Y Pwyllgor Craffu ar Waith y Prif Weinidog
Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister07/07/2023
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|David Rees MS||Y Dirprwy Lywydd, Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Deputy Presiding Officer, Committee Chair|
|Jack Sargeant MS|
|Jenny Rathbone MS|
|John Griffiths MS|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS|
|Mark Isherwood MS|
|Sam Rowlands MS||yn dirprwyo ar ran Russell George|
|substitute for Russell George|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Chris Warner||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Strategaeth a Pholisi, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director Transport Strategy and Policy, Welsh Government|
|Elin Gwynedd||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Gogledd Cymru, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director, North Wales, Welsh Government|
|Mark Drakeford MS||Prif Weinidog Cymru|
|First Minister of Wales|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Bethan Garwood||Dirprwy Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Mae hon yn fersiwn ddrafft o’r cofnod.
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. This is a draft version of the record.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor ym Mhrifysgol Glyndŵr Wrecsam, Wrecsam.
The committee met in Wrexham Glyndŵr University, Wrexham.
Good morning, and welcome to this morning's session of the scrutiny of the First Minister. Before we go on to our business, just a few housekeeping rules. Please ensure your mobile phones are either switched off or on silent. Simultaneous translation is available on our headsets. It's channel 1 for the translation, but, if you need amplification, that's channel 0. There are no scheduled fire alarms today, so, if one does take place, please follow the directions of the ushers and the staff at the university. Before we go into the business, I want to thank the university for hosting us this morning and for ensuring that, hopefully, our meeting will go well and smoothly.
We've received apologies from Russell George this morning, and can I welcome Sam Rowlands, who is attending in his place? Does any Member at this point wish to declare an interest? No. Okay.
Just to remind Members, our session this morning will focus on north Wales, and it will cover the full session. Can I welcome the First Minister to the meeting this morning? First Minister, do you want to introduce your officials for the record?
Bore da, Cadeirydd. Diolch yn fawr. So, gyda fi bore yma mae Elin Gwynedd, dirprwy gyfarwyddwr gogledd Cymru—swydd newydd i gefnogi Lesley Griffiths—a hefyd Chris Warner, dirprwy gyfarwyddwr trafnidiaeth, polisi a strategaeth.
Good morning, Chair. Thank you very much. Joining me this morning, we have Elin Gwynedd, deputy director of north Wales—a new post to support Lesley Griffiths—and I'm also joined by Christopher Warner, deputy director of transport strategy and policy.
Thank you. Before we go into the question session, we have a two-hour session, and we might have a five-minute break, a comfort break, if people require it, halfway through.
Okay. Let's go straight into questions, if that's okay. I'll start the first question, First Minister, and I suppose it's inevitable, as we're in north Wales, that we will want to question on the health service here. We all know that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board is in special measures. It was first put into special measures, I understand, in 2015, when you were health Minister. Your successor took it out of special measures. His successor has put it back into special measures. How confident, therefore, is the Welsh Government that we will now see a turnaround? Because we've seen this yo-yoing of in and out of special measures.
Well, I think we have to be optimistic about the capacity of the board to put right the things that need to be attended to. I think, in many ways, there is an obligation on leaders, whether they are health service leaders or political leaders, to offer hope to people in north Wales that the health service they provide can be put on a stable and reliable footing, and I think there is good cause for optimism. Here is a board that employs over 19,000 people, that serves a population of over 700,000 people. I think we're right to be optimistic that there is the talent, the commitment, the capacity to be found in north Wales to be able to manage the health services in ways that don't see that pattern of recent years, of recovery followed by a falling back into circumstances where special measures are needed. I think we're very fortunate to have secured the services of a new chair and a new chief executive who will now be committed to remaining in north Wales right through to the end of this financial year. I think they are already making a difference, not only in the actions they themselves are taking, but in the confidence they are giving to others that there is a pathway for the health board, as I say, to that more stable future, where it goes on providing the absolutely essential services that it does, in very successful ways in so many instances, every day in north Wales.
Okay. Thank you. Mark.
Diolch. Morning. Bore da. And obviously, in my case, and certain colleagues here, we need them to succeed, because we're patients and our families are patients. There's good with the bad, and I experience the good regularly. But, nonetheless, as Chair of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee, we've had a session I can't talk about this week with them to discuss the Ernst & Young report. We had a previous session in relation to our inquiry into public appointments with representatives of the former board members who were required to resign. They told us a number of things, which is all on the record, two of which I'll refer to: one was that they commissioned the Ernst & Young report, and that has since been corroborated, and, secondly, that they had kept in close touch with the Welsh Government and Welsh Government officials, that, last autumn, they had made specific, or expressed specific, concerns to Welsh Government regarding not the whole executive, but an element of the executive, and gave evidenced reasons for that, and that they'd received feedback that they shouldn't take any further action without Welsh Government giving them the green light. And then, to their surprise and concern, they were required to go, when the concern had been raised regarding the executive.
So that's ancient history; we've rehearsed it in the Chamber many times over what should or should not have been done and what different views were on this. But what consideration could you and your Ministers give to perhaps engaging with those former independent members, who are, and remain, respected people in north Wales, who have all held, or hold, senior positions in north Wales, and conducted themselves well in those positions, to obtain first-hand advice on the problems that they encountered and that they were taking action to deal with?
Well, Chair, let me try and put it like this: I agree with Mr Isherwood that we have extensively discussed the circumstances that led us to where we are today. I want to repeat what I have said a number of times in my correspondence with the former chair of the board, that nothing in the way in which actions were taken should be regarded as a reflection—an adverse reflection—on the many years of dedicated and successful public service that he and other members of the board have given. Matters ended in the way that they did for a complex set of reasons involving not simply non-executives, or, separately, executives, but often in the interaction between them, and the conclusion that those relationships had broken down to a point where it would've been impossible to repair them in a way that would have allowed the board to discharge its responsibilities effectively.
But I'm very keen to say again today that, in that complex set of affairs, I want to go on putting on record my appreciation of the service of those independent members. I think it is possible to capture their views. I have been in regular correspondence with the outgoing chair of the board, and he has set out in detail for me his understanding of, interpretation of, events, and I know that other former non-executive members have done the same. So, I don't think we're without the benefit of their views, and I'm very grateful to them for the trouble they continue to take in making sure that their experience is made available to us. In the end, we then have to take into account those views alongside a plethora of others, but we're not without the benefit of their experience.
Llyr, do you want a supplementary?
Just a short question, really: do you regret the way that their departure was handled by the health Minister?
I regret the circumstances that made that necessary. In those circumstances, I think the health Minister responded in the best way that she could and with proper regard for the impact that her actions would have on all of those who were affected by them.
I'll conclude because I know time is short, but the evidence we received was that the independent board members had good relationships with many of the members of the employed executive. Their concerns related—I won't name anybody—to an element within that that was causing the relationship breakdown. And I know you can't go into details of human resource arrangements currently, or processes currently ongoing, but nonetheless it was made clear to us in evidence and in subsequent written correspondence and evidence received from them that the breakdown didn't lie with them or with the executive as a whole, but with a certain clique. We struggle to understand why the independent members—without, according to them, any forewarning—were required to take the fall.
Well, Chair, what I have learnt is that there are many different perspectives amongst people around that single table as to why the board had become dysfunctional. And I hear and respect the views of the people who Mr Isherwood is reflecting, but it's just important to acknowledge, for me, that there are alternative views as to how circumstances had reached the point that they had. And in some ways, whatever the history and wherever different responsibilities lie, the information that the Minister had was, I think, irrefutable. She had independent advice from more than one source that the board was no longer able to discharge its responsibilities effectively, that there was no path to repairing the damage that had taken place in those relationships, and that the only course of action available to her was to set aside the board as it was then constituted and offer a fresh start with new people to shape the future for the board that we want to see. That is a very sad set of circumstances, and I'm absolutely sure that hurt has been caused to people who are caught up in them, but I don't think the Minister had any alternative, faced with the independent advice that she had that circumstances could not be allowed to continue as they were, and that a line had to be drawn and new people asked to take on those responsibilities.
I wanted to move us on to the role of the board in improving performance, because I think, in all this conversation, a lot of the good work that Betsi Cadwaladr does gets lost. For example, the cross-party group on women's health heard about the sector-leading approach to bereavement services for parents of stillborn and neonatal deaths, a service I don't think exists yet in other health boards. But I think, obviously, one of the biggest challenges for the board is improving on the performance of waiting times in the emergency department and waiting times for treatment. What we’ve learnt from Cardiff is that you’ve got to have a whole-system approach to your hospitals, so that only those who need to come into hospital come into hospital, and once they’re medically fit to leave, there’s already a plan in place for where the next destination is. So, I wondered what your assessment is of how well the three hospitals have a whole-system approach, and it’s everybody’s business, not just the emergency department.
