of sustaining a low unemployment rate, particularly given the need to address disproportionate levels of unemployment for certain groups and geographical areas, whilst recognising the clear case for sharpening our focus on reducing economic inactivity.

However, we know that it is not enough to focus only on getting people into work. There is a need to ensure that individuals gain decent and sustainable employment and that they progress into, and within, secure jobs. Although entering into employment is a key factor in reducing poverty, it is also important to recognise the growing issue of in-work poverty in Wales. There are now more households living in poverty where someone is working, than not.

Our employability plan will, therefore, set out how our support can be most effectively targeted to progress more individuals from economic inactivity into work, whilst retaining an emphasis on progression in and through sustained employment. The plan will recognise that getting people into sustained and meaningful employment is not just about increasing skills. A holistic approach is required that seeks to identify and address the needs and barriers each individual faces in gaining, retaining and progressing within employment.

We believe in an integrated employability approach, linking skills initiatives with employment services and with other public services tackling employability-related barriers, in particular the integration of work and health services to support people with health conditions at the earliest possible opportunity to access or remain in work. We also recognise the importance of working with employers to fully integrate Welsh Government business support and procurement levers within our wider employability approach in order to ensure that we maximise the potential to target recruitment to new jobs created from low activity groups.

In order to more effectively prioritise and target our employability and skills interventions, we will develop a systematic approach to identifying need and to referral to employability support through a new employment advice service. The employment advice service will strengthen and unify assessment, brokerage, referral and advice services, and will operate entirely independently from the provision of employability support in order to ensure a clear, impartial and absolute focus on the needs of the individual. Ongoing advice and brokerage will be provided through the employment advice service to ensure that individuals are effectively supported in their journey into and within employment.

The employability plan will set out a framework for action drawing on evidence of what works. We will be working across Government and with partners over the coming weeks to develop this framework, building on the key themes from our engagement to date that have set the basis for our overarching approach. This approach will be all-age and all-encompassing. We will move away from a cohort-driven approach, targeting specific groups of unemployed or economically inactive people with specific interventions, and instead focus support around the needs of the individual. Evidence tells us that bespoke and intensive support that is tailored to the needs of individuals in order to increase employability and address barriers is critical. We’ll also remove the boundaries between in-work and out-of-work provision to create a continuum of support to individuals once they access the workplace, particularly for those vulnerable to dropping out of employment.

Our approach will be integrated and incentivised. We will consolidate the number of programmes on offer by bringing interventions together through our all-age and all-encompassing approach and, working through our business support and procurement levers, we will incentivise the creation of more targeted job opportunities for disadvantaged individuals and place premiums on support in particularly disadvantaged areas. Our approach will also be modernised and efficient. We will reach more individuals through the introduction and expansion of digital employability services and we will free up resources through more efficient and innovative delivery models, such as the nationally commissioned, regionally managed and locally delivered approach we will be adopting for the new all-age employability programme.

This approach will require a co-ordinated and focused effort, not only across the Welsh Government but also with UK Government departments, in particular the Department for Work and Pensions, with local authorities, the third sector, the private sector, and with stakeholder groups and delivery partners. This effort will need to embrace flexibility and innovation whilst retaining a relentless focus on improvement and results. Our work with the DWP as a key partner in Wales will continue in order to make every effort to embed their programmes within the wider Welsh employability agenda. The principles of our employability plan underpin the new all-age employability programme and our co-design of the DWP work and health programme in Wales. This represents an opportunity to more effectively align the breadth of employment support on offer to individuals across Wales.

In developing the plan, it is imperative that the Welsh Government works closely with all key players to ensure opportunities are available for all. Our new approach to employability support will be flexible, nationally commissioned, regionally managed, locally delivered and, most importantly, centred around the individual. We believe that this approach will benefit individuals across Wales in gaining, retaining and progressing within work, and will deliver the prosperous and secure future for Wales that we need to take Wales forward. Diolch.

May I thank you for your statement this afternoon, Minister? I welcome the announcement that there is to be an employability programme and the general principle of creating a more accessible, more flexible programme, with the support of the employment advice service in this case, of course, but the statement raises a number of questions because, essentially, it announces that there is to be an employability programme and an employment advice service. Perhaps you can mention who will develop the employability programme. I assume it would be the Government, but it would be good to know, because, if you are going to make a statement or an announcement by January, there isn’t a great deal of time to include various stakeholders in that discussion. When do you anticipate that the programme will become active? Perhaps you could tell us a little about the resources and the costs of implementation. And also, the employment advice service that you mentioned, what sort of capacity will that have? How many people do you anticipate they will be working with on an annual basis? Perhaps you could tell us a little about the cost that you anticipate and from what budget the funding for that will come from.

You mentioned that you want to commission nationally, manage regionally, and deliver locally. Now, I assume—I may be wrong—that you anticipate that the regional skills partnerships will have a role to play. So, what consideration have you given, in considering that model, to perhaps devolving more responsibility to those partnerships, certainly in terms of budgets and so on in relation to this area? I’d be pleased to hear to what extent there is more scope perhaps to do that.

