Y Cyfarfod Llawn - Y Bumed Senedd
Plenary - Fifth Senedd01/10/2019
The Assembly met at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.
I call Members to order.
The first item on our agenda this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, but I've received notification, under Standing Order 12.58, that the Trefnydd, Rebecca Evans, will answer questions today on behalf of the First Minister. The first question is from Joyce Watson.
1. Will the First Minister make a statement on measures to improve recycling rates in Wales? OAQ54411
Wales has the third-highest household waste recycling rate in the world. We are taking steps to further improve recycling rates through behaviour change initiatives, and through developing new infrastructure for more material to be recycled. We're working closely with our local authority partners and supporting with targeted funding.
I thank you very much for that answer, Minister. The Welsh Government do have a proven track record, as you say, of taking this issue quite seriously, with Wales being global leaders in that recycling. And that's something, I think, that we all need to be extremely proud of. And I'm pleased to hear about their ongoing commitment to further improving recycling rates and working towards a zero-waste Wales. Some communities, individuals and businesses are taking it seriously, and that's only a good thing. There's been a real shift in awareness in recent years. What I would like to see, and I'm sure we all would, is a reduction in the amount of material that we need to recycle in the first place, particularly when it comes to single-use plastic. Much of that plastic is completely unnecessary, and, in terms of material that can't be recycled, 80 per cent of it is still plastic.
So, I would like to know what actions the Welsh Government are taking to reduce the use of single-use plastic, in whatever form it is, particularly those materials that, at the moment, we cannot recycle at all.
I thank Joyce Watson, and she's quite right that we should be extremely proud of what we have achieved here in Wales. And we are very much a global leader; countries across the world are looking to us for an example of what can be done, because, of course, since devolution, our household waste recycling rate has increased from just 5.2 per cent to 61 per cent, and it's the third highest in the world. But, clearly, there's no room for complacency and we can do much more. Joyce Watson raised the importance of ensuring that businesses also play their part, and the Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government has launched a consultation on business recycling. This will seek to see whether we can have businesses separating and recycling their waste in the same way that we already do at home.
And that issue of banning certain single-use plastics is extremely important, and the deputy Minister has also signalled that she's keen to introduce legislation to ban a number of single-use plastic items, and they include cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, balloon sticks and cups. I know that Joyce Watson is a big supporter of beach cleans, and many of those items will be frequent culprits, I think, when we do our beach cleans.
Minister, in April the Government brought forward the circular economy fund—a £6.5 million fund. Two windows for the small grant element of that fund have now closed, and the one window for the larger grant has just finished. Are you in a position to give us an update on how those grants have been—. Have they been successful in the uptake that the industry and consumers have taken on board? I appreciate you can't give us exact numbers, and I'd be grateful if you could put that on the record at a later date, but can you give us an overall impression of how those grant opportunities have been taken up by people across Wales?
Yes, there's been huge interest in the circular economy fund, and, of course, it's a £6.5 million fund focused on stimulating demand and use for recycled material. The successful businesses will be committed to taking on board our particular focus on getting to the point where we are a zero-waste nation. I know that the Minister will be making a statement shortly on the circular economy fund.
2. Will the First Minister make a statement on the potential development of a Swansea Bay tidal lagoon? OAQ54416
We continue to work with a range of partners to find investment projects to ensure the marine energy industry in Wales, including Swansea bay, has a strong and positive future. We are considering the report of the Swansea bay city region taskforce into potential models to deliver a lagoon in Wales.
Trefnydd, thank you for that. As you said, the Swansea bay city region taskforce report suggested some head-turning ideas indeed, including a floating community of up to 10,000 homes and shops in Swansea bay. Also proposed is a floating solar farm and an underwater data centre for technology companies to keep servers cool, in Swansea bay. It's also reported that the cost of the scheme has reduced by 30 per cent, from the original £1.3 billion. Now, as you alluded to, this report was submitted to the Welsh Government in May of this year, and, earlier this month, the leader of Swansea Council, Councillor Rob Stewart, stated that the Welsh Government had, during discussions, 'responded positively to the report'. Well, in the absence of anything coming our way, could you now inform Assembly Members of the view of Welsh Government on the report, and when you expect to make a formal decision, particularly in terms of any Welsh Government investment on this matter?
I thank Dai Lloyd for raising this issue. Of course, the taskforce to which he refers is being led by Swansea city council, on behalf of the Swansea bay city region. And the membership is drawn from a wide range of statutory and regulatory bodies, which will be required, in order to take forward any potential projects, should a suitable financial model come forward. Welsh Government has provided funding for that taskforce already to undertake a number of packages of work, procured from independent experts, which is looking very much at the financial modelling, the business case and the infrastructure delivery issues. And that work is intended, really, to develop a financial model that could include a mixture of revenue and capital streams, wider regeneration—and you've given some examples of that—and energy-related innovation proposals, and some other aspects as well. So, it's potentially a very exciting scheme. Welsh Government's very interested in it. You'll recall that, under the previous scheme, Welsh Government had agreed that there would be up to £200 million of financial transactions capital available to support that, and I can confirm that that funding would still be available should a viable and value-for-money model come forward.
I'm very pleased to hear those last comments there, Trefnydd. That was part of the question I was going to ask you, but you'll be glad to know it wasn't the entire question. I think the important point to make here is that this no-brainer of an idea still remains an amazing idea for the region, for Wales as a whole and, indeed, for the UK supply chain. The Welsh Conservative group here is certainly making its views known to the new UK Government, and I hope that your Government is as well. As part of that, I wonder if you could give me an indication of the scrutiny that Welsh Government has done on Natural Resources Wales's handling of the marine licence application for the original project, because the last thing we want, with any new ideas, is delays of that nature occurring again?
Thank you. I'm really pleased to hear that the Welsh Conservatives will be putting the pressure that they can on the UK Government in terms of supporting a Swansea bay tidal lagoon. And, of course, the UK Labour Party has said that it would be something that it would be keen to look to bring forward should it be in the position of forming a Government. But it is important that all of those issues relating to the marine licence are fully looked at. I know that the Minister with responsibility for environment and rural affairs is very much sighted on those, and we would be considering that alongside any other potential blockages that we would have to overcome as the project, hopefully, moves forward.
Trefnydd, whilst the initial plans were not favourable, the potential for tidal lagoons to address the climate emergency and our impending energy crisis cannot be overstated. Trefnydd, an ideal way of trialling the technology would be through a smaller-scale project in conjunction with a heavy energy user. Would the Welsh Government consider a joint venture with Port Talbot steelworks in order to showcase the potential of tidal lagoons to decarbonise our energy supply?
Well, Welsh Government is extremely excited about, and ambitious about, the potential of marine energy in the round. And I know that the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs spoke at the ocean energy conference just yesterday in Dublin. And she was talking about the more than £71 million of European funding that has been agreed and which will deliver over £117 million of investment in Wales, and some of that will be in the region that you represent. There's a business in Swansea, which is a wave energy developer—Marine Power Systems—and they've successfully concluded their year-long sea trials, testing this over the summer. Their WaveSub quarter scale prototype has achieved its crucial milestones, and they've been awarded €13 million of that funding to design and manufacture a larger scale device. So, there's a huge amount of work and effort going on in the area of marine energy in the round.
I'm just going to add to the unanimity across political parties on this. Tidal lagoons will develop across the world—that's inevitable. Reliable and consistent electricity is something we need to be developing. Following the latest Hinkley Point predicted increase in building costs, going alongside its capped storage costs, and almost certainly—though we haven't had it yet, it'll have it underwritten—its demolition costs, the cost of tidal lagoon is now substantially less than that of Hinkley Point. Will the Minister get the Government to make the point to the Westminster Government that if Hinkley Point is able to go ahead, then we can see no reason why the Swansea tidal lagoon can't?
Absolutely, and there are so many reasons for Swansea tidal lagoon to go ahead, not least because of the important role that it could play in terms of addressing skill levels in the region and providing opportunities for excellent jobs, and putting Wales at the forefront of a new global technology. Because, as Mike Hedges says, tidal lagoon energy is going to happen in the world, and wouldn't it be fantastic if Wales was on the front line of that?
Questions now from party leaders and representatives, and, on behalf of Plaid Cymru, Rhun ap Iorwerth.
Thank you, Llywydd. Trefnydd, many people were shocked last week by some of the language chosen by the UK Prime Minister in the House of Commons. They were shocked that he could be so thoughtless in terms of the fears of Members of Parliament regarding physical violence against them, and that he was so willing to disrespect the memory of an MP who was murdered because of her beliefs. Whatever your stance on Brexit, will you join with me in condemning what we heard from one who is supposed to show leadership?
I absolutely will join you, and I would attach my name and that of the Government, and I'm sure our party as a whole, in terms of just being absolutely shocked by the language that was used by the Prime Minister in terms of an absolutely devastating and awful thing that has happened. And, we understand it as elected representatives, but Jo would have had a family—obviously did have a family—which has been desperately hurt by this. The kind of language that the Prime Minister uses just heaps more hurt on top of that.
As I said in my first question, all of us, of course, on both sides of the debate have to get our tone right. I read Welsh Government's policy update on Brexit, published last week, 'A brighter future for Wales', and in that document the Government floats proposals, including summary deportation of migrants and tracking of migrants through national insurance. Now, parking for one second the hypocrisy there of saying that at a time when your own party conference voted to maintain and extend freedom of movement, do you understand concerns that this could, in fact, ratchet up a sense of creating a hostile environment towards migrants and could actually encourage the kind of intolerance that has become such a feature of the Brexit debate?
I'm afraid you're mixing two things that are completely separate here, and you're misrepresenting, I think, to be fair, what we said in 'A brighter future for Wales', and particularly what we said on migration. So, nowhere in that document have we advocated forced deportations, and nowhere have we advocated or talked of a hostile environment for migrants from anywhere in the world or the imposition of identity cards, which I know is something that Plaid Cymru have also said that we would seek to impose. What we do say is that the UK needs to be more effective in ensuring that EU citizens who move here do so on the basis of the EU's freedom of movement legislation. That doesn't give an unrestricted right to reside in another EU or European Economic Area country, because freedom of movement applies to the employed or self-employed and those with independent means, or students. And that is very much what happens in other countries across Europe and across the EEA. So,to take Ireland, for example, EEA nationals, other than the UK, are only allowed to remain in Ireland as a jobseeker there for three months, and, at that point, you can only remain if you're employed or self-employed or if you're financially sufficient or you are a student. And if we look to Norway, you have to register with the police within three months and you can stay up to six months as a jobseeker, but, if you do not get a job within six months, you must leave Norway, and Norway, of course, is No. 1 on the Economist Intelligence Unit's democracy index. So, what we are suggesting is very much in line with our existing rules and our membership of the European Union, and it is nothing more.
We’re talking about the importance of the use of language; let me turn to the use of the Welsh language. It did appear that there was quite some consensus achieved in terms of giving the name ‘Senedd’ to this institution. New legislation would reflect the fact that ‘Welsh Parliament’ is the meaning of the term ‘Senedd’, but we would give an inherently Welsh name to the institution from the start of the next chapter of its history.
'Senedd' has increasingly become a norm when people refer to this place. Yes, they call it the Welsh Assembly, they call it the National Assembly, they call it the Assembly, but more and more this building is known as the Senedd in both languages, which belong to all of us in Wales, whichever our language or languages of choice. And now we can take the small but significant step of adopting that name for the institution itself. In November, the First Minister said,
'If I had to choose, I’d have to go with the Senedd'.
Now, your party's proposal is to go with Senedd/Welsh Parliament. How incapable do you think the people of Wales are to deal with and, indeed, to embrace the word 'Senedd', much as 'the Dáil' is the norm in Ireland, for example? And how keen are you to see the First Minister backing his own instincts on this, rather than teaming up with the Tories in throwing out the Welsh-only name?
I have to say, Llywydd, that I think this is a matter for the National Assembly, rather than a matter for Welsh Government, because we will all be casting a free vote on this particular issue, as I'm sure other Members will as well.
The leader of the opposition, Paul Davies.
Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, I know the Welsh Government has done some very good work in this area, however what further action can the Welsh Government take to support veterans in Wales?
The Welsh Government is really keen to support veterans, and one of the ways in which we can do that most effectively, I think, is to ensure that the concordat that we do have with local authorities is operated effectively and to ensure that our support for veterans when they seek to access NHS services allows them to do so in a way that does give them that genuine priority when they're seeking to access services as a result of the service that they've given to our nation.
Minister, as we've seen today in the news, it is fantastic to see Cardiff University and the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board taking part in this international trial to support veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Currently, our Welsh NHS is receiving a substantial grant of £150,000 from Help for Heroes to fund three full-time psychological therapists across Wales, who have been helping to reduce the waiting times for veterans to receive treatment. Sadly, this funding is due to come to an end in October 2020 and there are concerns about what impact this will have, especially as targets for assessment and treatment are currently being missed. Will the Welsh Government therefore commit to increase the funding for veterans in the NHS from October 2020 to ensure that the services for veterans are maintained for future years?
Well, obviously, the health Minister is here to hear the particular concerns that you've raised, and I have no doubt that services for veterans across Government will be a part of the discussions as we continue to explore our budget for the next financial year.
As I'm sure the Minister is aware, the UK Government has recently created an office for veterans affairs inside the UK Cabinet Office, bringing in experts from the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence to ensure that there is a holistic approach to veterans affairs. Now, this new office will work to co-ordinate and drive UK Government policy on veterans' welfare, mental and physical health, education and employment. For many years, the Welsh Conservatives have been calling for the introduction of an armed forces and veterans commissioner, who would be accountable to this Assembly and who would champion the needs of the armed forces community and ensure devolved powers are fully used to offer the necessary support. Minister, given the work that is being undertaken at a UK level, would the Welsh Government now reconsider the introduction of an armed forces and veterans commissioner so that support for our dedicated personnel in the armed forces is put on a proper footing to ensure they actually get the services that they deserve?
Well, I know that the UK Government has established, as you say, the new office for veterans affairs, and as Welsh Government we're really keen to engage with them. I think that there's already been some engagement at official level to see how we can best work together to support veterans, because, obviously, some aspects will be devolved and non-devolved. Where we can work closely together with the Ministry of Defence and other partners to deliver for the armed forces community here in Wales, we will certainly seek to do that.
Leader of the Brexit Party, Mark Reckless.
I welcome the Finance Minister to her covering First Minister's questions this week, and trust that the First Minister has been as successful promoting Wales off the pitch as the team so far has been on the pitch in Japan. The Government has set aside today's agenda to update us on its preparations should we leave the European Union without an overarching agreement, and it's right that a responsible Government should make those preparations, and it should put them out there for scrutiny. So, we hope that will be a good-faith effort this afternoon. I would also like to just pass on apologies from Caroline Jones from our group that she's not able to take the sessions on health and local government because she's accompanying a family member to hospital.
With the need for that responsible scrutiny, can the Minister just confirm to me that, when Jeremy Miles said on 17 September that the Government would be releasing an update on the economic impact of Brexit shortly, does that constitute this document, 'A brighter future for Wales: Why we should remain in the EU'? Isn't the focus of this document rather that of a campaigning document? And given its title, wouldn't it be more appropriate for the Government to have published it to try and influence the referendum before it took place, rather than now, three and a half years after it lost?
