Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

22/09/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Alun Davies MS
Carolyn Thomas MS
Joel James MS
John Griffiths MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Mabon ap Gwynfor MS
Samuel Kurtz MS Yn dirprwyo ar ran Sam Rowlands
Substitute for Sam Rowlands

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Amelia John Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Claire Germain Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Emma Williams Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Francois Samuel Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Julie James MS Y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
Minister for Climate Change
Rebecca Evans MS Y Gweinidog Cyllid a Llywodraeth Leol
Minister for Finance and Local Government
Reg Kilpatrick Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Chloe Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Manon George Clerc
Clerk
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:00.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:00.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Okay, may I welcome Members to this first meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee of the autumn term? The public items of this meeting are being broadcast live on Senedd.tv and all participants will be joining by video-conference. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation is available. A Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. Aside from the procedural adaptation related to conducting proceedings remotely, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. We have received apologies from Sam Rowlands MS, and Samuel Kurtz MS is attending in his place. Are there any declarations of interest? Carolyn.

Yes. Could I declare that I am still a Flintshire county councillor?

I declare that I'm a councillor on Pembrokeshire County Council.

I'm a councillor on Rhondda Cynon Taf council. I'm also a community councillor as well. 

Okay. Thank very much. If for any reason I drop out of this meeting, the committee has agreed that Alun Davies MS will temporarily chair while I try to rejoin, so I'm grateful to the committee and Alun for that.

2. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 3 a 7 o'r cyfarfod heddiw ac o'r cyfarfod ar 6 Hydref 2021
2. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 3 and 7 of the meeting today and from the meeting on 6 October 2021

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 3 a 7 o'r cyfarfod heddiw ac o'r cyfarfod ar 6 Hydref 2021 yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 3 and 7 of the meeting today and from the meeting on 6 October 2021 in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Okay then, item 2 on our agenda today is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 3 and 7 of this meeting and from the meeting on 6 October this year. Is committee content so to do? Okay, thank you very much. We will then move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 09:02.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 09:02.

09:30

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 09:31.

The committee reconvened in public at 09:31.

4. Sesiwn graffu ar waith y Gweinidog – y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
4. Ministerial scrutiny session - Minister for Climate Change

Okay, item 4 on the committee's agenda today is a ministerial scrutiny session with the Minister for Climate Change. I'm very pleased to welcome the Minister Julie James MS here this morning, and also the Minister's officials: Emma Williams, director of housing and regeneration; Amelia John, deputy director of the housing policy division; Francois Samuel, head of building regulations, and Dr Jess Pearce, deputy director of housing safety, regulation and improvement division. Thank you, all, for joining committee this morning. Minister, did you want to say anything before we move into our scrutiny questions?

No, thank you, John. I think we should go ahead with the questions, because I think you've got quite a long agenda today. So, I'm very happy to just dive straight in.

Okay, thank you very much. I'll begin, then, if I may, with some questions on homelessness. Minister, thankfully we made some very significant progress in dealing with homelessness and rough-sleeping through the pandemic, and there was a great collective effort from all involved to achieve that. There are now worries, I think, that we're just starting to regress and slip back a little, and anecdotally I hear that the number of rough sleepers, for example, seems to be increasing. There are high numbers of people currently in emergency temporary accommodation with support from Welsh Government and local authorities. So, what's your assessment of the current situation?

Yes, it is absolutely, John, disappointing to see the number of rough sleepers rising. The latest published data that we have is from June, and that showed 106 people were sleeping rough across Wales. The numbers do always increase in the summer months, it has to be said, but it's disappointing that was an increase of around 30 from the May. 

We have actually got outreach workers to everybody who's sleeping rough. We know where people are. They tend to be people with really complex difficulties, and we're working really hard to make sure that they have the wraparound support to support them off the street. It can take months, as I know the committee knows, to get the trust of somebody who's, you know, had very traumatic experiences, and get the right services to them to enable them to start the process of sustaining a tenancy. But that's in the context of us still having around 1,200 or so individuals presenting as homeless across Wales every month. So, that's still going on unprecedentedly. We've got just over 12,400 people who've been brought into temporary accommodation since March 2020, which is an eye-watering number, really. So, I think the way that you started your remarks is absolutely right: I think, across Wales, people have absolutely gone the extra mile; people have worked all the hours. They have really pulled out the stops to make sure that they are able to meet the needs of people who've been so badly impacted.

We've still got what's called the hardship fund for local authorities running. So, we're still paying out around £1.8 million a month to local authorities to assist them. That's on top of the normal housing services moneys, I should say—additional—to help them continue to keep people in accommodation. And we've got a pretty good flow through, but nothing like the numbers presenting—so, around 400 or so people going into permanent accommodation every month.

Quite clearly, this is a whole-system problem, so we need to build more houses more rapidly, and I'm sure we'll come on to house building later on, so I won't say here, but ultimately we need more social homes for people to go into and we need those homes in the right places. But we also have worked very hard across the Government, third sector and local authority partners to make sure that we have the wraparound services that people need to be able to sustain tenancies, so this isn't just about four walls and a roof, as I know the committee knows. This is about having all the right physical stuff, a sofa to sit on, a bed to sleep in, some curtains at your window, but it's also about the skills and the support to make sure that you can sustain that tenancy.

09:35

Yes, sure. As you say, we'll come on to other, wider relevant matters later on, Minister. In terms of the increased numbers of rough sleepers at the moment, though, why do you think they're not accessing temporary emergency accommodation and what plans are being made for the winter months?

As I say, what we do is we get an outreach worker to every individual who's rough-sleeping. You can't be 100 per cent confident, but we're relatively confident that we know each one and that we've got an outreach worker to each individual, and then each individual is an individual, John. So, we need to figure out what that person's requirements are, what their issues are, why they're homeless, what the trauma that's brought them to that position is, and it can take months to get the trust back of people who've been at the rough end of services, shall we say, and who've often had really big personal and family tragedies in their lives. And then, what we do is we work very hard with the outreach workers to make sure that we get access to services slowly and then we get them into housing first-type services as soon as we possibly can, and that's a collective effort across the piece, so that's mental health services, substance abuse services, relationship breakdown services, income maximisation services, job support, training, you name it, and we can access it. But it is about trying to make sure that you've got the trust of that human being—the outreach workers are amazing. If any of you get the chance to go out with them, it's well worth doing, they're quite something. So, we work really hard to do that.

And then getting people into temporary accommodation is, of course, better than sleeping rough, but it's absolutely not the solution, and then what we need is the move-on accommodation so that people can get to their permanent home. We're working very hard to make sure that people don't have to move several times, because that's very traumatic, as well, because they need to be able to make relationships and contacts in the community and so on. So, it's a huge problem. We've got just around 6,400 people in temporary accommodation at the moment in Wales, and I'm afraid to say that the agenda of the UK Government in terms of austerity and poverty is not helping here, because a lot of the family breakdown problems we have are from people who are experiencing real poverty and financial stress, so all the issues around the local housing allowance being frozen, universal credit being stopped and so on are really not helping.

I certainly agree with you on the value of the outreach workers, having been out with them on several occasions, Minister. We've got the homelessness action group's recommendations, of course, which are highly relevant to all of this and what you've already said, and I guess we could have legislation in the future in relation to priority need, intentionality and local connection, for example. What are the Welsh Government's plans on those matters? 

So, we are planning to fundamentally reform homelessness in Wales and to focus on prevention and rapid rehousing, and so what we'll be doing is we'll be bringing a consultation first and then a programme to completely transform the legislative framework in Wales so that people have a right to housing. So, we won't be running a rationing system, I suppose that's what we've always had before. But fundamental to that is us building the number of houses that we need. There's no point in putting duties on local authorities that we already know they simply cannot meet, so we must build the houses that we need in the right places to allow people to access the homes that they want and need, so it's a big concentration on new build, but there's also a concentration on bringing other forms of housing back into social, beneficial use, so working with the private rented sector to get them to give us their houses for long-term social rent and working with empty homes projects across Wales and so on, so a number of other things also going on. 

09:40

Are you able to give the committee any idea of likely timings for the process at this stage, Minister?

I would think we're—. There are steps in this, John. So, at the moment, we're still in the COVID regulations. We're using the COVID regulations to ensure that everybody who presents as homeless across Wales is given the right response and we deal with the person we see in front of us. We're working at pace, then, to try to get the regulations behind that in place to make sure that that continues once COVID is over. We're having to constantly review the COVID regulations. So, I am going to be making an announcement shortly after committee. It's very unfortunately timed for this committee but, just after the committee, I will be making some announcements about extensions and so on of various COVID regulations. But, we are working on an action plan, which will set out how we take forward both the strategy for ending homelessness and the housing action group recommendations. The silver lining of COVID has been that we implemented the housing action group's plan in six weeks instead of the three years that we had originally planned. I cannot say often enough how grateful I am to everyone across Wales in the housing system that stepped up to that, because they were extraordinary, really extraordinary.

But of course, that has meant that we haven't done some of the planning and long-term strategy stuff that we should have done because we were coping with that emergency. So, that is now happening. But, of course, everybody across the system is also exhausted, because they have been working with this crisis for a very long time now. So, we are working as fast as we can on that. Our plan is to have something that we can go out to consultation on next year. I'm really reluctant to give you an absolute date, John, if I'm honest, because we're still dealing with quite a lot of the stuff from both Brexit and COVID in this space, but next year, certainly, is the current plan.  

Okay. Thanks for that, Minister. It's useful to have that indication, and I understand the difficulties with being more precise. 

I should just say, Chair—do you mind? I should also have said, sorry, that the housing action group has now morphed into something we're calling the national advisory board. So, a very similar group of people. And we are working very closely with them on the action plan. So, just to reassure the committee that we're doing that alongside all of the people who advised us on how to do the extraordinary piece of work we've already done. We're very aware that we don't have all of the solutions, and we are working with all of our partners to devise that plan. 

Yes, okay. If we could turn to youth homelessness, Minister, we've got the road map to end youth homelessness, which was published by End Youth Homelessness Cymru. Could you tell us what the Welsh Government's approach is to that strategy and how you intend to end youth homelessness?

Yes, certainly, John. Obviously, we're committed to ending all forms of homelessness, including youth homelessness. And the reports of the housing action group make clear that the actions are needed to stop homelessness in all its forms. But then, obviously, there are targeted prevention activities and crisis activities for particular groups in society, and young people are certainly one of those groups.

So, we're already doing some of the activity outlined in the Ending Youth Homelessness Cymru road map, which I know the committee has seen. We've already invested £3.7 million in the youth support grant to help with the early identification of young people at risk of homelessness. And that's the youth engagement and progression framework that I know the committee is familiar with. So, we've invested in that. We now have a youth homelessness co-ordinator in every authority in Wales, using that funding to fund the co-ordinators. And we've got around £4 million in a youth innovation fund to increase the housing and support options for young people. And that supports a range of bespoke projects, including for looked-after children and for LGBTQ+ young people, because often they need a slightly modified form of housing in order to get the right support services in place to ensure that they can sustain the tenancies and lifestyle that they want.

And again that's very much about making sure that we match the right tenant to the right house as well. I've met a number of young people who've been extremely enthusiastic about having found the right place because it's got—inevitably, it is about having a pleasant place to lay your head, so to speak, but inevitably, when you speak to young people who have come into those services, they talk about the community and the support and the friendships that they've made, and we need to make sure that people find the right place, as well as just the right flat.

09:45

Okay, thanks for that, Minister. One more short, specific question from me, then we'll move on to other members of the committee and other issues. The requirement for landlords to give most tenants six months' notice—will that continue beyond 30 September?

So, there will—. This committee's unfortunately timed, John. So, I will be making some announcements that I rightly should make to the Senedd shortly, but the short answer is 'yes', we will be extending it.

Right, okay. Okay, Minister, thanks very much for that. Okay. We'll move on, then. Mabon ap Gwynfor. Mabon.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd. Helo, Weinidog. Diolch am ymuno ac am fod yn barod i ateb y cwestiynau yma. Dwi am holi yn benodol ynghylch tai cymdeithasol a thai fforddiadwy. Hyd yma, mae gennych chi gynllun dŷch chi'n dweud ac yn honni sydd yn uchelgeisiol o adeiladu 20,000 o dai carbon niwtral dros dymor y Senedd yma. Mae hynny'n gyfwerth â thua 4,000 o gartrefi y flwyddyn. Dydyn ni ddim wedi dod yn agos at hynny yn ystod yr 20 mlynedd diwethaf. Dwi'n meddwl mai 3,000 y flwyddyn ydy beth dŷn ni wedi bod yn ei wneud. Sut dŷch chi'n meddwl ein bod ni'n mynd i gyflawni a chyrraedd y targedau yma?