Well, thanks to Jenny for that very important question. The special measures framework that has been agreed with the board, following the actions of the Minister, does set out a series of things that the board will now undertake in order to address some of the underlying problems that the board was experiencing, and of course, timely care in emergency and in elective care is fundamental to the framework.
Chair, I hope that one theme from this part of this morning will be a continued recognition that, while the challenges are very real, and the areas of difficulty absolutely must be addressed, there is, as Mr Isherwood said and as you have said, an enormous amount of very successful work that goes on every day, and that is true in elective work, certainly. We have seen nearly a 50 per cent drop in over-52-week waits for out-patient appointments in this calendar year, since December. Cancer waits in Betsi are amongst the very best in Wales, and always have been. So there’s a lot to build from.
The board has been to Cardiff recently to look at the way in which Cardiff has reduced waits for emergency care, and there is lots to learn from that whole-hospital approach. One of the things that always frustrated me when I was the health Minister was the way in which some hospitals have a disconnect between the pressures at the front door and everything else that the hospital does. The problems at the front door belong to everybody, not just the emergency department, and that’s the lesson that Cardiff has learnt. But I think there are lessons to learn between hospitals in north Wales as well. The performance in some parts of north Wales is better than others, and there should be a learning culture in which the board enables people to look at the good practice that already exists within the board, and then to make sure that the same things happen elsewhere.
So, I met the chief executive, the acting chief executive, and the new chair, last night, and heard directly from them about the way in which they want some of the lessons that they are seeing happening and making a difference in some parts of north Wales, but which are not yet as apparent in others of the three hospitals. So, there’s a job of work to be done in learning from others, but there’s a job of work to be done in learning from one another as well in that whole-system way. The response to these challenges doesn’t lie with individual strands within the service. If you’re going to tackle them, the whole system has to be behind the efforts that are needed.
My second question is: how well is social care working with healthcare? Because certainly friends of mine in north Wales are receiving excellent social care, with lots of continuity of care for people who have very high needs, but how well is social care working with hospitals to ensure that the day the patient arrives in hospital is also the day we start plotting their discharge?
Well, social care is under pressure in north Wales as it is absolutely everywhere. North Wales has a unique challenge in being a net importer of people later on in life. It continues to be somewhere where people from outside Wales regard as attractive to come and retire, so it has to deal with people who've grown up in north Wales and become elderly, and it has to find ways of providing services for people who come to live in this part of Wales later on in life. The same challenges that exist everywhere, of recruitment and retention in the sector, are as apparent here as they would be anywhere.
I was encouraged by what Dyfed Edwards, the new chair, said yesterday—and of course, he is very well placed, as a former council leader in north Wales for a decade, and a very highly respected council leader—on what he reported as being very strong links between the health board and the six social services departments. There's a real commitment from council leaders to play their part, and an offer, for example, to second into the board, for one day a week, a director of social services from each of the six local authorities, so that you have—. You know how difficult it can be to see the world from the other end of the telescope. Well, one way of doing that is to get people from the social care world to come and spend time inside the board as well, to see the issue from that perspective. But I think that there is, from what I was told, a very genuine commitment to making sure that social care plays its part, and some new practical actions to make sure that those systems work in support of one another, so that nobody stays in hospital longer than they need to, and of course that nobody comes into hospital in the first place when they could be equally successfully looked after at home.
Could I say—? Sorry, just to add to that, the leaders in north Wales are very keen to say how well they work together. They meet regularly. There's a cross-sector leadership group that meets regularly. The chief execs meet regularly. They really welcome Carol to the meetings. But social care is one of the things on top of their list to discuss, and they have already discussed it and intend to discuss it further. But they really wanted to stress how well they work across the whole six local authorities together.
Thanks, Chairman, and thank you, First Minister, for being in north Wales. It's always appreciated. As you will know, I have only been in the Senedd for two years. There are much more experienced heads around this table. But one of the things that struck me in this context, talking about Betsi and, perhaps, health services generally, is this mixing between responsibility and accountability—who is responsible for things and who is then accountable for things? I just wondered, within the context of Betsi, how you would see responsibility and accountability and the delivery of those two areas.
Well, I think that it's a good question, Chair, and I think that it is, in some ways, a more difficult question in a small country. I think, actually, that on paper, it's not difficult to be clear about that. We have powerful boards with delegated responsibilities for the services that they provide. They have very large budgets in doing so, and publicly appointed chairs and boards. They are both responsible and they are accountable. And then they are accountable as well to the Minister, and the Minister's responsibilities are to ensure that funding is provided for boards, and that boards are held to account for the way in which they implement the key policy decisions that are made by the Senedd.
I genuinely believe that Ministers get asked questions on the floor of the Senedd that an English Minister would never be asked, because nobody would expect an English Minister to have a day in, day out understanding of what goes on at a ward level in hospitals in a country as large as England. But on paper, the responsibilities are the same. It's just that in a small country, the Minister is often asked questions about things that really belong at that board, at the health board and with the people who are responsible at that level.
So, just to follow up on that, Chairman, if I may. I guess that part of the criticisms that took place with regard to the actions of Betsi earlier this year was residents coming to me, feeling as though the Government, or the Minister, wasn't willing to be accountable for the delivery of some of those services and the outcomes for patients. So, I wonder if you would consider that to be a fair criticism, of not being willing to be held to account for outcomes for patients, and if it is not a fair criticism, how will you reassure my residents that, as elected Members and as Government, you are willing to be held to account for the outcomes that my residents want to see, day in, day out?
I think Ministers in Wales are accountable. Here we are, today, in north Wales answering questions, and the Minister answers questions week after week on the floor of the Senedd about health services in every part of Wales. There is a difference between being accountable for the things that lie directly in the hands of the Welsh Government and for which Ministers are responsible to the Senedd, and the day in, day out discharge of on-the-ground services that are in the hands of health boards, their executives, their non-executive members. That line is often blurred in Wales.
As I say, I think it's an inescapable component of being a country the size that we are, but I think Ministers are often asked questions at a level of specific detail about what goes on in a particular service in a particular place, where Ministers are not directly responsible for those things. Ministers are responsible for ensuring that the health service has the policies that the Senedd endorses, that there is funding for the health service to discharge those responsibilities, that there are people in place who are competent to discharge the responsibilities that lie legally at the board level, and then the board must be accountable for the way in which it discharges its legal functions.
Can I have a really quick follow-up to that, Chairman? I'm pushing it a little bit—
You are, sometimes.
I know. But just in terms of that blur you described, do you think we'd benefit in having less blur there, and if there was less blur, how would you create that?
I don't think it's possible. I have seen Ministers in the past who were put up to answer questions on the floor of the Senedd by saying, repeatedly, 'That is the responsibility of Hywel Dda health board.' 'That is the responsibility of Aneurin Bevan health board.' 'That is the responsibility—.' And they were right. There is no doubt that that is where the responsibility lay, but, in a place like Wales, that is not sustainable as an answer by Ministers. So, Ministers get drawn into answering for things for which I think, in a different context, they would not be expected to answer for. It's inevitable, I think, and you can try to make it a strength of our system, as well as sometimes leading to confusion about where responsibility genuinely lies.
You answered a part of the question saying responsibility is financial responsibilities, and I understand that there is an expected overspend in Betsi of over £100 million. But this is not the only health board in Wales that has a projected deficit in the coming months and years. It clearly has major financial implications at a time when finance is difficult. How is the Welsh Government planning to ensure that health services are not going to suffer as a consequence of the financial challenges ahead of it?
This is going to be a very difficult few months ahead in trying to do just that. Every single health board in Wales is reporting a significant inability to live within the budgets that the Senedd voted for them only three months ago. Now, I don't think that's to be taken by surprise, because their budgets are, in real terms, worth 10 per cent less than they were this time last year, because of the impact of inflation on those budgets. We've had very, very difficult rounds of pay negotiations with our staff in Wales, and the impact of those decisions has to be, at least in part, absorbed by health boards. What successive Governments have done at the Senedd is to prioritise spending on the health service. So, the health service takes over half of everything that the Welsh Government spend, and that's been a rising percentage of a falling quantum for more than a decade. We will continue to do what we always do, which is to assist health boards to try to reduce those deficits themselves. One of the sources of expert advice to the board is a former director of finance at NHS Wales level. So, the board in Betsi has access to some of the best possible advice in this area, and in the end, it will be a decision for the Welsh Government as to how we manage the pressures on the health service within the resources available to the Welsh Government for everything that we do. But that's what we've done every single year.