The Welsh Government has been clear all along that remaining in the European Union is in the best interests of Wales. We made that argument ahead of the referendum in 2016 and nothing that we've seen since that date has been able to convince us that we've been wrong in that. In terms of the document, yes, that includes the economic analysis, and it's not just our analysis, of course; we've been supported by the chief economist in developing that. But we're not the only people looking at this, of course. If you don't like what you read from the Welsh Government, you can always look at the Office for Budget Responsibility, for example, which has produced forecasts for its spring statement that showed growth would likely continue to disappoint for the next five years, and GDP per head is expected to increase at an average annual rate of just 1 per cent, compared with what has been a long-term average of 2.4 per cent. That, of course, assumes that we leave the EU with a negotiated deal. So, I think the picture looks even more bleak should we end up in a situation where we have a 'no deal' Brexit.
The Minister promised us an update on that economic assessment, but what we've seen is the republication of reports that the Government has previously referred to. We have here the Government's own estimates—this is in the executive summary—that suggest that with a 'no deal' Brexit, the economy will be around 9 per cent smaller in 15 years' time than it otherwise would have been. That comes from, I think, 26 February under Philip Hammond's Treasury report released then. It actually says the UK economy would be 6.3 per cent to 9 per cent smaller, and then it adds on to the section that your Government quotes 'assuming no action is taken'. Isn't that a hugely implausible assumption? Aren't Governments, just like the private sector, going to make changes, take action in response to what happens? You refer back to that forecast, but you don't refer in the same way to the Bank of England forecast, which has been revised twice downwards since that forecast came out. And is it not also the case that the Bank of England—? You say in your report on the strategic risk of 'economic turmoil' that
'Sterling has fallen markedly in value since the referendum and as the prospect of a no deal Brexit has intensified. This could, over time, translate into rising inflation on some products'.
But it hasn't done so; inflation post the referendum peaked at 3.1 per cent, it's now at 1.7 per cent. When the Bank of England has halved its estimate and forecast there might be a 5 per cent hit if we leave with no overarching agreement, will the Minister confirm that is on the assumption that the Bank of England itself responds to those circumstances by raising interest rates from 0.75 per cent to 4.5 per cent? Isn't that wholly implausible and not a sensible basis on which Welsh Government should be planning?
Perhaps if we look back at what's already happened, it might give us an idea of what more is to come. The UK economy has underperformed relative to other major economies since the decision to call the EU referendum was announced in 2015. Since the referendum itself, GDP is estimated to be between one and two percentage points lower than would have been otherwise the case, and for illustrative purposes, that's between £300 and £600 per person per year in Wales. The Member refers to the Bank of England, and they have provided an updated forecast for the economy in August, which focuses more on the nearer-term outlook. Over the next 12 months, the bank expects only modest growth in GDP, so just 1.5 per cent, and businesses—the Bank of England argues it, not me—will prove reluctant to invest against a background of Brexit-related concerns, and, of course, alongside that, net exports are not expected by the bank to contribute materially to growth. So, we're always keen to hear what the Bank of England has to say, but unfortunately for Mark Reckless, none of it will be good news to him.
3. How will the First Minister use the Rugby World Cup to promote exports from and inward investment to Wales? OAQ54442
Our activity around the Rugby World Cup primarily aims to strengthen business relationships between Wales and Japan, raise the profile of Wales and secure contracts for Welsh companies. The First Minister will be providing an update to Members about the trade mission to Japan with a statement upon his return.
That's really good news. I'm sure the Minister will join me in celebrating the fantastic result on the weekend with Wales against the Wallabies—we're getting into a winning formula here now; long may it continue—but also celebrating the fantastic Japanese win as well. Both of those matches have brought the world cup to light, but there is, indeed, a real team Wales approach going on here. Out in Japan at the moment, on the back of the Rugby World Cup, we have Trade and Invest Wales working hard, GlobalWelsh working hard on developing links with the Welsh diaspora, Wales Arts International, the Urdd and many other organisations as part of this trade and cultural mission with the First Minister. This is a real team Wales approach. Would she agree with me that the history of the success of both economic, social and cultural ties between Wales and Japan has been built on developing those long-term relationships of trust and goodwill and that it's absolutely right that on the back of the Rugby World Cup the First Minister, industry players, players from the cultural sector, should all be out there capitalising on this and building on those relationships now and for many years to come?
Thank you very much. First things first, I absolutely will join you in congratulating the team on the weekend. But the points that you make about the importance of long-term relationships with countries in terms of trade, culture and educational exchanges and opportunities and so on are so important. We have a long-standing and really fruitful relationship with Japan that we want to see continue well into the future. Japan is a strategic market for us here in Wales and our office in Tokyo aims to generate economic benefit for Wales, principally through trade and investment, but also through increased tourism, education, cultural and government links. I know that the First Minister has an extremely packed agenda while he is out in Japan promoting Wales and making those business links alongside the trade mission that we have on at the moment. You'll be pleased to know that just yesterday he was meeting with Sony, which is obviously an important company in respect of your own constituency interests as well. So, it's a very packed programme, and I think a fantastic opportunity to sell Wales to Japan but also the wider world.
I would also join in in congratulating Wales on a fantastic win this weekend. The Rugby World Cup, of course, is a fantastic sporting event, but it also has the opportunity to sell Wales to the world. There's not a single ounce of Welsh lamb eaten in the United States at the moment as the market is dominated by New Zealand, and I would imagine it is also the same position in Asia. Ninety-two per cent of our lamb exported is sold to the EU. I would ask the Minister: what is the Welsh Government doing to promote Welsh lamb exports to non-EU countries, such as Japan, in advance, of course, of Brexit?
Well, Welsh Government has provided support for the food and drink industry to undertake a trade mission ahead of the current trade mission to blaze the trail in terms of the work that we're currently doing in Japan. But I think I'm right in saying that the lamb market has just opened up for us now in Japan, and Hybu Cig Cymru are alongside that trade mission at the moment, seeking to promote our excellent produce.
4. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the value for money of the Arbed am Byth home energy scheme? OAQ54425
As part of a rigorous tender process, Welsh Government undertook a thorough analysis of the commercial aspects of the bid. The contract includes set costs for each measure, which were benchmarked not only against other bidders at the time of tender, but also against similar fuel poverty schemes.
The last time I asked the First Minister about the Arbed am Byth home energy scheme, I informed him that contractors were being encouraged to charge £245 for soft lighting measures, plural, for basically changing light bulbs, as I said last time, and £124 for water measures, which is essentially screwing an aerator into a tap.
I got a letter from the First Minister to claim that my figures were wrong because they didn't relate to a single item, but I didn't allege that. Reading the letter further, he actually confirms what I said because the First Minister here talked of efficiency measures. So, it seems that our First Minister thinks that it's appropriate for £245 to be paid to contractors just to change a few light bulbs. Well, the public doesn't. I met with the Wales Audit Office and they're now investigating, which is something the Government failed to do because all they did was ask Arbed themselves. So, now, speaking on behalf of the First Minister, do you concede that the taxpayer—it is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous—that the taxpayer is being billed £245 to change light bulbs and £124 to change aerators? Do you agree that that is an outrageous waste of money? And yes, as my colleague over there said, it's ridiculous.
Well, Neil McEvoy is right that the Auditor General for Wales recently undertook a value-for-money audit of the Welsh Government's efforts to tackle fuel poverty since 2010 and the strategy that has been alongside that, and we look forward to receiving that report. But insofar as Arbed 3 is concerned, the contract was subject to a robust procurement process; due diligence was undertaken at the award of the contract; and I think it's really important to remember that the contract includes a profit-cap clause and a percentage of performance-related payment, and that protects Welsh Government investment to ensure quality and value for money.
The Member makes an important point: it's important in all these schemes that efficiency is gained and value for money is achieved. Of course, it's not just the Welsh taxpayer who funds the Arbed scheme; a significant proportion of that money comes from the European regional development fund. So, I wonder what work is being done, in advance of Brexit, to ensure that energy efficiency schemes that look to make homes in Wales more efficient moving forward and help to deliver success for the climate change emergency, what work is being done to make sure that schemes like this do continue and we do continue to have sustainable homes in the future beyond Brexit.
Well, of course, we are extremely concerned and I know the concern is shared across the Chamber in terms of the future of EU funding in Wales. We haven't had any real guarantee from the UK Government in terms of future funding for this scheme or any other scheme.
When we look, for example, at the shared prosperity fund, there was a consultation promised a year, 18 months ago, and absolutely nothing has materialised. So, we're, rightly, all very much concerned in terms of what we're able to do in these areas that have benefited very much from EU funding. And let's not forget, areas that have benefited from EU funding have often been the poorest areas in Wales, areas where fuel poverty is at its most serious. So, we're extremely concerned about the future. We continue to lobby the UK Government, as you'd expect us to do.
I've had contact from constituents in the Lansbury Park estate in Caerphilly who value the Arbed scheme and are waiting for the work to be done. I wrote to the Welsh Government on 14 May regarding those delays, and discussions had been taking place between the Welsh Government and the Arbed delivery team following the submission of Caerphilly County Borough Council's bid to complete those works.
And in her response, dated 4 June, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs indicated the Welsh Government would be meeting with the local authority and Arbed to bring the work up to date. I'm still getting queries from constituents, as I say, who value the scheme. At the time, Caerphilly council said, despite this undertaking, that they hadn't heard anything further from the Welsh Government. So, can she provide an update on that and whether this work was carried out, and whether or not there are plans to both meet with Caerphilly and to complete the work?
I can confirm that meetings were held over the summer between senior mangers across all of the parties concerned to progress and overcome some of the challenges that have been identified in terms of rolling out the scheme in Lansbury Park. I'm told that good progress is being made, but that things have taken longer than anticipated. But, there will be a meeting held on 16 October, which will seek to resolve those outstanding issues, and I'll ensure that you're updated after that.
Can I ask, one of the great opportunities, of course, that there is in terms of Brexit is an opportunity to resolve—
My fault. Sorry, Darren, I need to ask the initial question first. Question 5, Michelle Brown. [Laughter.] You're on next, Darren.
That's why I was caught out.
5. What assessment has been made of how a no-deal Brexit would impact the Welsh economy? OAQ54446
The UK Government's own estimate suggests that with a 'no deal' Brexit, the UK economy would be around 9 per cent smaller in 15 years' time than it otherwise would have been. The Bank of England has estimated that every person in Wales is already £1,000 worse off than they would've been as a result of Brexit uncertainty, and living standards will also suffer as prices at home and the cost of travel abroad increase, as a result of devaluation and tariffs.
Thank you for that answer, Trefnydd. The A55 is a busy road, mainly due to trade traffic, including that heading to and from Holyhead. If the Government's project fear is to be believed, shouldn't the decision to build a new road along the red route, which is largely going to be for trade traffic, be frozen and re-examined at a later date, particularly since the current plans involve destroying an area of rare ancient woodland and other protected sites and you've just declared a climate emergency? Surely, if you have any faith in your professed concerns over Brexit, you must be doubtful that the red route will be needed.
Well, we are very concerned in terms of transport following Brexit, but many of those concerns will materialise on day 1, or if not, very shortly after. So, I think that bringing the two issues together doesn't necessarily match. However, Welsh Government is working really hard to seek to avoid as much disruption as humanly possible to freight and to other transportation following a potential 'no deal' Brexit.
I know there's a lot of doom and gloom on the Labour benches about Brexit, but one of the opportunities that Brexit will bring, of course, is an opportunity to address the procurement processes that we have in Wales and to improve them to give Welsh businesses a better opportunity to take advantage of public sector procurement. What action has the Welsh Government got in train to reform your procurement processes so that, once we leave the EU, our businesses here can thrive?
Well, Welsh Government has been doing a huge amount of work in this area, and I look forward to being able to provide a fuller statement to colleagues in due course. But, what I will say is that we're looking very closely at the foundational economy work to explore how we can ensure that our investment very much goes back into the local economy and supports those anchor industries and anchor businesses that are there and don't leave our economies. We're doing a huge amount of work to ensure that we get the maximum benefit in other ways from our procurement as well, so we're looking at the declaration of the climate emergency and what more we can be doing to ensure that our investment leads to decarbonisation across the board as well. So, I look forward to providing more information on procurement, but I would say that, in terms of the benefits of Brexit, they're very, very hard to find, especially when we compare them to the figures that I outlined earlier on during questions this afternoon, looking at the overall impact that Brexit might have on families and our country.
6. What is the Welsh Government doing to monitor the waiting times for access to orthodontic treatment in Wales? OAQ54428
Wales is the first country in the UK to introduce electronic dental referrals across all dental specialities, including orthodontics. This means the source, complexity and volume of referrals will be known by health boards. The e-referral system will improve the quality of referrals and reduce patient waiting times for treatment.
Thank you, Trefnydd. I welcome your comments there about the e-referrals system. It's estimated that about 25,000 people in Wales are currently waiting for orthodontic treatment, and the lists in most parts of the country are two to three years long. This picture is complicated by some health boards having no direct provision and cases of multiple referral, as the health committee discovered in their recent inquiry. As you refer to, May saw the introduction of this electronic referral system, which I would hope should give us a more accurate picture, which is, of course, the first step towards tackling the waiting lists and improving the service. How is this system bedding in and when does the Welsh Government think that it would be possible to set target waiting times in order to improve the service?
The electronic referral system is doing well. There has been really high take-up of it with 98.6 per cent of dentists already using that system, and they're reporting that it's easy to use, that it works well and it does make life easier for them, but also, importantly, for their patients and for the hospital consultants. For the first time, patients themselves are able to track their referrals online, and so they're able to feel and be more involved and informed about their care. Even though it is only early days, more than 20,000 referrals have gone through the system already, and around a third of those have been for orthodontics.
There are no waiting-time targets for primary care services, including orthodontics, however, within 12 months of the roll-out commencing, health boards will have the details of the source, complexity and volume of all referrals to all dental specialities, and that then will help support health boards to take evidence-informed planning decisions on the provision of services. The more robust referral process will also make it easier to identify local service delivery and practice-level training needs as well, because, as Vikki Howells referred to, some cases of multiple referrals have been identified and the system will be able to ensure that those kinds of things don't keep happening.
Of course, the e-referral system is a very positive step forward in terms of reducing waiting times in the Cynon valley and throughout the rest of Wales. However, another one of the problems we have is a crucial shortage of orthodontists. What's the Welsh Government doing to recruit more orthodontists?
The Welsh Government's aware of the issues in terms of our ability to recruit orthodontists, and it's certainly an issue that the health Minister's very alive to, and I know that he'll have more to say on this tomorrow, when he replies to a debate on this subject.
7. Will the First Minister make a statement on the potential for wind and solar energy in mid-Wales? OAQ54413
We meet half our power needs from renewable energy, and we must identify further resources to meet the growing need for low-carbon heat and transport. Welsh Government is working with other public sector organisations in Powys to develop a carbon-positive strategy for the county that maximises clean energy production.