Thank you very much, Chair, and good morning, Minister. Thank you for joining us and for being willing to answer our questions. I want to ask specifically about social housing and affordable housing. Now, to date, you do have a plan that you claim is ambitious in terms of building 20,000 carbon neutral homes over the term of this Senedd, and that equates to some 4,000 homes per annum. We haven't got close to that over the past 20 years. I think 3,000 a year is what we have delivered. So, how do you think we can achieve these targets?

Yes, thank you, Mabon. I don't just claim it's ambitious; it is ambitious, because we work very closely with the sector and we know what the sector is capable of delivering and what we can push them to do. So, it's not a number just plucked out of the air; this is a number that we worked on very hard with the whole sector across Wales in the last Senedd. So, I'm really delighted to be continuing the good work of that last Government and raising the bar again, because, as I said in answer to John's question about  homelessness, this is the key to unlocking some of the issues that we have—to have enough decent social housing in the right place across Wales to ensure that people don't find themselves without a home.

We've got to build, as you say, Mabon, more of them than we have before. We've got to build them more quickly and we've got to ensure that they're futureproofed, so that they're low-carbon, decent homes as well. There's also a continued need for market  housing, but we are focusing on social and intermediate homes, because the market housing is being built across Wales as well, although there is a piece of work going on to ensure that our small and medium-sized builders are able to access a pipeline of work and to make sure that they stay viable, because they're very important to us.

We only include in the target homes rented out by social landlords, social homes to rent, intermediate homes to rent and shared ownership schemes. So, just to be clear—. So, it's a much more stringent target than the 20,000 affordable homes in the last Senedd, and I just want to make that clear as well.

But there are big challenges, and I'm not going to pretend differently. Low-carbon homes are more expensive than traditional social housing, but we absolutely have got to do that, because we're in the climate crisis as well as this crisis, so we absolutely have to do that. And also, we're in unprecedented times. All of you, I know, will have seen some of the issues that are happening around supply chain risks and materials price inflation. So, we're working really, really hard with our contractors to make sure that we understand where they are, we understand what the delays in the supply chain systems are, that we can work with them to maximise the Government's purchasing power where necessary, but we're having to put more grant into each house now, because the raw materials are going up in price, really in quite eye-watering ways. So, we're working with the sector to try and ensure that the build continues to happen, but it's really worrying how much more the raw materials are costing.

We're also working really hard across Wales with our local authorities and with our registered social landlords to ensure a land supply in the right place at the right time, and I had a really interesting meeting yesterday with Housing Justice Cymru about releasing church land across Wales for the right kind of social and co-operative housing—and I know, Mabon, you're probably going to come on ask me it, but that will be very important to the second homes debate, because we can make sure that we have access to those good homes in some of the areas that are most impacted by some of the second homes and tourist homes type debates. I'm sure you're going to come on to ask me; I'm pre-empting your question, sorry.

So, we also want to support community-led initiatives like community land trusts. So, I had a great discussion with the people down at Solfa with the Solfa affordable housing scheme, which brings together Pembrokeshire County Council, ateb, PLANED and the Solfa Community Land Trust to build a number of community-owned houses down in Solfa, which, as you know, is one of the areas of Wales that has had serious house price inflation, and we have real big problems with accessing land and housing for local people. So, we have a number of initiatives across Wales on top of the 20,000 affordable homes, and we're working with the RSLs to understand, as I say, what the difficulties in delivering them at pace might be, and to overcome them together.

09:50

Diolch, Weinidog. Mae'n ddifyr clywed bod 20,000 o dai yng Nghymru dros bum mlynedd yn uchelgeisiol, tra'n edrych ar Lywodraeth yr Iwerddon—maen nhw'n edrych i adeiladu 33,000 o dai cymdeithasol y flwyddyn ar gyfer y weriniaeth yn fanna. Felly, mae yna uchelgais ychydig yn wahanol rhwng y ddwy wlad.

Ond, os ydyn ni'n mynd i gyrraedd y nifer yma o dai cymdeithasol, mae angen i gynlluniau datblygu lleol adlewyrchu hyn. Sut ydych chi'n mynd i gael rheolaeth ar yr Arolygiaeth Gynllunio sydd, hyd yma, wedi cyfyngu ar ganran y nifer o dai fforddiadwy sydd yn ofynnol i awdurdodau lleol ddatblygu? Weithiau, mae rhai awdurdodau lleol wedi datblygu cynllun datblygu lleol ac wedi gofyn am 50 y cant o dai fforddiadwy, ac mae'r Arolygiaeth Gynllunio yn eu gwrthod nhw, ac yn eu gorfodi nhw lawr i 10 y cant. Mae angen adolygu hynny, ac mae angen sicrhau bod y cynlluniau datblygu lleol felly yn adlewyrchu eich uchelgais chi. Sut ydych chi am sicrhau hynny?

Thank you, Minister. It's interesting to hear that 20,000 homes in Wales over five years is ambitious, whilst looking to the Irish Government, who are looking to build 33,000 social homes per year for the Republic of Ireland. So, their ambition is slightly different.

But if we are to deliver this number of social houses, then local development plans need to reflect this. So, how are you going to actually influence the Planning Inspectorate, who have reduced the number of affordable houses, or limited the number of affordable houses, that are required from local authorities? Sometimes, local authorities have developed an LDP and asked for 50 per cent affordable housing, and the Planning Inspectorate's rejected that and forced them down in terms of the percentage to 10 per cent. We need to review that and ensure that LDPs reflect your ambition. So, how are you going to ensure that that's the case?

So, that's a really complicated issue there, because that's to do with the affordability of the development in question, the way that the section 106 requirements work, and the profit margins of some of the companies working on the developments. So, what we're doing is we're working with planning colleagues right across Wales to make sure that we have the right skills inside the local authorities to negotiate the 106s in the first place. We've also worked with—. Planning Inspectorate Wales is working with the local authorities. We've done a number of sessions with local authorities—training sessions—on how to do those negotiations and what an affordability envelope on a particular site within the LDP might look like, and what a reasonable expectation of a contribution towards social housing might be, whether it's actually building the social housing itself or it's a financial contribution elsewhere. And you're right—there's a good deal of work to be done there.

During the tenures that local authorities have experienced of severe austerity, planning services have been one of the ones that have been very badly hit, and it's really difficult to retain good planning officers inside local authorities in many areas of Wales because they're poached by developer companies at around five years' experience. So, we've been working with the developers themselves, actually, because sometimes they're part of the problem, and they should be part of the solution. So, we run a construction forum where we discuss this with a number of colleagues across Wales, both on the construction company side and the local authority side, with the big developers and so on, to try and reach an equilibrium. We're encouraging regional working by the local authorities to share expertise and to get a career path for planners across Wales, and, as I said in my earlier answer, we're working with each individual local authority to look at its housing allocation in its LDP to see whether and how that land is going to come forward and whether it's realistic, and understand whether there are barriers to that—so, whether it's on brownfield that needs remediation, it needs some kind of small property fund granting or whatever, and then make sure that the land that we have available comes forward realistically and we understand how many social houses can be generated by the development that's likely to go ahead there.

The other thing I would say is that we're being very fussy about what kind of development. So, we've seen poor development across Wales in the past, where we have poor gates—so, social developments stuck at one end of a development and so on. I'm very, very keen to make sure that local authorities stop that happening, and that social housing looks exactly the same as other housing on the development and it's spread throughout the development, and also that we have good green infrastructure in those developments, because, again, we've seen poor practice with houses crammed onto land, and we know that people have real problems if they don't have access to outside space and the houses aren't big enough to actually live in.

So, there's a big piece of work there, Mabon, going on. As you know, we're very keen on making sure that we have the right house in the right place as well, and I understand the issue about the numbers, but, as I say, we've worked very hard with our industry right across Wales to understand what the capacity is and what capacity building we need to do to be able to deliver the number of houses we're talking about. Of course, I could have just chosen a bigger number, but we know what the capacity is. So, we'll build that capacity, and, if we can get it up higher than that, of course, that's fine. This isn't the ceiling—this is the bottom target, isn't it? 

09:55

Diolch am yr ateb yna, Weinidog, ond dwi yn teimlo bod yr Arolygiaeth Gynllunio yn atebol i chi yn y pen draw, a'r Arolygiaeth Gynllunio sydd wedi bod yn cyfyngu ar y canran o dai fforddiadwy, felly mae'n rhaid ichi gael rheolaeth ar yr Arolygiaeth Gynllunio a sicrhau bod yr arolygiaeth yna yn caniatáu mwy o ganran o dai fforddiadwy yn y cynlluniau datblygu lleol. 

Dwi eisiau symud ymlaen ychydig, os yn bosib, at dai carbon isel, eto, rhywbeth sydd i'w groesawu yn eich datganiad chi. Ond dwi wedi siarad efo nifer fawr o gymdeithasau tai dros y ddau fis diwethaf, a thra bod y £250 miliwn rydych chi wedi eu cyfrannu fel Llywodraeth tuag at ddatblygu tai cymdeithasol, a'r rheini yn dai carbon isel—y swm mwyaf mae'ch Llywodraeth chi wedi ei roi—i'w groesawu, y gwir ydy, o ran y cymdeithasau tai, fod eich targed chi o'u gwneud nhw'n dai carbon isel a retrofit-io yn mynd i ychwanegu £15,000 i £20,000 yn ychwanegol at gost adeiladu pob tŷ. Rŵan, lle mae'r arian ychwanegol yna yn mynd i ddod yn gyson dros y blynyddoedd nesaf er mwyn cyrraedd y targed, a hefyd, o ran retrofit-io, pwy sydd yn mynd i dalu am hyn dros y blynyddoedd nesaf? Oherwydd, os ydy cymdeithasau tai yn mynd i orfod talu i retrofit-io'r stoc dai bresennol i'w gwneud nhw'n garbon isel, mae'n mynd i fwyta i fewn i unrhyw bres sydd ganddyn nhw i ddatblygu tai yn y dyfodol. 

Felly, mae yna ddwy elfen yn fanno: pwy sy'n talu am y retrofit-io i wneud tai yn garbon isel, ac a oes yna sicrwydd bod parhad ariannu i'r lefel yma neu'n uwch yn mynd i fynd ymlaen dros y blynyddoedd nesaf?  

Thank you for that response, Minister, but I do feel that the Planning Inspectorate is, ultimately, accountable to you, and it's the inspectorate that's been limiting the percentage of affordable homes, so you need to take control of that and to ensure that the inspectorate does allow higher percentages of affordable homes in the LDPs. 

I want to move on, if I may, to low-carbon homes, something that's to be welcomed in your statement, of course. But I've spoken to a number of housing associations over the past two months, and whilst the £250 million that you've contributed as a Government towards the development of social housing, and these are low-carbon homes—the highest amount your Government has provided—is to be welcomed, the truth is, in terms of the housing associations, that your target of making them low-carbon homes and retrofitting is going to add £15,000 to £20,000 to the cost of building each home. Now, where's that additional funding going to come from consistently over ensuing years in order to deliver the target, and also, in terms of retrofitting, who is going to pay for this over the next years? Because, if housing associations are going to have to foot the bill for retrofitting the current housing stock, it's going to eat into any funding that they have to develop homes for the future.

So, there are two elements there: who pays for the retrofitting to make homes low carbon, and is there assurance of continued funding at this level or higher over the ensuing years? 

So, again, Mabon, that's quite a complicated set of answers, so let me do my best. So, we've allocated £250 million into social housing grant, which is double the budget for the previous year. We know that we need to have around £350 million a year over the next four years to get anywhere near our target, but, obviously, I'm in the budget bidding round at the moment, as are all Ministers; no doubt, I'll be doing budget scrutiny with the committee at some point in the near future. We are obviously reliant on what we get from Westminster as well, but we know that we need around £350 million a year.

During the pandemic and just before, we were working with housing associations and various councils and so on to look at the social housing grant that was available and how it was made available—so, what kind of grant assistance you got on what kind of development. We've made it available to local authority schemes for the first time this year in order to help the authorities ramp up since the Conservative Government saw fit to take the housing revenue accounts caps off back in 2018, and they really have stepped up since they've been allowed to do that.

We've gone for something called the new standard variability model for the social housing grant. It would take me an hour to explain that to you, but, basically, very briefly—and I'll get one of the officials to come in if I mangle this—each development will get the level of grant that it requires in order to make it viable. So, rather than a standard intervention—you know, you get 50 per cent or you get 40 per cent or whatever it is—what this is going to do is look at it development by development, and the social housing grant will be added to make it viable. So, I'm looking at my officials; they're vaguely nodding at me. That's always good. 

So, we've worked really hard to do that, because before we had an intervention rate that was the same all over Wales and, obviously, some parts of Wales have very high land values, and some parts of Wales very low land values, so the affordability envelope on those pieces of land is very different. So, working with the RSLs and local authorities, we've now agreed a standard variability model for delivery, and that ought to allow us to get our money to go further in terms of the number of houses it produces. 

