Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee

21/01/2022

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
Sam Rowlands MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Amelia John Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Emma Williams Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Julie James MS Y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
Minister for Climate Change
Stuart Fitzgerald 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
Jonathan Baxter Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Manon George Clerc
Clerk

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 10:30.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 10:30. 

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

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. Item 1 on our agenda today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. 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 adaptations relating to remote proceedings, all other Standing Order requirements for committees remain in place. Are there any declarations of interest? Carolyn.

Just in case, I'd like to declare I'm a Flintshire councillor.

Okay. Thank you. If, for any reason, I drop out of this meeting for technological reasons or any other, then Alun Davies MS will temporarily chair while I try to rejoin.

2. Craffu ar Gyllideb Ddrafft Llywodraeth Cymru ar gyfer 2022-23: Sesiwn dystiolaeth 3 - y Gweinidog Newid Hinsawdd
2. Scrutiny of the Welsh Government Draft Budget 2022-23: Evidence session 3 - Minister for Climate Change

We'll move on, then, to item 2 on our agenda today—scrutiny of the Welsh Government draft budget 2022-23—and our third evidence session, this time with the Minister for Climate Change. And I'm very pleased to welcome the Minister, Julie James, to the meeting today, together with her officials, Emma Williams, who's director of housing and regeneration; Amelia John, deputy director, housing policy; and Stuart Fitzgerald, deputy director, homes and places. Welcome to you all, and perhaps I might begin, Minister, with an initial question or two. Firstly, how has the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 shaped overall budget allocations within your portfolio?

Bore da, pawb. Thank you very much, Chair, for that. Yes, of course, the well-being of future generations is absolutely central to what we're doing in the housing and regeneration part of the climate change portfolio for a range of reasons that have affected the budget allocations. In no particular order, Chair, the first is our absolute ambition to prevent homelessness being endemic in Wales and to make sure that it is rare, brief and unrepeated, moving to a rapid rehousing system and being absolutely determined that there'll be no going back to the previous system prior to the pandemic. I remain incredibly proud of what Wales has been able to do during the pandemic in housing a record number of people, and we are very determined to do that going forward. The budget absolutely reflects that determination.

The second one is in the number of new social homes—low-carbon social homes—that we are determined to build over this Senedd term: 20,000 low-carbon social homes. Obviously, the homes are needed in order to help with our homelessness agenda, but it's the low-carbon bit that is also important, so that we make sure that we have homes that are fit for future generations, in line with the well-being of future generations Act.

And then, last but not least, our optimised retrofit programme, making sure that we have a programme that's fit for purpose that can be rolled out to decarbonise all the homes in Wales with technology that actually works for each individual home and isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. So, the budget allocations certainly reflect the ambitions outlined.

Thank you very much, Minister, and we will be coming on to the matters that you've mentioned in due course. But, first of all, just another general question, really, in terms of the budget process, and that is the strategic integrated impact assessment. I wonder if you could tell the committee how significant and important that part of the process is, Minister, in shaping the budget that emerges. Because, obviously, there are many important priorities that are part of that assessment.

Yes. So, the strategic integrated impact assessment for the budget is done overall at the centre of the Welsh Government; it's not done in each portfolio. But, in preparing the draft budget, my officials obviously prepared a detailed analysis of the budget requirements. There were a series of bilaterals between myself and the Minister for Finance and Local Government to discuss those requirements, and we obviously assisted with the overall structure of the budget, which then feeds into the stra—I can't say it—strategic integrated impact assessment. It's a bit of a tongue twister.

So, there is a whole series of lenses that the strategic integrated impact assessment goes through and I'm sure the committee's familiar with them: equalities, human rights, children's rights, Welsh language, climate change, rural-proofing, health, biodiversity, economic development and socioeconomic disadvantage. So, there are quite a few lenses that it looks at. The integrated approach is, obviously, about trying to make sure that we have the cumulative impact of the budget in front of us, and not just diluted silo approaches, and then, obviously, that's the entire point of having put the climate change portfolio together, to integrate a number of levers across the Government that allow us to look at the well-being of future generations Act and, of course, the climate change and nature emergencies.

10:35

Thank you very much, Minister. Did any particular gaps in data become apparent through that assessment?

Yes, we have got some data gaps, for sure, certainly with certain people with protected characteristics, lower numbers in particular groups and so on, particularly in homelessness, for example. So, during the course of the pandemic, when there have been lags in official data, we've been very grateful to third sector partners for sharing information on how groups have been disproportionately impacted. So, that's allowed us to specifically target groups as that's become clear.

We also invest in closing evidence gaps, where there is a need to do so, so I'm happy to say that we're investing an additional £3 million to improve evidence to aid the impacts from budget decisions, and that includes boosting the family resources survey. There's also an opportunity to improve the distributional impact analysis of the budget improvement plan. We've also invested to strengthen the economic data needed to monitor the progress and impact of climate change policies and Government spending. So, we're doing quite a lot of work on improving the data as the gaps become obvious and, actually, only earlier this week, I spoke at the homelessness—one of my official would have to remind me of their actual title—data implementation analysis conference. I can't remember the exact—. All these things are sent to fox the poor Minister, because they all have the same words, just in a slightly different order. [Laughter.] But, anyway, the data centre. We've been working very closely with them in order to improve our understanding of what data we have in Wales and how we can improve that in order to better target our resources.

That's great, thank you, Minister. Perhaps you could provide a note to committee just on that, with a bit more detail, which would be useful. I think I saw—. Carolyn Thomas, did you want to come in here?

Yes, it was just regarding the impact assessment and regard for biodiversity, but the Minister did list that as one of the impact assessments, which was great. It would be great to have that list; if the committee could have that list, that would be really good.

One concern I do have is: when we have tenants move into accommodations that have had funding from Welsh Government and that have regard for biodiversity with the planting and the low-carbon home, how do we ensure that the Senedd's residents understand how to maintain what's there, the planting for biodiversity as well, going forward? I'd be interested in ensuring that that does happen. Thank you. 

For sure, Chair, we work with our RSL partners and our council partners to make sure that tenants going into new low-carbon social housing, for example, are doing so into housing that's fit for them, fit for purpose. Sometimes there's tech that they have to get their heads around, sometimes the heating systems are slightly different and so on. So, we absolutely do want to make sure that the people going into the houses are happy to be there, that the houses fit their needs and that includes, obviously, the planting and so on. Some of our low-carbon houses—. Chair, you're almost certainly going to tell me to shorten my answers in a minute, so I'll get this in quickly. Some of our low-carbon houses, particularly the ones built by a company called Down to Earth with Coastal Housing RSL, specifically include planting for biodiversity and, actually, for shade and for light, and they're deliberately chosen in order to enhance the value of the home itself and its ventilation, heating and cooling systems. So, we do take all of those things into account, and, obviously, we're working very hard to make sure that our RSL and council partners have the right skills and budgets in order to maintain that as well.

Thanks very much, Minister. Carolyn, do you want to continue with the next set of questions?

Okay, thank you. Thank you for that response. That was really good, actually. So, just regarding budget allocations and how they align with the recently published action plan to end homelessness, and particularly efforts to prevent homelessness and to support the staff that work in that sector.

10:40

Thank you, Carolyn. This is something that's been very dear to my heart ever since I became the housing Minister. We've been working very closely with the sector to understand what the prevention agenda looks like as well as the acute end of making sure that people aren't rough-sleeping and so on. So, we've uplifted the homelessness prevention grant—it's £23.2 million over three years from a baseline of £17.9 million—and that supports the implementation of the action plan and our programme for government commitment to fundamentally reform homelessness services to focus back onto prevention and rapid rehousing. It's intended to enable all council services to include the 'no-one left out' approach and wraparound support services, and it also funds the Housing First programme, the youth innovation fund, advice services, the private sector leasing scheme and a range of homelessness prevention activities in the third sector. So, we've maintained the uplift of the housing support grant for £40 million, over 30 per cent, over the next three years, which takes the total funding to £166.763 million a year. I've got a table here, Chair, of these figures. So, I'm told it's £166.763 million a year in recognition of that. We've worked very closely with third sector partners across the system as well as our statutory partners, and, again, I want to just pay tribute to the way the sector pulled together through the pandemic and has taken the learning from that forward. We're all absolutely determined across Wales to make sure that we fundamentally reform the services going forward.