Thank you for your answer, Minister. I am someone who also believes that we do need to invest in renewable technologies, and we also need to have a mixed basket of forms of renewable energy solutions.
I was disappointed that the consultation on the national development framework was published during the Assembly recess. I do think that we as AMs need to scrutinise those proposals in detail. You'll appreciate that I and many of my constituents are particularly concerned about the acceptance of landscape change that would be applicable to large parts of Powys that are included within the proposals. You'll appreciate that we have beautiful landscapes in mid Wales and thousands of jobs and businesses depend on that scenic mid Wales landscape. So, I am concerned that there is that acceptance of landscape change detailed within the draft proposals. I'm also concerned that there's no mention of how the power that would be produced would be connected to the national grid. That's also not mentioned within the proposals for the NDF. But can I ask you, Minister, how genuine of a consultation is this in terms of listening to constituents in mid Wales? And what analysis have you done with regard to the effect on the tourism economy of mid Wales if the proposals, as in your consultation, go forward?
This is a genuine consultation, and I know that the Minister for Housing and Local Government is really keen to hear all views and from everybody who has an interest in this. We've been proactive in terms of holding consultation events, so there was one in Newtown on 17 September, and there were between 30 and 40 people attending there. I know that a briefing session was held on the NDF on 19 September that you and other Assembly Members were able to attend in order to have a factual briefing as to the implications for different areas from planning officials. You'll be meeting with Julie James to discuss the NDF on 16 October, and she's indicated that she's very happy to meet with all Members who have a particular interest and particular approaches that they want to make on behalf of their constituents.
Insofar as the connection to the grid is concerned, we do need a robust, fit-for-purpose grid that enables our low-carbon energy objectives to be delivered. But it has to be delivered in a way that is not detrimental to the surrounding environment. So, our priority is to ensure that the grid is developed in a way that meets the current and future needs of Wales whilst meeting the imperative to decarbonise heat and transport and increase resilience, particularly in rural areas. But we would expect this to rely primarily on connections on wooden poles rather than pylons.
Finally, question 8—Rhianon Passmore.
8. Will the First Minister provide an update on the help provided to parents by the Welsh Government for childcare and early education in Islwyn? OAQ54448
Yes. Families in Islwyn benefit from a number of Welsh Government programmes supporting childcare and early education, including Flying Start, the childcare offer, which is now available across Wales, and the universal entitlement to nursery education for three and four-year-olds.
Thank you, Trefnydd. The Welsh Labour Government was elected in 2016. One of its key commitments was to provide 30 hours of early education and childcare to hardworking parents of three and four-year-olds across Wales for 48 weeks per year. At the end of this July, there were almost 16,000 three and four-year-old children accessing qualitative Government-funded childcare. Across Wales, there are over 3,600 qualitative childcare settings, and these are employing around 17,000 people and contributing to the local economy, skills, qualification and apprenticeships growth.
In this vital area, the Welsh Labour Government is acting and making a difference for Welsh families. So, what further actions can the Welsh Government take to build on this exciting initiative to aid further Islwyn families and supporting further children's education, childcare and the wider economy across Wales?
I thank Rhianon Passmore for raising this issue. Of course, 1,107 children in Caerphilly alone are accessing the childcare offer. It has been really important that we listen to parents in terms of our evaluation of the scheme. When we evaluated it at the first year of implementation, the majority of parents reported a real increase in their disposable income because of the offer. A typical parent who is benefiting from 20 hours of childcare per week is now getting the equivalent of an extra £90 a week in their pockets—money that they wouldn't otherwise have had. That's one of our priorities as a Welsh Government—to see how we can ensure that low-income families do have more money in their pockets to spend on all of the things that they need, and to make sure that their families have what they need.
So, in terms of moving forward, we're still keen to continue the roll-out. We know that there are lots of families who have yet to access the scheme who would certainly benefit from it. I know that the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services is considering what the future of this scheme might look like.
Thank you, Trefnydd, for answering those questions on behalf of the First Minister.
The next item, therefore, will be the business statement and announcement from the Trefnydd, who will answer on behalf of herself this time. I call on Rebecca Evans to make the statement—Rebecca Evans.
Diolch, Llywydd. There are no changes to this week's business. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Could I call for three short statements, if I may? The first is on improvements in autism services. On 23 September, a week ago yesterday, the health Minister issued a written statement with that title, which merits an oral statement or even a debate in Welsh Government time. It states, for example:
'Some see the answer is to introduce autism legislation, but we know that in England where the Autism Act was passed in 2009, this has not achieved the benefits that were promised'.
And, it says:
'There is no equivalent to the progress we are making in Wales in the Integrated Autism Service'.
However, the National Autistic Society in England tell me that there has been significant progress in having a diagnostic pathway under the Autism Act there, with many more people presenting for diagnosis. Every area has an autism lead, and the last report said that the number of autistic people who have been found eligible for social care is up, and more diagnosis pathways are specialist autism ones. The wider autism community has asked me to challenge the perception that progress is being made in the integrated autism service where, for example, we don't have any information from it that measures outcomes for autistic people who have accessed the service, and much more besides, but I haven't got time to go into this now. It does merit time to ask appropriate questions accordingly.
Secondly, could I call for a statement on support for people with motor neurone disease? Again last week, the Motor Neurone Disease Association launched their 'Act to Adapt' report on housing adaptations for people living with motor neurone disease, pointing out that people with MND need their home adaptations quickly and easily, so that they can live safely, independently and with dignity. Their calls included for national Governments in England and Wales to review the funding distribution formula for disability facility grants, taking into account levels of disability and income, housing tenure and regional variations of business costs; for Governments in England and Wales and Northern Ireland to review the means test to address key identified problems; and for national Governments, including Wales, to include target waiting times for urgent and non-urgent works in transparent and measurable standards for adaptations, and to monitor against those targets.
Finally, could I call for an oral statement following the written statement by Jane Hutt AM, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip, on 19 September, 'Action on Disability: The Right to Independent Living'? It says the framework sets out how Welsh Government is fulfilling its obligations under, amongst other things, the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Its Part 2 code of practice refers to, or recognises that disabled people can achieve their potential and fully participate as members of society, consistent with the Welsh Government's framework for action on independent living, expressing the right of disabled people to participate fully in all aspects of life. So, for example, we need to know if and when the code is going to be amended to reflect the new guidance, and how public service providers will be apprised of that, where too many still ignore the code as currently drafted. In that context, finally, the new action on disability framework plan says that Welsh Government would develop a British Sign Language national charter for delivery of services and resources. However, as I stated here in February, the British Deaf Association is calling for local authorities and public services in Wales to sign up to their charter for British Sign Language and to make five pledges to improve access and rights for deaf and BSL users in Wales, where presently, at that stage, only two local authorities in the whole of Wales had signed up. So, let's work with, hopefully, the community, adopt the charter they have designed, and encourage all public service providers in Wales to sign up accordingly. I think we need that statement in this context relating to those two examples, but also many more where further clarity is required.
Thank you for raising the issues that you have this afternoon. In terms of autism services, I know that the Minister had received reports on two independent reviews on autism—one that related to children and young people's neurodevelopmental services, and then a second that looked at the integrated autism service. He accepted those recommendations and set out how he would move forward on those. But he has said that he's commissioning a review to ensure that services are meeting people's needs and that money is being invested where it is needed, because, clearly, we all want to ensure that our support for people with autism and their families is the right support, and that the investment is being made in the right place. Because, again, the Minister for Health and Social Services did say that he would be providing an additional £3 million of recurrent funding for the integrated autism service from 2021, and I think that that is really a testament to the value that we put on that service, and the important role that it can play.
I'll ask you, if you don’t mind, to write to the Minister with regard to your concerns about motor neurone disease and the 'Act to Adapt' report. There was quite a lot of detail there, so I think it would benefit from the Minister having the opportunity to see the report to which you refer. I will ask the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip to provide you with a response to the various issues that you have raised regarding the framework.FootnoteLink
I was expecting Leanne to be called before me, sorry.
Could we please have an update on complaints procedures and what people can do to get answers and better feedback and results when there are disputes with social services departments? I've had a number of cases from people in Bridgend who've had disputes with social services departments, which you appreciate I won't be going into here today, but I would like to understand if we could have a statement on those processes and procedures so that we can be confident in those systems and that we don't get people disenfranchised with the system.
My second statement is with regard to the flooding that's been happening over the weekend. It's damaged many areas of Neath Port Talbot, especially Ystalyfera. I would like to have an updated statement from the environment Minister about what support has been given to date, and what councils could be doing, and how they can be supported, actually, to aid citizens in supporting this development, especially with climate change and how flooding may become more prevalent. So, if you could give us an updated statement on this, I would be very grateful.
Thank you, and apologies.
Thank you very much. In the first instance, regarding complaints procedures, perhaps it's most appropriate if I ask the Deputy Minister for social services to write to you with some more information on those procedures, and then there might be specific cases that you would wish to draw to her attention.FootnoteLink
On the second issue of flooding, I know that the Minister has said that she would be keen to bring forward a statement on this, because we have obviously seen some really heavy rain and high spring tides over the last few days. We have been aware very much of some issues of flooding, particularly in Bridgend, Caerphilly, Ceredigion, Rhondda Cynon Taf and the Vale of Glamorgan, and we're very much in touch with Natural Resources Wales and local authorities to explore any impacts that there have been on homes and businesses and what we can do to support. In terms of the wider picture, flood and coastal risk management does remain an area of a serious amount of work for us, with over £350 million being invested over the lifetime of this Government. We're taking the challenge of flooding and, obviously, the impacts of climate change extremely seriously.
I would like to ask for a statement from Welsh Government in response to the BBC investigation aired last night into the cruelty on puppy farms in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. West Wales is shamefully known as the puppy capital of the UK. This is not something to be proud of. It certainly isn't something that we would want to advertise on our tourist brochures. The programme, which I would like to commend the BBC for, showed cruelty beyond belief in council-registered puppy farms. It showed hundreds of dogs living in filthy, dark, damp and cold conditions. These premises are inspected annually by inspectors and vets, people who are supposed to prioritise the welfare of the animals. A number of premises have been inspected and found wanting, with breaches concerning poor animal welfare logged by inspectors and vets. This wasn't a one-off, they had consistently failed to meet recommendations and had been issued with warnings. Despite this, no action was taken against the breeders and licences were reissued year on year. In some instances, not even basic needs were being met, such as in one site near Llandysul that featured in the programme.
I wrote to both Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire councils yesterday and was amazed to find that they responded in less than 24 hours. So, I know now that I need to get the BBC on side if I want a prompt response. However, what has appalled me in one of those responses is that one of the sites featured last night in Llandysul has been allowed by Ceredigion council to carry on breeding, and, I quote, with a three month-only licence. You tell that to dogs and puppies that are in those conditions, because I'm not convinced that these premises will keep to the conditions that have been applied to them. History tells you that that is not going to happen. There was limited access to clean water and bedding—and I'm pleased to say that since that programme some action has been taken in some of the premises features, but it shouldn't have taken a BBC investigation for this to happen.
The legislation that is in place to protect these dogs is clearly failing. These animals do not have a voice to speak for themselves, so we have an absolute duty to do it for them. I've raised these issues in this Chamber many, many times, and I can clearly remember this issue being highlighted in the 1980s by Esther Rantzen. That was over 30 years ago, and yet we're still here now. Carmarthenshire claims a 'proactive approach'—I quote—but the sheer volume of upheld complaints suggests that something is radically wrong in this process. Minister, I'd like to know what immediate action Welsh Government are taking, in light of this report, to protect the welfare of both the puppies and the adult dogs at the puppy farms featured in this programme. And it's clear to me, from the response that I've had swiftly overnight, that these authorities are overwhelmed. In that case, would the Minister consider limiting the number of licences, limiting the number of dogs in those licensed premises—although Ceredigion, to be fair, has done that—and also expanding the care that—the 1:20 dog ratio, making that increased? One to 20 is not good enough—I said it at the time—considering the numbers of puppies that those dogs will have. That number has to be increased. The welfare of these animals has to come first, not the profit.
And the other issue I'd like to raise that was raised in that programme is the absolute failure of duty by vets, because I find that the most concerning of all. These are supposed to be experts in their field. They're supposed to have the welfare of their animals—. And yet we've seen experts saying, who were watching this programme, that they had failed in their duty. That is pretty serious. So, I'd like to know if we have any powers or any intentions to use a referral mechanism to the British Veterinary Association to make sure that action is taken against those vets, who, according to this programme, failed in their duty.
I'm grateful to Joyce Watson for raising this in the Chamber, and obviously we share her sense of horror, but also her anger at what she has seen happening here in Wales, where we're supposed to be a nation of animal lovers, but then we see things like this happening. I know that the Minister for Environment and Rural Affairs has written—or intends to very shortly—to veterinary bodies, and also to local authorities about this specific issue. She's meeting with the chief veterinary officer tomorrow. But I also know that the Minister intends to ask the animal welfare framework group to revisit the current breeding regulations to improve welfare conditions at breeding establishments. I'm sure that the kind of questions that Joyce Watson has posed about a way forward will be those questions that the group will be keen to look at.
Minister, may I ask for a statement from the Minister for Economy and Transport on the delay in commencing car production at Rassau industrial estate in Ebbw Vale by TVR? The Welsh Government gave the sports car company a loan of £2 million in March 2016, and has invested £0.5 million in the car maker. Production at Rassau was due to start earlier this year, but answers to my written questions reveal that this is not now expected to commence until the last quarter of 2020. Given that Blaenau Gwent currently ranks at the bottom of the league table of economic competitiveness in the United Kingdom, please could we have a statement giving the reasons why this much-heralded investment has been delayed and the much needed 100 quality jobs have not been delivered yet?
I'll ask Mohammad Asghar, in the first instance, to write to the Minister for Economy and Transport to seek that additional information, and I'm sure that he will be able to provide an explanation as to any delay.
May I first of all thank the Trefnydd for the business statement? And, on the back of that business statement, can I ask for a statement from the health Minister on an update on the minimum alcohol price legislation here in Wales? You will all recall that we passed this legislation in the Senedd last year. Similar legislation has been operational in Scotland for over a year, and a recent survey, which was published over the past few days, suggests that the policy has been a sweeping success in reducing the amount of alcohol that people in Scotland, even, drink. Now, there are clear implications for us here in Wales. So, could we have a statement on the minimum alcohol price here in the Senedd?
Yes, we can be really proud of the public health legislation that we've already introduced here in Wales. And I know that the Minister for Health and Social Services will provide an update on the minimum unit pricing legislation.
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. We hear today that there's been a 22 per cent increase in the deaths of homeless people. The numbers, of course, relate to Office for National Statistics research across the whole of Wales and England. I'd be grateful if the Welsh Government could make a statement on the situation in Wales, so that we can understand how this increase in drug poisoning, as I understand it, has affected people who are homeless in this country. I would also appreciate a statement from the health Minister—I can see he's in his place at the moment—on how we deal with drugs issues, particularly on the interface between dealing with addiction, with homelessness, and the criminal justice system. I understand that there is a very real difficulty in the policy that we're taking at the moment that means that people who are suffering from addictions are not always receiving the appropriate treatment, and that service providers have significant difficulties in delivering the sort of treatment that many people who are suffering with different addictions actually require. So, I'd be grateful if the Welsh Government could provide us with a statement on those matters.