You also mentioned, of course, all-age provision. I assume that we are talking about post-16. Perhaps you could tell us whether you have considered extending that to post-14, because you will be as aware as I am that many people have reached the point where they have made decisions by the time that they reach that age. Perhaps we are catching them too late, or failing to catch them at all perhaps, because it’s too late before they face that kind of situation. The statement does mention that the approach would be all-age and all-encompassing and that you are looking at an approach that is integrated and incentivised.

You mentioned being modernised and efficient, but I don’t see an emphasis on ensuring that the service is effective. I do think that that is an important consideration, and perhaps you could tell us more about how you intent to evaluate the effectiveness of the provision. How will you measure success under these new arrangements that you have set out this afternoon? Much of the success of what you hope to achieve, from what I see from the statement, will depend to some extent on the UK Government and perhaps the record in the past period doesn’t give one much confidence when we look at the way that the apprenticeship levy, for example, has been dealt with. Perhaps, as I am talking about that particular levy, you could tell us how you anticipate that that could strengthen or complement this provision that you have announced today. We heard earlier about the announcement made yesterday on the level of funding that will be allocated by the UK Government. I would suggest that we shouldn’t assume that that is new funding, because it’s been lost from elsewhere. We will lose out elsewhere. But it will be interesting to hear how you see the contribution of that levy playing out in this context.

When we do talk of this area, one crucially important area is the element of marketing and promoting the value of the acquisition of skills for people who aren’t in employment, and even those who are in employment—perhaps more so. I would have thought that we would need a strong marketing campaign to back up programmes such as these. Perhaps you could tell us a little more—because the DWP and local authorities and the provision in terms of health and so on will be generating some demand, but perhaps more specifically for those people in employment—about how and where do we ensure that we sell this to employers, to young people, to parents and all those various groups out there that we want to see taking advantage of the provision. Thank you.

Thank you for those questions, Llyr. I’ll start with the apprenticeship levy, just to be clear. I do feel, deputy Llywydd, that I have made these remarks several times in this Chamber but I’ll just make them again. The figures that have been released by the Treasury do not mean that significant new money is coming to Wales, because they don’t take into account reductions made to comparable English programmes including apprenticeships and, therefore, need to be considered as part of the bigger picture, which shows—you’ll not be surprised to learn—real-terms cuts to the funding available to Wales over the next few years, nor do they show the effect of some £30 million-odd that will be paid back to the Treasury by Welsh public service providers through the levy. So, just to be clear: the levy is nothing more than a UK Government employment tax. It directly conflicts with areas of devolved competence. We have our own distinct and very popular approach to apprenticeships, which the Member knows about and has been very supportive with, and this just cuts directly across it. So, not only do we not have any new money but, clearly, all our public services have to pay the levy and so they’re deprived of funds. So, it makes no sense at all and we’re very cross about it. I don’t think I’m saying anything new: I’ve said that several times before. I’m mystified about how we can be any clearer. There is no new money. We are continuing the programme we had before. I think this has got to be at least the tenth time I’ve said that in public and to everybody else who’s asked me. So, I don’t understand how I can be any more clear, Llywydd. So, that’s the position we’ve found ourselves in. The autumn statement will, of course, clarify the position completely and, if things change, I will, of course, keep Members updated but we’re not expecting a change and this is the position as I understand it to be. So, that’s the apprenticeship levy point.

In terms of all the rest of it, what I’m announcing today is the start of a policy programme to develop this programme and I’m really asking Members for their input into the framework of the programme. I’m not yet in a position to tell you how much it costs and all the rest of it because we haven’t got the policy completely put to bed. There has been a process of consultation. They are very welcome, all AMs who want to input into that personally on behalf of their constituents, and I will come back in the new year with a proper proposal for the overarching policy. But the fundamentals of it are that, at the point of contact, the individual should not have to wrestle with what kind of funding that they’re getting. So, rather than now having to say, ‘Well, you haven’t applied—you applied for Jobs Growth Wales but, unfortunately, you’re 25 and you should have applied for something else’, we’ll do away with that. What we’ll have is this employment advice service, which will broker the individual’s ability to say what they need and then help them to get what they need.

I’ve been extremely clear that that has to be completely divorced from the actual support that they get, because I frankly—and I’ll be absolutely clear about this—do not want any links at all with the kind of assessment that has been associated with benefits sanctioning and so on, which I think is abhorrent and really only drives desperate people into more desperation. So, what we’re looking to do is broker for the individual a way for them to express their own needs to Government, and for us to provide them with the services they require. That might be skills and it might be training—employment training or in-employment training—but it also might be health provision or childcare or travel or whatever. So, I will be convening a cross-Government group to look at this, and we will be looking to see how we can seriously holistically look at the barriers that an individual faces towards sustained employment, or indeed towards the steps towards employment, which might include volunteering and community work and so on, to get them along that path, because we know that it drives people out of poverty and into health to have that kind of connection.

So, this is really a very early update for the Assembly in terms of our policy direction, because I very much wanted to know what Members thought about that policy direction, and then I’ll revert to you once we’ve got the thing in a more comprehensive form.

I thank the Minister for her statement today. The Minister said she plans to reshape employability support for job-ready individuals to gain decent and sustainable employment. Vital to this is ensuring that students leaving education have the right skills to help them in the world of work. The Minister says that she recognises the importance of working with employers to maximise the potential of helping low-activity groups into employment. So, could I ask the Minister what plans she has to strengthen ties with the business community to make this happen in Wales?