Llyr, do you want to add anything?
Dim ond un cwestiwn. Penderfyniad y Llywodraeth oedd rhoi'r bwrdd mewn i fesurau arbennig. Fel y clywsom ni ar y cychwyn, mae hynny wedi digwydd yn y gorffennol, ond ddim, efallai, wedi cael yr effaith drawsnewidiol y byddem ni'n ei obeithio. Maen nhw'n ôl mewn mesurau arbennig, felly beth sy'n rhoi hyder i chi fod pethau'n wahanol y tro hwn? Beth ŷch chi'n ei wneud i sicrhau bod y bwrdd yn cael y gefnogaeth maen nhw ei angen y tro hwn, oedd ddim wedi gweithio y tro diwethaf?
Just one question. It was the Government's decision, wasn't it, to place the board in special measures. As we heard at the beginning, that's happened in the past as well, but perhaps it didn't have the transformative impact that one would wish. They're back in special measures, so what gives you confidence that things are different this time? What are you doing to ensure the board receives the support it needs this time, that didn't work last time?
Y gobaith yw ein bod ni wedi dysgu gwersi mas o’r profiadau y cawson ni y tro diwethaf yma yn y gogledd. Rŷn ni'n treial tynnu i mewn hefyd y gwersi sydd yna yn Lloegr, hefyd, lle mae mwy nag 20 o fyrddau iechyd—dydyn nhw ddim yn eu galw nhw'n fyrddau, wrth gwrs—yn yr un lle, ac mae lot o brofiadau yna nawr i'n helpu ni i wneud pethau y tro yma mewn ffordd sydd yn mynd i helpu'r bwrdd i lwyddo.
Mae nifer o bethau yn y pecyn o bethau ŷn ni wedi ei rhoi at ei gilydd: pethau i greu bwrdd newydd gyda’r sgiliau sy'n angenrheidiol i'r bwrdd, i roi ymgynghorwyr arbenigol i helpu'r bwrdd, fel y dywedais i, ym maes cyllid, i helpu pobl i ddelio gyda problemau rhestrau aros, ac yn y blaen, a hefyd i fod yn glir gyda'r bwrdd beth ŷn ni eisiau iddyn nhw ei wneud, yn glir am beth ŷn ni'n gofyn iddyn nhw i'w wneud, yn glir gyda nhw ar yr amserlen sydd yna, ffordd i fynd ar ôl beth ŷn ni wedi rhoi ar waith, a chydweithio—cydweithio gyda phobl leol.
Un o’r pethau dwi'n meddwl sy’n angenrheidiol os ŷn ni'n mynd i greu dyfodol i'r gwasanaethau yn y gogledd sy'n dderbyniol yw i'w wneud e trwy dyfu'r sgiliau mewnol, nid bob tro yn meddwl mai'r ffordd i'w wneud e yw i ffeindio rhywun tu fas o'r bwrdd i ddod i mewn—heroic leaders. Dwi ddim yn meddwl bod hwnna'n mynd i lwyddo; y ffordd orau yw i ffeindio ffordd i dyfu pobl sydd yma yn barod, sy'n mynd i aros fan hyn am y tymor hir, a chreu'r posibiliadau newydd iddyn nhw i wneud y cyfraniadau maen nhw eisiau gwneud ac yn gallu gwneud i helpu'r bwrdd am y dyfodol.
The hope is that we've learnt lessons from the experiences we've had in the past here in north Wales. We are trying also to draw on the lessons that can be learned from England, where more than 20 health boards—they don't call them health boards, of course—are in the same position, and there is a great deal of experience that we can draw on there, too, to help us to do things this time in a way that will help the board to succeed.
There are a number of things in the package that we've put together that will create a new board with the skills necessary in order to provide specialist consultants to assist the board, as I said, in the area of finance, in assisting them to deal with the problems of waiting lists, and so on and so forth, and also to be clear with the board in terms of what we want them and expect them to do, to be clear of what we're asking of them, to be clear on the timetable that is in place, and how they should pursue our objectives, and to collaborate—to collaborate with people at a local level.
One of the things that I think is essential if we are to create a future for services in north Wales that is acceptable is that we do that by developing the internal skills, not always thinking that the way to do this is to find someone from outside the board to come in, not looking for heroic leaders. Because I don't think that'll succeed; the best way is to find a way to develop people who are already in place, who will remain here in the long term, and will create new possibilities for them to make those contributions that they want to make, and are able to make, to help the board for the future.
First Minister, you were talking earlier about health services, and how it isn't one particular strand within the health service that has responsibility for a particular aspect of service, that you have to see it as a whole. It's very difficult, I think, with health, isn't it, in north Wales—or anywhere else, really—to think beyond the short term, because the pressures are so immense coming at the service, and obviously, they have to be dealt with, that it's difficult to take the view that the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 would want—a longer term view that is more preventative, for example. And yet I think we know that just as one strand of the health service doesn't have the answers in itself, health and social care haven't got the answers in themselves either—it's about housing, it's about education; it's about all aspects of the way that we live. So, even in the midst of the financial difficulties and the short-term pressures that Betsi and north Wales and the rest of Wales face, we have to somehow get to that wider agenda if we're not going to be always firefighting and coping with the short-term pressures. Difficult though it is, I wonder what your thoughts are in terms of the sort of progress we're making here in north Wales particularly on that front.
Again, in the theme about wanting to have some optimism about the future here in north Wales, two of the strengths that I've always thought the service in the north possessed were the strength of its primary care services and the strength of its public health tradition.
When I was the health Minister, we were seeing some very real stresses and strains in primary care. They're still there—I'm not trying to say that it's all gone away. There are recruitment issues in primary care in parts of north Wales, but on the whole, people in north Wales, I think, are incredibly fortunate to have the quality and calibre of primary care that they do. There are GPs, and the teams that work with them in every part of north Wales, who are utterly dedicated to the communities that they serve, to the populations that they serve. They are there for the long run; they know their patients in that way that in some of the more urban parts of south Wales that model no longer quite applies in the same way. I think the fact that there is that quality of primary care and the developments that the health board has led, which have been things copied in many other parts of Wales—moving away from a sole emphasis on GPs to that primary care team model; the Prestatyn model, as it's sometimes called—that's another big plus for north Wales.
And its public health tradition has always been—. It's a strong tradition in Wales, but it's also always been really strong in north Wales. North Wales has, for example, always got the best vaccination rates of any part of Wales. Its vaccination rates for children under the age of five—the measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations—lead the pack in Wales. It has always been at the top of the list for vaccinations of Staphylococcus aureus, against flu and things. So, on some of that public health and preventative stuff that John Griffiths was referring to, I think north Wales has always more than pulled its weight. In its smoking cessation services, there's been more innovation and imagination in Betsi than you would find in many other parts of Wales.
I think I heard briefly on the radio that the health board has put out something today to its whole population saying that if you want the services that you have to be able to attend to unavoidable harm, then every one of us has got to do more to make sure that harms that genuinely can be avoided are avoided. I feel often, Chair, when I read stuff in the media about difficulties in A&E departments and the length of time people are having to wait, and then you look at the percentage of people who end up in an A&E department because they have drunk too much—it is shockingly high. The people who we rely on to work in A&E departments spend an awful lot of their time responding to harm that need never have happened. It's the people who work there who seem to get the blame when those pressures become very hard to manage. And I don't want to blame anybody, because I don't think it's a sensible way of conducting public discourse on this, but responsibility is shared amongst everybody.
If we want the health service in north Wales, and elsewhere, to be able to go on responding to those people who fall ill for reasons that they themselves can do nothing about, then every one of us has to do some things to relieve the health service of the burden it carries of people who end up needing its help for reasons that were avoidable. And that's not just alcohol misuse; it's the whole obesity agenda, the diabetes agenda. It is a co-production agenda, if I can use a term that Mark Isherwood has very consistently advocated for on the floor of the Senedd. It is a partnership between the service and the population it serves, in which the population doesn't believe that we can all behave as we like and, the minute it all goes wrong, it becomes the responsibility of somebody else.