I'd also like to ask for a statement on the matters that have already been addressed in this session by Joyce Watson. I think all of us who saw the research published by the BBC—or broadcast by the BBC—last night were absolutely appalled that that is happening in this country. And, for all of us who have concerns on these issues, I think we all want to see far higher levels of regulation from the Welsh Government. Now, I understand that a voluntary code of conduct is being proposed at the moment on animal sanctuaries by the Welsh Government. I'd like to have a statement from the Welsh Government, and I'd like to understand why that is not a statutory code. I want to understand what the Welsh Government is going to do to ensure that there are far higher levels of regulation, and far higher quality of welfare regulations in place, to ensure that the unscrupulous, cruel and potentially illegal activities that are taking place in this country, on our watch, are addressed and are tackled. The Minister will be aware that, as a former Minister myself, I was aware that some of these issues required legislation. I see no reason now why the Welsh Government cannot move forward and put these matters onto the statute to ensure that we have comprehensive animal welfare legislation in Wales that addresses the issues that have been raised in terms of puppy farms, but also reaches out to ensure that animal sanctuaries are included, and also all those areas and businesses that are breeding animals for profit.
I thank Alun Davies for those requests for statements. And I can confirm that the Minister for Housing and Local Government will be making a statement on homelessness next Tuesday. And the Minister for Health and Social Services is currently coming to the end of his considerations and consultation on the new substance misuse delivery plan, and he will be keen also to provide an update to Assembly Members when he's had the chance to consider fully the responses to that consultation. And, on the third issue, I know that the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs will provide an update to Members following her discussion with the chief vet, insofar as the dog breeding issues are concerned. But I will certainly ask her to consider what you've said and to provide you with an update on Welsh Government's approach to sanctuaries and other regulatory matters.
You will be aware that, last week, the Wales Governance Centre published a report looking at international evidence of imprisonment rates having been reduced. This follows on from previous research that showed that Westminster's imprisonment policy has failed us in Wales, having given us the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe, with higher numbers of people from a black, Asian and minority ethnic and deprived background. The report demonstrates that, to bring down high imprisonment rates, Governments need control of all of the policy levers across the field of criminal justice, including prisons, probation and the courts. Does the Welsh Government agree with me that the whole of the criminal justice system needs to be devolved in order to bring down our excessively high imprisonment rate? And, specifically, will the Government agree to hold a debate on the findings of last week's report?
I want to ask about this Government's investment in companies in the arms trade. I specifically want to discuss the investment in the Thales cyber security facility that was announced earlier this year. I accept, of course, that cyber attacks are a growing threat, and this has been highlighted as one of the biggest threats that the UK faces, but I fail to understand, though, why investment to develop a cyber security facility couldn't have involved a company that doesn't make weapons that kill and maim. Thales have a major presence in Saudi Arabia and have been supplying that kingdom with equipment for decades. Thales is also believed to be supplying components for Russian tanks. When you invest in a company like this, you have a vested interest in them doing well. When war is waged, business is good for companies like Thales. Now that the Welsh Government's presence at arms fairs is being reviewed, will you also agree to consider reviewing ongoing public financial support for companies involved in the arms industry?
On the first issue, relating to the devolution of criminal justice, I think that we are at one in terms of our ambitions there, and I think that Welsh Government has set that out clearly on a number of occasions and it does remain an active area of interest for us. But obviously I'll make the Minister with responsibility for this area aware of your concerns, and I'm sure that you would have had the opportunity to consider the report to which you refer.
And, in terms of investment and how Welsh Government invests, of course, we look very closely at investments. When we look at the Development Bank for Wales, for example, we have very strict criteria there. I know that, in response to previous concerns that have been raised about our presence at a particular trade event, the First Minister has said that he will re-explore again the best way to support our cyber security industry in Wales, and I'm sure that he'll be considering all of those issues in the round.
Aside of all this, cyber security is one of the key areas in our international relations plans—an area where Wales does really well. But it is really important that we're investing in the right businesses in order to continue to be able to promote ourselves as a part of the world where cyber security is done very well.
I'm looking for two statements—first of all on incineration, and I'm looking for a statement from the Welsh Government to ban incineration. The health Minister wrote to the residents of Trowbridge, and he said that adverse health effects cannot be ruled out with incineration. Now, the community are being faced with a proposal whereby an incinerator is going to be placed right in the middle of an urban area. So, I'd like to know whether or not the Government are prepared to listen to the local community.
Secondly, I'd like a statement on a really backwards, backwards, step, with restrictions now being placed on the swim card for over-60s. It really doesn't make sense to prevent people who are getting older from exercising. It's very short-sighted and, longer term, if you look at the health effects of not exercising, it could end up costing a lot more money. So, will the Government look at that again and reinstate the swim card for people over 60?
We'll be certainly looking at the first issue on incineration, and I know that the health Minister is keen to ask Public Health Wales to publish the most recent evidence and advice in terms of incineration. Of course, it's not really appropriate for discussion within the business statement on particular local planning issues, because obviously we're unable to comment on those.
And there were several opportunities last week to explore the new free swimming initiative with the Minister with responsibility. Obviously, he made changes to the scheme—or certainly Sport Wales made changes to the scheme—following an independent review that sought to refocus the scheme, looking at children, particularly, in deprived areas, but still ensuring that there are free swimming opportunities for the over-60s. We know that only around 6 per cent of the over-60s in the target group were actually accessing the free swims, so we need to ensure that, where we do make the investment, we do so in a way that makes it possible for people to take up those opportunities.
Finally, Nick Ramsay.
Neil McEvoy has stolen my thunder on an issue I was going to raise on incineration, as I've also had a local issue in Monmouthshire, just outside Usk, with concerns surrounding a proposal for an incinerator. I think you said, in answer to Neil McEvoy, that the Welsh Government is going to be looking at this. I know that, across the water in the United States, there have been concerns for some time about incineration and possible health effects. So, if we could have some renewed guidance or new research carried out into the effects of incineration, I think that would put a lot of our minds at rest.
Secondly, I see the Minister for Economy and Transport is here. The last few weeks have seen, once again, traffic chaos in Chepstow due to a number of roadworks and lane closures. I've called a number of times in this Chamber for work to be done on a Chepstow bypass. I know that the Minister has listened to those pleas and I think discussions have happened. So, I wonder if we could have an update at some point—and I think the Minister's updating you now—from the Minister for transport, and now, if he likes, on where we are with trying to get to grips with some of the traffic problems, particularly at rush hour, within Chepstow and whether there have been those all-important cross-border discussions between the UK and Welsh Governments on the viability of a bypass, of which I accept two thirds would be across the border in Gloucestershire.
On the first issue, which was incineration, I did say that the health Minister will ask Public Health Wales to look at the evidence on incineration to ensure that Members are best informed in terms of any impacts there might be on public health.
On the second issue, the Minister was advising me that he spoke to the Secretary of State for Transport just two weeks ago on this particular issue and he'd be happy to write to you with an update.
Thank you, Trefnydd.
That brings us to our next item, which is a statement by the Brexit Minister: update on the UK proposals for the UK's exit from the EU. I call on the Brexit Minister to make the statement—Jeremy Miles.
Thank you, Llywydd. This afternoon, the Welsh Government will bring forward a series of statements that will outline the real threat to Wales of a 'no deal' Brexit. These statements will also cover the mitigation that we will put in place to address this in so far as that is possible. These build on our action plan published on 16 September and ‘A brighter future for Wales’, which we published last week.
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Ann Jones) took the Chair.
We have always been clear that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be catastrophic for Wales, and we make no apologies for describing it in that way. The statements this afternoon demonstrate the vast array of short-term, negative consequences across all aspects of Welsh life, whilst devastating the economy in the longer term.
Before moving on to consider the positive actions that we are taking, let’s take stock for a moment about whether 'no deal' remains likely or not. In January, when we provided Assembly Members with an in-depth review of our ‘no deal’ preparations, I’m sure none of us would have imagined that the political situation in the UK, and the constitutional situation, would be in such turmoil. In his first two months in power, Boris Johnson has lost seven major votes in the Commons, lost his working majority, broken the law by trying to suspend Parliament, and has misled the monarch. And he continues to claim that he will take the country out of the EU by 31 October. However, there is an Act on the statute book to prevent that, unless the UK Parliament agrees on a means of exiting. Boris Johnson’s statement on his intention to take the country out of the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal, suggests that he does not intend to comply with the requirements of the legislation.
With just a fortnight to go until the European Council summit, it doesn’t seem likely that we will have time to reach agreement. First of all, the EU has been consistently clear that they will not agree to a new set of arrangements for withdrawal without them having the same impact as the backstop in the Theresa May agreement. As recently as last week, Michel Barnier said,
'The new Government of the UK wants us to get rid of the backstop and wants the EU to change the way the internal market and border controls operate after Brexit. I’m sure you will understand’,
‘that this is unacceptable. Based on current UK thinking, it’s difficult to see how we can arrive at a legally operative solution which fulfils all the objectives of the backstop’.
Even were there support for a fourth meaningful vote, does anyone truly believe that the UK Parliament would pass the necessary legislation to pass the withdrawal agreement Bill in less than a fortnight? Given this, there is a very good chance that we will not see an agreement reached, and we will have to request an extension, as is mandated in law. But an extension will need unanimous agreement from each of the 27 member states of the European Union. We should not fall into the trap that so many politicians and media commentators have fallen into in believing that the final decision rests in our hands. And even if granted, in the worst-case scenario, an extension could only delay the risk of a ‘no deal’ exit for a few months. So, while we have a UK Government that insists on downplaying the scale of the challenges that leaving the EU poses, and whist we have a Prime Minister in the UK who is prepared to defy the law, the risk of a deeply damaging 'no deal' remains.
I know that we will hear plenty of complaints and inconsiderate contributions today about project fear, but the Bank of England has proven that the decision to leave the EU has already cost the economy £80 billion—more than £1,000 for every single person living in this country. And all the evidence that I have seen, including evidence from the UK Government itself, shows that a 'no deal' should be unthinkable. In the short term, a 'no deal' would cause significant disruption, increase the risk of financial instability and threaten the supply of vital goods and services that many in society depend upon. In the longer term, a 'no deal' would permanently damage the economy, damage our international reputation, and depress livings standards across the country to levels not seen since the Conservative Government recklessly destroyed the industrial base in Wales in the 1980s.
We have been clear in our position, and we have evidence to support it: to secure a brighter future for Wales, we must remain within the EU, and we therefore support a second referendum to achieve that aim.
But despite our vigorous opposition to a political strategy on the part of the UK Government that could lead to a 'no deal', it is our responsibility to work with the UK Government to do all we can to mitigate the catalogue of effects that could result from the UK leaving without a deal. The single biggest determining factor impacting on our ability to put in place preparedness plans is the UK Government’s willingness to share information with us, to meaningfully work with us and to provide us with the necessary funds. Here again, the UK Government has failed in its responsibilities, and, as the clock to a 'no deal' exit has ticked on, Welsh Ministers have been locked out of the vital 'no deal' meetings being held in Whitehall. While under Theresa May we were routinely invited to UK Cabinet committee meetings on preparedness, we are now only invited selectively, based on the UK Government’s narrow assessment of our devolution settlement. We have had assurances this will change—this remains to be seen—but, in any case, vital time has been lost needlessly.
Devolved and reserved responsibilities are interdependent. The UK Government is responsible for ensuring imported medicines get into the country, but we, the Welsh Government, will be held to account if Welsh patients find the pharmacies do not have their medicines. The UK Government is responsible for legislation around data handling, but Welsh businesses will look to the Welsh Government to help if they fail because they have employee or customer data held on a server in the EU—possibly without even knowing it—and lose access to that data overnight.
Protecting UK citizens who live overseas is undoubtedly a UK Government responsibility, but if such citizens decide to return to the UK because they no longer can access free healthcare, Welsh public services will face increased demands to provide health and social care if it's needed, and help to find housing. So, the UK Government should be involving us comprehensively with 'no deal' preparations. It is simply unacceptable for the UK Government to think that these are issues in which we should not have a say.
In a series of statements, Ministers will outline some of the key risks we face for public services, the economy and across society. There is simply not time to cover all the consequences of ‘no deal’, but just because an area is not covered in the statements today, it does not mean we are not doing all we can to mitigate the impacts, and the full range of interventions are included in the action plan that we published on 16 September. Over the coming days, the Welsh Government will also be holding a series of key stakeholder meetings to encourage others to continue to take action on preparing for a 'no deal' outcome.
Neither Wales nor the United Kingdom as a whole can be truly prepared for all the possible eventualities. However, I welcome the recognition from the Wales Audit Office that work across Wales has significantly strengthened since March and that work is more collaborative across Wales’s public service. This Welsh Government will do everything we can and will continue to use every opportunity to stop the UK Government taking us over the cliff edge.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement. Another week, another Brexit statement that is meaningless, adds absolutely nothing to what we've heard before other than more shroud-waving from the Welsh Government, trying to spread fear amongst the general population about Brexit. Let's be clear: the people of Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom simply want us to get Brexit done. They are fed up of listening to politicians trying to obstruct the will of the people, which was expressed in the referendum back in June 2016. They want us to get Brexit done so that we can get on with sorting out the terrible mess that the Labour Party have made here in Wales in terms of our national health service and our schools, and, of course, we have a golden opportunity to sort out that mess because of the extra investment that has been made by the UK Government in the NHS and in the education system in England and, as a consequence of that, we have a significant sum, in excess of £2 billion, coming to Wales in the next three years so that we can address the long waiting lists, so that we can deal with the poor emergency department performance in our hospitals, so that we can close the per-pupil funding gap between England and Wales, and so that children here can have equal opportunities with their counterparts in England when it comes to their education and life chances.
And, of course, that investment that's available from the UK Government is only available because of the sound public finances that we now have, because, of course, we picked up an absolute mess from the UK Labour Government when it was previously in power. Our finances publicly were absolutely trashed. Gordon Brown took us to the brink of bankruptcy as a country and it's taken, yet again, a Conservative Government to sort out that mess. Now, unlike the Labour Party—unlike the Labour Party—and some of the other parties in this Chamber, we Welsh Conservatives have got every confidence that the people of Wales will be able to adapt, that they've got the talent to be able to deal with any challenges that might arise as a result of Brexit, and that we will be able to take advantages of Brexit and our departure from the European Union.
Let's just talk about some of these predictions that you're making, because I heard lots of predictions prior to the UK voting to leave the EU in 2016. We heard all sorts of predictions, none of which have come true, because the reality is that, despite Brexit—despite Brexit—since the referendum in 2016—. [Interruption.] And we were told—. [Interruption.] I can hear the squalling coming from the frontbench, but the reality is we were told that, in the immediate aftermath, we would go into an immediate recession, there would be a terrible slump in the stock market, that there would be a disaster for jobs, hundreds of thousands of jobs across the UK would be lost, yet, despite Brexit, since the referendum in 2016, wages have gone up, unemployment has gone down, our economy has grown, our exports are rising and our housing market remains very, very strong. So, can I ask you, Brexit Minister, do you accept that your Government was completely wrong in every prediction that you made that would come to pass to date? Will you abandon the shroud-waving that we're constantly seeing and the doom-mongering that we're constantly seeing and the prophecies of gloom that we're constantly hearing, ringing in our ears from the Labour frontbench?