I welcome the confirmation that this approach will be for all ages and all-encompassing. How will the Minister ensure that her approach reduces the gender imbalance in our workforce, and what specific measures will she be taking to assist older people back into the workforce in Wales?

The Minister says that employment is not just about increasing skills. Increasing skills does, however, play a key role in getting people into sustainable employment. I regret, therefore, that there has been a significant lack of commitment from the Welsh Labour Government to reinvest this funding into improved apprenticeship training. This is the money given by the businesses—[Interruption.] This is the money given by the businesses, and it is vital that this is reinvested into training. Does the Minister appreciate the disappointment of groups such as the Welsh retail consortium that the Welsh Government is viewing the levy consequentials as a revenue stream and are not linking this to those who have contributed to it? Why does the Welsh Government refuse to ring-fence this money to support businesses? The Welsh Government has made much of its Valleys taskforce. [Interruption.] The Welsh Government has made much of its Valleys taskforce. Could not these funds be used to provide skills training for people in the most deprived communities in our Valleys?

The funding certainty provided by the UK Government is most welcome, and employers will feel let down by the Labour-led Government if it refuses to invest this cash into training and apprenticeships in Wales, although, overall, I do appreciate what the Minister is doing here.

At the risk of appearing like groundhog day, there isn’t any extra money. The Member will be familiar with how the Barnett formula works. So, what the Treasury has done is announce a consequential of one part without showing you what the disconsequential of another part is. So, for example, there’s a 17 per cent cut in the base funding, which is matched against the apprenticeship funding. That’s just one of them; there are several others. So, you will know that a fundamental principle of devolution is that the money comes to the Welsh Government for the Welsh Government to set its priorities. The idea that you can change general taxation for a specific employment tax and then bemoan the fact that it isn’t being ring-fenced is just extremely—well, laughable, quite frankly. It’s not clear either how it will be spent in England. So, whilst it’s true that there will be a voucher system for some employers that pay the levy, it’s not at all clear to me how SMEs who don’t pay the levy will get funding, nor is it clear how public sector bodies paying the levy will be able to spend that funding. So, it’s nothing more than a cut in general taxation, replaced by a specific tax. And I’m afraid, Dirprwy Lywydd, I have no other words to express it. I feel I’ve really said it until it’s been said to death.

In terms of the rest of it, the Member made a reasonable point about the need for businesses to be included in our plans, and, of course, they are. I talked a lot about nationally commissioned and regionally focused schemes. The Member will be familiar with the workings of the regional skills partnerships, and, of course, they have been consulted in the way that we have looked at our national policy, and they will continue to be consulted, and, indeed, they’ve worked very hard on putting their own plans together.

Can I thank the Minister for her statement today? It’s been very important to look at where we are going to attack some of the issues that affect some of the most deprived communities. I was going to ask about the levy, but I think you’ve answered that quite clearly. [Interruption]. No, it’s okay.

But the issues we talked about—clearly, you’ve mentioned it a little bit, but I was disappointed to see in the paper, in the statement itself, no mention of transportation. You have mentioned it in your response to Llyr Gruffydd, in one point, but I think the issue of transportation is critical. Because, if you are focusing upon the needs of the individual, it’s about how that individual gets access to some of those services, not just some of the employment opportunities, but also some of the advice that may be available as well. So, I think we need to look at the issue of transportation.

In your statement, you mention that it’s going to be nationally commissioned, regionally managed. Now, does that actually mean there’s a role for regional skills partnerships? What is their role, and can you perhaps focus upon the south Wales partnership, in particular, and the plan they have, and how that fits into the agenda of the employment advice service?

Can you also look at perhaps how this scheme would work with other schemes in operation, particularly in my area, with the steel taskforce, and how that’s going to fit in to this whole picture as well—because, clearly, we have many individuals who need the support and services they are providing—and how that fits in with that?

Minister, it’s important we tackle the challenges faced by our deprived communities—our post-industrial communities—who are facing some tough times ahead of them. I look forward to seeing how this works for those people.

Thank you very much for those questions, David Rees. I think, on the point of transportation, it’s true I didn’t mention it in the statement itself, but that’s only because you end up with a big, long shopping list if you put everything in—that’s not to denigrate its importance. Clearly, what we’re looking at is looking to see what barriers each individual faces, and, if there’s a transportation difficulty, then we need to find a way to counter that.

Indeed, I visited a library up in Blaina, in Abertillery, only the other day, and spoke with a number of people there who were in our digital inclusion groups, and a librarian there, who was a really excellent individual. Nearly everybody there said that transportation was one of the biggest problems they had in accessing the jobs that they were looking for as part of their benefits search. So, I’m very familiar with that, and we will certainly be looking at that. My colleague, Ken Skates, and I are very much part of that proposal.

In terms of how it links to the other initiatives we’ve got, you mentioned the steel taskforce, for example, but we also have the Valleys taskforce, and a number of other initiatives, all of which are really working in the same area, but with specific focus on a particular group of people, with particular problems. The whole point about the employability scheme is that it pulls them together and sets them in an overarching policy framework, so that we can ensure that they’re not working against each other, but are, in fact, working in harmony.