John, if you want, we could do a technical briefing for the committee on how some of that works. 

I think committee might well find that useful. We'll discuss it later, Minister, and get in touch. 

So, just on the last bit of that, on the retrofit, we've got £108 million on the table via major repairs allowances and 'dowry', as it's called. That was what delivered the Welsh housing quality standard up to energy performance certificate C, and we're currently in conversations with the sector about how to use that money going forward to raise the bar again in terms of retrofit. We'll be able to keep the committee up to date as we have those negotiations. We're running something called the optimised retrofit programme at the moment, which is testing out various tech and retrofit solutions on all the different house types in Wales to find out what works and then to be able to roll that out. We're doing that following Chris Jofeh's committee's recommendations to us on how to decarbonise the housing stock, which I know the committee is familiar with. 

10:00

Diolch. Jest ar hynny, buasai £108 miliwn yn ddigon i retrofit-io, beth, rhyw 10,000 ar y gorau, neu 15,000, o dai cymdeithasol, sydd ddim yn agos i ddigon i'r angen, felly fe fydd angen pot arall o bres er mwyn digolledu cymdeithasau tai sydd angen retrofit-io eu stoc tai nhw. Os ydych chi'n meddwl am gymdeithas tai Adra, er enghraifft, efo 6,000 yn eu stoc tai nhw yn unig—heb sôn am y dwsin neu beth bynnag yn ychwanegol sydd yng nghanolbarth a gorllewin Cymru. Felly, mae angen edrych ar fwy o bres yn y fanno eto. Mae'r cyfan yn mynd lawr i bres, onid ydy e? 

Yn olaf, serch hynny, os caf i jest droi at un pwynt olaf, mae cymdeithasau tai yn ddibynnol, wrth gwrs, ar gydweithio efo datblygiadau preifat, a'u bod nhw yn amlach na pheidio yn rhan, yn ganran bach o ryw ddatblygiad preifat. Beth ydy eich cynlluniau chi—rŷch chi wedi cyffwrdd ar hwn, a dwi'n ddiolchgar—o ran rhyddhau tir cyhoeddus er mwyn galluogi cymdeithasau tai i adeiladu tai ar dir cyhoeddus, gan dynnu gwerth y tir yna allan a sicrhau bod yna fwy o werth am arian, a'u bod nhw'n medru adeiladu fwy, felly, o dai, gan fod gwerth y tir wedi cael ei dynnu allan, gan eich bod chi'n cymryd y gost yna wrth ryddhau'r tir iddyn nhw?

Thank you. Just on that, £108 million would be enough to retrofit, what, some 10,000 or maybe 15,000 social homes, which is nowhere near enough to meet the demand, so we will need another pot of funding to fund housing associations who need to retrofit. If you think of Adra, for example, who have 6,000 in their housing stock alone—never mind the dozens more in mid and west Wales. So, we need to look at more funding there too. It all comes down to the money.

Finally, if I could just turn to one final point, housing associations are reliant, of course, on working with private developers, and they, more often than not, are a small percentage of some private development. So, what are your plans—you've touched on this, and I'm grateful for that—in terms of releasing public sector land in order to allow housing associations to build homes on public sector land and ensuring that there is better value for money, that they can build more homes, because the value of the land is taken out, as you actually take that in releasing that land in the first instance?

Just in terms of retrofit, Mabon, the variation in costs is between £6,000 and £20,000 a house, depending on what type of house it is, and of course we use our money as leverage. So, the RSLs and local authorities have a maintenance obligation of their own, so we expect them to factor that into their plans as well, in terms of their overall budget. That's one of the things we work on with them, hence the variability model in terms of investment for new homes that I was just talking about. Again, we work carefully with them, so it's not the only money that's spent; it's the Government money leverage that's spent.

We've recently established a land division in my portfolio, which is tasked with exactly that: going through all of the public land in Wales, Welsh Government and other public authorities, talking with them about what that land can most usefully be used for, and changing the way that we look at it, so not selling it to the highest bidder in order to produce the money for public services, which has been a previous model, but now using it for the highest public benefit. For some pieces of land, that will be building exemplar housing sites with 50 per cent social housing and a mix of other tenures on site. The other 50 per cent won't be owner occupied; it will be some co-operative, some community trust, some shared equity, and some owner occupied. We also are demonstrating some of the good green infrastructure and active travel type things that you can do on site, and what the new builds and modern methods of production houses can look like, making sure that our SMEs start to change their building practices away from the very traditional, much less resilient building practices that they've had.

You're right that we rely on private sector developers very much to build our housing for us. The RSLs contract with them. Some of the companies, that's all they do is work with the RSLs on building social homes. Others, of course, build out the whole development, and some of them are for social homes, and we're in discussion with the RSLs about how to maximise that and to make sure that there's a constant stream of work that is manageable for our SMEs across Wales, because otherwise you get this terrible kind of 'Lots of work, no work, lots of work, no work' cycle that makes the sector much more volatile. So, we have a construction forum in which we set out the pipeline of work that's available and we assist the SMEs to come together to bid for that work and so on. So, there's a lot of work behind the scenes on that. We also work with the RSLs to see where it would be prudent for them to use in-house workforces with the local authority, for example—direct labour organisations in some local authorities. So, Swansea council builds its houses out with its own direct labour force, and we're looking to see whether we can use those workforces to fill in gaps in the supply chain and worker difficulties.

The last thing is I'm working with my colleague Vaughan Gething to make sure that we have proper apprenticeships in the sector, particularly for the new skills on low-carbon housing, and that we have a proper pipeline of both apprentices and good employment for them afterwards, so that we don't have a very poor model of self-employment and insecure work across Wales.

10:05

Thank you very much, Minister. Diolch yn fawr, Mabon. Carolyn, I think we've strayed into your territory, as it were, in terms of possible questions. Do you wish to ask anything further, Carolyn?

Yes. I was going to ask questions on decarbonisation, which Mabon has done already, so, could I just ask the Minister: would you look at putting targets to local authorities to start rebuilding council houses again? I know that when we went out to ballot 10 years ago, some transferred their stock to registered social landlords or set up housing associations, but I'd be interested in whether you'd look at targets for house building. I know in Flintshire, rather than building a certain amount of affordable homes or low cost to buy, some developers had houses gifted to them, which they could then borrow on to build more houses in the future. 

The short answer to that, Carolyn, is that we haven't got targets, as such, but we work with each of the stock-holding local authorities—. We have 11 stock-holding local authorities and 11 non-stock-holding local authorities—exactly half and half—in Wales. We work with the stock-holding local authorities to see what we can do to assist them to build, and all of them have started to build in much higher numbers than they were before. And bearing in mind that they're ramping up from 40 years of not building at all, they've done extremely well. With the non-stock-holding authorities, we're looking at ways that they can lever in their money into their own land to get the right kind of development on their own land, and then, to get the right kind of planning systems in their LDPs for general land. And we're doing that with all 22—actually, 25, because the national parks are in that as well—all 25 planning authorities.

So, we're working in a number of ways to increase the housing supply and the land supply for housing, and then, we're also working with them to make sure that we do deliver the right kind of decarbonisation and low-carbon housing. And again, it's more expensive to build at the moment, because it's unusual and new, but one of the things that we need to do is to de-risk that. So, through the innovative housing programme, we're demonstrating what can be built, and then, through local authority and public sector purchasing, we can drive the price down for some of the things that are currently more expensive.

Then, there's an enormous piece of work that we're doing on the production of wood for sustainable housing in Wales. It probably would take me an hour in the committee to just go through what we're working on there. But one of the big issues and big wins here is where the supply chains are. So, we're doing a supply chain analysis for the innovative housing programme to see where we currently get supplies from outside of Wales and the UK, to see where we can onshore that and whether we can fill in any of the supply gaps with reprocessed recyclate from Wales as well—so, insulation panels made from recycled plastic collected by the local authorities in Wales, for example. So, there's a huge piece of work on the circular economy and the supply chains going on as part of the decarbonisation agenda as well.

Thank you. Just a question on retrofitting. I know that there have been a few issues with retrofitting with some companies. You said that you're looking at the tech and looking at best practice—did you say that earlier?

Yes, that's right. So, what we've got is we're running a programme where we've asked RSLs to come forward with a range of different types of housing so that we can test out different sorts of technologies and different sorts of retrofitting to make sure that we get the right fit for the right house. So, the Welsh housing quality standard was hugely successful—everybody told us we wouldn't be able to bring our social housing stock up to energy performance certificate C and we have largely done that across Wales. But there's no doubt that, in some very small instances, we've done the wrong thing and we've got condensation problems in stone houses, for example. Those are now being worked on to put that right. But what we want to do is make sure that we have the right retrofit for the right house. Obviously, bringing a Victorian stone terraced house up to EPC A is going to require a completely different set of interventions than a 1970s cavity-wall ranch house, for example. And we have examples of all kinds of housing across Wales. I've got an official on the call who I'm sure, Chair, will talk to you for at least 45 minutes about the different kinds of tech available, and what we're going to do is for part L of the building regulations to insist on this. But, maybe you'd like us to do a technical briefing on that as well.

Yes. Sadly, our time constraints are too great for that to happen, I'm afraid, Minister, but thank you for that.

Okay, well, we will move on, because we've probably got about 35 minutes left now. Samuel.

10:10

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, Minister. You and I have not yet met, so thank you for joining us this morning. Second homes I'd like to touch on if possible. Could you give the Welsh Government's definition of a second home please?

That's one of the most difficult things of all, isn't it, what is the definition of a second home? We're working with the cross-party group to try and understand the different nature of the problem.

We all recognise the problem. If it looks like a duck and it sounds like a duck and it walks like a duck, it's a duck. But, actually, trying to define it in a way that is sensible has turned out to be quite difficult. So, a home that's occupied by someone else who has a permanent residence elsewhere is a sort of explanation of it, but, actually, for very large numbers of public sector workers in west Wales, for example, they live down in west Wales to work in the hospitals locally in the week and then they return to a family home elsewhere in Wales at the weekend. I don't think those are the sorts of second homes that we're having real problems with. So, it is a real problem to define.

One of the things the cross-party group has been working on is trying to come to an understanding of what exactly it is that we mean. Sometimes, it's really obvious. It's not always obvious. And it is about the levels of occupation, spend and viability of the communities. So, a second home that's lived in for a very large part of the year isn't a problem. A second home that's largely vacant is what the real issue is.

The other issue is of course the escalating prices. The availability of those houses to local communities, because they're being bought by people who have more money from elsewhere across the world, is another big issue. The availability of year-round housing for people, given the buoyant tourist industry, is a real problem. Making sure that people keep their houses in the private rented sector and don't swap them across to weekly tourist accommodation is another real problem. So, a second home that's a buy to let, for example, is a different proposition to a second home that's bought for holidays for an individual family. So, it's a really complicated and difficult question to answer. 

We're working very hard to understand the nature of the various types of second home. And, also, as I said in answer to Mabon, one of the big issues here really is having the right houses for access for local people to live and stay and thrive in their own communities. 

Thank you. You mentioned there the complexity around this, and I absolutely agree, but there's a case there as well for distinguishing the difference between a second home and a self-catering unit, for example, which you mentioned—the buy to let rather than a self-catering unit. Obviously, through the business rates relief, et cetera, the definition of a self-catering unit is one that's let for short periods that total 140 days or more per year, but is actually let for 70. So, advertised for 140 but let for 70. Is there scope to strengthen the remit around what is classified as a self-catering unit rather than focus solely on what a second home is? As in, by eradicating one you clarify the situation of the other. Is there a possibility of exploring that?

We're out to consultation at the moment on what the threshold levels for that are, and whether there should be any at all—so, whether anyone should be allowed to switch across to business rates. Because you're talking there about what triggers the switch between domestic and business rates. The consultation includes what the threshold should be, but also includes whether it should be allowed at all, and it includes whether businesses should be eligible for small business rate relief, and, if so, in what circumstances. So, the consultation is looking at a range of the difficulties around that. 

There is a real issue—. We're also doing a survey with Visit Wales on what the absolute needs for tourist accommodation actually are in particular areas and so on, because very large numbers of the local community actually rely on the tourist dollar to keep going as well. So, it's a difficult balance, that's the truth of it. 

We've started work on the shape of a statutory licensing scheme for all holiday accommodation and we're expecting a report via the cross-party group in early December. And we're also reviewing all our advice on planning arrangements, making better use of existing powers, and we'll be talking with the cross-party group about the advice we've received and what we can do with it. And, as you know, we're looking to to sort out pilot areas in Wales for particular interventions and we'll be talking again with the cross-party group shortly about how, where and why and what we're going to do in those pilot intervention areas. 