Will you focus instead on Wales being prepared for Brexit, no matter what sort of Brexit that might be? And let me say, the Prime Minister is pulling out all the stops to try to get a deal before 31 October. I know that you don't necessarily support his efforts, but that is the case, and we would like to see a deal, if that deal is possible. But if it isn't possible, we've got to get out of this European Union on 31 October and honour that referendum result.
Your position as a party, of course, is an absolutely ludicrous position, where you're saying that if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, he's going to go to Brussels, he's going to get a completely different deal—which, of course, Brussels say that nobody can get—and he's going to come back and he's going to campaign, for what? He's not said what he's going to campaign for, has he? Because as far as your position on a UK level is concerned, you're going to put this decision back to the people in a referendum. But, of course, you're going to champion him going off to get that deal and then campaign against it. I mean, you couldn't make it up; it's an absolutely ridiculous position to be in. But that, of course, is the modern Labour Party, I'm afraid. That is the modern Labour Party.
Can you tell us, Brexit Minister, what action and assessment the Welsh Government has made of the economic impact of the extra spending that is going to come to Wales as a result of the extra investment in schools and hospitals, and the impact of that across the country in terms of our economy? Because, of course, you're not talking about these things; you're not talking about these opportunities for Wales.
Can you wind up, please?
I know you want to constantly gaze at the navel, but we need to get some optimism—
Will you wind up, please?
—back into this picture. I will. And can I ask one final question, if I may? You've talked about stakeholder engagement events. Wales doesn't need any more talking shops. What we need is a Government that's prepared and braced for Brexit, no matter what that Brexit looks like on 31 October, because we've got a Government in the UK that is determined to take us out on that date, and you should be doing everything you can to support it.
I thank the Member for those points. He talks about the confidence he has in Boris Johnson. I think he used the phrase 'pulling out the stops'—quite remarkable, really. What we've discovered today is a leak that the Government hasn't even yet put a position on the table for the EU Commission to consider, so the notion the Prime Minister has been negotiating for the last few weeks is utterly risible. We're less than 30 days away from the end of the month, and he has yet to put a proposal on the table for the European Commission. So, his confidence, I'm afraid, as is so often the case, is entirely misplaced.
He talks about project fear. I don't know who comes to his constituency surgeries, but I get people coming to mine talking about their concerns about whether they get to stay in the UK, how they can recruit people to work in their businesses, how they can access support for skills training in the future, how they can keep their third sector organisations afloat in the coming weeks. This is not project fear, this is project reality in the lives of my constituents and, I dare say, in yours and everyone else's in this Chamber. I think you do a great disservice to their lived experience by dismissing it as project fear.
The Member talks about the investment that is forthcoming, and he's obviously looked at the banners in the Conservative Party conference that talk about investment in this, that and the other. The notion that, in the context of a 'no deal' Brexit, there'll be an investment from the UK Government in anything is utterly risible. The devastation caused to UK finances from that is going to be very, very significant.
He talks about economic performance since the 2016 referendum. I don't know which country he's living in. We all know the weakness of the pound. Anyone who's spent any time overseas this summer will know how weak the pound is. I heard Carolyn Fairbairn of the CBI yesterday morning talking about investment being 26 per cent under trend in the last three years, with GDP down by 2 per cent, and that's hitting people's pound in the pocket. The UK Government borrowed £24 billion in the most recent financial year, equivalent to 1.1 per cent of GDP, in order to keep the show on the road.
We know from the manufacturing organisation Make UK how domestic and export orders have been contracting in this quarter for the third quarter in a row, so I don't know what country he lives in, but I'm living the Wales of the real world, and that's why this Government is focused on preparing Wales as best we can for the kind of 'no deal' Brexit that he is only too happy to advocate.
I thank the Minister for his statement. We share concerns about 'no deal', in particular the desperately worrying point he made at the end of his statement that neither Wales nor the United Kingdom can be truly prepared for all eventualities. Now, we all know that it's the most vulnerable people in society who are going to suffer most. Try telling them to adapt to circumstances, as the Conservative spokesperson, Darren Millar has suggested this afternoon in what I think was a truly shameful contribution. Minister, you talk about how the UK Government has failed in its responsibilities—[Interruption.]
Darren Millar, you've had your say, so can we just not have sedentary comments? [Interruption.] We shall not have sedentary comments from you; you've had your say.
Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. Minister, you talk about how the UK Government has failed in its responsibilities and that Welsh Ministers have been locked out of vital meetings, and you say that the situation has deteriorated markedly since Boris Johnson took over the helm. It chimes with what you've told the external affairs committee in the past. Now, I will say again that it's telling that when you were saying this, Members on the Conservative benches were remarking under their breaths that they wouldn't want the Welsh Government in the room either. It's that kind of disrespect for devolution that will probably mean that that party will oversee the break-up of the United Kingdom.
Now, I'm aware that the Welsh Government has put forward proposals, too, for a review of the inter-governmental relations systems that we have. Your words today do not fill me with great confidence that the current Government in Westminster will be amenable to play fair and will actually want to see any reform happen at all. What steps can you take to force that reform, and if, as it's likely you will tell me, you cannot force that reform, what does that tell us about the fundamental imbalance of power in the union that we're currently a part of? Finally, you mention that the UK Government is downplaying the scale of the challenges of a 'no deal'. Now, this, coupled with the fact that the Prime Minister is prepared to defy the law—in these extraordinary circumstances, I wonder if the Minister can give his opinion or his Government's opinion on whether there can now be a case for Boris Johnson to be impeached.
I thank the Member for her questions. She opened her remarks by talking about the impact on the vulnerable of the cumulative effects of a 'no deal' Brexit, and I want to associate myself with her concerns in that respect. I think we have seen, haven't we, as we move closer to a potential departure in the autumn, how great the impact can be on those who are least able to adapt to the risks that lie ahead. We've been pressing that as a Government for a very long time on the UK Government in particular. She's right to say that the pace of involvement has diminished since we saw the new Government come in. They are meeting on a daily basis and we are not invited on a daily basis. I think we need to have a more expansive view, if I could put it like that, of where the actions of the UK Government can impact on Wales and on our devolved responsibilities, even though that may be in a way that is indirect, rather than direct. I consistently make the point that we seek to engage, always, on a constructive and responsible basis in relation to any proposals that come forward.
In relation to the inter-governmental review, she will know, of course, that we are unhappy with the pace of progress in relation to that, but in my most recent meeting with Michael Gove and with the Minister in the Cabinet Office responsible for inter-governmental relations, I pressed on them the urgency of moving forward at pace in relation to this so that we're in a position, by the end of this year, to be looking at specific concrete proposals. But she is right to say that where we are is unsatisfactory. We've been clear that Governments in the UK need to be treated from the perspective of equality and that these institutions need to be founded on the principle of subsidiarity. We have put forward very specific proposals in relation to reforming inter-governmental machinery, building on the proposals in 'Brexit and Devolution' around a council for Ministers and so forth, and I shall be happy to make a report to the Chamber when we have progress to report in relation to that.
May I praise the Welsh Labour Government for bringing a series of open statements to today's Plenary agenda that demonstrate the real and present threat that a 'no deal' Brexit poses to Wales? The danger of 'no deal' is real, it is clear and it is evidenced. Minister, what is your view and the Welsh Government's view on news emanating from Whitehall that the Prime Minister, as part of the much-lauded but highly ambiguous current so-called negotiations between the UK Tory Government and the European Commission, is asking the EU to rule out a further extension to article 50 as part of a new Brexit deal? Minister, isn't this the latest example of a Prime Minister and a Tory Government out of control, a Government that is bereft of trust—potentially Ministers and potentially civil servants—the intention of Boris Johnson being to obviously negate the cross-party Benn Act that compels the Prime Minister to seek that extension to article 50? This matters. It matters to the people of Wales and it matters to my constituents in Islwyn, because their economic futures are being gambled by the reckless and desperate actions of a Tory UK Government that is actually out of touch and out of time.
The Yellowhammer report, written by your own Government in the UK—I was so alarmed to hear in this report to the Chamber of the National Assembly for Wales this afternoon that the Welsh Ministers have been locked out of these vital 'no deal' meetings. This does concern us. It concerns Wales and it definitively concerns my constituents. Theresa May didn't have much going for her, but she had at least the sense and respect to invite Welsh Ministers to the committee meetings of Cabinet to talk about preparedness about Wales. Finally, Minister, what representations can this Chamber, the Minister and the Welsh Government make to the UK Tory Government to urgently ensure that Welsh Ministers are properly briefed and invited to basic meetings where our input is obviously vital and critical for the people and the economy of Wales?
I thank the Member for her questions. In relation to the speculation in the press today about the possible developments in the context of discussions between the Prime Minister and the European Commission, I will just say that we have no visibility of what those are in substance. She will have, perhaps, seen the proceedings of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee at the beginning of last week when a UK Government Minister made it clear that the UK Government's intention was not to share the non-papers, as they're called, which are the preliminary technical papers to any actual engagement and negotiation, with the Welsh Government. There's a question about the extent to which engagement around the negotiations can be effective without having that information shared, and I'm very mindful of how we need to consider our response in relation to that.
As to her specific point about speculation around the Prime Minister seeking to have an extension to article 50 ruled out as part of a deal, I think any attempt to circumvent parliamentary legislation will be very, very heavily scrutinised in the courts if it comes to it. Anything that appears to be an attempt to frustrate the will of Parliament in this respect will be very, very carefully looked at.
I noted, as she did, I think, the proceedings in Parliament last week in response to questions around this matter with the Prime Minister and the nature of his language, which I'm sure many of us in this Chamber would find utterly abhorrent. I heard Mark Reckless utter from a sedentary position a reference once again to 'the surrender Act' as these proceedings are under way, and I can't register enough my disgust at that language. It is that sort of language that leads to stoking fears and anger in the country. I think it's incumbent on all of us to avoid that sort of language if we're in positions of public leadership, and he would do well to remember that.
I think, just finally, on the point about proper briefing and scrutiny, it is the case that we are invited to meetings on a more than weekly basis. The point I want to be clear about is that the pace of preparation in the UK Government has apparently increased at a time when our involvement in the overall picture with them has decreased. That's what I am concerned about. But I think she will find both in the 'no deal' action plan and in the statements that my ministerial colleagues make this afternoon that our energies here are undimmed in the Welsh Government as to the extent to which we are focusing on making sure that Wales is as prepared as it can be.
Minister, thank you for your statement. First, I note from your statement that you claim the Prime Minister has broken the law. Could you please clarify that part of the statement, as it was my understanding that a new law was created? You mention in the statement about an Act on the statute books to prevent the UK leaving on 31 October without a deal. Could you explain what assessment you and the Welsh Government have made of the Act and any possibility of loopholes? You keep saying that the Prime Minister is prepared to break the law. What proof have you got of this?
He said so.
You have no proof of this. It's all assumption on your part and the media's part, as usual. The Minister mentions shortages of vital goods. Would the Welsh Government publish those assessments and the preparations that it has made?
Lastly, in this statement, you mention the risks of 'no deal'. But, would the Minister agree about the risks of no democracy, and the message that we send to the country and the world if we ignore the largest democratic mandate that we have seen, not only as a United Kingdom, but as the largest vote ever seen here in Wales? Diolch.
There were five questions in that set of interventions. The first is about the actions of the Prime Minister. They were decided by the Supreme Court to be unlawful. The second point that she made is my assessment of the impact of the recent legislation around a 'no deal' Brexit. I'm afraid I won't share, in accordance with the Counsel General's convention, my advice to the Welsh Government in relation to that.
She asked me for the proof that I have that the Prime Minister intends to act unlawfully. Well, I have access to the same information that any other Member has, which is the Prime Minister's repeated assertion that we will leave the European Union on 31 October whether that is with a deal or no deal. The Act requires something other than that. So, continuing to assert that appears to put him at odds with the requirement of the legislation. She asked what arrangements we have made to inform people of our actions in relation to shortages. Well, obviously, we've published a 'no deal' action plan, and we're giving statements today.
Lastly, she asked me about the impact, or the risks, of not respecting—as I think she would put it—the referendum. Let me just say this in relation to that last point: we don't take lightly the fact that the 2016 referendum concluded what it did conclude. We spent an awful lot of time seeking to advocate for a version of Brexit that did the least possible damage to Wales, the Welsh economy and our communities. That failed in Parliament because of the Tory leadership contest. In effect, it brought that to an end. So, we have been clear that the solution to the situation that we are in is to seek a referendum. I regard that as a democratic event in itself.
Thank you very much, Counsel General. Can I just say that I know it's a very emotive subject, but it is about listening? When Members have had the opportunity to put questions through, then they should listen to the answers. Certainly, those people whose names are down to speak in future debates should be very careful about their comments from a sedentary position.
Item 4 is a statement by the Minister for Economy and Transport on preparing the economy in Wales for a 'no deal' Brexit. I call on the Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd. Since the imminent risk of a catastrophic 'no deal' Brexit remains, the Welsh Government continues to prepare for all eventualities. As a responsible Government, we have stepped up to address both the real impacts of Brexit uncertainty already being felt and, of course, the challenges of a possible 'no deal' Brexit still to come.
We have already suffered the consequences of three years of uncertainty, which has translated into outcomes such as delayed investments and a steady reduction in inward investment—all an avoidable consequence of the tragic mishandling of Brexit.
Businesses that I speak to tell me about the crippling impact that uncertainty has on their operations. Rather than bringing clarity, a 'no deal' prolongs this uncertainty as we will have no basis from which to negotiate a new trade deal, and the EU are unlikely to be a willing negotiating partner as relationships with the UK Government reach a new low.
The decision to shut the Ford engine plant at Bridgend, with 1,700 job losses; the closure of Schaeffler in Llanelli, with more than 200 job losses; and the insolvency of the two construction companies—Dawnus, 700 jobs lost, and Jiscourt, 60 jobs lost—can all, at least in part, be attributed to the uncertainty generated by the Brexit negotiations, or lack of.
Our published 'no deal' action plan sets out a range of interventions and actions that support Wales's response, addressing impacts already being felt and those that we anticipate will be realised in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. These measures encompass our contribution to actions needed to keep transport moving through our ports as well as the essential support and advice we are providing to businesses across Wales.
Almost immediately a 'no deal' Brexit could cause severe disruption to the transport network and connected services within Wales. We are already seeing this impact as we have to make decisions on the assumption that we will crash out of the EU without a deal at the end of October. Whilst emergency works cannot be discounted if necessary, there will be no planned daytime lane-closure roadworks on the westbound A55 between 31 October and the end of the year. This will ensure that any disruption as a result of customs checks at Holyhead will not be compounded by any works on the A55. However, it will have an impact on our programme of roadworks, which could easily have been avoided without a devastating cliff-edge Brexit.