We've, unfortunately, seen the number of people presenting as homeless increasing as well. So, given we're seeing over 1,000 homelessness presentations to local authorities each month, how does the draft budget address this demand?

So, there's been a hardship fund, as I'm sure Members are aware, going through the pandemic. Going forward now, as we all fervently hope that we're seeing the ending of the pandemic soon, we'll be giving £10 million to councils to make sure that we enable them to continue the temporary accommodation, but also to encourage a shift to a preventative and permanent rehousing focus. So, obviously, we absolutely are aware that we've got over 1,000 presentations a month still coming out of the pandemic. We need to get ahead of that, so we need to make sure that we've got the right support in place to allow council and RSL homelessness services—councils in particular—to make sure that they're supporting people to stay in their current tenancy or their current housing if that's at all possible and appropriate, rather than allowing them to fall out, particularly of private sector tenancies, only to then go back through the loop with all of the personal trauma that that entails, but also, quite often, the increased finance requirement that that entails. So, working with the councils to make sure that they've got the right focus on the right preventative measures in the first place, and then, obviously, the rapid rehousing if people are falling out of their current tenancies.

Is the funding targeted across Wales or is it given according to the budget formula? You know, to deal with homelessness where it's presenting more in different areas, or is it—

We're using the information that we've got from the hardship fund and the call—. So, that was a call-off contract. So, we're using that to understand what the allocations should look like going forward. So, obviously, we know what the homelessness figures look like in each authority, so we're able to tailor the funding accordingly, and obviously it's quite a complex formula. I'm sure one of the officials will explain this at great length, Chair, if you want them to, but what we're trying to do, obviously, is make sure that where there's the most need, the funding is there. But, also, where we understand the need for preventative services. Those two things aren't always in alignment, so we have to make sure we do that.

Absolutely. We've discussed quite often about preventative services. They're so important, aren't they?

The strategic impact assessment that accompanies the draft budget notes that many ethnic minority parents have presented themselves as homeless to local authorities. What are the reasons for this, and how do budget allocations seek to address it?

I'm not familiar with that particular line in the strategic impact assessment, I'm sorry, Carolyn. The officials will certainly come back to you on that very specific thing. But just to say that we do know that some ethnic minority people in communities are disproportionately likely to be living in poverty and more susceptible, therefore, to being homeless.

And then, just to raise the issue of people with no recourse to public funds, we are extremely worried that, as the pandemic comes to an end, we will be prevented from an ability to help people with no recourse to public funds. I'm putting a great deal of pressure on the UK Government to find some compassion within them somewhere for people in that situation, and we're certainly working hard to see what we can do to assist people.

So, I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with the particular piece of evidence, but I suspect it's something to do with a combination of those two things.

Okay, thank you very much. I'm so glad that you've raised about those that are not able to get funding at all. It was paragraph 36, I believe, of the impact assessment—

10:45

Certainly, Chair, we'll write to you when we've had a look at that, but the monthly breakdowns from LAs on temporary accommodation, we don't have a demographic breakdown of that. We've only got numbers. But we'll certainly have a look to see where that's come from and get back to the committee. Apologies.   

Before we move on, Minister, just in terms of that issue of those without recourse to public funds, what you've said I think suggests that, during the pandemic, those people have been looked after, as it were. So, the problem then is—

So, just to explain, Chair, we've been able to use public health legislation in order to extend help and support to people with no recourse to public funds on the grounds of the public health emergency. Once the public health emergency is no longer with us, we will no longer be able to use those powers. We'll revert to the previous situation, where there's a long list of funding that's not available to people with no recourse to public funds—a desperate situation for many that we are very unhappy about. So, we're putting pressure on the UK Government to enable us to continue to assist people who are in that position. It's an ongoing—. It's one of the deep political divisions, I have to say, between the Welsh and Scottish Governments in particular and the current UK Government. So, we continue to make that point, but we've been able to do it through the pandemic because of the public health emergency.  

Okay, thank you very much for that. Sam, then. Sam Rowlands.

Thanks, Chair. Morning, Minister. I appreciate your taking the time this morning to come to the committee. Just a few questions around housing supply. So, first of all, in relation to the 20,000 new, low-carbon social homes that you mentioned earlier on, I had the pleasure of being a substitute in the Finance Committee on Wednesday, and there was a representative there from the Bevan Foundation who said, on reflection, the 20,000 commitment from Welsh Government won't be enough to deal with some of the issues that they see. Do you think your financial commitment to this and commitment generally is enough?

So, the 20,000 low-carbon social homes is calibrated against what we know about people currently in temporary accommodation and so on. Obviously, Sam, we'd like to build as many as we possibly can. So, 20,000 is our target; if we can get it up above that, that would be great.

I have to say, though, that it's pretty ambitious, given what we know has been able to be achieved elsewhere in the supply chain and so on. And you will be very aware, I know, of the difficulties in rising supply-chain problems, costs, availability of labour and so on. So, it's already costing us somewhere around 30 per cent more to build each social home. So, we're having to put about 30 per cent more social housing grant into those to make them viable, and we're experiencing some difficulty. So, the 20,000 is a stretching target. I am absolutely determined we're going to make it, and if we can go above that, great. But we have to have something that's vaguely achievable. There's no point in me saying, 'We'll build 60,000 social homes', when I know perfectly well that, given the current state of play, we'd have no chance of doing that.

We're also, obviously, encouraging co-operative and community trust housing to be built as well. I've had a range of meetings with non-governmental organisations and the co-operative centre and so on, also trying to add to the availability of non-private sector housing, if you like, with co-operative developments of one sort or another, community trust developments and so on. I make no secret of the fact that I would like to get to the point where anybody who wants a social home can have one. So, we're very much on that. But this is a stretching, but, I hope, achievable target. We will certainly try to get it up further than that if possible. But right at the moment we're having real problems with materials, the supply chain, skilled labour and a whole range of other things that are actually giving me sleepless nights about how on earth we're going to get there.

10:50

Sam—. Just before you go on, Sam—Minister, that 30 per cent figure, then, are we talking about, essentially, the same homes costing 30 per cent more? Is that compared to, what, the last financial year, or—?

Yes. So, the materials and components index for September 2021 indicated materials costs rose by 22 per cent compared to September 2020, and that's the same in October's index. So, basically, the grant on each home was £75,000, and it's risen to around £92,000 for each home. So, yes, each home is more expensive, so that's obviously a real problem for our budget. So, the budget is very much increased on what it was, but, unfortunately, that doesn't directly translate into that many more homes, because of the increase—really rapid increase—in costs.

Can I just also say, Chair, it really is important to understand that it's not just the cost? It's actually the availability as well. So, just trying to get—. The actual availability is slowing things down, and then there's a real issue with skilled labour and making sure that we have viable small and medium-sized enterprises and so on to help us build the social housing. So, there's a lot of work going on to try and smooth that. The Deputy Minister and myself both were at the—. We've got a housing construction forum, talking to our SME builders, just trying to understand what the issues are for them. Obviously, I've met with the registered social landlords and very recently with the council cabinet members across Wales for housing to just discuss how we can use our combined effort to try and overcome some of these issues.

Thank you, Chair, and thanks, Minister, for that. So, just in relation to that, of course, part of the solution I believe that you see to deal with that is the development of the national construction company, Unnos—I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing that correctly.

Thank you. So, is that pointing to perhaps a breakdown in the relationship with existing construction companies, do you think, the reason that you have to put money into that, or what—? Do you want to talk more on that?