If I could just use the steel taskforce as an example of not having cohort-driven policies, obviously, there’ll be ReAct funding available for anybody who’s made redundant, but you’ll know that that only applies to employees, and that a lot of the people who become displaced when an industry starts to downsize are actually supply chain contractors and self-employed people, and so on. So, we’re looking to have a more global system that allows people who are not inside the specific category to also access support. So, that’s a very good example of how that would work.

And then, lastly, in terms of regional skills partnerships, I’ve been going around Wales, I’ve announced the two plans—for the north and for the south-east—and, very shortly, I’ll be announcing the plan for the regional partnership for the south-west, as all three regional skills partnerships go from their pilot year into their first year of operation. In the south-west, for example, they’ve worked very hard with the city region, and, indeed, with the enterprise zones, to ensure that all of the skills for the growth industries we want for the future are reflected in the plan, and then our funding will follow that, so that we can ensure that, when we’re putting funding in place for skills specifically, we’re funding the skills for the future and not skills for the past.

I welcome the statement today and I particularly welcome the holistic approach that the Minister is adopting, and that issues about transport, healthcare and support for individuals when they gain work are seen as just as important as the skills that are needed.

One of the big issues, of course, is childcare and women’s employability. Does the Minister think that women’s employability is affected by the fact that the leave for childcare still tends to be taken by women? What can we do about that? What does the Minister think we can do about the fact that we want women to access jobs that will be well paid? We all know the figures that 80 per cent of care workers are women and 90 per cent of the workforce in the STEM subjects are men, so how are we going to move ahead and give the support to try and break that down?

The other issue, of course, is prejudice amongst employers and other people in the community. What can we do to remove those prejudices? The Equality and Human Rights Commission has looked at pregnancy related discrimination, which has already been mentioned here in this Chamber today, and shows that there is a considerable amount of discrimination about women who are pregnant or who are likely to be pregnant. So, I really welcome everything that the Minister has said today, but if we’re going to look at it holistically, we’ve somehow got to build all that in, as well.

Amongst some of the policy drivers that we’ve been looking at in putting together the plan, as I was mentioning to Llyr, is looking to see what we can drive by way of other Government investment. So, one of the things we’re only exploring at the moment, but it’s been well received by those I’ve spoken to so far, is that where we support a company, for example, in the engineering or technology sector, where the jobs are better paid, we might be able to provide extra support if they’re prepared to have flexible working practices, flexible hours and so on, to encourage that kind of working, which we know assists women to stay in those careers and return to them after going part-time or, indeed, having a career break to look after their children.

So, we’re very much exploring how we can use Welsh Government funding and investment funding to put hooks, if you like, into the funding to encourage the kinds of behaviours in employers that we’d like to see. That goes also for trying to ensure a more diverse workforce in a number of areas—I see Joyce Watson looking at me—so construction is obviously one of them. You and I attended a very interesting healthcare firm in your constituency only yesterday to talk about their plans, and one of the discussions we had was about how they employ their workforce and what the flexible arrangements might be. So, we’re starting to look at that kind of hook to be attached not just to skills training funding, but actually to our procurement funding and to some of our grant-in-aid funding and some of our investment funding, to see what other things we can drive through as we pursue our agenda to have a diverse workforce.

I’ll just reiterate something I know we all agree with: that all companies that show diversity in their workforces have better bottom lines than those companies that don’t. So, this isn’t about a nice thing that costs you; this is about a thing that drives your bottom line forward, as well as providing good jobs for good people.

Diolch, Lywydd. Thank you for your statement, Minister, and for some of the reassurance you’ve just given in terms of gender balance in terms of this way forward. I just wanted to know where Welsh language skills might come into your considerations here. Obviously, the new advisory service will be an appropriate place to identify somebody’s latent Welsh language skills, but then so would be the actual providers of employment support. So, I suppose what I’m asking is: can you give us some reassurance today about where exactly the responsibility for identifying and bringing out someone’s Welsh language skills would sit in this? Obviously, the last thing any of us would want would be for this to fall through the gap between the service and the actual providers. Of course, this is particularly relevant when we’ve got poorer areas that are losing their Welsh language skills at the moment.

The Member makes a very good point indeed. We’d expect that to work all the way through the policy. I would very much expect the employment advice service to be able to pick out somebody who has Welsh language skills and assist them to train so that they can do something with the Welsh language that helps their employability, and we very much will be pushing that. But we’ll also be looking to have bilingual advice services, obviously, so that people who want to access the service in Welsh—perhaps those furthest from the job market would be a particular case in point, so if you’re facing particular economic or social difficulties in accessing employment, you might want to do that through the medium of Welsh, because that’s the language you’re comfortable with; we will be making sure that that’s facilitated. Also, we’ll be making sure that employers take proper account in their skills plans of their Welsh language needs. So, again, in reference to the employer Pelican Healthcare that we met with yesterday, they were talking to us about their need for Welsh language customer service people in their work, and obviously that’s a big growth area in Wales and one of our big selling points. So, we will be absolutely certain to be including that. My colleague Alun Davies and myself have been discussing how we can get the best out of our Welsh language features, both to help individuals but also to help employers identify the skills that they need so that we can fund it accordingly through the regional skills plan. So, it’s very much part of the mix, in exactly the same way, actually, as we were talking about diversity. So, it’s very much part of the diversity mix, and we know that it drives the bottom line. Again, I would emphasise to any employers who are listening to this that this isn’t about putting an extra burden on them; it’s actually about driving their bottom line by providing a better service.