Thank you, First Minister. I want to move on from this. We could spend two hours easily on health services in north Wales, but we have some other questions. We may come back to the health service in those, as some of them are linked to health services, dentistry and community pharmacies. Llyr.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Os caf i symud at ddeintyddiaeth a gofyn ichi efallai sut y byddech chi'n disgrifio cyflwr y gwasanaeth deintyddol yn y gogledd, oherwydd mae'n bosibl eich bod chi wedi fy nghlywed i'n dyfynnu ffigurau ac ymchwil sydd wedi cael ei wneud yn fy swyddfa i. Rydym ni wedi siarad â 97 y cant o bractisys deintyddol ar draws y gogledd; dim ond 11 y cant o'r rheini oedd yn dweud eu bod nhw'n cymryd cleifion NHS ar hyn o bryd, naill ai am eu bod nhw wedi symud yn breifat neu oherwydd bod eu llyfrau nhw'n llawn. Felly, beth ydych chi'n ei wneud i wella mynediad at wasanaethau deintyddol NHS yn y gogledd?
Thank you, Chair. If I can turn to dentistry and ask you, perhaps, how you would describe the state of dental services in north Wales, because perhaps you've heard me quoting figures and research that has been undertaken by my office. We spoke to 97 per cent of dental practices across the north; only 11 per cent of those said that they are taking on NHS patients at the moment. Either they've moved into private practice or their books are already full. So, what are you doing to improve access to dental services in the NHS in north Wales?
Mae'r sefyllfa yn heriol, fel mae wedi bod ac yn mynd i fod am sbel i mewn i'r dyfodol hefyd. Ond, rydyn ni yn gwneud nifer o bethau i drio ymestyn y gwasanaeth iechyd deintyddol i bobl yma yn y gogledd. Rydyn ni wedi newid y contract. Mae hwnna'n bwysig. Dwi'n siŵr, pan fyddech chi'n siarad â phobl mas yn y maes, maen nhw'n dal i fod bach yn bryderus am y contract newydd, ond mae'r mwyafrif helaeth o bobl wedi trosglwyddo nawr i'r contract newydd, ac mae miloedd o bobl wedi cael triniaeth ar yr NHS yn y maes deintyddol ar ôl y newidiadau.
The situation is challenging, as it has been and as it will be into the future. But, we are doing a number of things to try to extend dental services for people here in north Wales. We've changed the contract, and that's important. I'm sure, when you speak to people on the ground, they are still a little concerned about the new contract, but the vast majority have now transferred over to the new contract and thousands of people have received NHS treatment in the dental sector following the introduction of those changes.
Across the whole of Wales, we had hoped that the new contract would lead to 112,000 people being newly able to access dental services; it was actually 174,000 people at the end of the year—so, a very significant overachievement as a result of contract reforms—and 33,000 people in north Wales had access to NHS dentistry who would not have had it had the contract reform not happened. And there's more to be obtained as that contract moves into its second year and we develop it, as I'm very keen to do, in conversation and in agreement with the British Dental Association and other interested parties.
We are putting more money into dentistry, but that is not the whole story, as I'm sure Members here know, because the problem is one of recruitment, not just of investment. But there is more money, and there's more money in the north. And my own belief—I'm sorry, you've heard me preach this already, so I won't do it for long—is that the real solution to the problems facing dentistry across Wales is to be found in the diversification of the workforce and making maximum use of the clinical skills of those people who work alongside the dentist themselves. We've had some success in recent weeks in changing the regulations. Up until April of this year, only a dentist could open and close a course of treatment. If you were a hygienist, a therapist or a technician, you were not legally allowed to do that, yet we know that 70 per cent of what a dentist does can be clinically successfully carried out by other members of that team, freeing up the dentist to do the things that only a dentist can do. And that's the future I want to see.
I want to see us investing more in increasing the supply of that wider membership of the dental team, with those people doing the things that they can do under the supervision of a dentist—I think that is important, that there should always be a dentist as part of a team. So, if you are a technician and you come across a problem that turns out to be more complicated than was anticipated, there's always somebody at hand that you can call on. But those high volume, relatively straightforward things that can be done in dentistry ought to be done not by the most expensive, the most highly qualified person in the room. That is absolutely, I think, wasteful of their skills and leads to a diminution in the level of service available. I saw that Mr Sunak got in a bit of trouble this week by saying that the future of dentistry wouldn't depend on dentists, but actually he was right. I think he was simply saying what I've been trying to say for quite a long time—that the focus on dentists, the narrow sense of dentists, as the solution to dentistry won't get us to where we want to get to. And it's why, in the dental academy and some of the other things that we're trying to do in Wales, we have a focus now on increasing the training places, the capacity in, as I say, that diversified set of skills that I think, over a period of time, not absolutely immediately, but you're not talking many years, if you can train other members of the dental team in two years or three years, not the five and six years it takes to train a dentist, that will start to make a real difference in availability and access to NHS dentistry.
Dwi'n meddwl, Gadeirydd, mai dyna'r tro cyntaf erioed i fi glywed y Prif Weinidog yn dweud bod Rishi Sunak yn iawn. Fyddwn i'n synnu os byddwch chi'n gwneud habit o hynny, a dweud y gwir. Ond na, hynny yw, jest yn ôl at y gwaith dwi wedi'i wneud, achos mae'r here and now, wrth gwrs, yn ddifrifol. Licien i wybod sut rŷch chi'n teimlo pan ŷch chi'n clywed ystadegau fel bod hanner y deintyddion y gwnaethon ni siarad â nhw ddim yn gallu cymryd plant ar hyn o bryd, bod gyda ni sefyllfa lle mae pobl yn cysylltu gyda fi—. Mae yna un person wedi cysylltu gyda fi yn dweud eu bod nhw wedi cael eu gorfodi i fynd yn breifat oherwydd bod yna ddim deintydd NHS o fewn cyrraedd iddyn nhw, ac maen nhw wedi gorfod trwsio eu dannedd eu hunain. Roedd crown wedi dod i ffwrdd:
I think, Chair, this is the first time that I've heard the First Minister say that Rishi Sunak is right. I'd be surprised if you make a habit of that. But just going back to the work that I've undertaken, because the here and now, of course, is a very serious situation. I'd like to know how you feel when you hear statistics such as the fact that half the dentists that we spoke to can't take on child patients at the moment, that we're in a situation now where people are contacting me—. One person has contacted me to say that they've been forced to go private because there is no NHS provision in reach for them, and they've had to treat their own dental issues. A crown had come loose:
'I fixed it myself with dental glue bought on Amazon.'
Nid gwasanaeth iechyd yw hwnna ond deintyddiaeth do-it-yourself, a dyw hynny jest ddim yn dderbyniol, ydy e?
That isn't a health service, but do-it-yourself dentistry, and that isn't right, is it?
Na, dim o gwbl. Wrth gwrs, dydy neb yn fodlon i weld pobl yn meddwl mai hwnna yw'r unig ffordd iddyn nhw gael y driniaeth mae'n rhaid iddyn nhw ei chael. Y broblem sylfaenol sydd gyda ni yw dydy'r bwrdd iechyd a'r gwasanaeth iechyd ddim yn ariannu pobl sy'n gweithio yn y maes yn uniongyrchol. Busnesau ydyn nhw, ac mae dewisiadau gyda nhw. Dydyn ni ddim yn gallu dweud i bobl sy'n gweithio yn y maes, 'Mae'n rhaid ichi weithio i'r NHS'. Dydy hi ddim yn gweithio fel yna. Dwi'n meddwl bod mwy bydd yn rhaid inni i gyd ei wneud yn y dyfodol, a dwi ddim yn mynd i ganmol y Prif Weinidog am bopeth.
No, of course not. Nobody wants to see people thinking that that's the only way they can access the treatment that they need. The fundamental problem we have is that the health board and health service doesn't fund people working in this area directly. They are businesses and they have choices to make. We can't tell people working in dentistry that they have to work for the NHS. That's not how it works. I think there is more that we will all have to do in the future, and I'm not going to praise the Prime Minister for everything.
It's not habit forming.
Ond clywais i ef yn dweud y bydd rhaid i ni, yn y dyfodol, gael mwy o fargen rhwng pobl sy'n cael eu hyfforddi, ble mae'r cyhoedd yn talu am yr hyfforddiant, i gael mwy o fargen gyda nhw i weithio i'r NHS am sbel ar ôl i'r hyfforddiant ddod i ben. Dwi eisiau gweld mwy o hynny yng Nghymru hefyd.