Not at all. On the contrary, Sam, it comes out of the discussions we've had with the construction sector, with the RSLs and with the councils to try and fill in gaps, really difficult-to-fill gaps. So, we know that there are difficult-to-recruit crafts, for example. So, I'd just start by saying none of this is set in stone yet. We're in discussions at the moment about quite how we'll do this, so these are ideas that are floating around. So, we know that there's a real problem with recruiting apprentices in some skills, so it's a company that could potentially be the overarching employer to allow apprentices to be given to smaller SME companies, on a pattern that I think Alun Davies will be familiar with; there was a shared apprenticeship service back in Blaenau Gwent for a while to allow smaller SMEs to take apprentices they would otherwise be unable to have. We know in discussion with RSLs that there's a real problem with skills shortages in surveying and just the general housing skills market. We know that councils that haven't been able to build council homes for quite a long time are struggling to recruit people with all of the right skills to put developments together and so on.

So, there are a number of roles that a company could have to assist with all of those things and be a resource for the sector. It absolutely is not anything to do with wanting to compete with any SME, RSL or council. This is a gap-filling expert resource, an ability to recruit people perhaps centrally instead of everybody trying to recruit the same two people across Wales and driving the price up. I'm sure for the individuals involved that's great, but for the sector it's not so marvellous. We've had some really frank and open discussions right across the sector about the fact that everybody's poaching everybody else's staff and what can we do about that. So it's about trying to find some solutions to some of those difficulties. It absolutely is not in any way going to be any kind of competitor for either the SME construction end or the commissioning RSL council end.

So, just keeping on that, then, Minister—thanks for that response—in terms of that £1 million, I appreciate in the grand scheme of a Welsh Government budget it's not a huge amount, but of course we're always here to make sure value for money is happening. So, are you confident you have the measures in place to ensure that value for money will come from that investment?

So, we haven't got it in place yet, because we haven't got the company in place yet. But, as part of the discussion, of course what we're doing is making sure that we get value for money out of it. The amount of money that we've allocated to it is based on some of the ideas we got for what it might be able to do, and we'll obviously monitor that closely. If it's not enough, then obviously I'll be looking for more. And, if we've overestimated it, which seems extremely unlikely, then obviously we've got plenty of use for it elsewhere in the main expenditure group and we'll be moving it around. But there are a number of things that we think an arm's-length company could do that the Welsh Government can't do because of financial constraints and so on, including working with the SME sector, as I say. So, none of this is finalised, Chair, I would like to just emphasise that. It's subject to an ongoing discussion, both with our co-operation agreement partners and inside the Welsh Government and, indeed, with sector partners and so on. So, I just want to put any hares that have been set running to bed, because there's no need for them. 

10:55

Thanks, Minister. So, just moving on now, then, to some of the private sector developments and perhaps those who will be looking to purchase their own homes. Maybe it's just my reading of things, but I'm less clear on how the Help to Buy scheme is likely to work in future budgets. Could you just expand on how you see Help to Buy schemes working in the future?

Yes, for sure. So, there's no—. We haven't got the financial transactions budgets available until the final budget, so you can't see those in the draft budget as you're currently looking at it; that's an ongoing discussion between us and the centre and also the centre and the UK Government about how that looks. But we're assuming that we will get financial transactions capital, which is how we fund the Help to Buy scheme. And going forward, we want to use the Help to Buy scheme, obviously, to help people get onto the housing ladder, but also to encourage our SME builders and our major house builders to shift their standards, quite frankly. So, we're basically saying, 'You can't have Help to Buy unless you meet some minimum standards that we require'. 

I've had really constructive conversations, I would just like to report to the committee, with a number of the big, major house builders, who are actually getting on board with this. They know that we're determined to bring changes to Part L of the building regulations in in Wales, they know that there are real problems with the fabric and quality of some of the housing that's been built more recently. Some of them have suffered very severe reputational damage as a result of some of that and, frankly, they've seen the light, I think it's fair to say. So, we've been working well with them, they're happy to go along with that and, basically, what we're doing is forcing the standard of the private sector housing towards that of social sector housing using our Help to Buy leverage. But, at this point in time, I don't know any more than you do about how many financial transactions capital allocations we might be able to get our hands on; that, as I understand it, is an ongoing conversation. 

Okay, thanks. And just specifically in that private development area, then, do you think the budget allocations you've currently got in your draft budget support the private developments to the extent that you'd want them to be supported?

Yes, so, it's not my job to stimulate the private sector housing market. That's generally as febrile as it's possible to get all by itself. So, what we do is we try to fill in the edges, if you like. We've got several grants that are aimed at owner-occupiers, but they're aimed at bringing empty properties back into beneficial use, for example. We're very keen to make sure that our private rented sector work with us to move their properties across to long-term leases for registered social landlords and councils in order to ensure that we can help them get those houses up to standard, because they now have to meet minimum energy performance certificate standards, and we ensure that they stay inside the rented sector and don't fall out.

And also, of course, with our exemplar sites. So, the Welsh Government is running a series of exemplar site pieces across Wales. What we're looking to do there is to have exemplar mixed developments: so, mixed-tenure developments. So, that is a very interesting mix of social housing—50 per cent at least of social housing for rent, some co-operative housing, some community interest housing, but also of course private sector owner-occupied housing as well—with a view to showcasing what can be done with pieces of land if you set about it in the right way. And we're able to demonstrate both the kinds of housing that can be built, the integration of the various tenures across the site, the green infrastructure, the active travel, et cetera, et cetera, that goes with that.

And one of the other things we've been able to demonstrate is, basically, how you get a decent 106 in place to ensure all of that, and actually how incredibly enthusiastic the private sector has been to be part of that. So, we haven't struggled for people who want to come forward and be partners in any way. So, all of this is to demonstrate to SMEs that the kind of 'build them cheap, stack them high' policy is not the only one, going forward, and that actually they can make a decent living out of building really decent houses for people. And just to say on that, very many of our SME companies already do do that, of course, because they build our social housing for us and they build their private sector housing to the same standard.

That's a fair point, Minister, and my office here looks across an estate that has just been built, in the last two or three years. There are 250 houses here, and there's a really good mix of, yes, very affordable housing and free-market houses as well. So, yes, there are some great examples out there.

Just a final few questions, Chair, if I may. Just coming on to the funding you've allocated to the integrated care fund to support extra-care housing—something I'm really, really supportive of, actually, extra-care housing, and I think it's a really significant part of the future of housing stock—in your notes, it looks as though, over a three-year period, there'll be around 930 new units that this money would enable to be built. I'm just a bit concerned, because looking at the Government statistics of future demographics, over the next just five years, the over-65 population is likely to move from 688,000 to 745,000. So, an extra 50,000 over the age of 65. So, do you think the money you've allocated towards this area to build those 930 units is going to be enough to meet the future demands of the next five years—very recent times?  

11:00

I'll bring Emma in in a moment, Sam, on some of the detail of this, but just to say that the integrated care fund isn't the only way of doing this and that we've been having a cross-Government working group for some time now about how to take social care forward as a result of, exactly as you say, the ageing demographic, and so on. I'm sorry to say that I speak as a boomer myself; we've been a bulge all the way through the system my whole life, so we're about to be a bulge in elder care as well. So, we very much see a housing-based solution for a lot of the issues around social care—so, building the right kinds of houses. This goes right back to the housing supply question. The reason that we want the standards of housing to come up is we want people to have houses for life, houses that are adaptable so that if you do end up with mobility difficulties, your house caters for that. If you have an expanding and then declining family, your house caters for that. It caters for the ability of carers to stay with you, and so on. So, there is a thing about getting the housing supply right in the first place so that you don't need some of this specialist stuff. 

But also, of course, we are working with health and social care colleagues across the board to make sure that we have this integrated system in place. So, it won't be just the ICF budget that comes into play here, and we've been part of a discussion on this, well, since before the election, with my old hat on as well. So, this is an ongoing conversation, but let me bring Emma in to give you some of the detail. Emma. 