5. 5. Statement: Year of Legends

The next item on our agenda this afternoon is the statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure on the Year of Legends—Ken Skates.

North Wales was recently named one of the world’s best regions by Lonely Planet. It’s apt and testimony to Visit Wales’s work that this comes at the end of the Year of Adventure, with the publication stating that North Wales had earned its place due to the transformation that the region has undergone over the last few years. World-first adventure attractions, a glorious coastal path, some of best mountain biking in the UK: the reinvention has of course been driven by visionaries and entrepreneurs, but we have played our role too with Welsh Government leadership, funding and outstanding marketing campaigns, the climax of which has been an epic 2016.

Highlights of an action-packed 12 months include the ‘Treasures’ exhibition at National Museum Wales, a ‘Great Weekend of Adventure’ in April, Cadw’s ‘Historic Adventures’ summer, two Red Bull events and the Roald Dahl ‘City of the Unexpected’ extravaganza in Cardiff. And, of course, Wales’s epic footballing adventure in France earlier this year became an opportunity to promote Wales to new audiences across Europe, with an exhibition in Paris and our first ever television campaign in the German market during the week of the semi-finals. The same Visit Wales advert had already been shown on television and in cinemas here in the UK and Ireland, as well as in cinemas in England and Germany as part of an integrated campaign, which also featured print and digital marketing, as well as an adventure roadshow, co-funded with the GREAT campaign, visiting Munich, Cologne, Paris and Amsterdam.

The ‘EPIC’ installation summer project was designed to generate social media coverage for Wales’s peak season, drawing in over 8,000 visitors to its Rhossili site alone and boosting Visit Wales’s social following to over 900,000 people. The campaign more broadly has helped to generate record consumer response levels, to attract over 4.8 million visitors to Visit Wales websites in 12 months, and to drive an increase in tour operator business. I’m especially proud of the impact that the year seems to have had here in Wales. Not only has the industry fully backed the initiative, with one group of businesses even taking out their own adverts in Euston station, but our adventure ambassadors have energised the public, and I’d like to thank them wholeheartedly for their inspiration and perspiration throughout. The Year of Adventure has been the subject of prime-time television programmes and extensive media coverage in Wales, and it seems to me that it’s no coincidence that day visitor numbers are especially strong this year. In fact, the increase of over 40 per cent in average expenditure from day visitors is just one of a range of positive indicators that suggest that it may be another bumper year for tourism, with a growth of 15 per cent in international tourism visits during the first six months of 2016 and occupancy levels maintained or increased across most sectors. No wonder some 85 per cent of businesses told us that they are confident about this year. All of this activity continues to provide significant economic growth and employment opportunities in communities around Wales.

And the adventure doesn’t end here; the legacy continues with new world-class adventure openings early next year, further investment in world-first adventure products planned and ongoing adventure marketing, even as we add a new layer to our narrative: legends. Our vision as we look ahead to the Year of Legends 2017 is to build on the success of the Year of Adventure with a new and equally competitive dimension to our story. Because 2017 is about bringing our culture and heritage to the centre of our national brand. It certainly isn’t about looking backwards: the Year of Legends is about bringing the past to life as never before, with cutting-edge innovation. It’s about creating and celebrating new Welsh legends, modern-day personalities, products and events that are made in Wales, or enriched by coming here.

Our cultural assets will be injected with just as much creativity as we have seen igniting the adventure sector, with activities that are unmistakably Wales, and internationally outstanding. This ambition is crucial because 2016 wasn’t just about adventure, it was also the year of the EU referendum, changing the context for the Year of Legends completely, making it ever more important to internationalise the quality of our product offer with world-class innovation and to sell Wales to the world with renewed energy. Indeed, this week, I have also launched a new approach to promoting Wales for business—international in scope, but telling local stories. The vision is a joined-up, integrated brand with global appeal rooted in a distinctive sense of place, and the Year of Legends is tourism's contribution to this bold approach.

The additional budget of £5 million secured for Visit Wales means that, from a tourism perspective, we will respond to this challenge with funding for international-quality and brand-defining experiences and events. Details of next year’s partnership funds will be released shortly. It also enables us to significantly boost our domestic and international marketing efforts with strengthened campaigns in the UK, Germany, key European cities and the United States. A project to underpin this work by transforming Wales’s digital gateway platforms and content capabilities is already under way.

‘Legends’ is the perfect theme for this work. We know that culture and heritage are strong attractors for international audiences, but the theme also offers the deep authenticity that today’s domestic markets seek out. Local meets global; old infused with new. Our programme aims to bring these aspects together in exciting ways. We will feature an unprecedented calendar of creative activities in Wales’s castles—more open-door events, a thrilling medieval tournament in Conwy, and the unveiling of two major new artworks of international repute. We will celebrate a land of story-telling, working with VisitBritain to mark the release of a new film about King Arthur, and recognising global talent inspired by Wales, from Dahl to Dylan Thomas to Tolkien, with tours and with trails.