In the end, what we're talking about is access for local people to decent-quality, affordable homes so that their communities stay viable and they can live and thrive in them. So, as I said in answer to Mabon earlier, I met with Housing Justice Cymru yesterday to discuss the release of church land across Wales—a very interesting interactive map. I'm sure, John, they'd be very happy to talk to the committee as well, about how we can bring those kinds of pieces of land, and public sector land, across Wales, into play, so that we have the kind of mixed development that I was discussing as part of our exemplar sites. So, 50 per cent social housing, for sure, but then a range of shared equity, co-operative, community and owner-occupied houses on site, so that people can get their foot on the housing ladder, as well as access decent social housing in all the communities of Wales.

And as part of the answer I gave earlier on homelessness, we talked about changing the whole homelessness landscape, so that would change the accessibility for social housing for local connection, and all that kind of thing as well. So, there's an enormous piece of work going on to see what we can do to change the levers, in a number of areas.

10:15

Thank you. You mentioned there pilot areas, and I'll come back to that shortly. But in July, you announced the three-pronged approach to the second home impact, or the impact of second homes. Is there a timescale for this, or how far along are we in the looking at this? You've mentioned the consultation in terms of clarification around self-catering units, but on the three-pronged approach, what's the timescale?

We're working through the cross-party group and Mabon might know better than me, as he's on the cross-party group as well. I don't have it to hand, but at the next meeting, we'll be discussing where we've got. Forgive me, I can't remember off the top of my head when that is, but I'm sure it's soon. We had one at the beginning of August, so it must be due pretty soon now. Mabon may know off the top of his head, but I'm afraid I don't. I can let the committee know when the next cross-party group is afterwards.

Okay. Thank you. And then, on pilot areas, have any decisions been made on where these pilot areas will be in Wales?

That's one of the discussions we want to have in the cross-party group, because it's absolutely essential, once we choose a pilot area, that everyone is happy. It's not political—we don't need any political shenanigans on this. Everybody in the area needs to be largely happy with it, the local representatives need to be happy, the town and community councils need to be happy, the local authorities need to be happy. There's a lot of work to do to make sure that the pilot area can go forward with as much goodwill as we can conceivably get for it. So, it's not a question of us just choosing it; we've got to make sure these are communities who want to have pilots run in their communities.

Okay. Thank you. And finally from me, Chair, on the Welsh—

No, I'm grateful, Minister.

And finally, the Welsh language communities housing plan, what is this likely to contain?

So, again, that's one of the things we're taking forward with the cross-party working group. And the additional point there is concern for the language. So, we have problems with second homes and sustainable communities in small villages across the beautiful areas of Wales, but in some areas of Wales, we have a viability issue for the Welsh language as well. So, we have a big second homes problem where I live, in south Wales, on Gower, but we don't have a Welsh language issue there, because, very sadly, not very many people speak Welsh. But obviously up in Gwynedd and parts of Pembrokeshire and the north-west corner of Wales, we have a big problem with the viability of the Welsh language, as well as all the other issues with second homes. So, this is about additional measures that we can take to ensure that we keep the viability of the Welsh language front and centre—

Are there any examples of additional measures, or is it reliant on the CPG?

Well that's, again, one of the things we're discussing. There's a list of possible interventions, and this is one of the things we're discussing, because we want this to be consensual and cross-party.

Okay. Thank you very much, Samuel. Thank you, Minister. Joel.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Minister. I understand that, at the start of the year now, in spring, the Welsh Government finished its consultation on the 'Safer Buildings in Wales' White Paper, and that the summary of responses is going to be released in the autumn. I was just wondering if that's still the time frame, and has there been a specific date.

No, that's still the time frame. I don't know if we've got a specific date—one of my officials may know a specific date. No, I'm having heads shaken at me. So, yes, just in the autumn.

Okey-dokey, no worries. And I know from phase 1 of the building safety fund that that's also going to be launched in the autumn this year now. Do you have any specific dates on that as well?

10:20

No. So, on that, we're just working at pace to make sure that we've got all of the application forms and processes ready to go, so that, when we start inviting applications, we're ready to process them and we're ready to give people the right information to do that. So, that should be very shortly now.

Okey-dokey, perfect. And I know, as part of that, they're bringing in proposed building safety passports, and I was just wanting to have some idea of the interactions you've had with building owners, managers and residents about the impact that proposal will have.

I've had an enormous number of meetings with both residents associations, individual residents, developers, builders, contractors, all sorts of people, about how to do this. The real difficulty of this agenda is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Each building has a range of things wrong with it that is unique to that building. So, we can't announce—. And it hasn't worked in England. You could say, 'Okay, we'll fix all the compartmentation issues', and some buildings would be great with that, but they'd have a large number of other problems. Other buildings don't have compartmentation issues; they have fire escape issues or cavity-wall firebreak issues or cladding issues or—. Each building has a different set of problems in the way that it was constructed. 

So, what the building passport will do is it will allow us to have reliable information, paid for by the Welsh Government, for the people occupying the building. And, again, the management structures of the buildings are all different as well. So, some of them have management companies, some of them have actual owners, some of them are owned by the leaseholders, some of them—. It's just an absolute complexity of even who we are talking to. The idea is that each building will then have a passport of what its problems are, and then we can work on a solution with the building owners, managers, leaseholders as to what the solution is and how we will fund the solution. We don't yet know whether every building has this problem, how many of the buildings have this problem. So, until we do the investigative work, and some of it's quite intrusive investigative work—you have to poke holes in the wall to see if the firebreaks are in there—until we do that work, we won't know the full extent of it.

Okay, perfect. So, with regard to that then—the passport scheme—who ultimately would have or bear the brunt of the responsibility of that? Would that be the building owner, the management company or maybe the leaseholders? Because there's been a lot of coverage in the media about the impact on the leaseholders at the moment and the value of their properties that's been impacted, and I was just wondering what the latest was, from your point of view, on that.

So, again, this is one of the horrendous complexities of this, because each building has a different ownership structure. So, some of them have a company that owns them, some of them have a management company that owns them, some of them have a group of leaseholders that own them, some of them have bought out the freehold, some of them haven't. I can't begin to tell—. Each one of them looks slightly different, and so one of our problems is working out who we're dealing with and how to bring that together. And many of the residents, bless them—because your heart goes out to people who are living in this situation—they have, out of desperation, come together and formed groups of people who are trying to do the work regardless of what the ownership model looks like. We're trying to work with whoever it is that is taking some responsibility for the building and, in the meantime, we're trying to discover for some buildings exactly who it is we should be talking to, and that's not straightforward either.

Okey-dokey, perfect. Basically, the final two questions really are: with that in mind then, in terms of the remedial costs and the remediation works, what sort of help is going to be provided to either the leaseholders or the building owners to help meet those costs? And, has there been any consequential funding from the UK Government regarding this? And would that money be specifically used then for remedial costs? Or would that be used elsewhere?

So, we have no idea about a consequential. I've had an exchange of correspondence with various UK Government Ministers, the most recent reply from Stephen Barclay, before he was reshuffled into the Cabinet Office, basically telling me that they are going to tell us that we have to wait for the comprehensive spending review. It's just completely unsatisfactory. So, we have no idea whether there's going to be any money at all for Wales.

In the meantime, what we've got to do is understand the extent of the problem. So, until we understand the extent of the problem, it's very difficult to even make budget bids for it. I have no idea whether I've got 50 buildings with this problem or 118 buildings with this problem or whatever. So, that's the point of the building passports, for us to be able to understand the extent of the issue and then to discuss with insurance companies, lenders, the UK Government and various others how we can get a fund together to remediate this, because this impacts on the leaseholders most of all, but it also impacts on the lenders and the insurance companies. There is a large number of people who are impacted here. So, we're trying to get an alliance of all the people impacted to try to work out the best way of doing it. But, quite clearly, the UK Government needs to step up and give Wales a consequential, like we ought to have had, given the billions of pounds announced by Robert Jenrick, before he was demoted, to put into this pot in England.

In terms of whether we'll spend it or not, I don't know what the extent of the problem is in Wales, and so one of the things we're trying to do with the building passports is discover the extent of the problem so that we can start to understand what the budget provision needs to look like. 

10:25

I'm conscious I said 'final question' before, but there is just something that's come up now. With the building passports, then—apologies if it's already been mentioned previously—who would ultimately have oversight of that? Would it be the responsibility of the local authorities to make sure that the buildings within their area have these building passports?

No, we're going to work with the individual buildings and the Welsh Government, not the local authority in this instance. Look, one of the most difficult things here, and I say this absolutely understanding how awful this is for the leaseholders, but one of the most difficult things here is that housing in Britain is not only a place to live, it's an investment for many people. And so for us it's a really difficult problem, because it's not the Government's job to put right your bad investment, but it is our job to make sure that people are safe and secure in their homes. And, unfortunately, those two things are intermingled in private sector owner-occupier housing, with leasehold being the most complex. And I'm sure, John, at some point later on, the committee will want to talk to me about the leasehold reform agenda. 

So, it's a really difficult problem for us. We could get the local authority to put the building right, but every single person in that building would then lose all their equity, and that's not what they want and it's not what we want, either. So, this isn't just about safety; it is about trying to understand that, for many people, this is their life savings that we're talking about. So, it's a really difficult problem to try to fix. It's not just about how we get the money, it's about how we protect at least some of the equity of the people involved in the housing, because we all know that these are often first-time buyers or people who have downsized at the end of their lives, and it's probably all they've got. So, it's a really, really problematic issue, and I'm afraid there is just no simple solution to it.

Okay. Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Joel. And finally, then, Alun Davies. 

Thanks very much. I've enjoyed the conversation this morning, Minister. In terms of where we are at the moment, I'm trying to understand some of your priorities, and the rest of it. Do you have a timescale yet for commencing the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016?

Yes, we've been working on it for a long time. It's incredibly complicated, and currently we have a very large number of lawyers and policy people who are only working on renting homes implementation. It's taking up an enormous amount of resource. I very much hope to have it implemented by early next year. Because of the problems we've got with the COVID and Brexit pull on legal resources as well, that's impacting the timetable too. So, I'm being absolutely honest with the committee, I'm competing for resource with lawyers who are also redrafting the COVID eviction regulations and all of the various other things.

These things are easy for us to say as politicians, 'Oh, let's extend this', or 'Let's do that', and then a team of lawyers has to work on that for days on end to get all of the regulations in order. So, we're having constant, regular meetings—I say 'constant, regular', it does feel constant, but I suppose 'regular' is the word I want—it feels constant, but regular meetings with Legal Services and the Office of the Legislative Counsel to just make sure that we've got all the resource we require and that we're on target to get the thing implemented. But it has turned out to be a lot more problematic than we had at first anticipated. 

Sure, but the Act, not just the Bill, the Act predates the referendum on Brexit, not just Brexit, so—

10:30

There’s a requirement, I think, John, for this committee to review how the Welsh Government has delivered on that. I was a member of the committee that enacted that legislation and scrutinised that legislation, and the Government at the time made a lot of promises to the committee and to people on that. It’s very difficult, therefore, to accept that it's taken two Senedds, essentially to—

Indeed, I absolutely agree with you, but nevertheless, it’s turned out to be a very, very complicated Act to implement. We also agreed with the private rented sector landlords, who are very much impacted by the Act, that we would give them six months' notice of implementation. So, we very much want to honour that as well, because when we do implement the Act, we want to do it in good order with everybody understanding what their new obligations are. So, we’re in intensive discussions with the landlords on that so that we do have a good transition. We will be honouring the six-month notice period to them on implementation.

Okay. I should say, for clarity, that I am registered with Rent Smart Wales as a landlord and I would look forward to a timescale for the implementation of that. If the Minister could write to us to clarify the timescale for implementation or commencement of the Act, then I think that would be very useful. 

But in terms of moving on, I've been reading, Minister, the programme for government, and there are two things that strike me in terms of the programme for government. First of all, trying to understand who is responsible for delivering each element of it. Now, I understand from the First Minister’s point of view that he wants to put forward a programme that is holistic, that includes the whole series of priorities that his Government will have. But from our point of view in the institution, we need to hold you to account for that as well, and unless there are named Ministers, then that makes life very difficult. So, I’d just like to tease through a few items from that programme with you to understand who is accountable for each area. So, legislation that I presume you’ll use to strengthen the protections for ancient woodlands—would that be you or would that be the Minister for rural affairs?

That's you. And supporting communities to create 30 new woodlands and connect habitat areas?

That's you. Master plans for towns and high streets?

I understand. Community green space in town centres?

Okay. So, you've got responsibility for most of the areas here. Are there any areas within the climate change chapter of the programme for government that you're not responsible for?

There are. There's a sustainable agriculture overlap, and some of the marine fisheries and marine conservation areas overlap between myself and Lesley Griffiths.