So, yn y tymor byr, mae pethau rŷn ni yn trio eu gwneud, ac mae'r bwrdd iechyd yma yn y gogledd yn gwneud lot o bethau i dynnu mwy o bobl i mewn i'r maes, i berswadio pobl sy'n rhoi gwasanaethau deintyddol yn y gwasanaeth iechyd i wneud mwy, i greu mwy o bosibiliadau. Mae popeth rŷn ni'n ei wneud yn y dental academy ym Mangor i roi mwy o gyfleon i roi triniaeth i bobl. Ar ôl y tymor byr, fel dywedais i, mae pethau mwy sylfaenol bydd yn rhaid i ni eu gwneud, i ail-greu'r ffordd rŷn ni'n meddwl am y gwasanaeth deintyddol am y dyfodol.
But I did hear him say that, in the future, we will have to have a deal struck between people who are being trained, where the public essentially pay for that training, that there has to be more of a contract with them so that they do work for the NHS for a certain time once that training comes to an end. I want to see more of that happening in Wales too.
So, in the short term, there are things that we are doing, and the health board here in north Wales is doing a number of things to draw more people into the area, to persuade people who provide dental services within the NHS to do more, to create more possibilities. There's everything that we're doing in the dental academy in Bangor in order to provide more opportunities for treatment. After the short term, there are more fundamental things that we will have to do to redesign the way we think about the dental service for the future.
Jest un cwestiwn i orffen, te. Roeddech chi wedi sôn am yr academi ddeintyddol. Mae yna alwadau wedi bod am ysgol ddeintyddol newydd yn y gogledd. Mae'r Gweinidog iechyd wedi dweud bod hwnna yn apelio ati. Beth yw eich barn chi ynglŷn â'r prospect neu'r awgrym yna?
Just one final question to conclude, then. You talked about the dental academy. There have been calls for a new dental school in north Wales. The health Minister has said that that appeals to her as an idea. What's your view on that being established?
Clywais i beth ddywedodd Eluned Morgan, so dwi'n siŵr bydd hi'n mynd ati nawr gyda'r bobl ym Mangor a dros y gogledd i weld os mae'n bosibl i greu ysgol ddeintyddol yn y dyfodol. Mae'n ddiwrnod pwysig heddiw, Gadeirydd, achos mae'r General Medical Council yma ym Mangor heddiw yn gwneud y cam nesaf yn y broses o greu ysgol feddygol yma yn y gogledd, ac mae hwnna'n gam pwysig dros ben yn y llwybr i greu'r ysgol feddygol. Ar hyn o bryd, dwi'n meddwl bydd dwylo'r brifysgol yn eithaf llawn i fynd ar ôl y cynlluniau sydd gyda nhw i greu ysgol feddygol, ac i dynnu popeth mas o'r academi ddeintyddol. Yn y dyfodol, fel mae'r Gweinidog wedi'i ddweud, mae diddordeb gyda ni fel Llywodraeth, a dwi'n siŵr bydd diddordeb gyda nhw hefyd. Ond mae eu dwylo nhw yn eithaf llawn ar hyn o bryd gyda'r pethau sydd ar y gweill ar hyn o bryd, so cawn ni weld.
I heard Eluned Morgan's comments, and I'm sure that she will now work with people in Bangor and across north Wales to see if it would be possible to create a dental school for the future. Today is an important day, Chair, because the General Medical Council is in Bangor taking the next step in the process of creating a medical school here in north Wales, and that's a very important step in the process of developing a dental school. At the moment, I think the university will have its hands full in pursuing the plans they have to create a medical school, and to make the most of the dental academy. Now, in the future, as the Minister has said, we as a Government, and, I'm sure, that the people in Bangor will also be interested in making progress. But they do have their hands full at the moment with things that are already in the pipeline, so we'll have to wait and see.
I just want to go back to the dental contract, because I was astonished to hear the dentists' trade union kicking back on what Rishi Sunak said. Why are we spending NHS resources, which are scarce, on training dentists, and then, not having a commitment by these people to give service to the NHS who's paid for their training? What is the indenture time for dentists? Is there any requirement for them to stay in the NHS, and if not, why? Why do we not ensure that they have to give service to the NHS for the number of years that they've taken to train?
Well, at present, Chair, as far as I'm aware, there is no obligation on someone who has gone through that training, largely, and significantly, at public expense, and quite certainly, using all those public facilities for their training placements and so on, to give anything directly back at the end of it. Now, I don't think that is a sufficiently strong bargain for the public. You have to do it sensitively, you have to think of how long it would be reasonable to expect somebody to work. You have to think about people whose circumstances change—all of that, I understand.
But we're absolutely used to it, and we've been used to it for many, many years. In what seems like a very long time ago indeed, Chair, when I took the Home Office's shilling to train as a probation officer, there was a choice—I could have trained to be a generic social worker, or I could train to be a probation officer. And if I chose to be a probation officer, the Home Office paid me—modestly—but they paid me in order to do that. And the bargain was that, at the end of the two years, I had a generic qualification, it allowed me to practice social work in mental health, with older people, with children, but the deal was, if I took the money, then I had to use that qualification to work in the probation service. Now, I understood that bargain. It was expected I would do it for around two years; I did it for 10. So, they didn't get a bad return. But it's not an approach to training that is unfamiliar in other areas, and, as I say—
Will you look at it, then?
Yes, we will absolutely look at it, and it's been looked at elsewhere.
I hope this is capable of a short answer, Chair. It's just on children's teeth and ensuring that they have healthy teeth, First Minister, and the links between schools and the dental profession, and whether we can be confident, really, that, right across all our schools, those links are there, so that the preventative measures that can be taken to help protect young people's teeth—that work is taking place.
Well, it is, Chair; I can give you that assurance. The Designed to Smile scheme is recovering fast from the pandemic. There is preventative work being done in dentistry, at a much higher rate with children, partly, I believe, as a result of the contract and the way that it enables dentists to be remunerated for preventing dental problems rather than responding to them afterwards.
And colleagues here will be aware of the pilot that is being carried out in Blaenau Ffestiniog, at a secondary school level, where a mobile dental facility is now working in a school—a secondary school—providing services to those young people on the spot, so that we recapture their enthusiasm for self-care, which was inculcated in the very early years when they first went into school. And, as we know, in teenage years, some of those things have a bit of a tendency to fall off, and we will look very carefully at whether that experiment—taking dental services directly to young people in those teenage years—has the beneficial effect that we hope it will, and north Wales will have been in the lead with that.
Sam, final question on dentistry.
Yes, thank you, Mr Chairman. And just a brief point, really, similar to Llyr, in terms of the research undertaken with dentists in north Wales. I call around the dentists in north Wales, because I personally don't have a dentist, and neither do my children. NHS dentists—we can't get hold of one, basically. And what struck me about that process was the fact that, first of all, as an individual, I was having to call around every single dentist. And then, secondly, having to put my name on waiting lists. So, as well as Llyr’s point that a small percentage is open to NHS spaces, actually, of that percentage, the vast majority are just on a waiting list, and you're warned that it's two or three years until you will get to see a dentist.
So, it just struck me that, one simple step that may improve the whole thing is perhaps a centrally held list of those people who need a dentist, and then pointing those people, when a space becomes available, to dentists that are available. It seems bonkers to me that you've got probably thousands of people ringing round 50 or 60 dentists on a very regular basis, all with probably their name on waiting lists in multiple dentists. So, I was wondering if that's something you'd be willing to commit to, to look at the opportunities in some of the basic admin and systemic issues around how people can access those dentists in north Wales, and perhaps in Wales as a whole.
Well, a small piece of good news for Mr Rowlands is that this was a recommendation of the health committee's inquiry into dentistry. The recommendation was accepted by the Welsh Government, and some significant work is being done, which I think now is getting us quite near to fruition as to how we can create a consolidated waiting list so that people don't end up—. Like any one of us, I have people come to see me, in a local constituency capacity, who describe exactly that—constantly phoning around, where a consolidated waiting list, a single waiting list would allow the whole business to be done at least more efficiently, even if it doesn't, by itself, create more capacity.
And Mark, your last question on community pharmacy.