Thank you, Minister. Yes, as you say, this is about not just building housing-led solutions to health and social care-specific problems, but integrating what we do there with how we build general needs housing. The lifetime homes standards are incorporated into our design quality standards, so that they can easily be adapted, as the Minister says, in the future: sockets are accessible, doorways are wheelchair wide, there is the facility to easily convert a downstairs room into an accessible wetroom, and so on and so forth, so that homes can be adapted as people's needs change.

We also, of course, have a number of other strands of funding and support to provide for people who need to make adaptations to their own homes, whether those be social homes, owner-occupied, or, indeed, in the rented sector, ranging from very small adaptations that make life simpler for people to really quite large-scale adaptations, including, in some cases, extensions to add downstairs bathrooms and bedrooms to homes. So, ICF is a really important element, but it's just one part of an ever much bigger picture, and one of the things that we're very keen to do, and that the Minister has been pushing for, is to integrate our social housing grant and our ICF more closely so that we're using the right funding routes to ensure that as our local authorities become more skilled at the detailed planning of future needs, we are ready with the right funding to support the building of the homes and the adaptation of homes that are needed into the future. But I think it's about a range of funding options, but also about having a very good handle on what the future needs of a local area are, and making sure that we're planning for that and we're then funding to support to meet those identified needs. 

Thanks for that response as well. I think the challenge, I guess, is that a third of the houses in Wales are over 100 years old, and mine is included in that. The challenge of adapting those sort of properties is significant, I would expect.

I think that what struck me, in looking at the demographics, is that we often talk about quite far ahead—20 years or 30 years down the line—with the bulge, Minister, as you mentioned, of baby boomers, in particular, coming into the system. But actually, the challenge is the next three, four or five years as well, and I'm just not sure at the moment whether the scale of the funding to deal with some of the housing challenges may be enough. Those are just my own reflections, but thanks, Chair.

11:05

Just on that, Chair, just one last remark, if you don't mind, obviously the issue of social care is an issue right across western Europe, as societies age. So, one of the things that I'm really pleased about, and I just want to re-emphasise, really, is that we have been looking at a housing-based solution for some time. So, obviously, we need a social care workforce to go with that. We need carers and all sorts of other things. But, the ability to keep people in their own home and in their own community and with their own family is one of the most fundamental tenets of that. So, ICF absolutely has a role to play, but I'm very keen to make sure that, even in ICF-built facilities, people have an element of choice, that it looks like their own home, and that that's very much something that they want to have.

As somebody in that bulge, Sam—and you're a way off yourself, but, trust me, when you get there—you know, I want to be able to order an Indian takeaway and drink a bottle of red wine on a Friday if I live in an ICF facility or I'm lucky enough to stay in my own home. So, making sure that these things are fit for purpose and that they look like homes for people is a really important part of this. So, I just wanted to emphasise that point, really.

That's great. Okay, thank you very much, Minister. Before we move on, in terms of second homes, could you tell the committee how the allocations within the budget reflect the work and the progress that the Welsh Government would like to see in relation to second homes issues, including the Welsh language impacts?

Yes. So, Chair, at the moment, we are still in the process of a series of consultations and looking at the outcome of those consultations and so on. We are about to start the pilot in Dwyfor, and so the budget reflects the point in time that we are at with the plan. When we have the consultation responses back in, and we have a number of other things in place, then no doubt there will be some supplementary budget adjustments to go with that. But, the current draft budget reflects the fact that we are still in the consultation phase for a very large number of the components of that, including the draft 'Welsh Language Communities Housing Plan', which is out to consultation at the moment. So, there is a whole series of things being consulted on: support for community-led co-operatives and social enterprises, expansion of the homebuy scheme—a whole series of things. So, no doubt there will be changes in the budget as those consultations come in and we adjust our policy accordingly.

Okay. Thank you very much, Minister. We will move to Joel now, I think, because the issues that Sam raised lead on to some questions that I think Joel has on adaptations.

Yes. Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Minister, for attending today's evidence session. I suppose that it touches upon, with my council hat on again—. For transparency purposes, I will declare that I am still a councillor on RCT council. One of the issues that came up when I was a councillor was in terms of people with MS waiting for adaptations. Unfortunately, sometimes the adaptations arrived after they had already passed away. I just wanted to touch upon the budgeted allocations for adaptations, in terms of concerns that there is a sort of postcode lottery around them, in terms of the type of tenure that the tenants have as well and the way that it affects the speed of the adaptations, really. So, what I was wondering is, given the links between housing adaptations and improved health outcomes, how has the budget been allocated to prioritise this, if that makes sense.

Yes. Thanks very much, Joel. The budget for adaptations has gone from—hang on, let me just find my table—£17.66 million in 2021-22 to £19.5 million. There was an additional £1.84 million, which has been wrongly allocated to the ICF BEL at draft budget, which we corrected. So, I'd just make that point, Chair, if that hasn't come across in the documents that you have.

We've also allocated an additional £1 million in capital to local authorities' enable budget to increase their capacity to undertake adaptations in the private rented sector, and to support them not to apply the means test for the most common types of adaptations. I'm sure Members will remember that we recently removed the means test for medium-sized adaptations in the sector. So, things like stairlifts, downstairs showers, wetrooms are all no longer means tested, so it should speed up the process enormously that we don't have to go through that.

We've also put an additional £1.4 million capital and £0.5 million revenue into care and repair agencies to support complex hospital discharge cases, where adaptations can't be installed until other essential repairs have been made, or where there are other complex issues such as hoarding and so on. So, sometimes, these budgets have to go to very arcane things to allow people to come out of hospital and back into their home, and it sometimes brings to light unexpected housing problems that also have to be sorted out. So, we wanted to be able to do that.

We've also given housing associations control of the physical adaptations grant budget, to allow them to take a more strategic approach to adaptations and increase the stock of accessible housing in Wales more generally. So, this is to make sure that they upfront change the housing so that it's accessible rather than waiting for each individual person to come along. And, obviously, we've discussed already the important synergies with HCF, the successor to ICF, and Emma went through some of the complexities of that just now. 

11:10

Thank you. You mentioned there that some of the funding has had its means testing removed in the hope of speeding up the process, and you also mentioned there, right at the end, some of the steps that have been taken to make it a bit quicker for those leaving hospital et cetera. And I just wanted to again touch upon—. I mentioned that postcode lottery system, and I was just wondering what steps the budget is taking, and also what the monitoring of the data is doing, to try and move away from that, so that it goes on a needs-based basis rather than, basically, where you live sort of thing. 

So, there should not be a postcode lottery, Again, I'll bring Emma in in a moment. But there should not, absolutely, be a postcode lottery. It's an ongoing conversation with local authorities to make sure that they're spending the right pot of money, so they're using disabled facilities grants instead of the HCF funding and so on. In fact, I'm due to speak to the local authority leaders, I think it's next Friday, in the session you're taking this Friday, to bring some of this to their attention. I'm sure we're going to speak to the finance directors as well, because finance directors tend to like to make sure they're using all the right pots up. So, we just want to bring all those things to people's attention. 

But it is a need-based formula, Joel, just let me say that to you. And one of the reasons we've removed the means test is (a), it's outrageous to have a means test on something that's so fundamental to people's well-being, but also (b), it just speeds it up so you don't have to go through the whole 'who can afford to pay for what pot?'. So, we've done all of those things.

We've also, as I say, devolved the budget to various other agencies to speed it up as well. We know that regional partnership boards have been investing significantly in adaptations and so on, and they have the discretion to supplement the cost of the disabled facilities grant over the statutory limit of £36,000. But I'll go back to Emma because, I have to say, when I first came into the housing portfolio, what appears to be many moons ago now, Emma did tell me that in order to understand some of the issues in the adaptations area—Amelia and Emma between them said this to me—you probably need a PhD, and I don't have a PhD in it, so I'll defer to Emma. 