Okay. So, in terms of supporting innovation in new renewable energy technology, can you explain what that means—what targets you have, what the objectives are and the timescales for delivering on that?

[Inaudible.]—understand how this relates to this committee and local government and housing, because, obviously, there is another committee that will scrutinise the Minister on—

Chair, I absolutely can do that, but I can’t do it in the minus three minutes you have left of my time. 

I’m very happy to have that discussion with any members of the committee who want to have it, and, of course, we'll have other sessions on how the programme for government holds together. Because, actually, renewable energy and how we will stimulate it in Wales is very much part of what we're doing on the innovative housing programme and decarbonisation of the grid. So, I'm very happy to do that. But I'm afraid, Alun, we've now run out of time, and I have a lot of other things to do this morning, so—

Yes, and I've got other things to do as well, but accountability is a part of that. But in terms of where you are with the programme for government, I'm interested in understanding what your targets are. Have you asked your officials to deliver any delivery plans for each item that is within the programme for government?

Yes. We’re currently working on programme for government commitments as part of both the budget planning rounds that we’re in currently, which I know the committee will want to talk to us about, and also in terms of setting out the priorities for the portfolio and for the Government over the next five years. I know it seems like longer, but it’s only a few months since the election. So, we’re in the process of doing that. I have 27 per cent of the programme for government commitments inside my portfolio, and we will of course be working on a delivery plan for that, both with the resources necessary to do it and with the targets and outcomes outlined. There'll be plenty of opportunity for us to share that with you, Alun, and with the committee, as we go forward. So, we're right in the process of putting the budgets together. As you know, this was the time of year that we do that, and finalising, as it's a new Senedd, the programme for government commitments. So, I can you tell you that I have 27 per cent of those inside my portfolio; this committee will probably have—of that 27 per cent—90 per cent of them. So, I imagine I'll be talking about the programme for government commitments with this committee quite extensively in the course of the next term.

10:35

They will be coming out, as I understand it—although you'll want to ask the First Minister for the overarching plan—as part of the budget arrangements.

We're being asked to align the budget, obviously, with the programme for government. 

You've asked us to examine a legislative consent memorandum on leasehold reform—an element of it—and you are also putting forward your own proposals for leasehold reform as part of the programme for government as well. I'm interested to understand what is the relationship between those two elements of the programme.

There are some things that we think will be useful to have as uniform across England and Wales. The Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill, which includes rent for a peppercorn on all new leases, for example—that will be part of the UK Bill. We've had amendments made to the UK Bill, which include, for example, powers for the Welsh Ministers to reflect the devolved nature of the leasehold valuation tribunals in Wales. So, there are some Welsh elements to the England and Wales Bill. And we expect a few more memorandums and motions to be laid on the leasehold reform agenda, including implementation of the Law Commission recommendations. And then we've got some unique Welsh things that we'll want to do through a Senedd Bill later on in the programme for government. So, it's a combination of some things that we think are useful to have on an England and Wales basis for all kinds of reasons, and then some things that we think will have a very unique Welsh flavour. We're in the process of working through with that. We've had a reasonable set of interactions with the UK Government. One of my officials on the call is the person who's been doing all the liaison for us, so we can do an update for the committee at the point in time that we're introducing some of the further LCMs as well.

So, there will be a further LCM on this matter. The LCM that's being considered by the committee this morning—

There are more to come. It's good to have that confirmation.

You said that you want to ensure that Rent Smart Wales landlords respond quickly to complaints of racism and hate crime and offer appropriate support. What do you mean by that?

We're working with Rent Smart Wales to make sure that we have the right set of administrative arrangements in place to allow people to respond swiftly to allegations. Because we've had some terrible issues in the private rented sector with alleged both sexual harassment and racial harassment, and what we want to be able to do is respond swiftly to those, and make sure that landlords who behave in that way are basically not allowed to be landlords in Wales, and that we have the right remedial courses of action in place. 

Because that's been a frustration, I think, for many of us—I feel this particularly personally because I sat on the legislation committee so long ago—that the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 has not been commenced, which does tend to leave us, I felt, a bit underpowered when it comes to the statutory powers available to deal with these matters. Would you consider that you would need additional powers to those that are included in that Act to deal with the matters that you've just described?

No, I don't think we do, but what we need to do is make sure that Rent Smart Wales is properly constituted to be able to deal with it as well.

Okay. One of the issues I think many of us have felt over the years—thinking back to constituency work and casework—is the way in which housing associations and the rest of it work to deliver regeneration within communities. You've said in the programme for government that you want to empower local communities to have a greater stake in local regeneration. How would you see housing associations, for example, playing a role in that?

10:40

There's a whole series of things that we can do in terms of overarching regeneration, Alun, and one of the things that we can do is we can make sure that we build places and communities, not just housing. This is all to do with having integrated place plans and integrated community plans, so that we have community cohesion front and centre of our placemaking approach. You've got to attack this on a number of fronts at the same time, haven't you? You've got to get your new builds to integrate into new communities, you've got to get your established community to have all of the right things in it. We've got to tackle things like derelict buildings, unused land, the eyesore stuff in the high street. We've got to repurpose very large parts of our towns and high streets because the pattern of life has changed out of all recognition, and we've got to make sure that our community spaces work for people.

People in the future, I think, will come into town and village centres, as they always have, for community. They will come less using retail as an excuse for that community. We need to give them other opportunities to come together, and when we rebuild our communities, we need to make sure that they have those coherent community spaces, and all of those things that we've just talked about: active travel, places for people to pick up services, the right kinds of infrastructure. It's a plan for the community.

What we've been trying to do over the last Senedd, and now going into this one, is put our plan-led approach into action. You know that we've put 'Future Wales: The National Plan' out last time. We now have to get the regional strategic plans in place, and we're actively working with our local authorities to make sure that we have a set of coherent plans that allow us to have coherent development and retrofit in the right places—so, discouraging greenfield development, getting the right kind of density in the right kind of places. We don't need low density everywhere; in some places, high density is what we should be after, as long as we've got the right infrastructure. So, there's a complex piece of work going on with partners right across Wales to try and get this right. We don't have all the answers, so we've been working with groups of people who do have the answers. We've been working with the housing action group, we've been working with the Design Commission for Wales, we've been working with the landlord associations and so on to try and get that right. 

I'm afraid that's more or less all we have time for. Thank you very much, Minister, for facing such wide-ranging scrutiny this morning, and thanks to the committee members for their questions. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way, Minister, but I'd just like to thank you again and your officials for your attendance this morning. Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you. Okay. Committee will break until 11 o'clock.

11:00

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:43 ac 11:00.

The meeting adjourned between 10:43 and 11:00.

5. Sesiwn graffu ar waith y Gweinidog – Y Gweinidog Cyllid a Llywodraeth Leol
5. Ministerial scrutiny session - Minister for Finance and Local Government

Welcome back to committee. We have reached item 5 on our agenda today, which is a further ministerial scrutiny session, this time with the Minister for Finance and Local Government, and I'd very much like to welcome Rebecca Evans MS, Minister for Finance and Local Government, together with her officials, Reg Mitchell-Kilpatrick, director general of the COVID crisis co-ordination section of Welsh Government and Claire Germain, deputy director, local government transformation and partnerships. So, welcome to you all and thanks for joining committee this morning.

Perhaps I might begin, Minister, with some initial questions. Firstly, could you inform the committee of your overall priorities for your portfolio during this Senedd?

Absolutely, Chair, and good morning to the committee. On the local government side of my portfolio, the priorities are set out in our programme for government, and there are a number of actions there for me to take forward, including reducing the administrative burden on local authorities, expanding our access to elected office programme and also reforming local government elections to reduce the democratic deficit. So, some exciting things to do there. But I think, potentially, the biggest ticket item within my portfolio on the local government side is to seek to reform council tax to ensure a fairer system for all. That's potentially a huge piece of work that began life in the previous Senedd and I need to get to the point at which we take decisions fairly shortly, now, in terms of the way forward if we're able to make those changes in this Senedd term.

Also within the programme for government, of course, there are lots of actions that will require local government assistance for us to deliver on in the fields of social care, for example, and education, and I'm keen to play my part in ensuring that those relationships are strong in terms of being able to deliver there.

And then, just to reflect on some immediate priorities for me, one of which is about cementing the good relationships that we've developed with local authorities, particularly through the course of the pandemic, to ensure that we're able to work constructively and openly with them in future across a range of things beyond the pandemic. And then, also to ensure that the boundary review work is completed in a timely manner, now, in order for that to be applied to the next local government elections. And then to consider how we can increase access to local government elections and ensure that there is greater participation and ease of participation in next year's local government elections. In that vein, I'm working with Mick Antoniw, the Counsel General to explore what might be done in that particular area, potentially through some interesting pilots, which we might be able to develop with local authorities.

Okay, Minister. Thank you very much for that. We will be coming on to some of those matters in a little bit more detail in this scrutiny session today.

Could you also inform committee of the specific actions across your responsibilities to tackle the climate crisis, including the decarbonisation agenda and the support and investment that will be necessary for those programmes?

Yes. Wales is committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions across the public sector by 2030 and that clearly is a really ambitious aim that will require some swift and significant action. And although it's only a small part of Wales's total emissions, it's important to recognise that collectively, the public sector has one of the largest estates in Wales and has enormous collective buy-in power. They also have the opportunity to share good practice, and I've been fortunate to have Ystadau Cymru within my portfolio in the last Senedd term, and it remains in the portfolio now. That's a fantastic vehicle for identifying and spreading good practice within the public sector in relation to a wide range of matters pertaining to land and buildings, but particularly in terms of decarbonisation, and I have to say, our important agenda in terms of biodiversity as well.

So, clearly, lots of work that we need to be doing, but I think that we already have the strategic framework for that. We have a public sector decarbonisation route map, which has been developed by Welsh Government, and that's being used by both health and local government, and it's based on the four key themes that are set out in our 'Prosperity for All: A Low Carbon Wales' document, and that looked at the areas where the biggest impact is made in terms of carbon at the moment, and where we can look to have the biggest impact in future in terms of decarbonisation, and those areas include transport, buildings, land use and procurement. So, the framework for working is there. 

The relationships are also very good because I chair the Partnership Council for Wales, and that brings together the public sector leaders who obviously have a keen interest in supporting this particular agenda. And, as part of that, we have a decarbonisation strategy panel, and that panel is there to set the direction really for decarbonisation, but also to provide additional challenge to local government and the public sector. So, I think there's lots and lots of good work going on. An example would be the joint statement from local authorities, fire and rescue authorities, town and community councils, and Welsh Government, which set out a really ambitious leadership direction for decarbonisation. And organisations have committed to understanding their own carbon footprint, in line with guidance for public sector greenhouse gas emissions, to agree a set of net-zero commitments and pledges for COP26, to closely monitor and report their current and future carbon emissions and to have robust evidence-based net-zero plans in place as living documents. And then, finally, to work with the decarbonisation strategy panel, which I've referred to, to have that strategic direction to working across authorities. So, huge interest and lots of commitment in this area. 

And, just finally, to reflect on a really interesting meeting I had just last week with the Welsh Local Government Association talking about pensions in the local government sector and divestment from fossil fuels, and there I was really impressed by the ambition that they have, and impressed to hear some of the good practice that is already taking place in terms of divestment there. So, overall, really pleased with the level of ambition, but, of course, it's turning the ambition into practice where we need to be working together and redoubling our efforts all the time.

11:05

Yes. Minister, as you say, the strategies and the policies have to be turned into action on the ground that's going to make a difference, and the climate crisis is with us here and now. 

In terms of local government then, obviously they've been doing some thinking and some planning with Welsh Government and others. Could you give us any flavour at all of what we might see happening in fairly short order in terms of local government across Wales, actual actions that they will take that will make a significant difference, whether it's turning all their vehicle fleets into electric vehicles, or whatever it might be?

So, a significant piece of work has been undertaken as a result of £0.5 million of funding that the WLGA received to develop a support programme, and that's to help authorities do 'once for Wales', and that's about maximising resources, minimising duplication, providing information, research and advice and training across those 22 authorities. But one of the really important pieces of work there has been to undertake a detailed review of each authority's action plan to identify good practice, and also to identify the gaps and the common issues, with the aim of helping authorities focus their efforts, but also being flexible enough to allow each authority to develop plans for their needs.

So, that piece of work will be published in October, and I think that in there you will see some really good examples of what you've described in terms of turning fleets into electric fleets, for example, and a whole range of ways in which local authorities are looking after their estates and using their estates and the procurement choices that they make. But the challenge is that 'once for Wales' kind of approach, which we need to improve, but, in the first instance, I would point committee to the document that will be published in October to identify some of the things that we need to be upscaling, and ensuring they become more normal practice really, rather than exceptions. I can see Reg has got his hand up, Chair—he might have some specific reflections as well.