A rich and inspiring programme of events, exhibitions and collections delivered by our major cultural partners, including Amgueddfa Cymru and the National Library of Wales, will feature legendary works and themes. In June, we welcome the UEFA Champions League final to Cardiff, the biggest sporting occasion in the world next year. Expect multilingual digital campaigns, experiential installations and global media coverage, as we set the scene for another legendary sporting event. Cricketing’s champions trophy and golf’s senior open will add to the package of sports events.

The summer will also see us create and celebrate legendary festivals and events, and launch a glamping pop-up hotel project, which is already attracting high-profile media attention. We will highlight our food and drink heroes in September, before unveiling new legendary branded touring routes across our country, aimed at international markets, in the autumn.

The major, multichannel, multimarket campaign has already started at last week’s World Travel Market, where it was clear that Wales’s distinct and diverse cultural offer has real potential, combined with adventure, to take our brand and performance to a new level, with the aim, of course, of getting the whole of Wales onto shortlists like that of the Lonely Planet in the future, as well as growing our economy. But also, and most importantly, there is also a long-term vision to take pride in and to strengthen and enhance the very fabric of the culture and communities we serve to promote in the first place, providing a firm basis for future legends to emerge.

Wales really is a country of legends, but, far too often, they are overlooked. I’ve mentioned in here a couple of times Billy Boston, the Tiger bay legend, but nothing’s been done about it. Hopefully that can change. Before each sporting international, we will sing ‘Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri’, and it's clear that Wales is a land of poets, singers and famous people of renown—that's the English translation. But when you walk around our capital city, you're more likely to see streets named after Normans who conquered us rather than the Welsh people who tried to set us free. If you head out on 25 January, Santes Dwynwen, if you’re all going out, you're more likely to come across haggis and Burns Night than Santes Dwynwen, our Welsh patron saint of friendship and love. And, you know, it's the same on St David's Day, because I remember, in 2011, we created on Cardiff council the St David’s Day Festival, and we couldn't get Brains, of all people, to support the festival, but yet they supported St Patrick's Day—odd.

So, you know, while selling Wales and our culture abroad is to be celebrated, we need to sell, also, our culture to our own people in Wales. Who knows about Sycharth, the court of Owain Glyndŵr and the centre of cultural life back then? It could be a great tourist attraction, but it's a vacant hill with a battered old sign barely stating its significance. For me, that sums up Wales. You know, how many people here know of Dafydd ap Gwilym? It took an American to tell me who he was some years back—a great, internationally renowned writer in the fourteenth century; one of Europe's greatest writers. Yet everybody knows who Shakespeare was. Now, we have all these cultural icons unused.

The first-ever rail passenger journey took place from Merthyr ironworks to Abercynon in 1804, and what's there now? Just a path and a battered, again, dirty old sign and a plaque. In most countries in the world, you'd have a themed train ride up there and some kind of visitor centre celebrating the history of Wales and the industrial revolution. We have a country and culture that we're proud of, but we need to sell it. And if we sold it, people would buy it. The First Minister takes trips to America, but I don't see many results, because Hollywood has fallen in love with Ireland and with Scotland, with major films celebrating their legends, but, you know, as their Celtic cousin, we remain unknown. Even our rugby legend, Gareth Thomas, who inspired so many people when he came out, well, in the film about him, the character’s Irish, because they felt that being Welsh wasn't internationally known enough to justify a character.

I welcome the film initiative about King Arthur—great, great. But what about a film about the father of Welsh democracy in Owain Glyndŵr? Global star Matthew Rees has already announced that he’s determined to make the Welsh equivalent of ‘Braveheart’. Now, would the Welsh Government support such a project? Minister, why not host an event, maybe on St David's Day in 2017, and invite the brightest and the best scriptwriters and actors to Cardiff, to Wales, to talk about taking this project forward? Because I think a film about Owain Glyndŵr could do for Wales exactly what ‘Braveheart’ did for Scotland. And in the book ‘Tourism in Scotland’, it showed that, in 1997, 39 per cent of visitors to Stirling said that ‘Braveheart’ had influenced their decision, and 19 per cent said it was the reason for visiting. So, you know, there's a lot of good stuff in there, and I hope the campaign is a success and it brings much-needed jobs to Wales, because Wales does need to celebrate its legends, so I welcome your initiative. But I think it's important as well not to do it just for one year; it's time to put pride back into Wales from this day forward and every day after this, and it's time to throw off the stifling cloak of colonialism. Diolch.

I think I did detect a question there. It is a statement, and it should be questions to the Minister—[Interruption.] No, that’s okay. Yes, I think I detected a couple there, so perhaps you’d like to answer those, Minister.

Yes, there were a number of points regarding local heroes, community heroes and national legends that I think the Member raised, first of all with regard to Billy Boston. This is a matter that the Member has raised in the past, and I’d be very pleased to receive any interest from any local groups concerning an application for resource to help celebrate this particular legend. We do have, as I outlined during questions last week, a number of funding streams, including the regional tourism innovation fund, that can assist with this sort of development, and I’ll be more than happy to have officials discuss that fund and other potential avenues for support with any community groups that are looking at any events or any installations to celebrate Billy Boston during 2017, or indeed in future years.