Thank you, Minister. I'm not sure that I've quite got a PhD in it either. It's a very, very complicated landscape, and we've been working over a number of years to try and reform some of that landscape, make it more transparent, and enable us to be able to see more clearly what's going on and monitor, so that we can pick up where there are inequities or differences in different areas. So, two of the things I would highlight as being quite fundamental here would be the publication of the standards of service. We published those back in 2019. They set some minimum standards, and all providers of adaptations need to meet those to ensure there is a more consistent experience for users, wherever they are. But alongside that, importantly, we've introduced our higher level analysis of adaptations data. So, we had, to be completely candid, quite patchy data. It didn't allow us to see where there were differences in experiences for users, so we've improved that data, and there is now data published on the Welsh Government website. And we're doing further work to make sure that we enhance that so that it gives us better equalities and geographic data, so that we can monitor where those anomalies are and where the user experience may not be as good as it ought to be. 

If you don't mind, there was just a quick question, if that's okay, just following on from that—again with my council hat on—in terms of funding for housing associations to build already adapted properties and that, really. I was just wondering how the budget was looking towards that. So, not necessarily looking at adaptations to existing properties, but then building properties specifically for that area's need, if that makes sense. I was just wondering what sort of budgetary outcome is there for that then.

11:15

Yes, so, we have a whole—. Sorry, Emma, I'll come back to you again, but just in terms of policy, Joel, we absolutely have a whole budget for that. And that's what the regional partnership boards look at. So, the councils and the health boards together look at the need in their area and they're able to apply for funds to build specialist facilities for that, and a number of health boards have been doing that for the last several years while that budget's been in play. But let me go back to Emma again for the specifics. Emma.

Thank you, Minister, and you've covered part of what I was going to say. I think there are two routes, in effect: projects can come through the social housing grant route and if they're on the prospectus for that area, then they will come through and get funding. But there may well be more appropriate funding through ICF because of the slightly higher costs involved, obviously, in some of this specialist housing. And one of the things about bringing the social housing grant and ICF much closer together is that it allows us to help steer landlords towards the most appropriate funding route to make sure that we are meeting a much wider range of needs than just general needs.

Okay. Thank you very much. Let's move on then to Carolyn. Carolyn Thomas.

Okay, thanks. So, this is back to decarbonisation and housing standards. So, just really, how does the new budget allocation prioritise decarbonisation across all housing tenures and the aspiration for Wales to be net zero by 2050?

Yes, so, that's a really complicated issue, Carolyn. So, what we're doing is we're running out the optimised retrofit programme with our social housing providers. We have a number of them on board with that. What we're doing, as I think I said before in answer to you, is we're basically trialling a series of interventions and techs in each type of house. So, quite clearly, what suits a Victorian stone terrace halfway up a valley isn't going to suit a ranch house built in the 1970s in outer Swansea, for example. And we have a very, very large number of different types of housing and different aged housing in Wales.

So, what we're doing is, we're running a programme to make sure that we understand what best fits each type of house. And I think it was Sam who said that he lives in an old house; I live in an old house too, and I can tell you, because I've tried very hard, that it's very hard to find somebody who can advise you as to how to bring your home up the EPC ratings if you live in an older house. And so, what we're doing is we're trialling that, de-risking it for people and we're also doing it in conjunction with economy and education colleagues, so that we build both a knowledge database for what works, but also a skills database for the people who are skilled in putting in the equipment and interventions that matter. 

So, there's absolutely no point in putting an air-source heat pump into a house that's got a rubbish roof and no insulation. It literally will have no effect whatsoever and will drive your electricity prices up. So, you'll need to understand how to insulate that house properly, what would work for that house, whether solar-panelled battery storage might be better than that—all sorts of things. So, there are all kinds of things. 

We're bringing the learning across from our innovative housing programme as well. So, we've been running that for many years now and we know about those techs, whether they do what they said they would do, and we know what the houses look like, where they work the best. And that's going to be a real journey for us.

What we'll be doing as well is we'll be bringing the new Welsh housing quality standard to bear. So, once we know what works, we can start to roll that out with our social landlords. And again, as they did in the last one, they will over-skill the workforce and that workforce will become available in the private sector for people. Then, at that point, we will of course have to look at incentives—systems to assist homeowners to do that. It's an enormous amount of money across the piece.

Chris Jofeh's report made it very obvious that no Government alone could afford to do this. So, we'll be encouraging innovative solutions to that: things like—apologies, Chair, but to use my own constituency for a moment—Sero Homes in my own constituency, helping people to come together as a collective to put solar PV on roofs where they have the maximum coverage, putting battery storage into houses that have more space and then sharing out the electricity, both the purchasing of it at the cheapest possible rate and the storing of it and the distribution of it. So, there are many ways to crack this nut and we're looking at a whole range of them.

11:20

Thank you for the detailed response. Sorry, Chair, we're talking together.

No worries. Thanks, Carolyn. I think Sam just wants to come in quickly. Sam.

Thanks, Chair. I'm sorry to cut across your questions, Carolyn. It's just that my ears pricked up in terms of comments around the options around supporting the retrofit and decarbonisation of homes. I'm just wondering, with your previous hat on, Minister, whether you've considered linking council tax to the energy performance rating of properties, EPC, rather than property value, and whether there's merit to that in terms of incentivising people to carry out that work themselves, because obviously if it was linked to a council tax payment, there may be more of an incentive for people to want to retrofit their properties more quickly. So, it that something you're considering, and what impact it may have on driving the decarbonisation agenda on properties?

Yes, for sure. So, it's not something we're considering right now, because we're still at the beginning of the ORP programme, but absolutely we will have to look at both incentives and sticks to get people to move. And just to say as well that it's not going to be one thing you do to your house. You're not going to be able to get somebody into your house and have it fixed and that will be the end of it. Almost certainly, you'd have to do it in stages, so bring the insulation up to scratch and then look at the energy solutions and then look at the heating solutions—whatever. So, we're thinking there will be several iterations for many houses, so we'll have to calibrate incentives and sticks to that.

I'm really fascinated by—and if anybody can shed any light on this—why the private market isn't doing this. So, if you do spend the money to bring your house up to EPC A, it currently doesn't command any better price in the market, which I find completely fascinating—why doesn't it? Because, obviously, it brings your bills right down, and you'd expect it to command a premium price. But anyway, we will absolutely be looking at that, but we're not at that stage yet, because we're still at trialling what works and rolling the skills programme out.

Diolch, Gadeirydd, a diolch i'r Gweinidog a'r staff sydd yn yr adran am ddod yma ger ein bron y bore yma. Mae gen i nifer fawr o gwestiynau, felly cawn ni weld faint fyddwn ni'n mynd drwyddo. Fe wnaf i gychwyn efo diogelwch adeiladau, os caf i. Mae yna landlordiaid—. Rydych chi wedi sôn am ddarparu pres ar gyfer diogelwch adeiladau a sicrhau bod y gwaith atgyweirio yn cael ei wneud ac yn blaen. Mae yna landlordiaid wedi cysylltu â fi yn dweud eu bod nhw ar ddeall mai dim ond les-ddalwyr sy'n byw yn y fflatiau fydd yn derbyn y cymorth i ariannu'r ffaeleddau ar yr adeiladu methedig. Bydd y landlordiaid hynny sydd ddim yn byw yn y fflatiau ddim yn derbyn cymorth, yn eu hôl nhw. A fedrwch chi gadarnhau os ydy hynny'n gywir, os gwelwch yn dda?

A'r ail elfen efo diogelwch, mi fyddwch chi'n ymwybodol bod dros hanner y bobl ddaru ddioddef yn Grenfell wedi dioddef o ryw fath o anabledd neu'i gilydd. Felly, ydych chi'n meddwl bod y gyllideb yma sydd ar gyfer atgyweirio adeiladau fel yma am sicrhau bod pobl efo anableddau yn mynd i gael eu digolledi ac yn cael adeiladau mwy addas i bwrpas?