11:10

Good morning, everybody. I'd just like to reflect on one or two things. You mentioned, Chair, about the greening of the fleet. I know local authorities are engaged on that. They've already made, I think, quite significant moves in terms of driving energy efficiency through their use of electricity, and we've seen incandescent light bulbs being replaced over the last few years with LED bulbs. But I think the really notable example of how the political leadership within local government has taken to this agenda is in Denbighshire, where I think they've made some changes to their standing orders, their constitution, which builds their commitment to net zero and reducing energy consumption and looking after the environment right into the heart of their decision making. And of course, that's got some really powerful links across to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 as well. So, I think that the Minister's right—that there is a really significant political commitment to this agenda, as we've seen through the partnership council, and that is beginning to spread out into local authorities' own political decision-making processes. Thank you.

Okay. Thank you very much. A final question from me, Minister, before we move on to other committee members: could you explain to committee what actions you are taking, and will take, with regard to your responsibilities, that will support and promote the Welsh language?

I have Academi Wales within my portfolio, and I have to say it's always really uplifting to be involved in Academi Wales's work, because they do seek to ensure that we have excellence in our Welsh public service. And part of that is about ensuring that we do have a bilingual country and that leaders feel comfortable leading in a bilingual country. And as a result, we've worked with the Welsh language division and Academi Wales to develop a proof-of-concept version of a leading in a bilingual country course. That of course will bring together senior leaders from all over Wales, to discuss how they can lead their organisations in a bilingual way, but also go further than that, in terms of being able to deliver, help us deliver, on the spirit and the letter of 'Cymraeg 2050'. Really pleased that two cohorts have already completed their attendance now in that, and we're looking to see how we'll run that in the future.

Part of this work also includes a community of practice development, which will be a space for those who have followed the course then to discuss leadership and bilingualism, one with another, on an ongoing basis, to share good practice and ideas, but also to explore how to identify solutions to the barriers, and so on. So, I think that's really, really exciting.

Also, in terms of the local government side specifically, of course, every local authority has to publish a Welsh language promotional strategy. And that should set out how it looks to increase the number of Welsh speakers in their local areas, and of course the use of Welsh in their local areas. So, that's an ongoing piece of work owned by local government itself.

And then, finally, on the other side of my portfolio, I'm also responsible for the co-ordination of national statistics and the census. And of course, the census is really important in terms of being the main indicator as to how well we're doing as we move towards the ambition for 2050. We had a really successful census carried out in March of this year, and during the run-up to the census, I had a number of meetings and pieces of correspondence with the chief statistician and the deputy chief statistician in the Office for National Statistics, to ensure that the data that was gathered is suitable to our needs in this regard. I'm really looking forward to the first results being available—probably within a year—in terms of the Welsh language, and look forward to discussing the outcomes with the committee.

Okay.

Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog.

Thank you very much, Minister.

And now, Mabon ap Gwynfor.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd, a diolch i'r Gweinidog am ddod ag ymuno efo ni yma y bore yma. Gaf i gychwyn drwy ddweud diolch i Reg ynghynt am sôn am arweiniad Cyngor Sir Ddinbych pan ei fod o'n dod i net sero. Y rheswm dwi'n cyfeirio at hynny yw achos mai fi oedd y cynghorydd sir, ar y cyd â Graham Timms, ddaru gyflwyno'r cynnig yna o flaen Cyngor Sir Ddinbych a gosod yr arweiniad yna yn ôl yn 2018. Felly, dwi'n falch iawn i'ch clywed chi'n cyfeirio at hynny.

Ta waeth, mae'r cwestiwn cyntaf dwi eisiau ei holi ynghylch yswiriant gwladol. Ddaru Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Gyfunol gynyddu yswiriant gwladol ar gyflogwyr a chyflogai o 1.25 y cant. Mae hyn yn golygu, yn ôl beth dwi'n ei ddeall, y bydd Cyngor Gwynedd, er enghraifft, yn gorfod talu rhyw £3 miliwn yn ychwanegol allan, oherwydd y cynnydd yma. Trwy Gymru gyfan, mae hynny'n gyfwerth â £50 miliwn yn ychwanegol y mae awdurdodau lleol yn gorfod ei ganfod i dalu am yswiriant gwladol. Er nad eich penderfyniad chi fel Llywodraeth oedd hwn, a dwi'n siŵr eich bod chi'n gytûn ei fod o'n gam gwag ar ran y Ceidwadwyr yn San Steffan, pa gamau rydych chi am eu cymryd i helpu digolledu ein hawdurdodau lleol er mwyn talu'r bwrdwn a'r baich ychwanegol yma sydd yn ofynnol arnyn nhw?

Thank you very much, Chair, and I'd like to thank the Minister for joining us here this morning. May I start by thanking Reg for mentioning the leadership of Denbighshire County Council when it comes to net zero. The reason I refer to that is because I was the county councillor, along with Graham Timms, that introduced that motion to the council and set that in train back in 2018. So, I'm very pleased to hear you make reference to that. 

The first question I want to ask is on national insurance. The UK Government increased national insurance on employees and employers by 1.25 per cent. Now, this, as I understand it, will mean that Gwynedd Council, for example, will have to pay some £3 million in addition, because of this increase. Throughout the whole of Wales, that accounts to £50 million that councils will have to find to pay for national insurance. Although it wasn't your decision as a Government, and I'm sure you would agree with me that it was a mistake on behalf of the Conservatives in Westminster, what steps are you going to take to compensate our local authorities to enable them to pay this additional burden that has been placed on them?

11:15

Thank you for the question, and I do agree with you that it was a mistake to go about raising additional funding to support health and social care in this particular way. There are fairer ways in which the UK Government could have gone about this, and ones that might have respected the concept of intergenerational fairness, for example, which has been very central to the work that we've been doing on the future of paying for care.

We expect to receive around £600 million as a result of the decisions taken by the UK Government in respect of national insurance contributions. But what we don't yet know is the full picture in terms of what our budget will be in future years, and we won't know that until 27 October. One of the reasons for that, of course, is because we don't yet know where the UK Government intends to invest over coming years. So, if it intends to invest in areas in which we don't have devolved responsibilities, then, obviously we won't be having additional funding from the UK Government for that. So, we have to see the full picture before we're able to make any particular allocations.

I don't want to pre-empt anything that we will discuss as part of our budget preparation for next year, but it is the intention to publish the draft budget on 20 December, at which point, clearly, we will be able to have the fuller picture for committee and others to scrutinise in terms of plans for the future. But, at this point, I'm afraid I can't go any further than that, other than to agree that I completely understand the frustration at the way in which this has been developed, but also understand the impact that it will have on employers across Wales, not only in local government but across Wales in all sectors. 

Ocê, diolch yn fawr iawn. Mae'n siwr y byddwch chi'n cael nifer fawr o negeseuon gan awdurdodau lleol yn sôn am y pwysau ychwanegol fydd arnyn nhw o ganlyniad i hyn. Felly, os byddech chi'n fodlon ystyried y cyfraniad ychwanegol yna i'w digolledu nhw—. 

Dwi am gyfeirio at bwyllgorau corfforaethol ar y cyd, ac, er lles ein cyfieithwyr, corporate joint committee ydy hynny—CJC. Byddaf i'n eu galw'n bwyllgorau corfforaethol ar y cyd. Weinidog, mae awdurdodau lleol yn pryderu'n arw am y llwybr tuag at orfodi mwy o bwyllgorau corfforaethol ar y cyd. Yn yr hinsawdd bresennol, efo'r pwysau mawr ychwanegol sydd ar staff, maen nhw'n teimlo bod gorfodi pwyllgorau corfforaethol o'r math yma yn tynnu oddi ar adnoddau gwasanaethau craidd, ac yn golygu bod workstreams staff yn gorfod mynd er mwyn datblygu'r pwyllgorau yma, yn hytrach na chanolbwyntio ar waith creiddiol yr awdurdodau. Dwi'n gwybod eich bod chi wedi neilltuo ychydig o bres tuag atyn nhw, sydd yn annigonol, yn enwedig yr hinsawdd yma. Oni ddylech chi, felly, fod yn rhoi ffocws, neu'n galluogi awdurdodau lleol i roi ffocws 100 y cant, ar ddiffodd y tanau presennol sydd yn wynebu awdurdodau lleol a'r pwysau yma, yn hytrach na'u gorfodi nhw i fynd lawr y llwybrau yma o bwyllgorau corfforaethol ar y cyd, fel mae pethau ar hyn o bryd?  

Okay, thank you very much. I'm sure you'll receive a number of messages from local authorities mentioning the additional pressures upon them as a result of this. So, if you'd be willing to consider that additional contribution to help to compensate for that—. 

I do want to refer to joint corporate committees, and, for the benefit of our interpreter, that is corporate joint committee, the CJC. Minister, local authorities are deeply concerned about the pathway to requiring more of these CJCs. In the current climate, with the huge additional pressures on staff, they feel that requiring CJCs of this kind actually takes away from the resources available for core services, and means that staff workstreams will be stopped in order to develop these committees, rather than focusing on the core work of the authorities. I know that you've allocated some funding for these, which is inadequate, particularly in the current climate. Shouldn't you, therefore, be providing a focus, or enabling local authorities to provide focus on extinguishing the flames that local authorities currently face, rather than forcing them down this route of CJCs, given the current circumstances? 

Well, just to be clear, the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021 provided the framework to enable the establishment of CJCs. I've had really, really positive conversations with local authorities the length and breadth of Wales in terms of the impact that CJCs can have on service delivery and outcomes for people across Wales. So, I think it’s important to recognise that we don’t intend this to be an additional burden; it’s an additional or different opportunity for local authorities to work in a different way in future. I’ve been met with considerable enthusiasm about the impact that CJCs can have and a keenness now to get on and start making a difference in this particular area. I have, as you say, provided £1 million of additional funding to help CJCs start the work that they need to do in this particular area.

In terms of staffing CJCs, it’s been the case that there doesn’t need to be additional directly employed staff, of course; the roles can be provided for in different ways, and that’s very much a matter for each individual CJC. So, they might, for example, look to share or second staff for this purpose as well. So, I think that there are a range of opportunities available, and I just want to reflect that I’ve been really impressed, actually, by the keenness of local authorities to get on and make this a success.

11:20

Diolch. Mae'n debyg eich bod chi wedi cael adborth gwahanol iawn i'r adborth dwi wedi’i gael, felly, o siarad efo cynghorwyr ar lawr gwlad. Mae’n ddifyr clywed eich bod chi’n cael adborth ychydig yn wahanol ar beth dwi’n ei weld fel rôl feichus ychwanegol CJCs, fel mae hi’n mynd ar hyn o bryd. A’r pryder ychwanegol hefyd, wrth gwrs—hwyrach eich bod chi wedi dod ar ei draws—ydy bod awdurdodau lleol yn poeni bod pwyllgorau corfforaethol hefyd yn mynd i dynnu i mewn adrannau addysg. Allwch chi, felly, roi gwarant i mi heddiw na fydd addysg yn cael ei dynnu i mewn i bwyllgorau corfforaethol ar y cyd, os gwelwch yn dda?

Thank you. It appears that the feedback you have received is very different to what I've heard in speaking to councillors on the ground. It is interesting to hear that that feedback that you've received is slightly different in terms of what I see as the additional burdensome role of CJCs, as things stand. The additional concern, of course—perhaps you may be aware of this—is that local authorities are concerned that the CJCs are also going to draw in the education departments. So, can you therefore give us a guarantee today that education will not be drawn into the CJCs?

CJCs have really important immediate responsibilities that they will need to be discharging. Transport, local economic planning—these are big-ticket items that will have big impacts for local authorities and for people living in our communities. So, getting to grips with that, I think, is going to be a significant task in the first instance, and it will be for CJCs themselves to come forward with proposals, should they want additional functions to be devolved to them. But, in the first instance, I think that they’ve got a big enough task to be getting to grips with immediately.

Oce, diolch yn fawr iawn. Dau gwestiwn arall sydd gen i cyn fy mod i’n gorffen. Ymhellach i’r drafodaeth yma ar bwyllgorau corfforaethol, felly, ddaru’r Public Accounts Committee yn y Senedd ddiwethaf, dwi’n meddwl, edrych ar y plethora yma o bwyllgorau ar y cyd y mae awdurdodau lleol yn gorfod eu mynychu a chymryd rhan ynddyn nhw. Ugain mlynedd yn ôl, roedd y Llywodraeth yma a’ch plaid chi yn dathlu bonfire of the quangos, a dwi’n teimlo, o ran awdurdodau lleol, bron eich bod chi’n ail-greu rhyw gyrff bach cwangoaidd y mae angen i awdurdodau lleol gymryd rhan ynddyn nhw. Y pwyllgorau corfforaethol ydy’r diweddaraf, ond mae byrddau gwasanaethau cyhoeddus, wrth gwrs, byrddau partneriaeth rhanbarthol, ac yna gyrff eraill lle mae angen i awdurdodau lleol gyfuno. Ydych chi ddim yn teimlo bod yna ormod ohonyn nhw ar hyn o bryd ac felly bod angen cymryd cam yn ôl a galluogi awdurdodau lleol i ganolbwyntio ar y gwaith mewn llaw y maen nhw’n gorfod ei ddelifro yn hytrach nag adeiladu perthnasau newydd drwy’r amser ac ail-greu’r olwyn, sy’n ychwanegu at fwrdwn gwaith?