Yes, thank you. Sort of touching over—. I'll get straight into the key question. It's 11 years since the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Medical Association and the North Wales Local Medical Committee started warning about the crisis in GP primary care practices, which they reinforced again last week in north Wales. One of the responses to that has been to widen the services that community pharmacies can offer. We've got a growing number of community pharmacies offering independent prescriber services. However, in a recent meeting I had with Community Pharmacy Wales, they spoke about the primary care electronic prescribing service, which is coming down the road, and their concern that this will move prescriptions across the border to almost warehouse provision in England. How do you respond to their call on the Welsh Government for protection to the community pharmacy network in Wales because of the risk they say there will be to individual businesses without a level playing field? By 'businesses', I mean community pharmacies in Wales.
Yes. Well, Chair, we have always worked very closely with Community Pharmacy Wales. We'll continue to do so. There is a dilemma in the question, isn't there? We are, as they've said, moving to electronic forms of prescribing. Part of the reason for doing that is that it does allow you to drive some efficiencies in the system. Now, I'm not close enough to the detail to know whether part of that efficiency would mean that prescriptions would end up being ordered from a warehouse on the other side of the border. But what if it did? And what if that offered the system in Wales real financial advantages? It wouldn't be easy to say 'no' to it, would it, given the pressures that the system is under, if using new forms of technology allows you to gain efficiencies of that sort. But, of course, we would not want to do it in Wales in a way that caused damage to the very important network of community pharmacies that we have everywhere, and we make much greater use of in Wales than are used elsewhere. So, I see the potential dilemma. I'm not close enough to it to know what discussions are going on. But the way in which we have succeeded in expanding services in community pharmacies in Wales, in moving forward on the independent prescriber agenda, and so on, has always been by a close partnership between ourselves and the profession and, if there are dilemmas, that's how we would seek to resolve them.
Because they tell me that, currently, they're prevented in Wales from setting up an equivalent system on this side of the border. Is that something you would give consideration to?
Yes. Look, this is my first hearing of it. I'm absolutely happy to make sure that I find out if there aren't any genuine inhibitions to us being able to do the same.
Okay. Thank you.
We are halfway through our session, and it's an ideal time, I think, to have a five-minute break because we've covered a lot of health areas and we want to move on to some economic and transportation issues. So, we'll take a five-minute break, and then we'll go back to those after.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:00 ac 11:11.
The meeting adjourned between 11:00 and 11:11.
Can I welcome Members back to this morning's session of the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister? And we move on to the next area of questioning and this focuses on transport initially, particularly one question on the Menai crossing, and over to Llyr Gruffydd for that.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Croeso nôl. Ydych chi'n deall sut mae canslo'r bwriad i gael pont newydd a nawr, ddoe, clywed bod cau un lôn ar bont y borth am ddwy flynedd, neu hyd at ddwy flynedd, yn mynd i ddigwydd—? Ydych chi'n deall sut mae hynna'n rhoi'r argraff i bobl yr ardal nad oes dealltwriaeth gan Lywodraeth Cymru o'r issue o gwmpas croesiad y Fenai?
Thank you very much. Welcome back. Do you understand how cancelling the intention to construct a new crossing and, yesterday, hearing that one lane on the bridge will be closed for two years, or up to two years, will happen—? What kind of impression does that give to people in the area in terms of the Welsh Government not understanding the issues around the crossing?
Wel, Cadeirydd, dwi'n cydnabod, wrth gwrs, pwysigrwydd cael mynediad i Ynys Môn trwy'r ddwy bont sydd gyda ni'n barod. Mae'n bwysig i gael hynny yn ei le ac yn ei le mewn ffordd sy'n ddiogel, a dyna pam mae'r gwaith yn mynd ymlaen—i ddiogelu'r bobl sy'n croesi'r bont, ac hefyd i gael popeth yn ddibynadwy am y dyfodol. Mae'n bwysig i gofio cyd-destun y drydedd bont, pan oedd Carwyn Jones yn dweud bod bwriad gan y Llywodraeth i greu'r trydydd mynediad rhwng Bangor a'r ynys, fi oedd y Gweinidog gyda chyfrifoldeb am y cyllid ar y pryd, so dwi'n cofio'n llawn mai'r cyd-destun oedd Wylfa B.
Well, Chair, I acknowledge, of course, the importance of having access to Anglesey through the two crossings that we already have. It's important that that's in place and that it is safe, and that's why this work is ongoing—in order to safeguard the people who use the crossing, and to ensure that everything is fit for purpose for the future. It's important to bear in mind the context of the third crossing. When Carwyn Jones said that there was an intention to build that third crossing between Bangor and the isle of Anglesey, I was the Minister for finance at that time, so I well remember that the context of that was the development of Wylfa B.
So, the reason why a third crossing was thought to be possible was because the development of Wylfa B was going to contribute significantly to the costs of creating a third crossing, because the cabling, and so on, that was required for Wylfa B would become part of the design of that bridge. Without Wylfa there, the financial underpinning of a third crossing had altered fundamentally. Now, we have still asked the Lord Burns commission to look at crossings between the mainland and the island, and, in their interim report, the commissioners identified a series of ways in which current arrangements could be made more effective. I think for the immediate future, that is where our focus needs to be. There are two crossings. We need to make sure that they are safe. We need to make sure that they are capable of carrying all the traffic that needs to go back and forth, and there are practical ideas emerging from the Burns commission that will enable us to do that.
Ydych chi'n derbyn mai resilience yw'r issue fan hyn, a ddim congestion, achos dyna un gofid amlwg? A'r teimlad dwi'n cael gyda'r gwaith mae Burns yn ei wneud yw bod yna ffocws amgylcheddol, cynaliadwyedd, sydd yn bwysig, wrth gwrs, ac mi fyddai croesiad arall yn cynnig atebion o safbwynt llwybrau teithio llesol, ac yn y blaen. Ond y teimlad rwy'n cael yw efallai bod y ffocws yn dod o gyfeiriad taclo congestion, yn hytrach nag edrych ar y mater fel rhywbeth tyngedfennol o safbwynt resilience.
Do you accept that resilience is the issue here, rather than congestion, because that is one clear concern? And the feeling I get from the work that Burns is doing is that there is an environmental sustainability focus that is to be welcomed, of course, and another crossing would provide solutions in terms of active travel, and so on. The feeling I get is that the focus comes from the congestion-tackling direction, rather than looking at a response in terms of resilience.
Dwi'n cytuno. Mae yn hollol bwysig i gael system sy'n ddibynadwy, lle mae pobl yn gallu bod yn glir am y ffordd i groesi'r bont. Ond gyda dwy bont yn barod, dwi'n meddwl ei bod hi'n bosib, trwy fuddsoddi yn pethau sydd gyda ni yn barod, ac i wneud nhw'n fwy resilient ar gyfer y dyfodol, i roi sicrwydd i bobl yn y gogledd-orllewin y bydd y system yn gallu gweithio.
Yes, I do agree. It is crucial to have a reliable system where people can be clear that they will be able to make that crossing. But with having two crossings in place already, I do think it is possible, through investment in the existing infrastructure, and to make them more resilient for the future, that we can give people assurances in north-west Wales that the system can work.
Felly, tra bydd bont y Borth lawr i un lôn am hyd at ddwy flynedd—hynny yw, pa gynlluniau sydd yna o safbwynt pont Britannia, wedyn, i wneud yn siŵr bod yna lif mwy effeithiol yn ôl ac ymlaen o'r tir mawr a'r ynys?
So, whilst the Menai bridge will be down to a single lane for up to two years, what plans are there in terms of the Britannia bridge to ensure that there is more effective and efficient flow back and forth from the mainland to the island?
Fel y dywedais i, mae nifer o awgrymiadau ymarferol yn yr adroddiad interim gyda'r Arglwydd Burns.
As I said, Chair, there are a number of practical suggestions in the interim report produced by Lord Burns.
Three-lane running or tidal flow on the Britannia bridge; reconfiguration of the junctions around the Britannia bridge; and wind deflectors on the Britannia bridge.
Mae nifer o bethau ymarferol y maen nhw'n eu hawgrymu i roi pont Britannia mewn lle ble mae'n gallu ymdopi â'r traffig sy'n mynd i fod yna yn y cyfnod pan fyddem ni'n gwneud mwy ar y bont arall. Ar ôl y gwaith rŷn ni'n mynd i'w wneud ar bont Menai, bydd pont Menai yn gallu agor, nid jest fel mae wedi bod dros y cyfnod diwethaf, ond i bob cerbyd sydd eisiau defnyddio'r bont yna. So, ie, mae cyfnod o flaen o bron dwy flynedd lle mae pethau'n mynd i fod yn heriol—dwi'n cydnabod hynny—ond ar ôl hynny, dwi'n meddwl, rŷn ni'n gallu creu system gyda'r pontydd sydd gyda ni yn barod sy'n mynd i fod yn gynaliadwy a dibynadwy ar gyfer pobl.