Thank you, Chair, and thank you to the Minister and department officials for appearing before us this morning. I have a number of questions, so we'll see how many we can get through this morning. I'll start with building safety, if I may. There are landlords—. You've talked about providing funds for building safety and ensuring that work is done to repair buildings. Landlords have contacted me to say that they understand that it's only leaseholders who live in the flats who will receive the support to fund repairs to deficient buildings. Those landlords who don't live in the flats won't receive support, according to them. So, can you confirm whether that is correct, please?

And the second element with regard to building safety, you will be aware that over half of those who suffered in Grenfell had suffered some kind of disability or other. So, do you believe that this funding that is available for the repair of buildings will ensure that people with disabilities will be compensated and have more appropriate buildings?

Okay. That's quite a complex set of things right there. So, we haven't made any decision about how the funding is going to be worked out yet, because we're in the process of doing the building passport system. At this point in time, we're still trying to figure out what's wrong with the buildings. We don't know that for every building. That's the whole point of the building passport system. We also aren't going to be able to just fix all of these things in one go. Some of these buildings have really complicated problems, which will require a number of attempts at remediation. Obviously, we need to understand what the worst cases are and put those right first and so on. So, there is no short-term fix to some of this.

I suspect the hare that's running about, on whether you can have the money if you live in the building or not, Mabon, is because I said in an interview that we have had some investors coming in and trying to buy the flats at very low cost, in the hope that public funds will make their investment good. That's a very different kettle of fish from somebody who is renting out a flat for their pension. So, you know, we haven't made any decision about that yet, but I suspect that's where that hare comes from, so you'll see that's a very different thing to saying that if you—. So, just to put that right on the record. I am very worried about unscrupulous investment companies taking advantage of people, buying their things at rock bottom and then hoping the public purse will make their investment good, if I'm honest, and we will be looking to see what we can do about that. But much more important is just to get the things corrected.

So, we're working on understanding in Wales what that looks like, assisting people to find that out, because just because you live in a high-rise building doesn't mean you're any expert in how the hell to do surveys about compartmentation or fire safety or anything else, so we're assisting people to do that, using some Government leverage to do that.

We've also announced the leaseholder support scheme, I think we're calling it, which is an option of last resort for people who are just desperate and need to sell, so that we can not have them falling into the hands of some of the more unscrupulous end of the investment market. So, the Government's prepared to help people out in that circumstance as well. We absolutely need to then have a look at what we've got, coming back from those surveys, and try and figure out how much money we're talking about and how best to tackle it.

So, you know as well as I do that we're all being shouted at on social media about how simple this is. Absolutely wouldn't it be lovely if that was so? But it isn't simple, and shouting at me that it is simple doesn't make it simple either. It isn't simple. And so, what we're doing, I think, is a very measured attempt to make sure that we put the leaseholders into the best possible position to protect their investments as well as make sure that their homes are fit for purpose and safe going forward.

In terms of adaptations, of course, we'll look at adaptations, but we won't be doing it as we go with building safety; building safety is much more about the kind of fabric of the whole building, the roof and walls and the communal spaces and so on, rather than the arrangement of the flats inside and so on. I think I've answered most of the elements of that.

11:25

Dwi'n meddwl bod hynna'n ateb y cwestiynau. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Weinidog. Ar dai cymdeithasol, wedyn, os caf i, rydyn ni wedi codi o'r blaen fod costau retroffitio yn mynd i fod yn anferthol, hynny yw, hyd at £15,000 y tŷ, ac yn y blaen. Dwi yn ymwybodol eich bod chi wedi gosod cap ar gynnydd rhent efo tai cymdeithasol i 3.1 y cant, ond eto, ydych chi'n meddwl bod y gyllideb rydych chi wedi ei neilltuo ar gyfer retroffitio yn mynd i fod yn ddigonol i alluogi cymdeithasau tai i hefyd fedru ailffitio'r tai sydd ganddyn nhw yn eu stoc heb gynyddu’r rhent i 3.1 y cant? Yn enwedig o ystyried bod nifer o'r bobl mwyaf bregus a thlotaf yn byw yn y tai yma, a fedran nhw ddim fforddio cynnydd arall yn eu rhent yn flynyddol.

I think that is a response to the questions that I asked. Thank you very much, Minister. In terms of social housing, if I may, we have raised before that the costs of retrofitting are going to be huge, up to £15,000 per house, and so on. I am aware that you have set a cap on rent increases for social housing for 3.1 per cent, but do you believe that the funding that you've allocated for retrofitting is going to be sufficient to enable housing associations to be able to retrofit the properties that they have in their stock without increasing the rent to 3.1 per cent? Bearing in mind that the most vulnerable and poorest people live in these homes, and they can't afford another increase in their rents annually.

So, absolutely. So, the social rent calculation is always a heartrending one, because we know that people are facing one of the biggest squeezes on their standards of living ever, really—in our lifetime, certainly—and it's a really careful balance, isn't it, between making sure that registered social landlords have the right income stream coming in, so that they can keep their properties up to standard, they can build the new ones that we want, they can do the adaptations that we need, and making sure that the people living in those houses can afford their rent. So, we have a number of schemes in place to assist people who need assistance with rent—just making sure that we bring that to people's attention—and so there are a number of schemes out there that you can apply to if your rent isn't covered by your universal credit or your welfare payments, and we make sure that we do that as well.

We also make sure that we have a conversation with the RSLs, ongoing, which makes sure that they do an affordability calculation while they look at what their rents are. So, I've made it absolutely clear to the sector that the rent cap is not a target; it is a ceiling. It's a little bit like the analogy of the motorway: just because the speed limit is 70 doesn't mean you have to drive at 70. It is a thing you shouldn't exceed, so it's exactly the same, we've said. Obviously, we do not expect you to just jack your rent up to the maximum allowed. You need to do a calculation about what the affordability envelope looks like for your tenants, and what your income stream needs to look like in order to build the social homes that we need, and to keep your housing stock in the condition it wants to be in, and we police that. So, I have difficult conversations where necessary, Mabon, to make sure that people aren't just regarding it as a cash cow, so to speak. But it's a very difficult one, isn't it?

It's a very difficult thing to calibrate, because we both want those social homes to be built, which we just had the discussion about and whether our target is even ambitious enough. Well, that money has got to come from somewhere. We've put the social housing grant into that, but the rest of it, of course, comes from the registered social landlords and the councils themselves. So, it's a very important calibration and a very difficult one to do.

11:30

Felly, rydych chi yn credu bod y gyllideb ar gyfer retroffitio yn ddigonol ar gyfer anghenion cymdeithasau tai.

So, you do believe that the budget for retrofitting is adequate to meet the needs of the housing associations.

For the moment, absolutely, but, of course, the whole point of ORP is to find out what works and how much it costs. So, as we go forward, we'll be able to look at that. We're still working on the announcement for the next stage of the Welsh housing quality standard as well, and part of the calculation for that will be how much money is needed to put into that, and over what time period, to bring the houses up to whatever the next iteration we want to have. They're up to EPC D now; will the next Welsh housing quality standard bring them up to B or A—whatever it is? That's part of the ongoing conversation, and part of that, of course, is understanding what would need to be done to the houses in order to get them there. So, this is an ongoing conversation. But we still have the money for the Welsh housing quality standard in the budget. That's an ongoing discussion I'm sure the committee will want to talk to us about going forward.

Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn, Weinidog. Os caf fi fynd ymlaen at bwynt arall ar adfywio. Rydych chi wedi rhoi cyllideb i mewn yno, dwi'n meddwl sydd i'w groesawu, o ran galluogi cymunedau i gael perchnogaeth ar adnoddau cymunedol—'greater stake' ydy'r term rydych chi'n ei roi arno fo. O ran y gyllideb yma, ydych chi'n medru sicrhau bod—? Er mwyn i'r gyllideb yma wneud gwahaniaeth go iawn, buaswn i'n meddwl bod angen newid deddfwriaeth yn rhywle. A oes yna fwriad gan eich Llywodraeth chi i newid deddfwriaeth er mwyn galluogi cymunedau i gael dweud a pherchnogaeth? Er enghraifft, rydyn i'n gweld yr achos yn nhafarn y Roath Park yng Nghaerdydd ar hyn o bryd lle mae'r awdurdod lleol yn dweud nad oes gyda nhw allu o gwbl i atal y Roath Park rhag cael ei daro i lawr, ond eto mae'r gymuned eisiau cael perchnogaeth. Neu, os edrychwch chi nôl ryw flwyddyn i achos capel Tom Nefyn ym Mhistyll lle roedd y gymuned yn awyddus i gael perchnogaeth ar hwnna, ond roedd e'n gorfod cael ei werthu yn y sector preifat. Oes yna unrhyw fwriad i addasu deddfwriaeth er mwyn clymu i mewn efo'r uchelgais amlwg yma sydd yn y ddarpariaeth ariannol yma er mwyn sicrhau bod cymunedau'n medru cael perchnogaeth go iawn ar eiddo cymunedol?

Okay. Thank you very much, Minister. If I can go on to another point on regeneration. You have allocated funding for that area to enable communities to take a greater stake in community resources, and I welcome that. In terms of this budget, can you ensure that this funding—? To make a genuine difference, I would perceive there to be a need for a change of legislation. Do you have an intention to enable that change of legislation in order to allow communities to have a say? We've seen, for example, the Roath Park pub in Cardiff, where the local authorities say that they have no ability to prevent that pub from being demolished, but yet the community wants to take ownership of it. And if you look back at Tom Nefyn chapel, where the community was eager to take ownership of that, but it did have to be sold in the private sector. Is there any intention to adapt or amend legislation to achieve this clear ambition to ensure that communities can have a stake in or take ownership of those properties? 

We have actually worked with some of the councils, Mabon, since some of those examples have been brought to our attention, to make sure that they do understand the powers that they have in existing legislation. I won't go into that now, but we have had extensive conversations with a number of councils about whether or not they were entirely accurate in saying they didn't have all of the levers that they had.

This is an area where councils have been stripped back over austerity and lost some of the skills that they need in order to be able to do some of these things. We've got our Transforming Towns priority to bring back town centres and premises into beneficial use. Underused or abandoned buildings can be CPO'd, basically—compulsory purchased—in order to bring them back into use, or if there's community use for them. We are committed to looking at the CPO regulations to make sure that all of the things we would want an authority to be able to CPO a building for are included in the purposes for which you can do that, including beneficial community use and so on. So, we're in the process of doing that as well. 

We've been working at some speed, actually, in Transforming Towns, with our local authorities to bring back those vacant spaces, vacant buildings, underused and derelict buildings into beneficial use, because we know that they can be—. Well, it can either be a beloved building, like some of the ones you've just talked about, or it can frankly be a real scar on the town and nobody can do anything about it. So, in both of those circumstances, we want to assist the local authority to be able to do that. I think I'm right in saying that the programme is over three years; Emma or somebody will remind me of how many derelict and unused buildings we are aiming to have included in that, I'm sure.

The whole point of this, Mabon, is to make our 'town centre first' policy come alive. This is to make sure that people have a stake and a say in a vibrant town centre policy. So, that's to bring more residential into the town centres, it's to bring other uses and retail into the town centres and it's to make sure that our buildings, especially our heritage buildings, are properly utilised as part of our community fabric. I don't know if Emma, Amelia or Stuart want to add anything; I'm not sure which one of them would.

Sorry, Minister. I think I'm off mute now—yes. Five hundred and ten is the number of buildings that we've got in our sights over the programme to bring into play. There are a couple of other things I'd add. There's a really vibrant conversation happening with colleagues across Wales about town centre regeneration, about how we join things up there. And I think that having the town masterplans that we'll be funding over the next few years as well in place will be a really significant move, enabling towns to look much more holistically and strategically at everything that's happening there, rather than looking from simply a retail or an economic viewpoint, but actually, looking in a much more holistic and joined up way so that actually, when investment goes into any part of a town, it is clear what part that plays in the long-term regeneration and future of the town and the space.

As you say, 'town centre first' is very much focused on living, learning and leisure, as well as retail within town centres, making it the first thing people think about when they're relocating and thinking about how we use the properties that we've got there and enhance the experience, and reflect on the changing nature of towns, which has been accelerated, particularly over the last two years, in terms of the different use that we're making of town centre space. So, there's an awful lot going on in this sector, and as you say, a big drive. We've been doing training with local authorities about how they use their enforcement powers for empty buildings to help them to see how they can use the current legislative framework to improve matters.

11:35

Okay. We're going to have to move on to Alun Davies. Our time is coming to an end. Alun.

Thank you. I'd like to follow on from Mabon, if I could. I read the Government's evidence on the regeneration programmes and I like it, I have to say; the narrative is something that I like. In terms of what you and Emma have described this morning, Minister, I think it follows on very well from that. You will be using the established programmes in terms of bringing empty properties into use and the rest of it, as, I presume, an anchor for other parts of these programmes, but my concern is—. I'd be interested to know if Emma could outline where in the budget the masterplans will be funded from—whether it's the revenue or the capital side. There's not much in revenue, so I assume capital, but there's not much in capital either; I think it's £100 million over three years, and £40 million there, which isn't a great deal of money. And one of the many Welsh diseases we suffer from is an absolute conviction that everybody must have a piece of jam. And the consequence is, of course—[Inaudible.]—done. You know, I could spend £100 million in my constituency on the regeneration of town centres, and I'm sure that you could as well, Minister. I'm interested, therefore, in what approach you will be taking. Will you be seeking to focus this on particular parts of the country, using a methodology that you can describe, or will you be spreading it thinly? Because I'm not convinced that you've got enough in the budget to make a significant impact if you try to give a little bit to everyone.

Absolutely, Alun. We could all spend £100 million, I'm sure, in a number of towns. So, this is not intended to be the only thing we spend in Transforming Towns; this is to assist our local authority partners to focus their investments as well. Local government has a pretty generous settlement again this year—quite rightly, in my view—

No, not in capital—capital is in short supply right across the entire piece. We've been, I would say, very much short-changed by the UK Government in terms of our capital budgets, absolutely. But they've got a generous revenue settlement, and the idea is to pull together investment from all partners—business partners as well as councils and us. My colleague the Deputy Minister, Lee Waters, who I'm sure the committee will want to speak to about some of the detail of this in another session, is in the process of reforming the various advisory groups we've got on regeneration and Transforming Towns. I'm sure that he'd be happy to talk to you about that once he's completed the exercise, and that is with a view to us taking evidence, Alun, on where our money is best focused and what the best interventions might look like in order to regenerate some of our city centres, and also some of our vibrant market towns, and indeed, our local shopping centres. 

We know that the pattern of retail has changed, we know that people like social spaces, we know that they like to live and work in places. So, this is about, as Emma said, bringing all of those elements back into what might've been rather empty retail spaces in the past, and seeing how we can transform them in that way. We're also very keen to get green infrastructure and a vibrant cafe culture going. Some of the things we've learnt during the pandemic have been really interesting—some of the street cafes and all of the rest of it that bring vibrancy to what were, I think, quite sterile spaces sometimes. So, he's in a process of doing that, and I'm sure he'd be very happy to come and talk to the committee about his work with some of those strategic groups.

11:40

I'm sure he would be, and we might invite him, although I think the economy committee takes a lead on some of these matters as well. But, in terms of the fundamental question I asked you, do we spread the jam thinly or do we concentrate it thickly, what's your instinct, Minister? Where do you sit on this? Because it's a fundamental question of approach in terms of what we want to achieve. Let me give you an example. You represent a city centre in Swansea, with a number of resources and significant private investment as well, and I represent probably the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of Blaenau Gwent. There will be private investment taking place in your part of the world that would never happen in Blaenau Gwent without significant public intervention. So, where would a Welsh Labour Government want to place its priority in terms of the funding it has available to it? And I understand what you said about other funds being available, by the way.