Thank you. Two further questions from me, then. Further to this discussion on the CJCs, the Public Accounts Committee of the previous Senedd looked at this plethora of joint committees that local authorities have to participate in. Twenty years ago, the Government here and your party celebrated the bonfire of the quangos, but, in terms of local authorities, you're almost recreating these quangoistic organisations that local authorities have to participate in. The joint committees are the latest of these, but there are the public services boards, the regional partnership boards, and the other bodies where local authorities have to collaborate. Don't you feel that there are too many of these at the moment and that you therefore need to take a step back and enable local authorities to deliver against their responsibilities rather than building new relationships constantly and reinventing the wheel, which is adding to the workload?

Perhaps ironically, a number of organisations have looked at this exact issue and have provided different reports. So, we've got the PAC report, which has been really useful in terms of framing my thinking about the way forward. Also, Audit Wales undertook a report in this area, and the future generations commissioner has also made a number of recommendations that relate to this in her large report, which was published some time ago. We’re pulling together our response, actually, to all of those recommendations currently.

I’ve had, on this particular issue, some mixed feedback as to the number and the breadth and responsibilities of the various groups and boards and bodies, and so on, in Wales, and I think that there are distinct roles for each of them. But this is something that I’ve committed to looking at in greater detail once I’ve got through the immediate priorities within the portfolio around boundary reform and the electoral work there, and also the immediate choices around the future of local taxation. So, this is something I'm open to having those discussions on, as we move forward. But I do think that this has to be a very much ground-up kind of reform, should there be any. I know Reg has some insights on this that he wants to share.

11:25

Thank you, Minister. I was just going to draw the committee's attention to a piece of work we did with local government last year, which was responding precisely to this point, and it was a review of strategic partnerships. The feeling from the piece of work that was reported back to the partnership council was that there was no drive, or no real need, for a very significant strategic change from the centre around local partnerships. The feeling amongst local government colleagues was very much that change, to the extent that was change was required, should be done locally and flexibly, and designed and developed to reflect those local conditions. So, that was an interesting piece of work, I think. We all thought that it's always worth continuing to look at our strategic partnerships and our partnership landscape to make sure it's fit for purpose. But, as I say, there is a large degree of flexibility amongst local authorities and other partners to make some changes themselves, if they see the need to do so. Thank you.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Reg, am yr ychwanegiad yna. Yn olaf gen i, os caf i, Gadeirydd—mae'n flin gen i gymryd cymaint o amser—gwestiwn ychydig yn wahanol. Rydyn ni wedi gweld, yr haf yma a'r haf diwethaf, twristiaeth ar gynnydd, sydd yn arbennig o ran yr economi leol, gweld cynnydd mewn pobl yn aros yn lleol—pobl yn dod i mewn i'n cymunedau ac yn mwynhau'r hyn sydd gyda ni i'w gynnig. Mae hynny wedi bod yn wych mewn amryw o ffyrdd, ond mae hefyd wedi golygu pwysau ychwanegol ar awdurdodau lleol. Os ydych chi'n meddwl am, er enghraifft, niferoedd y ceir sydd yn ciwio, i fynd i fyny'r Wyddfa, ac yn parcio ar ochr y ffordd, a'r costau ychwanegol yna sydd gan yr awdurdodau lleol er mwyn sicrhau nad ydyn nhw'n parcio yno, a nifer y toiledau tymhorol ychwanegol maen nhw wedi gorfod eu rhoi ymlaen er mwyn ymdopi gyda'r bobl sydd ar eu gwyliau—costau sylweddol er mwyn mynd i'r afael â hyn. Beth ydych chi wedi'i wneud i gynorthwyo rhai o'r awdurdodau yma sydd wedi gorfod mynd i gostau ychwanegol er mwyn medru dygymod â'r cynnydd yn lefel yr ymwelwyr dros y ddau haf diwethaf?

Thank you very much for that, Reg, for that. And finally from me—and I apologise for taking so much of the committee's time—a slightly different question this time. We've seen, this summer and last summer, an increase in tourism, which has benefits in terms of the local economy, and we're seeing people coming into our communities and enjoying what we have to offer. That's been excellent in many ways, but it's also placed additional pressures on local authorities. If you look at the number of cars queuing, to go up Snowdon, and parking on the side of the roads, bringing additional costs for local authorities in enforcing parking regulations, and the number of seasonal toilets that they've had to provide in order to cope with the number of visitors. There are significant costs in addressing these issues. So, what have you done to support some of these authorities that have seen additional costs placed upon them in dealing with the level of visitors over the past two summers?

I think I'd begin by reflecting on the good settlements that local government have received over the past two financial years in particular, and of course it's our intention to give local government the best possible settlement in the coming years ahead. I think that the point you make is important, about sustainable tourism, and actually, again, during my summer tour this year, virtual unfortunately, of local authorities, I had really good discussions with leaders in north Wales in particular about the importance of sustainable tourism, moving forward. I do think that this is an area where a tourism tax could potentially really help in terms of being able to give local authorities where there is significant tourist pressure the opportunity to raise additional funds locally in order to service some of that additional pressure, but also to improve and enhance the tourist offer as well. So, I've had some good discussions in the previous Senedd, actually, with local authorities in north Wales, again, who are keen for us to progress this, and we'll continue to have those discussions as to how a potential tourism tax could support local authorities who are feeling that additional pressure.

Okay. Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr, Mabon. Next, then, we turn to Carolyn Thomas.

Thank you. So, I just wanted to talk about the financial pressures of local authorities as well. So, besides that national insurance, we've also got pressures regarding pay, retaining staff and increasing fuel prices as well—utility costs. And, after 10 years of austerity, they've been cut to the bone, basically—all the savings have been made. So, going forward, I'm just wondering what we can do regarding making sure they have a basic income going forward, really. I know they've had good settlements in past years, but, unless it covers all these increasing pressures, it is still a cut in real terms. And I know Welsh Government have faced cuts in real terms as well in settlements from the UK Government, but it just feels like there's nowhere else to go now. I know—. They've had the hardship funding to help with the pandemic, which has been really great. I know without that local authorities would not have been solvent. Would you look at an indicative multi-year settlement? Are you looking at—? I know some authorities—. It's mentioned that some authorities in this report have got reserves—are you looking at that? The authority I was with hasn't got reserves. I know, because we used to get challenged every year about using reserves, and we've used it all now, so—. But that is mentioned in the report.

Also, about local taxation, I know you mentioned the tourism tax as well. In the past, it's been mentioned about business rates as well—you know, could local authorities keep more of their business rates? So, I know that, the way the funding formula works, if you've got a lot of industry, there's a perception that there are people on good wages there, but I think the way the economy has gone, and jobs, that the good, well-paid jobs aren't there the same anymore, so—. And also we've got the council tax reform, because I know local authorities are also saying, 'We can't keep increasing council tax now to cover the gap in the funding.' So, questions, really, regarding that—the sustainability of local government, basically.

11:30

Thank you. Lots to respond to in that question in terms of, in the first instance, we've sought to ensure that the pandemic hasn't had a devastating impact on the finances of local government, and I think that our local government hardship fund, which is unique to Wales, has been really excellent in supporting local authorities. I think that local authorities themselves would recognise that our approach has been preferable to that across the border. We've provided around £600 million of additional funding for local government in the last financial year. Provision of £206 million has been made in this financial year for the first six months, with some areas on top of that, looking forward to the end of the financial year. But what I have asked officials to do is work closely with colleagues in local government to come to a figure, looking at various different scenarios as to what would be required through the hardship fund for the remainder of the financial year, with a view to providing an allocation as soon as possible to give them the certainty that that funding will be available going forward. So, we have been able to protect local authorities to an extent in terms of the impact of COVID, and I think that that's been really welcome.

I think the way in which we've sought to protect local government in recent years has been important as well, because, again, the comparisons across the border are really stark in terms of the priority that we put on local government in terms of being able to support them to undertake their important roles. You asked some specific questions about a multi-year settlement. Well, I'm really keen that—. Should we be in a position after the spending review reports on 27 October to provide that longer term certainty, I'd be really, really keen to provide a three-year settlement for local government. That's the intention at the moment, and that's the scenario that I'm working to currently. We have no reason to think that we won't have a three-year spending review, but we'll just leave that final caveat there that it's the intention should we be in a position to, but we expect to be in a position to.

You asked about local taxes, and, as I mentioned at the start, in terms of council tax, this is a potentially really exciting reform agenda. Over the course of the last Senedd term, we looked at the practical implications of making some significant, I think, in some cases, changes to the way in which we collect council tax in particular. I published a report in February called the summary of findings, and I absolutely really recommend it to colleagues and to committee as quite a comprehensive report on potential ways forward, and it looks at the practical implications of moving to quite radical systems, such as a land value tax, or it looks at potentially the impact of a revaluation with the addition of other bands, or you could revalue and move to a spot-value system where individuals pay a percentage of the value of their property, for example. It also looks at whether a local income tax could be a viable choice and then looks at ways in which we could seek to improve the current system, for example by reviewing our exemptions and the support that we provide in that regard too. So, the future could look like one of those or a mixture of those; I'm really keen to hear the committee's views on that. I need to, really, make a decision fairly shortly on the way forward if we intend to make some real changes in this Senedd term, because some of those options could even take a number of Senedd terms to deliver. So, that's a key piece of work at the moment.

And you mentioned non-domestic rates. Well, it's the case that all non-domestic rates collected are returned to the pot and then shared across Wales, so every penny that is taken in non-domestic rates goes straight back to local authorities across Wales. I have had some discussions, and officials have had discussions, with city regions, who have proposed that should they, as a result of their work, increase their take of non-domestic rates, they would be looking to potentially keep a portion of that increase. Those discussions are still ongoing at the moment, but I'm open to hearing local government's ideas in that regard, and I think that's a useful conversation to be having.

And again, I just recognise everything that you said about the pressures on local authorities. They are severe; they are severe right across the public sector. Half of the Welsh Government's budget approximately is actually exposed to pay pressures, be it in the NHS or local government or elsewhere, so, obviously, year on year, these pressures become even more difficult to manage, and that's where we have to make difficult decisions about the things that we do.

But, going forward, as soon as we have confirmation that we have a three-year settlement and we're able to provide that certainty for local authorities, I think it will be welcome and it'll provide local authorities with a better basis on which to plan for the future, potentially achieving better value for money as a result of that.

11:35

Yes, thanks. Can I just have a quick mention regarding CJCs as well, if that's okay? I remember at the initial discussions that there seemed to be a perception that, with CJCs, there'd be savings to be made, rather than having duplication of officers in 22 different authorities, but I think there's a realisation now that that's not the case, is it, really; we don't have the same officers in 22 authorities anymore. I remember being at a transport meeting and that's what the perception was.

I think strategic transport for CJCs might be possible, but trying to deliver public bus transport in an authority—one authority, 450 different transport contracts, 350 with schools—it's hugely complicated. So, things like that, I don't know if they could be done regionally; you'd need to have that local knowledge and input. And the way the bus support grant, even, is delivered is it's delivered regionally—different funding regionally and then different funding to each authority as well, because of the huge complications of it and the variables within each authority area. So, that's my concern regarding CJCs on transportation.

Shall I ask Reg to just reflect—or perhaps Claire—on some of the discussions that were had previously in regard to the duplication of services and roles and work, just to share some of the discussions that were had with local government at the time?

Thank you, Chair. So, yes, the situation would be that they do offer an opportunity to consolidate scarce resources, where they don't necessarily exist anymore in local authorities, around that strategic land use planning, strategic transport planning and in that regional economic development space, so it's a chance to bring together that expertise in one place. It's something that we're certainly working through with local authorities as we look at implementation, as to how that looks and feels. I think reassurance in terms of transport would be that, at this point, it's regional transport planning that the CJCs will be exercising and that any considerations around taking on additional transport functions would be subject to significant additional conversations with local authorities and formal consultation on the nature of those additional functions. So a lot of thought will be given to all those variables and complexities when working through if and when to add additional functions to them.

11:40

Okay, thank you very much, Carolyn. Minister, could I just ask you at this stage about the level of local authority reserves, which was touched on? Is it causing you any concern that some local authorities seem to have seen their reserves increasing at a time when special financial assistance is being given to them by Welsh Government?