We cannot address all the causes of this disruption, with border arrangements and customs processes the responsibility of the UK Government. However, we are working closely with ports in Wales, the ferry operators and local partners to manage any knock-on traffic disruption safely. We are aiming to minimise the impact of disruption at the port on local traffic around Holyhead and ensure that local people can continue to travel. For Pembroke Dock and Fishguard, our analysis suggests that delayed vehicles could be managed within the port. We are also keeping this under constant review in case extra contingency measures are required.
It is vital to ensure the flow of traffic at the border is as smooth as possible, and that hauliers have the right documentation upon arrival at ports to allow them to travel. We've been working with ferry operators to ensure that their customers are aware of the documentation they will need and we are encouraging all hauliers arriving at Welsh ferry ports to have the right documentation ready, and not risk being turned away.
I have outlined our ambitious plans for the transport network many times in this Chamber and I do not want to see them derailed by a 'no deal' by default. However, despite the challenges a 'no deal' Brexit would pose, it will remain crucial to invest in our transport infrastructure and press our vision for an integrated public transport network providing vital stimulus to the Welsh economy at a time of economic turmoil.
Turning to the economy and business preparedness, Brexit effects have been felt for some time now, and will continue to impact business confidence after the point of departure. This is not just a day 1 issue. But in terms of day 1 preparedness, I am assured that our front-line services for businesses and individuals are ready to respond, with, for example, Business Wales and the Development Bank of Wales both now positioned to mobilise human and financial resource flexibly and at pace.
Leading up to exit day, we continue to highlight 'low-cost, no-regret' actions for business. We are cascading information through business networks and have also written directly to over 18,500 businesses. I take this opportunity to urge all businesses to register to receive regular communications through Business Wales, to utilise our Brexit portal and diagnostic tool, and to engage with their trade bodies and representative organisations.
I recognise how vital it is that we orchestrate a co-ordinated, sustainable approach where businesses and their employees face downsizing and or redundancy events. Drawing on lessons learned from past and present interventions, going forward our response will be led on a regional basis, aligning with the regional economic development model set out in the economic action plan.
This Government is clear that continuing to support, and indeed strengthen, our employability and skills interventions will be critical in our response to Brexit. We want to ensure that Wales has the skilled workforce to meet our economic ambition as set out in the economic action plan and 'A brighter future for Wales'. Our approach builds on the proven and respected mechanisms to support businesses, individuals and communities. We will be responsive and supportive to the needs of people who lose their jobs and employers, indeed, who have opportunities, so the people and skills are matched up as quickly as possible, and provide support, of course, to employers who need to develop their workforce.
Working Wales is our new single entry point and will ensure that individuals are directed to the right place at the right time. In addition, I have established regional response teams, working with regional skills partnerships and partners such as local health boards, the Department for Work and Pensions and local government, to take a cross-government, collaborative approach to ensure access to a regional response at community level.
The support we are giving to business continues to be well received and I am grateful to all those business leaders and their representative organisations who continue to inform and bring constructive challenge to our approach. A suite of actions using European transition funding have been approved to support business resilience, £9.2 million has been made available across six projects providing support and advice around trade and exports, enabling capacity building and communications activities, as well as offering financial support via the business resilience grants to eligible businesses.
Furthermore, as I engage with businesses across Wales, it gives me great assurance that more and more SMEs are discovering how working with the Development Bank of Wales can help them realise their ambitions and overcome their challenges. The Development Bank of Wales now has over £0.5 billion across various funds accessible to small and medium-sized businesses and is now positioned to play a key role in our Brexit response.
The overall resource available to us in Wales to address Brexit challenges is dependent on funding released by the UK Government. I am impatient for progress on the now long-overdue quadrilateral with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Andrea Leadsom. It is imperative that the UK Government takes into full account the views of the devolved administrations and can only do this through structured engagement. I am therefore disappointed that the meeting that was scheduled for next Monday, so long in the planning, has now been postponed. When we do meet, I will be pressing for clarity and funding support in the event of a significant economic shock, and to object in the strongest terms against the UK Government’s proposals for a proposed shared prosperity fund.
My commitment is to do all within my powers to nurture inclusive growth for Wales, creating an environment where businesses thrive and where communities across Wales benefit.
I'd like to thank the Minister for his statement this afternoon. We have heard a lot of negativity about the potential impact of Brexit on the Welsh economy, but I hope the Minister will agree with me that it's now time we did deliver on the result of the Brexit referendum, to give businesses the certainty that they want and that the Minister wants to see. I do think that the British public are rightly frustrated that we as politicians have not yet delivered Brexit three years on.
I do agree with one of the Minister's opening lines where the Minister stated that we have already suffered the consequences of three years of uncertainty. I would ask whether the Minister agrees with me that, after three long years, the most damaging impact on the Welsh economy would be drifting through more Brexit uncertainty. I want to see us leave on 31 October and I want to see us leave with a deal in place. That's what I want to see, so we can then move forward with a new positive economic relationship with our friends and colleagues in Europe, and also strike new deals around the globe.
I am concerned that we have so much talk about the negative consequences on our Welsh economy. If we talk the Welsh economy down, it will go down. We've got to look for the opportunities that Brexit will also bring. I'm somebody who voted remain. I wanted us to remain in the European Union, but we've got to respect the result of the referendum. I became a Brexiteer on the day of the referendum, because on that day we had to respect the result of the British people.
Are you in danger of being deselected?
So, let's be positive about some of the opportunities that we have before us. The 2019 spending round will see Wales benefit from a £600 million boost from the UK Government. Despite the Brexit uncertainty, we're also seeing that the exports of goods have risen by 4.2 per cent. The Minister did list a whole number of recent and sad decisions of businesses closing and job losses, but these are not, as the Minister has indicated, a result of Brexit, according to those statements provided by the businesses. We also see that Snowdonia Aerospace Centre have received almost £500,000 funding from the UK Government to create a centre for space research and development. And despite Brexit, we've also seen other companies choosing to invest in Wales, such as Ineos in Bridgend. And despite Brexit, we've also seen the number of people employed in Wales rise by 10,000, and the number of people employed in the information and communications industry rise from 34,000 to 58,000. So, I would plead to the Government, in all its statements on Brexit, that we do see more balanced statements that are brought forward. [Interruption.] The Confederation of British Industry—I'll come on to the CBI, Deputy Minister, don't worry.
Also, Minister, you did talk about, in your statement this afternoon, the fact that you've written to 18,000 businesses, and you're urging them as well, as I would do, to receive communications through the Business Wales website, to utilise the Brexit portal. And I wonder if you do have any statistics or data on how many businesses have actually accessed the business portal. Now, the Deputy Minister, shouting from the back, was keen that I talk about the CBI. Well, Deputy Presiding Officer, the CBI has recently made an assessment of Labour's post-Brexit renationalisation plans. [Interruption.] I thought you wouldn't like that bit. So, they said, and I quote:
'Loose talk of renationalisation will be toxic to investors already reeling from existing uncertainty…Without private sector investment and innovation, efforts to tackle climate change or upgrade infrastructure will falter, with serious knock-on effects.'
I know the Deputy Minister, shouting at the back, doesn't want me to talk about this bit, but I would be interested to hear the Minister's reaction to this assessment of the CBI, and hear whether or not the Welsh Government endorses Jeremy Corbyn's approach to managing the UK economy, and whether or not you will look to replicate that approach, as I've outlined, here in Wales. I was pleased with some of the comments that the Minister made about transport infrastructure, which will, I think, be centre stage in ensuring that Wales remains open for business post Brexit—
Are you winding up, please?
I will do, Deputy Presiding Officer. And I wonder if the Minister would welcome the announcement yesterday by the Chancellor, in terms of paving the way for more money for infrastructure revolution, to build more roads, to revive our bus services as well, and how will the Welsh Government prioritise these budget consequences to support economic growth across Wales?
And my last question, Deputy Presiding Officer, would be: does the Minister welcome the Chancellor's announcement that he will guarantee £4.3 billion of funding for EU programmes in the event of no deal, and a total of £16.6 billion up to 2020? And how will the Welsh Government look to amend its approach following this guarantee of funding support to Welsh business from the UK Government?
Can I thank Russell George for his contribution and his questions? I think, first of all, let's just reflect on the fact that the only certainty that would be generated through crashing out of the EU is the certainty of economic catastrophe, with widespread job losses, the value of the economy shrinking rapidly, and deep uncertainty, not just for months, but for many years to come. The best solution is the solution that has been articulated through 'A brighter future for Wales'. And in terms of those exciting new trade deals that we've been promised by chief Brexiteers, well, there's been a huge amount of speculation this week over what might happen if the World Trade Organization rules against the EU, and businesses within the EU, and how President Trump may respond. And the speculation is that if the decision is taken against us in Europe, then President Trump will seek to impose massive tariffs on goods and services from the UK. Can we really trust somebody, who is willing and wanting to do that, to establish the best possible trade deal for the United Kingdom? I believe not. And therefore, our best interests remain in staying in the EU.
In terms of where the Welsh economy is right now, and Russell George did reflect on the fact that we have record employment, record low inactivity, that we've got a record number of businesses now established in Wales, that we have a record number of headquarters of businesses in Wales—well, we should not sacrifice this achievement in order to, as they put it, 'Get Brexit done'. There is a huge amount to be lost if negotiations go wrong, if we crash out of the EU, or indeed if the wrong deal were to be implemented. And that is why I am firmly of the belief that the solution contained within 'A brighter future for Wales' is the only solution that should now be considered for the United Kingdom.
In terms of job losses, well, if we look at some of the decisions that have been taken recently, Brexit has been a constant part of the problem in terms of the operating environment that businesses find themselves in—deep uncertainty, a lack of clarity as to what the future may hold. And Members will not be surprised that a number of businesses in Wales, and just across the border of Wales, have said that, if a 'no deal' Brexit occurs, then they will be seeking to move their operations out of the United Kingdom. A lot has been said about Vauxhall—and I know that it's not in Wales, but Members will be interested to know that Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port employs around about 400 people—400 people—who live within Wales. And Vauxhall, which of course is now part of the PSA Group, is regularly referenced as a place where a new model decision for the Ellesmere Port plant will be directly linked to the outcome of Brexit negotiations. Here in south Wales we have the food business OP Chocolate, who have gone on record as saying that they are fearful of a 'no deal' Brexit, because, in a worse-case scenario, they could lose up to £5 million of business due to tariffs. Not far away, in Blaenau Gwent, Continental Teves UK Ltd have expressed their concern over potential flight or closure. Again, issues that relate directly to Brexit, the uncertainty of negotiations that we believe are not yet taking place fully, and the ongoing potential crashing out of the EU.
In terms of managing the UK economy, and the approach that has been outlined by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, I think there are some exceptionally interesting proposals that have been introduced, which I would fully support. We know from France that productivity improvements have been directly linked to reducing the length of the working week, because people are able to give more, and contribute more, in the time that they are in work. In terms of the approach to inclusive growth, I would warmly welcome it, because, as we have managed the Welsh economy in recent years—and it's performed exceptionally well—we have seen that the economic contract is driving inclusive growth, and that the calls to action are driving responsible, sustainable business growth—both of these initiatives designed to deliver for the greater good.
We don't know what outcome there may be for Wales in the announcement made by the Chancellor just this week—indeed, whether we will get a penny of the rehashed announcement that was made at the party conference. But I do note that only £250 million of that £25 billion announcement is attributed to bus services across the UK. And right across the length and breadth of the country, bus services are in a very fragile position, and, based on my assessment, require far more than £250 million in order to get through the uncertainties of Brexit and the problems associated with deregulation.
What I would say, regarding business support—in response to Russell George's question about business engagement—is that, to date, we estimate that almost 40,000 businesses have accessed the Busines Wales Brexit portal, and around 1,000 businesses have undergone the full self-assessment process.
We know that uncertainty is bad for business, which in itself is a condemnation of the way the referendum was held, without homework having been done, because it was inevitable that it was going to take years to resolve Brexit. Yes, there has been a slippage to the original timetable, but there was going to be a period of years anyway, so it was inevitable that that period of uncertainty, as the Minister has said, would lead to the kind of delayed investments that we've seen harming the Welsh economy—a reduction in inward investment and so on. And I think, as we look to the potential of a 'no deal' Brexit, and, certainly, changes then to an acute period of potential disaster for some businesses in Wales—. I've spoken in this Chamber many times about the mussels exporters exporting 97 per cent of their produce live and needing to get it through to continental Europe within 17 hours of getting them out of the sea. That's the kind of sector that just can't cope with any delay, however limited, at ports. And I'm thinking of other businesses in my constituency that are exporters to the European Union who will become less competitive, because of either practical issues of the ability of getting their products to market or tariff issues that perhaps makes them uncompetitive, and these are very real problems that my constituents face.
The Minister referred to the funding—£0.5 billion available through the Development Bank of Wales across various funds accessible to small and medium-sized businesses. I wonder if you could explain what measures are being put in place to allow emergency access as a safety net to businesses that really do find themselves hitting the buffers, in terms of lost sales, and lost exports perhaps, if we do leave without a deal.
We sometimes forget, and it's worth reminding ourselves, that Wales is a net exporter to the European Union, and it's a reminder that we need to bear in mind Wales's specific circumstances when we discuss Brexit. I fear that the debate that was had in those brief months in 2016 was largely an English question. Other areas that were asked the question considered, 'What does it mean for us?' Gibraltar were asked exactly the same question as Wales, and they voted 95 per cent to remain, because they could see, 'Hold on, this is clearly, clearly, bad for Gibraltar.' Unfortunately, I think the Welsh issue got mixed up with English questions, but I digress somewhat.
On transport, I am pleased to hear that preparations have been made to ensure ease of passage for vehicles across the A55 after 31 October, and that roadworks will be cleared to make sure that there aren't any additional obstacles for increased traffic volumes or for the problems that the traffic will encounter on the way to Holyhead. Perhaps you could give us a little bit more detail on the steps that are being taken, though, in your words, to minimise the impact of disruption at the port of Holyhead on local traffic specifically. Because we know capacity in Holyhead is around 600 lorries; there are plans that have been explained to us, previously, to have a couple of extra places available to increase that to around 1,000 heavy goods vehicles, but there is potential of problems within the locality of the port that has traffic problems as it is. So, I would be grateful for some more detail on that.
Also, although Downing Street's latest proposals on the Irish border question have been described as a non-starter by most people involved in those discussions, what consideration has Welsh Government given to the effect on movement of trade of those latest ideas on how to deal with the border on the island of Ireland, and how that could have an impact on us in Wales?
Well, can I thank Rhun ap Iorwerth for his questions and his contribution. Dealing with that last quote first, clearly, the UK Government is already in something of a mess over its proposals, or speculated proposals for dealing with the Irish border. And anybody looking at the news today will be questioning how on earth border checks could not constitute a return to having a hard border on the island of Ireland. Therefore, I'm afraid it would appear that the proposals being put forward by the Prime Minister will be met with complete disregard by the EU-27, given the clear and consistent position that our European partners have taken in this regard. And, therefore, all of our assessments concerning the likely impact of such a programme of border control being implemented from earlier in the year stand today.