There are a number of practical steps that they have suggested in order to ensure that the Britannia bridge is in a place where it can cope with the traffic flow there in that period when we are working on the Menai bridge. Now, once the work is completed on the Menai bridge, the Menai bridge will be able to open, not as it has been in recent times, but for all vehicles that want to use that bridge. So, there is a period of two years where things will be challenging, and I acknowledge that, but after that, I do think we can create a system with the existing crossings that will be sustainable and reliable.
Ond mi fydd rhai o'r interventions rŷch chi'n sôn amdanynt ac roedd Lord Burns wedi cyfeirio atyn nhw yn weithredol yn ystod y cyfnod pan fydd—
But some of the interventions that you mentioned that Lord Burns referred to will be operational and implemented during that period.
Yn ystod y cyfnod byr, hefyd, i helpu.
Yes, in the short term too.
Thank you. I questioned the climate change Minister on this recently, and I referred to the press reports from a press briefing they'd had with you a few weeks earlier, which stated that, when you were asked about this, on that occasion, you'd said that a third crossing was still under consideration. The response I received indicated that the Burns commission review of options now would exclude a third crossing. So, is that still an option under consideration, whether it goes ahead or not, or has it been put aside as an option amongst the matters that Burns could consider?
I think that's a question for Lord Burns rather than for me. It was under consideration because we asked the Burns commission to consider it. I haven't seen—nobody has seen—their final conclusions. Their interim report focused on those practical actions that can make the current bridges work more effectively for the future. But I'm not in a position to anticipate what their final report will say. It may rule out a third crossing.
Can he—? The terms and conditions that he was given for this further piece of work—
I don't believe we told him he couldn't propose a third crossing. I hope that's right. I believe that's right. [Laughter.]
We'll move on to other questions on transportation, and Jack Sargeant.
Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. First Minister, you found yourself in the unusual position of agreeing with the Prime Minister earlier today. I find myself today in the unusual position of agreeing with Sam Rowlands. I agree with him that it is good to see you back, and welcome you back to north Wales, particularly to Wrexham University, my old university, as it happens—and these classrooms certainly look different to when I studied there. But when I was in university I sometimes caught the train, and I caught the train from Shotton to Wrexham, which runs on the Wrexham to Bidston line. In recent times, I've found myself having a number of conversations with constituents and rail user groups about the level of service on the Wrexham to Bidston line. North Wales rail user group in particular have called for a review of Transport for Wales's services due to the poor service. It's something that I and many others have raised in the Senedd previously. I plan to do so again next week. Transport for Wales now has set out a five-point plan, which is very welcome. But what we need to see from the plan is delivery and actual change. Can I ask the First Minister how he will ensure that Transport for Wales does deliver the much-needed change, particularly on the Wrexham to Bidston line?
Well, Chair, first of all, to acknowledge as I did on the floor of the Senedd only a week or so ago that the service on the line has not been satisfactory. It has not been what it needs to be, and the Deputy Minister, as you know, went and met the people who had the greatest cause for complaint so that he could hear directly from them. I know that he will be keeping a very close eye indeed on the actions that Transport for Wales has set out: the five-point plan to bring about improvements on that line.
The hourly service is now reinstated. The new class of trains has been put to work on that line. We have been disappointed that the class 230 trains have taken more time than we would have liked to come into service. There have been teething problems during the time that they have been trialled in north Wales, but we are optimistic now that those teething troubles are over and that those trains will be a reliable part of the service on the Bidston line.
So, I think that there are early signs of the service having turned the corner in that way. The five-point plan is the way that Transport for Wales would then use the dedicated post—a senior rail professional—to focus on improvements on that line. Then, the Minister, you can be sure, will be in very regular conversation with them to make sure that the plan that they have set out succeeds in improving services on the ground.
I thank the First Minister for that. If we move away, perhaps, from the Wrexham to Bidston line into rail services in north Wales in general, the transport commission, and the interim report of the transport commission, notes the importance of the cross-border links and the number of people who cross the border in the region each day. Now, currently, rail networks are not fully devolved to Wales. The report of the transport commission also notes that the infrastructure is not devolved, but does comment that:
'further funding commitments by the UK Government could provide a step-change in the region'.
It's fair to say that the Senedd, cross-party, has a view that we are owed £5 billion from HS2, and I think that it's a farce that the project is called a Wales-and-England project, when that absolutely is not the case. I wonder, First Minister—that provides the UK Government to commit, doesn't it, to put the £5 billion into Wales, where it should be. That wouldn't just provide a step change. That would provide a transformational change. What sort of transformational change do you think that it could provide if the UK Government was to commit to putting the £5 billion, and perhaps the £1 billion extra from the Northern Powerhouse, into Wales?
Well, Chair, let me agree with what I think is the fundamental point that Jack Sargeant is making, which is that the problems of the railways in Wales are problems of underinvestment—problems of long-term underinvestment; investment that we see going on in other parts of the United Kingdom and where the rules of the Barnett formula should mean that a proportionate investment comes to Wales. That's the whole argument about HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse and so on.
But even if you took those things out of the equation, we have been short-changed on the investment that there should have been for all the regular upgrading of rail infrastructure. If we had investment of that sort in Wales, then I myself believe that the most fundamental thing that we would have seen would have been electrification. You know the dismal figures: 2 per cent of the network is electrified in Wales, and well over 40 per cent is electrified in England.
Now, if we had had investment commensurate in Wales, we would have been able to invest in that basic upgrade of investment in north and south Wales, and that would have made the services in the north of Wales more reliable, more in line with what people have a right to expect in contemporary conditions.
I thank the First Minister again. I will move on shortly to bus services, but just to pick up on, really—. My assumption is the Welsh Government do continue to advocate repeal of section 25 of the Railways Act 1993, which prohibits awarding rail service contracts to public service operators. I assume that's correct.
It is, Chair. Transport for Wales is the operator of last resort in Wales. When contracts, franchises, come up for renewal, we are hamstrung in that the section of the Act that Jack Sargeant refers to means that a not-for-profit provider, a public provider, is not entitled to bid for that franchise, and that's all we're asking for. We're not prejudging the outcome, we're not saying that such a bid would win, but we are saying that people in Wales deserve the widest possible choice. Why would you not? I don't understand it, even from the point of view of the UK Government, which is a Government with a strong attachment to market solutions to collective problems, not an approach that I myself am attracted to. But, even on their own terms, why do you prevent an open market? Why do you say that certain sorts of bidders are not able to put their hat in the ring? Because that's all we are asking for, that, when Transport for Wales comes to make its decision, it should have the widest possible choice of potential solutions.
Before you go on to bus services, I've got a couple of supplementaries on rail. Jenny, and then Llyr.
In the meantime, we're stuck with relying on Network Rail to repair the main railway network up in north Wales. My own experience of the chaos created around the signalling system at Prestatyn, which is affecting the whole of the network, I don't doubt—. What conversations are we having with Network Rail to step up to the plate and maintain the lines that they're supposed to be maintaining?
I want to make a distinction, if I can, Chair, between the people we work with day in, day out at Network Rail, where I think we have a good relationship, and Transport for Wales works closely with them. In that, 'What can we do within the constraints that Network Rail on the ground faces?', I think we have good efforts to do that. But Network Rail faces the systemic difficulties of a seven-year period ahead in which the resources they have available to them are falling, in which Wales is last but one—we're at the very foot of the investment league—and where Network Rail have said explicitly and in terms over that seven-year period delays will lengthen, breakdowns will increase, the service will deteriorate. And that will be felt by passengers in north Wales.
Passengers in north Wales already face the failure of the main line—the Avanti West Coast decision at very short notice with very little prior information to reduce the number of trains it runs along the west coast, the main line. That puts pressure on to local services. It puts pressure on to Transport for Wales services, because people now find they can't go on the main line as they had planned, so they look for alternatives, and that puts more pressure on the services that are run directly in Wales.
How would you describe the performance of Transport for Wales Rail then, because Transport Focus, which represents passengers, has rated Transport for Wales Rail services as joint bottom place for overall satisfaction alongside TransPennine Express? That's not good, is it?