I think that the reserves positions only end up really being a snapshot of the position at the end of the year, and they'll be influenced, for example, by the ability to complete schemes and the deliberate setting aside of funding for particular projects or risks or service change and so on. So, I'm not concerned in that regard. Obviously, it's an important matter for local government to consider the level of reserves in relation to the making of decisions around how they raise council tax—obviously that will be a particular consideration, and it's obviously important that local elected members then undertake the important scrutiny work to understand the detail of the trends and the plans by the authority and also the nature of any reserves held for specific investments. But I think the local councillors have an important scrutiny there.

I'm not concerned, from the flip side of that, about any authority reporting it's got unmanageably low reserves, and Audit Wales hasn't made any specific current concerns in that regard either. So, I'm comfortable with the situation as it currently is.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Minister. As a community councillor myself I'm quite keen—and whose community council is quite keen—on this general power of competence. I was just wondering what sort of level of take-up or interest there's been so far amongst community and town councils.

So, informal feedback throughout the passage of the Act and at conferences and discussion with individual councils suggests that there is some good enthusiasm for the principle of being able to access the powers. We don't have at the moment an estimate of the number of councils who will resolve to determine that they are eligible community councils, but I think that will be determined in the first instance by the number of authorities who meet the criteria, and obviously the criteria will be there in terms of eligibility conditions in terms of not having qualified audits and having a suitably qualified clerk. So there'll be a number of points that will have to be achieved in order to provide the assurance that the council has the robust arrangements to exercise the power.

Perfect. I suppose my next question's all about that robustness in the sense of the support that the Welsh Government would offer to the councils who wish to go down this route, and then also the training. Also, it sort of moves to more professionalisation of the community councils, and so with that in mind, then, how is the Welsh Government going to look at creating better engagement in terms of community council elections, in terms of candidates coming forward? Because I know some councils even struggle to find co-opted members, and I was just wondering about, given the increased power that they would have, how is the Welsh Government going to look to better use it, for want of a better question.

That's really important, because there are two sides of the question there in terms of how do we ensure that councillors and the clerks have the training that they need. So, we've provided some fully funded places for 70 clerks to undertake training this year, and we'll be reviewing that support again on an annual basis. So, we do want to ensure that the access to appropriate training is there for the clerks, but also to ensure that councillors themselves have access to a good range of training and support, which is why the work of One Voice Wales is particularly important, and I had a really good meeting with them recently as well to understand the variation in the sector that we have at the moment and how we can ensure that we support those town and community councils who need it most to bring them up to the standard of some that are absolutely excellent. I think the pandemic, really, has shown the value of town and community councils in terms of being able to provide an immediate response to communities. They often know who the vulnerable people are, where they are, what their needs are in a way that is really, really helpful. 

I think diversity in democracy is absolutely essential everywhere, including at town and community councils. So, there's work for us to do in the diversity in democracy scheme in order to undertake further work on communication, awareness raising of the role and ensuring that people do consider this as an opportunity to give back to their communities. I completely understand what you say about it being often very hard to get people to put their names forward, but I think that there's so much to be gained by being a member of a community council or a town council, and you can offer an incredible contribution to your communities as well. 

I can see Claire has got her hand up. I know she leads on some of this work as well.

11:45

Thanks, Minister. It's worth adding that we are trying to provide comprehensive guidance to community councils on how they would go about determining if they can accept a general power of competence [Correction: how they would go about determining if they can exercise the general power of competence], but also, if they are, how they go about using it. So, we're hoping to consult later this year on comprehensive guidance to community councils to support them in undertaking this and wider roles. We're also updating our good councillors guide, which is guidance for councillors to take them through what's required of them, what the opportunities are as a councillor to give them that sense of support in this space.  

With that in mind, then, in terms of updating the good councillor guide, what role will the ombudsman have, because I know—I speak from personal experience with my community council—we've had a high level of ombudsman member-on-member complaints. And even though the ombudsman has seen that, in certain circumstances, the code of conduct has been broken, it's not in the public interest to pursue, and I sometimes think that's because it's a community council and the ombudsman is probably more interested maybe in health matters or maybe more higher level local government. What sort of impact will this general power of competence have then on the role of the ombudsman in terms of trying to engage them more in monitoring the conduct of councillors, who will then ultimately have this increased power? 

Also, I noticed that the Welsh Government is looking to support clerks with the certificate in local council administration, to pay for their training—and I think the CiLCA qualification is a very good one, actually—but what I note from the community councils and town councils in my region, particularly, is that there's a very high turnaround or turnover of clerks who have come in and then in some cases, within a matter of months, have just left purely because of maybe the lack of support from their council's monitoring officer, or a lack of awareness of the role that the clerk is and what it does, but then also not necessarily having the support then of the community council members. And I was just wondering if that's something that the Minister could look further into as well. Given how we are now looking to increase the role and impact of community councils, I think it does need to have more of a spotlight shone on some of the practices of some of the members on it, if that makes sense. 

Thank you. I think it's really important that the ombudsman retains the independence necessary for that role in terms of determining which cases to go forward. I'm not sure if officials have anything that they wanted to further share on that point. I can see that Claire's got her hand up there. 

Thank you, Minister. Just to add that there has been a recent review of the ethical framework, and we're going to be publishing the results of that shortly. So, that's considered certainly the approach to the ethical framework, the approach to having the right robust framework in place. So, that is really important. And it's worth noting that we work really closely with One Voice Wales but also the Society of Local Council Clerks to look at how we support clerks in this space through training, but also more generally. So, certainly, we can pick up the issue if there is a high turnover of clerks to explore what lies behind that, and what we as a Welsh Government, working with the bodies and with the principal councils, can do to address that. 

Okay, thank you, Claire. Thank you, Joel. We're going to quickly move on to Alun Davies, because I know that he can't remain with us for much longer during this meeting because of other urgent commitments. Alun.

Thank you, John. I appreciate that. I'm grateful to the Minister for her time this morning. I was reading the programme for government, Minister, and I was just wondering if you could help me understand some of the commitments that are in it. You've got three commitments there, or two commitments particularly, which seem quite open ended. First of all, to

'Strengthen the autonomy and effectiveness of local government to make them more successful in delivering services.'

That could sum up the policy of the last 20 years. I'm not sure how successful it's been, but it's certainly been the objective of all the Governments that I've been a part of or I've scrutinised. And secondly,

'Reduce the administrative burden on local authorities.'

Can you explain what those commitments are and how you would foresee delivering on them?

11:50

Yes, certainly. So, in terms of strengthening the autonomy and effectiveness of local government to make them more successful in delivering services, I think this very much feeds into the agenda of the corporate joint committees and the discussions that we've been having this morning about the way in which local authorities can collaborate and work together to deliver services. But I think in terms of the other part of this, really, it's looking at what we can further devolve from Welsh Government to local authorities. Those are discussions that local authorities will have with individual Ministers, but I'm keen to facilitate that, really, to ensure that power lies in the place where it's best exercised, and I know that the committee would be interested in this particularly. We don't have any fixed proposals at the moment, so again, this is an area where I'm very keen to hear your, and the committee's, views, as to what might be relevant there. And then in terms of reducing the administrative burden on local authorities, again this is about working with local authorities to identify the administrative burdens and working, I expect, with my colleagues in Government to identify ways in which we can remove those barriers. I'll hand over to Reg at this point, because I can see that he's got his hand up.

Can you hear me? Yes. Sorry, it was just a follow-up on the Minister's second point about the administrative burden. I think we're always concerned to reduce or to minimise the amount of administrative overhead we've got in local authorities. There isn't very much of it, actually, in the local government portfolio itself, but if you look across Government, there is a task for us to work with each of the other portfolio Ministers, just to review and to test, and I think we do have a role to challenge the information that is collected, whether some of the normal, ongoing routine requests that we make of local government remain current and remain essential to the delivery of policy. But also, I think there are probably opportunities that we need to look at around the use of technology: how do we draw information out of management systems in a way that we don't at the moment, or how do we just use new technology to try and take a more innovative approach to collecting information or adjusting some of those administrative burdens that we put on local authorities? Thank you.

I think the funding of the local government digital officer post has been really important, as has the creation of the centre for digital public services, in terms of finding new ways of working in the future, which will hopefully reduce the administrative burden and release people from some roles to be working elsewhere, for local authorities in areas where they do have more pressure.

The reality is that local government doesn't have the capacity to do any of the things that you've both very eloquently described. I don't disagree with the analysis provided by the Minister or by Mr Kilpatrick, but Mr Kilpatrick will also be able to provide the Minister with a note that he wrote for me, some years ago, when I asked local government what powers they wanted devolved, and it was a very thin list, as he will remember. And it was a very poor list, as well, frankly. It was a very poor response from local government. I'm a bit concerned that we follow these unicorns, as it were, without actually thinking hard about what we're seeking to achieve. Over the last year, I think the Welsh public sector in its totality has actually done a superb job in responding to COVID, and you compare the way in which we responded to the crisis in Wales with the chaos across the border, and I think there's a very real comparison to be made there. But isn't the reality, Minister, that that has been achieved not because of fragmentation and each local authority deciding to do its own thing, but because it's been a much stronger, more direct lead from the centre and that the whole of the public sector has worked more collectively together and not less so, and as a consequence, the less autonomy that has actually been granted to local government, the more successful it's been?

11:55

I think that the level of autonomy has to be appropriate to the task in hand. So, over the past 18 months, we've been, obviously, dealing with the crisis situation, which required strong leadership from the centre but then also every partner playing their roles. And we did see some really good collaborative working between local authorities during the course of the pandemic, for example, mutual aid on the test, trace and protect side if there were particular pressures in one area, and so forth. So, some of that happened organically between local authorities themselves, but there was a great deal of leadership from the centre, but I think decision making was taken in partnership and that happened because of the almost daily—I think it was at one point—meetings that the Minister was having with local government to ensure that decisions were taken in partnership, fully understanding the impacts of what we would be asking local authorities and public services to do, rather than taking a decision and then working out afterwards how on earth we'd—

Okay. Isn't there a contradiction in policy—and this is my final question, Minister—because, I don't disagree with what you've just said; I think you were actually agreeing with me as well, but you've said in your programme for government that you want to strengthen the autonomy and effectiveness of local government, and any Government could have said that in the last 20 years. And, 'So what?' is the question. Your tool for doing that is through the corporate joint committees, largely, I don't see any other tool that you've identified, which is essentially reorganisation through the back door, that's what the First Minister has always said. Now, my position is that we should do it through the front door and be a lot more honest about it. And we all bear the scars from those sorts of debates. But the reality is that there's less democracy, less accountability, less autonomy through corporate joint boards, but more effectiveness. And, isn't that the contradiction in the policy approach that this Government's taking at the moment? 

Well, CJCs do have the obvious scrutiny arrangements around them, which I think will be vitally important as things move forward, but then, the Act does allow for local authorities to merge in a different way, should that be something that they would want to do. So, in that sense, that front door that you described is open should local authorities determine that that's something they want to—

Yes, but they're not going to do it without the leadership, are they? My concern is—I don't disagree with what you've just said, Minister, but the reality is that, if, for example, a corporate joint body or committee, whatever, takes a decision that I, as an elector, don't like, there's nothing I can do about it; I can't even sack the local councillor by voting for somebody else, because the decision has been taken away from the local authority in which I live. So, there's less democracy, less accountability for the electorate and there's less ability for authorities to actually shape things in the way that they would determine.

So, I don't understand how you have the democracy, how you have the accountability, the autonomy and the efficiency under this system. I think local government is going to be facing—and you know this far better than I do, Minister—enormous financial pressures over the next few years. Enormous financial pressures. And authorities such as the one I represent, I simply don't see how they're going to survive. Is this not the time for Welsh Government to take a lead to protect local employment, local services, front-line services, rather than pursue objectives that are mutually exclusive?

Well, CJCs are very much accountable, being led by the elected leaders. I think that that's an important point there. But your point about funding is an important one, because local authorities, I think, have experienced pressures regardless of the good settlements over the past couple of years, and we don't yet know what the picture will look like for the next three years. But I have made the open offer to the WLGA that if they wanted to have a review of the funding formula, or aspects of it, then I would be open to those discussions as well. I know that different authorities have different views, but it might be that they have a collective view on at least some aspects that could be reviewed in terms of the funding formula. 

12:00

Okay. Okay. Thank you, Alun. Thank you, Minister. Samuel.

Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you, Minister, for joining us this morning/afternoon; it's 12 o'clock. [Laughter.] Can I quickly start—? In your opening remarks ,you mentioned that you were hoping that the electoral review would be completed in a timely manner, in readiness for May 2022. Is there an element of risk that it won't be ready by that time?