Rhun ap Iorwerth is right to say that the uncertainty of the divorce from the European Union will, in all likelihood, last for years. Many eminent academics were saying during the referendum campaign—of course, their voices were not heard by many, unfortunately, but they were saying consistently and powerfully, in my view, that it would take years for the divorce to take place and then for subsequent arrangements for new trading agreements to be reached, and, during that period, the Welsh and UK economy could only shrink because of the uncertainty and the disruption caused by this.
And Rhun ap Iorwerth is absolutely right: the problems that we now face today are owed directly to the binary choice that was offered to voters in the referendum between the certainty of status quo and nothing more than an idea, without any detail. These are two options that people were presented with without any regard to the option of reforming further the EU. And I think also, if the Government of the day had been able to at least propose some form of a deal with the EU and to give that option to the people of the UK, there would have been a better-informed decision by the people. I also think that that would have led to a remain vote being successful.
We are where we are, though, and the Welsh Government is making great strides in preparing for a 'no deal' Brexit—we must do; it’s our responsibility. And, in terms of the funding that may be made available, to date, the Kingfisher project, which identifies those businesses at risk of closing, those businesses that could be moving away from our shores, has only gathered and shared intelligence. We've been saying to the UK Government that, to back up project Kingfisher, money has to be made available. It's our estimate that, in order to deal with the calls on Welsh Government for emergency support, we would need to see the economy futures fund increased from the current £10 million to £35 million as a minimum. And I hope that the UK Government will respect that when it considers what sort of funding is to be made available.
But this would only be a small part of the response and the financial support that this Government would be required to give to businesses across Wales. In addition, we have the development bank, and, as I’ve already said, they have at their disposal over £0.5 billion of various funds that could be utilised to support businesses. At the moment, the development bank is looking at how it is able to ensure that staff are redeployed to the front line in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit. They're looking at around about 200 members of staff being moved to front-line services. In addition, Business Wales have confirmed that they’re ready to divert 20 members of staff there, in addition to the 74 who are already operational, and the Welsh Government, in addition, within my department alone, is looking at redeploying 100 members of staff—more than 500 people being deployed to an area of activity that could have been avoided.
In terms of the A55, I can tell Members today that I recently made a very difficult decision to postpone a project of enhancing the road surface along one particular stretch of the A55 because the work was programmed to take place in the week that we could crash out of the EU. I did not wish to see disruption on the A55 whilst there is also disruption at the port of Holyhead as a consequence of crashing out of the EU. There are real implications in postponing roadworks. It means that the backlog only increases. It means that, at a later date, there will be more disruption as a consequence of vital roadworks having to be undertaken. That particular work that was going to be programmed for late October would have led to a reduction in road noise for properties adjoining the A55. It’s work that I wish we could have progressed with, but, as a consequence of where we are on Brexit, we had to take the responsible decision and pause that particular intervention.
Over at the port of Holyhead, Rhun ap Iorwerth is absolutely right that onsite, and with another area that we have been able to secure, there will be room for just under 1,000 heavy goods vehicles. In the event that additional space is required, our proposals are to utilise the westbound carriageway of the A55 and to have contraflow traffic on the eastbound A55 at the port. We wish to minimise disruption at the port of Holyhead, but we cannot guarantee that, in the event of hauliers not obtaining appropriate documentation, they won't be turned back and that they won't be stacked, but we wish to avoid this if at all possible. Indeed, we are working with the ferry operators, who, in turn, are working with haulage businesses, and I'm pleased to say that there are now signs across the border on key arteries in England for haulage firms to take good notice of, on the M6 and other motorways in England, urging haulage firms to ensure that they have the right documentation at the end of October when they arrive at Holyhead port.
Minister, there are a few questions I'd like to ask with regard to the issue of trade, not just Welsh trade but UK trade, and the relationship with international trade. Now, during the unlawful prorogation of Parliament—and, for those who doubt it, the Supreme Court is the supreme legal body; if they determine it was unlawful, then that is the law of the land, that is what the rule of law determines—. So, during the unlawful prorogation of Parliament, of course, a lot of legislation fell, including the Trade Bill and a number of other pieces of legislation that we've been looking at in our various committees, but the Trade Bill being a particularly important one, and particularly relevant to your portfolio and also to the economic interests that we have within Wales.
Now if, as Lady Justice Hale said, the prorogation Order was as a blank sheet of paper then, presumably, the Trade Bill still exists. But the problem is we have a Government that has no intention at the moment of actually proceeding with that Bill. Now, of course, we have major concerns ourselves over the content of that Bill, particularly with the way in which it might seek to override devolved powers within Wales, particularly issues around trade, environmental issues and, in fact, the national health service. Those points have been made during the Joint Ministerial Council meetings and have been the subject of much, much discussion. But, of course, the fact of the matter is that there is no Trade Bill proceeding at the moment, and, of course, the real concern is that, if we were to crash out without a deal, and we suddenly crash out of the European Union, what we are left with is the exercise of Government by royal prerogative, which means trade deals can be agreed with very little parliamentary scrutiny whatsoever, but can completely bypass this Chamber, can bypass the Assembly and the devolved Governments of the UK.
Now, I remember, during the referendum—I remember UKIP campaigners standing up with placards saying, 'No TTIP'. Of course, we were very concerned about the issue of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership within this Chamber, and, of course, the EU was as well—all 28 nations were—because, at the moment, negotiations are still going on with the US, but are certainly very slow because of the insistence in terms of environmental and food standards. But, of course, what we are now being told by Nigel Farage and by the Brexit Party, and by the far right generally, is that the way forward, of course, is going to be this incredible trade deal with the United States. Well, of course, at the moment, the issue of the United States is that we have been given absolutely no guarantees by the UK Government that, for example, our national health service in Wales will actually be protected. There is no exemption for the NHS, and we will all recall that Theresa May actually refused to give anything in writing of such an exemption.
So, we need to look at what are the US negotiating objectives. Well, just look at a few of them: on pharmaceuticals, provide full market access for US products; on state-owned enterprises—for example, the national health service—accord non-discriminatory treatment with respect to the purchase and sale of goods and services; increase opportunities for US firms to sell US products and services to the UK; and establish a dispute settlement mechanism—which will almost certainly be based on US legislative sovereignty. Effectively, not only does our NHS within Wales suddenly become subject to—by royal prerogative—trade agreements by Boris Johnson with the US, which enables direct intervention into our own Welsh health service and the UK health service—. And what we all fear happening is the actual sell-off and the privatisation of the health service, which is a key jewel that the US industries have been aiming for. And that's why, when we had the recent Labour Party conference, this was the comment—which I agree with—that Jeremy Corbyn made. He said:
'That’s why a no-deal Brexit is really a Trump-deal Brexit. That would be the opposite of taking back control. It would be handing our country’s future to the US president and his America First policy. Of course, Trump is delighted to have a compliant British prime minister in his back pocket. A Trump-deal Brexit would mean US corporations getting the green light for a comprehensive takeover of our public services.'
So, I just have a couple of questions to you, Minister, on this: what is the current state of the trade deal? What negotiations, what contacts, have you had with the UK Government with regard to Welsh interests? Secondly, if the Trade Bill is, in fact, live, what are the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal for international trade? Thirdly, without legislation, would the UK Government be able to trample over the interests of Wales? Fourthly, what would be the level of parliamentary scrutiny in the current climate? And, fifthly, what guarantees has the Welsh Government had to protect the national health service in Wales from a Boris Johnson UK-US trade deal?
Well, I'm always happy to take lectures on the law from Mick Antoniw, given his expertise in this field, and I think today he has articulated the terrible likely consequences of a bad deal with the United States under the current soon-to-be impeached President of that land. In terms of the Trade Bill, I'm sure that the Minister for International Affairs and the Welsh Language will be able to give an update on the status of that particular Bill, but it's my understanding that it currently is on ice, with not much likelihood of it being progressed any time soon.
In terms of what a trade deal with the United States could do to Wales, well, it's my view that a trade deal would essentially be a plundering operation for US interests of our most valued assets, principally the national health service, and this is something that we should absolutely rule out entirely. There would also be consequences in terms of our food and drink sector, which have been very well explored within the media, as well as for many other parts of public services and the public sector.
In terms of the consequences of crashing out of the EU with no significant trade deals in place, well, of course, we would then revert to WTO rules, which could lead to the Welsh economy shrinking significantly, and the figure of 9 per cent has already been presented to the Chamber today, but there would be certain sectors that would be particularly hard hit, and those certain sectors are very, very significant within Wales. We estimate that the consequence of crashing out of the EU without a deal could lead to as many as 30 per cent of the jobs in one particular local authority area of Wales, that being Flintshire, being at medium to high risk of going. Now, if it's 30 per cent there, it's probably 30 per cent just over the border, and I've already outlined the position that Vauxhall are in, and, right across the England-Wales border, we could see significant jobs being lost that would affect our economy as well. Within Wales, after Flintshire, the next highest local authority area to be classed as having medium to high-risk job losses would see around about 20 to 25 per cent of jobs potentially going. This is catastrophic for the Welsh economy and for our communities.
Well, I thank the Minister for his statement and acknowledge the prudence of forward-planning, but I have to say that, sitting in this Chamber today, listening to Ministers of the Labour Government informing us as to how they're preparing for a 'no deal' Brexit has been exasperating. Why do I say this? Because it is the Labour Party who are partly to blame for the scenario that now exists. A 'no deal' Brexit should never have been on the cards.
By voting on a number of occasions against Brexit, which, on each occasion, was a denial of the will of millions of Labour supporters who voted to leave the European Union, it could be said that the Labour Party has precipitated these events. They have, in fact, themselves been the architects of a 'no deal' exit, if and when that happens. They called for an election at the height of Corbyn's popularity and then voted against it because the party is now in such a parlous state. They say they believe in democracy—[Interruption.]
You carry on—[Inaudible.]—because we're running out of time.
Thank you. They say they believe in democracy, but deny the largest democratic exercise in British political history, and continue to call for a people's vote so that people who voted 'leave' are left asking themselves, 'Are we not people?' Does the Minister not agree with me that the Labour Party at Westminster has now become a party of vacillation, calling for one thing on one day and something entirely different the next? No wonder Nigel Farage says the Labour Party are now a party more akin to Islington than Islwyn.
When they had the opportunity for a general election, quite frankly, they bottled out. Why? Because they now find their stance on Europe and the denial of the legitimacy of the referendum vote has made them deeply unpopular with many of their hitherto loyal supporters. If, as Labour continually contends, the referendum was flawed, what better way to really test the will of the people than a general election? Is it not true, Minister, that ludicrous predictions about the potential disasters inherent in a 'no deal' scenario, and for which this debate on preparedness now focuses, simply reiterate the dire predictions following the referendum result itself? The banking sector would leave en masse, large manufacturing companies would relocate to the continent, inward investment would fall dramatically, and employment would rise—all of which have proved to be completely fallacious.
You yourself, Minister, mentioned the Ford plant in Bridgend, though Ford were adamant that Brexit did not influence their decision. Perhaps we ought to recall that Ford took its Transit production to Turkey from Southampton. Turkey itself is, of course, not in the EU. And you forgot to mention the loss of 900 jobs at Bosch in Miskin—a direct result of our being in the European Union. The UK has received more inward investment in 2018 than France and Germany combined. Job-creation industrial output has been at an all-time high whilst the economies of Europe have stagnated, and employment has risen in all continental countries. Those who wish to deny the result of the referendum ignore the fact that, historically, the UK is an outward-looking, entrepreneurial, liberal country. But in recent decades, this liberal dynamism has been compromised by our membership of the European Union, where a system of over-regulation and state intervention is endemic.
Brexit provides the UK with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set free our trade, commerce and people. And I have to say that as someone who's spent 40 years in trade myself, which is something that almost all the Members of this establishment have not engaged in, I know the pragmatic ability of business to overcome difficulties. Once again, I applaud the efforts of the Minister for Economy and Transport but can't help thinking this is an unnecessary, time-consuming and costly exercise. There is much to reflect well on your preparedness in this document, Minister. I feel you are doing all that you can to make sure that Wales is ready, if we do—I would like to say 'a clean break', not 'crash out' of the European Union. Would it not be more prudent for the Welsh Government to concentrate on creating markets outside the EU for Welsh businesses? Thank you.
Minister, as I'm sure you've noted, we are out of time, so perhaps be brief.
Apologies, Dirprwy Lywydd—
No, no. Just be brief.
I'll be brief. In terms of who's to blame for the risk of a 'no deal' Brexit, well, clearly, Nigel Farage has been saying for some time now that we need a clean break, i.e. a 'no deal' Brexit. He's been promoting the prospect of a 'no deal' Brexit and I would not agree that 'no deal' has come as a consequence of us fighting for the best deal. The risk of 'no deal' is due to the fact that the current Prime Minister and the previous Prime Minister refused to rule out a 'no deal' Brexit. In terms of testing the will of the people, well, there would be no better way of testing the will of the people over this issue than having a meaningful referendum over the way forward. And in terms of those businesses that have sadly and tragically lost jobs, Brexit uncertainty, by their own admission, has been a constant issue that they've had to grapple with, Ford included.
If I can offer a very, very real risk to public well-being concerning Brexit, let's just choose buses for the moment. We know that oil is priced in dollars and as a consequence of the pound slipping in value, the cost of fuel has been increasing. Now, we believe that the industry within Wales—and there are more than 80 bus companies in Wales in receipt of the bus services support grant or reimbursement for concessionary fares—we know that they could absorb something in the order of a 2 per cent increase in the price of fuel. Two per cent. If it increased by more than that, then the real consequences to communities in Wales could be a loss of bus services or an increase—[Interruption.] Well, you know, bus services—the Member shouts from a sedentary position about bus services—
Yes, and the Member is down to speak—
The reason that bus services are so fragile is because of his own party's deregulation of the sector in 1986—[Interruption.]
And the Member—[Interruption.] Excuse me. Andrew R.T. Davies. Excuse me.
That's the reason why. And more bus services could suffer as a consequence of us crashing out of the EU and the pound plummeting in value as fuel prices increase.
But, Dirprwy Lywydd, in the words of Darren Millar, we are doing all we can to brace Wales for a 'no deal' Brexit. And it was interesting that he chose to use that term, 'brace Wales'. You brace yourself when a plane is about to crash, when a car is about to crash, and a 'no deal' Brexit will be a car crash for our economy. Be in no doubt of that whatsoever.
Thank you very much, Minister.
Item 5 on our agenda is a statement by the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs on preparing the rural economy and fisheries sector for a 'no deal' Brexit. I call on the Minister, Lesley Griffiths.
Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Exiting the European Union without a deal would have an immediate and long-term catastrophic impact on rural communities. These impacts will be especially acute in my portfolio. This Government has repeatedly made clear we must not leave without a deal that protects the interests of the environment, businesses and citizens. At the environment, food and rural affairs interministerial group on 9 September, I expressed serious concerns about the UK Government’s pursuit of an EU exit at any cost. The farming, fisheries, food and drink sectors rely on tariff-free imports and exports through open borders with the EU. These sectors also depend on EU workers. No deal, and resulting tariffs and barriers to trade, would be devastating for the employment and economy of rural and coastal communities that rely on these sectors and their associated supply chains.