The Member mentioned Cardiff. In terms of Cardiff and, in particular Cardiff Bay, or Tiger bay, as it was known until recent years, there is a world-class musical in development that will tell the story of Tiger bay’s industrial heritage with the aim of elevating it onto the world stage. Discussions are also under way to develop a highly innovative virtual reality product offer for Cardiff Bay that will further immerse visitors in Wales’s industrial heritage story and deliver what I think will be a truly multidimensional product.

I think it’s also important that we recognise that, next year, we will see the completion of one of the biggest heritage renovation projects anywhere in the country, with work due to be completed on the listed Coal Exchange here in Cardiff Bay. I’m in no doubt that, when that particular building opens as a hotel and as a local museum, it will attract attention from around the world, not least because many legends of music and film who are still alive performed at the Coal Exchange before it was closed. So, we are hoping that they will join us in celebrating the reopening of this important building.

But industrial heritage is with us right across Wales, and I know, over the past few months, many Members have raised in the Chamber and in writing their hopes for more to be done in promoting our rich industrial heritage. Indeed, it’s very important to the tourism offer in my own constituency, not just with heritage railways, but with former steel and coal sites attracting many visitors. I’m keen that in the Year of Legends we celebrate industrial heritage more than ever before.

In terms of selling Wales to America, well, our creative industries are performing better than anywhere else in the UK bar London, attracting significant investments to Wales and enabling Wales to be captured on the big screen. I think that the film trail that’s being put together by Wales Screen captures many of the key locations for significant movies, although it is with regret still that we did not see ‘Spectre’ filmed in this Chamber, because I think that would have added an incredible amount of interest to the National Assembly.

But the Member is right—this has to be multi-year. We have to keep the product fresh. We have to ensure that pride is renewed year after year after year, and that’s why I’m determined to make sure that thematic years continue. After 2017 and the Year of Legends we will move into 2018, the Year of the Sea. Years after that are yet to be determined, but I think that the success of the Year of Adventure means that we can go forward with the entire sector alongside us.

I’d like to thank the Cabinet Secretary for his statement this afternoon. I do think it is fantastic that Lonely Planet recently announced that north Wales is one of the top four places in the world to visit. I have no doubt that most the best places in north Wales were of course in the Vale of Clwyd, Deputy Presiding Officer.

I’ll give it a try in any case. I do suspect that Montgomeryshire is of course No. 1 as well. I’d like to think that that is the case.

But I would like to join the Cabinet Secretary in welcoming the reported 25 per cent increase in the number of visitors to Wales, and the increase in the associated visitor spend as well, which now stands £3.5 billion. I’m sure that the success can partly be attributed to the Year of Adventure.

The Cabinet Secretary referred to the 15 per cent increase in overseas visitors to Wales, and this shows that Wales has an incredible potential as a global tourism destination. Of course, so much can be done to attract overseas visitors by working with Cardiff Airport, so I’m interested there with regard to that, because I think Cardiff Airport offers routes very much geared to taking people out of Wales, but I’m keen, of course, that Cardiff Airport attracts people into Wales.

Also, with regard to the US market—I appreciate that there was a question earlier on this—there’s a huge opportunity here with regard to US visitors visiting Wales. US visitors tend to stay longer and spend more money, and, of course, the exchange rate is an advantage to us at the moment. So, I would be interested in more details about the campaigns that are currently running, or that you plan to run in future, in the US.

As I understand it, the biggest rise in overseas numbers to Wales has come from the 13 countries in eastern Europe that have recently joined the EU. So, I would be interested in hearing what the Welsh Government is doing, in association with the tourism sector, in responding to both the challenges and opportunities that are posed by Brexit.

The Cabinet Secretary has also said that these promising figures prove that Visit Wales’s marketing is working well and having an impact. I would say, though, and I’m sure that you will agree with me, Cabinet Secretary, that it is the tourism businesses that deserve much of the credit for embracing the themes, such as the Year of Legends.

Of course, Visit Wales has come a long way with regard to its marketing output, compared to the now-infamous advert that actually championed Wales as the land of outstandingly bad mobile coverage. [Laughter.] Things have moved on since then. In a survey earlier this year, less than a third of tourism businesses believed that recent campaigns had been effective in promoting Wales as a tourist destination, and three quarters still feel that Visit Wales and the Welsh Government could make better use of resources to promote tourism.

It’s also important, of course, that we analyse the effectiveness of campaigns. The Cabinet Secretary will be aware—I’ve written to him and asked questions on this next point during committee recently as well—that I am concerned that Visit Wales can’t currently provide a breakdown of figures for each campaign by print, tv and digital marketing. They can’t provide those details to me, and, more importantly, they can’t provide them to you in order to analyse how effective campaigns are. So, I would be grateful if you could commit to making a statement to Plenary when you have got access to that marketing spend, because I think we do need to measure how successful each campaign is. We need to measure how successful the Year of Adventure was, as well as the Year of Legends and, of course, next time, the Year of the Sea. Perhaps you could also widen your answer out on that with regard to how you are measuring, and how you are going to measure, the success of the Year of Legends as well.