This is all about our place-making agenda, Alun. I do represent the city centre, absolutely, but my constituency is big enough to also represent a number of out-of-town pretty run-down shopping centres in some ways. So, this is all about how we get the community action to bring communities together for them to understand what their place needs to look like and what it needs to make it vibrant once more. The pattern of retail has changed, so you're not going to have your video superstore on the corner any more; what are you going to have? Are you going to have your coffee and reading venue, are you going to have your mum and toddler group? What are you going to have that attracts people into the offer that the regional shopping centre or, indeed, the city centre has? You know, what stops it being a clone town?

Part of what Lee is doing is bringing together a group of experts to assist us in getting our communities to come together and talk about their place. You'll know that our planning policy is aimed at this as well—Transforming Towns, 'city centre first'. The expert group is looking at what we can do about some of the out-of-town shopping centres that we've had grow up that have very definitely had an impact on some of the regional centres—what we do about transport to those, what we do about the effect they have on surrounding market towns and so on. So, this is quite a complicated piece. There's no simple answer to your question. My instinct is that we need to get people to understand that not everywhere can have everything.

In my own constituency, the city centre will have a large number of retail offers and so on that will not be possible in some of the local centres any more, because people just don't shop like that any more. So, what do people want in their local regional centre? Do they want a small fruit and veg offer, do they want social offers? What do they want? It's up to them, and I would very much like to see each place being able to come up with a plan for itself, so that we actually have a series of different villages and offers around Wales and not that no matter where you get off the bus, you feel like you're in the same place, which was slightly happening in other planning areas.

I think this is a real opportunity, the kind of change of the retail offer, to make once more pretty unique places around Wales that are worth attracting other visitors to, and that people might want to go for a day out to see what it really looks like in such-and-such a place. And that, I think, is the real opportunity. So, the groups that Lee is working with are to help us understand how to do that, how to get our communities together to understand what that looks like and how they can make those decisions, and then where best to target our funds as a result of that piece of work, in conjunction not only with our councils, but, of course, with our entrepreneurs and businesses, who we can then encourage with the right kinds of rent and rates policies and so on, to have different kinds of businesses.

The last piece on that I will say, before we finish, Chair, is that this is all about vibrancy, isn't it? So, bringing back to life the often empty flats and spaces above shops and so on, so that we have vibrancy in the city centres and town centres and regional shopping centres. Because, often, in the little villages around Swansea, if you look above the shop, you can see the two empty floors above the shop that's there. So, bringing those things back into use as various forms of housing, and community enterprise is a really big part of this as well. So, it's an ongoing piece of work, we're very interested in it, and I'm sure we'll be talking about it again in the future. 

11:45

Okay, I'm grateful to you for that, Minister. John, time is moving on, I do have one final question if we have time for that. In approaching the end of this session, Minister, I hope you will also recognise—and I know you will, because your background demonstrates that—that not all parts of Wales are equally well served by our local government structures, and that what is possible in terms of a local authority such as Swansea, Cardiff or Newport to deliver investment is not possible in places like Blaenau Gwent, or other places where you don't have the capacity to deliver in the same way. So, I hope Welsh Government will recognise that.

But, in terms of moving forward, I was absolutely delighted—I danced with joy, Minister—when I read your statement saying that the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 is going to be commenced in July. I sat for two years, I think, on the committee enacting that legislation two Senedds ago, so I was very pleased about that, and I think there are a number of different reforms there that are very important in terms of the overall structure. It would be useful for us to know—and we haven't got time to address it this morning; it's probably not appropriate—how you intend to ensure that the renting homes legislation, which will now be commenced, will fit in with other pieces of legislation that you wish to enact over this Senedd, to understand what the statutory and legislative framework will be in a few years' time. So, I'd be very interested in understanding that.

It might be useful for you to write to the committee, given the time constraints on us this morning, outlining what you believe are the lessons that the Welsh Government needs to learn from the last five years. Because wherever we sit, whether you're in Government or here in the Senedd, it hasn't been Welsh Government's finest hour, I suspect, we will conclude. It would be useful for all of us to understand, in terms of post-legislative scrutiny, why it's taken five years, and the lessons that we need to learn to make sure that any other legislation that's brought in front of this place doesn't take five years to be commenced.

Just before you come in, Minister, Mabon, did you want to quickly come in on those points?

Os caf i, ar y pwynt yna efo bod y Ddeddf newydd yn mynd i gael ei gweithredu o fis Gorffennaf ymlaen, mi ydyn ni'n gwybod bodd y ddeddf no-fault evicition bresennol, sydd ynghlwm â rheoliadau COVID, yn dod i ben ym mis Mawrth. Felly, beth ydy syniadau'r Gweinidog ynghylch beth sy'n mynd i ddigwydd rhwng mis Mawrth a chyflwyno'r Ddeddf rhentu ym mis Gorffennaf?

If I may, on that point, with the new legislation being implemented from July onwards, we know that the no-fault eviction legislation with regard to the COVID regulations will come to an end in March. What are the ideas that the Minister has about what will happen between March and the introduction of the renting homes Act in July?

Thanks. So, yes, I hope I'm not giving too much away for the team as well, but I think we all danced with joy when we finally got to the point of being able to announce that we were doing it. I don't want to count my chickens before they've hatched, or whatever the expression is, so we've got a number of pieces of secondary legislation to get through the Senedd. So, I'm hoping to persuade Members that passing those in good order will allow us to get this groundbreaking legislation finally implemented in Wales, and nobody could be more delighted than us to be finally in the countdown to doing that. We've managed to keep our stakeholders on board, and an enormous amount of work has gone into making sure—that's partly why we've had such problems implementing it—that it actually fits together with all the other legislation in a seamless way, and fits with our ambitions to transform the housing agenda in Wales later on in this Senedd term as well.

Just going briefly to Mabon's question, we will write to the committee with the outline for the renting homes implementation, Chair. We will be doing a lessons learned, but we won't be able to share that with you until we've done it, and, as I say, I don't want to count my chickens, so I want to actually get it implemented, and then I'll be very delighted to come back to the committee and discuss the lessons learned after that.

But, Mabon, we're working very closely with the sector to make sure that we have interim arrangements in place, both to keep our homelessness provision in place while we reform the housing Act provisions, and to make sure that we don't have any unintended consequences. So, we are working very hard to do that, but, in the nature of it, it's a sticking plaster while we get this implemented as fast as possible, just to be clear, because I haven't got any brilliant silver bullet to bring to bear on it. So, we have been working very closely with the sector to try and understand how we might put that sticking plaster in place. It's one of the only benefits that I can think of of the pandemic lasting so long, that we've managed to keep that protection in place. Bearing in mind how awful the pandemic has been for very large numbers of people, that is a very small silver lining.

But, yes, Chair, we're very happy to set out the implementation timetable for the renting homes Act. I'll share with you our delight that we're now in a countdown, and we can barely believe we're looking at the end of it. It is an absolutely radical, groundbreaking piece of legislation, but there are some lessons to be learnt in what was included in the primary legislation and why it's taken so long just to line it up for implementation, for sure. But we'll do that once we've actually got it implemented, if you don't mind, because we're currently concentrating on making sure that that actually happens.

Anyway, sorry, Chair, I think we've gone a little over time. I apologise, but it's been a pleasure to be here this morning. 

11:50

We have gone a little over time, Minister, but the committee's very grateful that you and your officials have been able to stay with us, so thank you very much for that. So, it just remains for me to thank you, Minister, and your officials for coming to give evidence to the committee today. Obviously, you'll be sent the transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Diolch yn fawr.

3. Papurau i’w nodi
3. Papers to note

Okay, then. The next item for committee today is item 3, papers to note. We have two. The first is a letter from the Minister for Climate Change in relation to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales report, 'Homelessness Reviewed: an open door to positive change'. And the second is another letter from the Minister in relation to housing matters raised by the National Residential Landlords Association. Is committee content to note both of those papers? Yes, okay. Thank you very much.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Item 4, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting. Is committee content to do that? Yes. Okay. We will move to private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:52.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 11:52.