The majority of my portfolio’s legislation and systems stem from EU membership, from supporting farmers to managing our fisheries, from environmental protections to protected food names to promote our quality produce. Far from removing red tape, leaving the EU with no deal will bring bureaucracy where none exists—customs declarations, export health certificates, fisheries catch certificates and border checks. This could result in delays, additional costs for businesses and increasing prices for consumers. So, whilst we continue to argue against 'no deal', it is essential that we continue to prepare for it. We have worked with our stakeholders and other administrations to ensure that we are prepared. With the real threat of 'no deal', our attention is on contingency planning for exit this month.
Amending the saved EU legislation to ensure that the same powers and protections are in place has been a mammoth task. I am confident that if we exit on 31 October, we will have a functioning statute book ensuring continued protection of public, animal and environmental health and providing the legal basis to continue trading with the EU. Our readiness programme of 74 projects, jointly with DEFRA and BEIS, provides for an operational system on day one. This will replace EU systems to which we will lose access, including tracking movements of animals and plants, fisheries enforcement and regulation of chemicals.
The Llywydd took the Chair.
We will pay farmers the full value of their basic payment scheme 2019 claim from 2 December. To ensure no business goes without, we have set up a loan scheme that allows us to pay up to 90 per cent of anticipated value for unvalidated claims. We've worked with food manufacturers, supermarkets and other administrations on contingency plans for food supply. There may be some reduction in the choice of foods available, particularly some EU-derived fresh fruit and vegetables. Supermarkets have assured me they are committed to supplying all their stores fairly, whether they are in urban or rural areas.
Many of the chemicals used to ensure a clean water supply come from the EU. We are working with our water companies, and I’m reassured their robust mitigation plans ensure public water services will remain largely unaffected. Responsibility for energy security and markets is with the UK Government. We've worked with BEIS to ensure their preparations meet the needs of Wales. BEIS has assured me there are no significant risks to the supply of electricity, gas or fuels. There are concerns about environment protection after exit. All the legislative environmental safeguards currently in place will be saved. The role of environmental governance outside of Europe is complex and we're working with stakeholders to develop a simple interim approach and the necessary long-term arrangements.
Although I am confident in our preparations, I am not complacent. It would be disingenuous to say there were no risks. While we can mitigate some risks, others are beyond the control of the Welsh Government. For example, if the UK does not obtain third country status from the EU, export of animal and plant products will cease. Proposals to secure this are being discussed with the EU. From the Operation Yellowhammer documentation, we expect significant delays at ports. With shellfish exported live, those delays could mean the difference between catches reaching the continent in prime condition or having the consignment spoiled. Our fishers will face new administrative burdens, such as export catch and export health certificates. To put this into context, the number of export health certificates issued in Wales each year may rise tenfold.
Similarly, almost all of our lamb exports are to the EU. Tariffs will make it difficult for Welsh lamb to compete on the European market. Intensive work is under way with DEFRA to develop contingency plans to prevent these vulnerable sectors from disappearing in the weeks following a 'no deal' exit. These plans would help these sectors be resilient to the initial impacts of a 'no deal' Brexit. However, we are dependent on the UK Government to make funding available for this support, which they have not yet committed to provide. We are supporting farmers in these difficult times: we have reprinted the 'Fit for Farming' booklet, launched a charities partnership, and funded the DPJ Foundation to deliver mental health services for Welsh farmers. We are also promoting the well-being of our fishers.
Not all Brexit preparations are within the gift of the Welsh Government. I am particularly concerned about the preparedness of businesses. It is vital all industries prepare for Brexit. The Preparing Wales website is a key source of advice, and I ask you to urge businesses in your constituencies to visit the website and ensure they have done all they need to prepare. Together with Andy Richardson, the chair of the Food and Drink Wales Industry Board, I wrote to Welsh food and drink businesses to reinforce this message. So, in conclusion, Presiding Officer, we are doing everything under our control to mitigate the impacts of no deal. I am confident we will be as prepared as possible by the end of this month. However, factors remaining outside our direct influence will significantly affect Wales’s overall preparedness—business readiness, operations at UK borders and the tariff regime being key.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement this afternoon, in particular the details that you've been able to provide to the Assembly today. I'd also appreciate a bit of an update, because I notice in your statement you cite 9 September's meeting, but as I understand it, there was an inter-governmental meeting on 24 September as well that involved the devolved administrations/Governments. Obviously, I would assume the information that would flow from that meeting would be far more up to date than from 9 September, in particular, how the Welsh Government are interacting with the UK Government in preparation for a 'no deal', which isn't the Government's position in Westminster. Obviously, the Government's position in Westminster is to secure a deal. It's interesting to note President Juncker's position yesterday, that says that there's every possibility that a deal could be secured at the European heads of state conference on 17 October.
The Government in Westminster has set up a Cabinet committee to look specifically at 'no deal' preparations, under the acronym XO. It has met 48 times, as I understand it, and has made 300 recommendations. I would be grateful to understand how many of those 300 recommendations affect the agri-foods sector in your portfolio, bearing in mind that all these recommendations are in relation to 'no deal' preparation. So, it is important for us to understand where those recommendations are being enacted by the Welsh Government, because that close inter-governmental working is vitally important.
It's also important to understand how your department is interacting with the haulage industry, because a lot of agri-goods are exported out of this country. As I understand it, 88,000 VAT-registered businesses have received the necessary paperwork for the permits to be put in place for them to continue exporting—unhindered, I might add. I would be grateful to understand how many of those 88,000 are in the agri-foods sector here in Wales. Given that this is a 'no deal' statement that you have, I'm assuming that you have this information available to you.
It's also worth remembering that the French authorities have worked tirelessly to adapt the port of Calais so that there is easy transit of goods. Veterinary medicines, in particular, have been identified as category 1 goods, which would have unhindered access into the UK market, in particular Wales. I would be grateful to understand from the Minister how she understands that procedure will work, especially as assurances have been given around veterinary medicines in particular.
In particular, there has been talk today about the fisheries sector, very importantly, getting to market on time. In Boulogne, the French authorities have set up a rapid customs and excise point, which will see goods being able to transit from the UK and into the French market in a 24-hour period. Can she confirm what is her understanding of how that post will operate? Obviously, it is going to be a significant point of entry into the European market. It is the French authorities' contention here that that point of entry into the market would see goods caught today in the UK entering the European market within the 24-hour period. So, many of the scare stories said about fish not being able to reach the market, if you take the French authorities' view of it, that is surely not the case.
I would also be very grateful to understand how the veterinary sector is being beefed up here in Wales. I understand that many hundreds of vets have been trained in extra work to deal with the regulatory environment, as have non-veterinary-qualified professionals, to support them in their work. What amount of those appointments are going to be made available to abattoirs and processing facilities here in Wales, given that many hundreds have gone through the necessary training provision, to make sure that there is no interruption in the flow of veterinary surgeons into abattoirs and the regulatory environment that the processing sector works to?
Could she also enlighten us as to what discussions she has had with DEFRA in relation to the sheep meat sector—because she touches on that in her statement—and in particular, about market intervention that possibly would become available in a 'no deal' scenario? As I understand it from comments in the House of Commons by the Cabinet Minister Michael Gove last week, and obviously your statement here today, these plans do seem to have been worked up to a point of maturity, I would suggest. It would be good to try and get some understanding of how they might operate if they were called upon. It is worth reflecting on farmers' confidence in the sheep meat sector in the breeding sales. At the recent NSA sale in Builth Wells, there was an increase in the averages and clearance rates of breeding stock at that sale. I have attended many farm sales this autumn as well that have seen that confidence exhibited in the marketplace.
As I said, it's not the UK Government's position to leave without a deal. We want to see a deal in place, so that many of these provisions don't need to be called upon. But, from what I can see, there has been huge preparation over the last two months, and I would be grateful to understand from the Minister what preparation she has been making to work with the UK Government to make sure that some of these 300 recommendations are in place, to make sure that as smooth an exit from the European Union as possible on 31 October can be accommodated.
Thank you, Andrew R.T. Davies, for that list of observations and questions. I'm not so sure that I share your confidence in the fact that the UK Government are working to secure a deal. Certainly, the last meeting I attended of the quadrilateral—. You referred to a meeting on 24 September, which was last Tuesday; I'm not aware of any ministerial meeting, and certainly if it did go ahead, it went ahead without me. The last one I attended was on 9 September and we will have another one this month, in Edinburgh. So I'm not aware of any other. It might have been an officials' one, but it certainly wasn't a ministerial one.
I'm obviously aware of the XO meetings that are chaired by Michael Gove, which ministerial colleagues either attend or telephone into, and we are working through those recommendations. You'll be very aware that my department, as I said, has got 74 live Brexit preparedness projects; 47 of them are primarily DEFRA-led, and 8 are led by BEIS. I think it's fair to say that officials and I have very good working relations with DEFRA; with BEIS not so much. You will have heard my colleague Ken Skates refer to the fact that a meeting that we've long waited for, which should have gone ahead on Monday in London, has now been pulled, just this morning. So, I think BEIS need to step up now and have that same quadrilateral ability to get to grips with many of the issues.
In relation to haulage, that's something that's within the portfolio of Ken Skates, and he will have heard you ask about the number of that 88,000. I don't have those numbers, but I will ask the Minister to update you on that.
Veterinary medicine is obviously something that is very important and something that the agricultural sector in particular are very concerned about, and I've had those discussions with the farming unions. Again, listening to some of your comments around confidence in the meat sector, both the unions, both the NFU and the FUW—and I'm meeting with them tomorrow; I have my next stakeholder round-table meeting tomorrow—that's not the feeling that they have. I think they're really, really concerned about the market for sheep meat going forward.
I haven't seen the detail that you were talking about in relation to Boulogne, but obviously much of our shellfish goes to Spain, for instance, and certainly we have some real concerns around fisheries. I mentioned the bureaucracy that we think will come in. We don't want shellfish to be spoiled. We're used to our shellfish being caught and being exported within a very close period of time, and being served on plates in restaurants in southern Spain, for instance. So I think it's something that we are concerned about. The fact that we will need catch certificates, the fact that we will need export health certificates is something that the sector will have to plan for.
I am concerned, too, around the well-being of our fishers. We haven't been able to engage with them, I think, in the way we have with the agricultural sector because there were so many charities already there that are helping us with the well-being of our farmers. So we have set up the charity partnership I referred to in my statement to do that.
In relation to the vets, we have taken on I think it's an extra 90 vets, particularly looking at the health certification. So, I had some funding from the EU transition fund to recruit that. In relation to abattoirs, I don't think we have a concern about—. You referred to hundreds of vets being trained; well again, that's not the impression that I have. We are concerned because so many, a very high percentage, of our vets are EU nationals, and we are concerned that they will leave to return home. Yesterday, I was in Dublin for the ocean energy conference, but I had a meeting, I took the opportunity to meet with Dawn Meats/Dunbia, and clearly they are very concerned about how they are going to employ the number of EU nationals that have left their employment. I think they referred to about 50 having left in recent times, and it's very, very hard to recruit, and they are very concerned about recruitment.
In relation to your questions about the sheep sector, I've made it very clear to DEFRA, and they accept that if there is a 'no deal', the sheep sector will need support. We have worked very hard on joint policy with DEFRA and with the Scottish Government, and with Northern Ireland, to come forward with a scheme. We think it's really important that a scheme is—. So, we have common action to be taken across all the administrations to provide the support that's needed. We don't want to create distortions of competition between different parts of the UK, but of course the most important thing in relation to that is that we do get that funding from the UK Treasury, and Members will have heard me say many times that, unfortunately, we haven't had that commitment. I don't have the funding in my budget and any new intervention would require additional funding from the UK Government. We need to get that assurance from Treasury, and we'll continue to work for that.
Thank you, Minister, for your statement, you make a number of valid points. I think there is certainly an irony that a number of people who wanted to leave the EU wanted to do so because of a perceived bureaucracy, and now of course they're facing greater bureaucracy from a 'no deal' Brexit, which I think is food for thought for many people.
I also share your concerns that food supplies will be fairly available in rural areas as well as in urban areas, and I'm glad that you've sought some level of assurance from supermarkets. Certainly, we need to hold them to their word on that. Of course, the UK Government's Yellowhammer document said that the risk that panic buying will cause or exacerbate food supply disruption is one that we need to be mindful of. I'm just wondering how you're preparing for that particular potential scenario and the impact that would have, because you make no reference to it in your statement.
You tell us in the statement and the Welsh Government document on preparing for a 'no deal' Brexit, published recently, also talks about a possible market intervention for the sheep sector. You've touched on it just there and you've made it clear that you would depend on the UK Government to meet the cost of any potential intervention. What if they don't come up with the goods? Surely, you must have some sort of plan in mind to try and mitigate as best you can any potential impacts through some sort of intervention. I'd be interested to know what plan B might be.
We know as well, of course, that the beef sector is very much struggling with a number of farmers at the end of their tether in that particular sector. And if, for both beef and lamb, we see high tariffs and high standards being levied on domestic produce and low tariffs and lower standards being levied on what will no doubt then be cheaper foreign imports, then Welsh farms simply won't be able to compete, and in many cases probably won't be able to survive.
We heard over the summer from a number of people about the possibility of civil unrest and port blockades and the like, as farmers of course try to protect their livelihoods. I'd be interested in knowing what preparation the Welsh Government might have undertaken, indeed what discussions you might have had with the relevant authorities around such possibilities. There's no reference in your statement to that, and of course the closer we get to a 'no deal' Brexit then I'd imagine the more likely that kind of outcome becomes.
Finally, I did ask you on 17 July whether, given the need for Government to direct all of its resources to mitigating the impacts of a 'no deal' crash out, you would look at pausing other pieces of work that the Government are currently undertaking, such as of course the consultation on 'Sustainable Farming and our Land'. At the time, you said that you wouldn't pause that consultation and that you wouldn't take people off that piece of work. As the prospect of a 'no deal' crash out is becoming increasingly likely, will you now tell us that that is something that you are considering? You wouldn't do it in July, but I'd ask you please to confirm as much as that today.
Diolch, Llyr, for your questions. I think you're quite right about the irony. Certainly, I think that our fishers in particular are going to be faced with much more bureaucracy and red tape. Clearly, they are a very vulnerable sector and, along with the sheep sector, we've made it very clear that they will need additional support.
You ask if we have a plan B. Well, as I say, I have not got millions of pounds stashed away in my budget to be able to support the sheep sector in the way that we have discussed, forming that joint policy with the UK Government and the other administrations. So, we would have to look very carefully at how we could find that money. But, I have to say, you will have heard the Prime Minister say, and you can either believe him or not, that he would support the agricultural sector. He's said that many times. I am now continuing to seek assurance from the UK Treasury that they will provide the funding in the way that we have discussed for many months now to support the sheep sector. Certainly, if I was a betting person, I would say that they will do it, because I do absolutely believe them when they say that they understand the impact on the sheep sector, and they just would not allow it to happen if we did have a 'no deal' Brexit.
In relation to fisheries, we need to again look at the funding that we would be able to use to support our fishers, because it's very clear that the impact of a 'no deal' Brexit probably would happen very, very quickly—even quicker than the sheep sector. So, we will need to look at a way of protecting that industry.