Finally, Cabinet Secretary, with specific reference to the Year of Legends, I don’t recall you referring in your statement to the decision to postpone the international competition to design and build two landmarks commemorating national legends in 2017—one at Flint castle and one at a separate Cadw site. So, can I ask you, Cabinet Secretary, to outline the reasons for this postponement and confirm whether the flagship project will be proceeding as planned?

I thank you, Cabinet Secretary, once again for your statement. I also, as you do, hope that the Year of Legends campaign will continue to raise the profile of Wales and bring lots of visitors to Wales in the coming year.

Can I advise you not to widen your answers out to the Member, but just keep it succinct and on the statement, please?

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’ll try to deal with the questions as succinctly as possible. It is true that this is a partnership that has grown the visitor economy. It’s not just because of good work by the Welsh Government or Visit Wales—it is down to working in close partnership with the entire sector. I think that the success of the Year of Adventure shows that, now more than ever, we are working as one in promoting Wales.

In terms of figures, you’re absolutely right: we are experiencing record numbers of visitors, but it is the expenditure that is most important to businesses, and expenditure by international visitors to Wales has increased by 8.3 per cent. That’s after a record year previously, and a record year before that. What is perhaps most important now is that expenditure by day visitors to Wales is higher than the UK average. Here in Wales, a visitor will spend £38 per visit, compared with £34 in the UK. What that suggests is that the quality of the offer on average here in Wales is now greater than the quality of the offer and the quality of the product across the UK. That’s something that we should be very proud of and we should thank the sector for as well.

In terms of Cardiff Airport, well, of course, Cardiff Airport is one of the fastest growing regional airports anywhere in Europe, and is achieving record success. Its continued growth would no doubt be helped through the devolution of air passenger duty, but I am confident that Cardiff Airport are aggressively seeking new routes that will bring new tourists to Wales.

In terms of the United States, that’s deemed to be one of our key markets, and I would hope that a proportion of the £5 million—the additional £5 million—that will be spent by Visit Wales will incorporate more marketing opportunities. This brings me to the other point about disaggregating data for marketing campaigns between print, digital, television, and so forth. I think I gave an undertaking in committee last week, which I will give again today, that I will look at providing detailed data in that regard.

The art installation competition attracted, in the first instance, insufficient interest and there were also companies that said that they would like to enter but they weren’t in a position to in the short timescale, so it will begin in early December. It will be taking place, and we’ll be in a position during the Year of Legends to unveil the winning installations. In terms of how we judge the success of the Year of Legends, well, we look at the hard facts, which is what I think the Member is asking for. Our goal is to drive more than £320 million of additional consumer spend in Wales from the domestic market, and more than £7 million of travel trade business to Wales from our top-100 operators. If we achieve this, it should deliver another record-breaking year for tourism in Wales.

Can I first of all welcome the European Champions League final coming to Cardiff? I very much hope there’s a Cardiff player playing in that match, in terms of Gareth Bale. Could I also remind the Minister—and I hope that he’ll welcome it—that there are 19 major sporting events taking place in Wales every year, and that Swansea are playing in the largest league in the world, which brings in a substantial number of people, not just from England but from all over the world, to watch it? If we’re putting bids in, as Neil McEvoy seems to be, can I throw in Ivor Allchurch and Robbie James for major sporting achievement?

What I was going to talk about, though, is: have I mentioned Joseph Jenkins, John Elias, Henry Rees, Christmas Evans and, perhaps the one who gives it away, Evan Roberts? Major preachers in Wales. Wales has got a huge reputation for preachers and I think that, if we’re looking at the American market and if we’re looking at the religious parts of America, the role played by these people and others—. And it’s not just America, but Singapore, for example. We’ve got the situation where New Siloh in Landore has been taken over by a church in Singapore. But, we’ve also got a huge chapel, Tabernacle, in Morriston. So, the question I’ve got is: should we be aiming at the American market, but should we be aiming some of our great religious history, some of the great names from our religious history, not least of whom is Evan Roberts? Should we be doing that in order to try to attract American tourists to visit the chapels of Wales? It’s amazing, actually, how many visit Ebenezer in Swansea, which is Christmas Evans’s former chapel, despite the fact it’s not advertised and you have to engage in substantial research to find out where it was and what it is now. So, I think that there’s a huge opportunity there, and I would hope that the Minister would look to try to take advantage of that.

I’d like to thank the Member for his questions. I, too, am looking forward to the UEFA Champions League final, and I’m very pleased that Swansea football club remain in the premiership and, indeed, we’ll be using their occasions, their matches, to promote Wales as a place for trade and investment by inviting would-be investors to join us at some of their key matches in the present season. There are many, many legends that I’m sure Members would be able to point to, of both national and local interest to their constituencies, as 2017 is all about celebrating not just the national legends that make Wales famous on the global stage, but also celebrating local legends who, perhaps, have been lost or forgotten, but who deserve recognition. I’d encourage all Members to work with community groups to encourage them to participate in 2017 the Year of Legends and, if necessary, to apply for funding to carry out innovative events or to produce very innovative products as well.