No, it's not. No, I've said. I repeated—pardon me, Chair—I repeated my answer to Jack Sargeant that the experience that rail users have had in parts of the Transport for Wales network isn't good enough, and the improvement plan needs to be implemented and pursued with vigour.
Because my personal experience is that things have deteriorated in recent months. Just for your information, of my last nine journeys, either down to Cardiff or back, six of those have either been cancelled or have been severely late in terms of arrival, and we were informed, two of us who were on a train last night—sat on the train ready to leave Cardiff, and we were told that the train had been cancelled because Transport for Wales could not locate a driver. And that's happened three times in my experience in my last nine journeys. So, infrastructure isn't great, but it's more than that, isn't it?
It is more than that. There are a series of things that I could share with you, but they're all well-known to members of the committee. There was the immediate difficulty of the failure in parts of the 175 fleet, a fleet that was being retired over time in any case, but which fell out of service more rapidly than Transport for Wales had expected, and the difficulties of replacing those with the new fleet. We have, I think—Transport for Wales, I think—has succeeded in settling arrangements with its own workforce, while there have been much, much greater difficulties elsewhere, but recruitment is a challenge across the whole of the transport industry. It's a problem in train services and in bus services as well. By the time you add together a short-term issue of loss of capacity, recruitment problems, the slowness of the recovery of the fare box through service users, a deteriorating infrastructure—. The challenges that face the train operators are real. None of that is a reason for not saying that Transport for Wales needs to do better in solving the problems that are directly in their own hands.
So, did the Government overpromise at the beginning, and created, maybe, unrealistic expectations, because we were promised, rather more swiftly than we're experiencing, a much better service?
Well, to be fair, you have to look at the circumstances as they were then, rather than as they are now. Nobody anticipated a pandemic. Nobody, I would guess, was anticipating that we would be leaving the European Union, with all the pressures that has put on workforce across public services. In the circumstances we faced at the time, I don't think it was an overpromise; I think it was a realistic plan. Several things have happened in the meantime that mean that it is more difficult to deliver that plan today than it was on the day that the plan was struck.
And I'll just put on record—I don't expect an answer on this, First Minister—but it's not just north Wales; I'm getting more constituents complaining about the Transport for Wales trains going, actually, to the north-west of England and north Wales than I've ever had before, so it's an issue that clearly needs to be addressed across Wales, full stop. Jack.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. First Minister, I can see Carolyn Thomas over the shoulder of you. It would be remiss of me not to move on to bus services, but try and do it in the way that Carolyn does so eloquently every week, I think, during First Minister's questions. It was pleasing to see on 16 June the Deputy Minister announcing £46 million for the bus transition fund, when the bus emergency scheme ends in July—the scheme that was supporting bus services throughout the pandemic that we referred to already—but just going back to the transport commission and their assessment in their interim report that says:
'The existing bus network in the region is poor, with limited frequency and operational hours, as well as often having poor journey times in comparison with the car',
really, I want to know, First Minister, your response to that, and future plans to address some of the issues the commission has set out the challenges to.
Well, Chair, I was fortunate enough—. I was in north Wales earlier this year for the north Wales Cabinet committee, where Lord Burns came and talked directly to us about his interim report and its findings, and he focused a lot in his presentation on the way in which bus services are, in his view, I think, fundamental to the challenge of getting people out of their cars and to use public transport, and, if I'm recalling him correctly, he said there were two key drivers in getting people to do that: one is price, of course, but the more significant of the two factors is reliability and a belief that, if you get on a bus, it will get you to your destination at least as quickly as you would in your car, preferably more quickly. So, that's what some of the conclusions of his interim report are designed to bring about.
I don't want to sound this morning as though this is going to be an easy thing, because the challenge in the bus service is greater than in trains in terms of recovery of passenger numbers. Trains are getting back quite close to the numbers they carried—not in the same pattern; people are not using them in the same way, but, in numerical terms, it has recovered faster than buses. And the challenge will be to design a system that can live within the very significant public subsidy that is available for it. That is why the bus Bill that I mentioned in the legislative statement the week before last is so important. Because that will be the way in which we will make sure that, in future, bus services are organised on the basis of the needs of the public rather than on the pursuit of private profit. And that is the most fundamental change we will bring about—it’s why it is called a bus transition scheme, because it is to allow the system to stay afloat as we move to a different sort of future.
In the meantime, Chair, I do just want to remind colleagues that we go on investing in bus services in north Wales—significant new bus services in the north-west of Wales, significant new investment in the Flecsi service. I think—I’m not sure; Chris will know better than me—we've either just announced, or I might be just about to announce, who knows—[Laughter.]—an extension to the Fflecsi scheme in Denbighshire, into rural areas in Denbigh, and an extension to the Fflecsi scheme on the Llŷn peninsula, particularly around the Eisteddfod, but with an ambition to go on with an extended service and not only in the height of the tourism period either. So, new routes of a conventional sort, new ways of delivering bus services. The Denbigh scheme—the rural Denbighshire scheme—will actually be an electric car, rather than a bus at all. So, while the challenges are real and there’s a distance to go to when the bus Bill will provide the fundamental change, that’s not to say that there are not improvements happening even in these challenging times.
Just to confirm, on the Denbigh Fflecsi service, that will be launched for 17 July, and passengers can book from Monday, which was very exciting—you could see that. Just to reinforce what the First Minister said, the commission has rightly highlighted the importance of bus franchising; it's the key to their draft recommendation to create a core bus network. I think they also point out the need to address services to more isolated settlements, as well as a core bus network that does out-compete, if you like, the private car in terms of journey times between the major settlements. And I think that's where schemes like Fflecsi really come in.
I think the other important aspect of this is the multimodal dimension. So, the commission also talks about the need to make sure that we integrate bus services with rail and active travel, for example, and a key part of delivering that is the regional transport planning process. That's a statutory responsibility of the corporate joint committee for north Wales, as it is for the other corporate joint committees. And we're about to issue guidance to CJCs on how we would like to see that regional transport planning process done. And that will need to look right across the different transport modes and make sure that bus supports the other modes and vice versa.
I'm grateful for that. If only it was that easy to announce Welsh Government funding, from questions in this committee, I'd ask the Chair for more time. But just one final question, Chair, on the bus Bill in particular. First Minister, I very much welcome the proposed bus Bill coming forward. It's something I've been excited about since joining the Senedd, with hope that it would have comer earlier, but circumstances prevented us from that, which we all know about. I think it's exciting as well just across the border to see what's happening in Andy Burnham's Manchester and the bus network there. But it does come with some risk, in particular revenue risk. Ministers will carry the revenue risk if passengers fluctuate and so on. How will the First Minister ensure the model of the proposed bus network receives that sustainable funding to navigate those issues that may come in front of us?
The bus service in Wales is subsidised by the public purse, one way or another, well north of £100 million every year. What the bus Bill is designed to do is to make sure that that subsidy is used to the maximum possible effect, because we don't believe that it is today. There is too much wasteful competition in the system, leaving the public purse to pick up the casualties of that way of doing things. We fully intend to go on providing those tens of millions of pounds of support for the bus service, in recognition of the social value that the service provides. Our firm belief is that we will get better value out of that system when we have a franchising model, and that's how we will manage the risks that there will still be in the system. It's not that the system lacks money. All systems would like more money, I understand that, but the system does have very large sums of public money in it already.
Diolch, Brif Weinidog.
Thank you, First Minister.
Thanks, Chairman. I'm just sticking to this theme around transport. As you recognised in your responses so far, the vast majority of people in north Wales in particular are using their cars to get around, and with understandable reason—our geography and existing infrastructure lends itself perhaps more readily to that. Of course, buses and bus networks in the future need to use roads, as well as cars, and of course the roads review has seen nearly all future road investment in north Wales scrapped. I understand the laudable reasons for some of this, around climate change and the arguments around that, but there are some very real-world impacts in terms of business investments and in particular housing developments in the future in north Wales, at a time when we have in Wales 13,000 people in temporary accommodation, 3,000 of those children, and at a time when we see the economy in Wales going backwards, whereas it's going forwards in other parts of the United Kingdom. I just wonder, with the decisions being made around lack of investment in roads in north Wales in particular in the future, do you recognise the real impact of that lack of investment in terms of future housing development and future business investment, and are you comfortable with that impact?
Of course, Chair, I would take issue with the whole series of propositions that Mr Rowlands puts forward as though they were matters of fact when they're nothing of the sort. There are more road schemes going ahead in mid and north Wales than in any other part of Wales. The roads review is not about reducing investment in roads; it is about using that investment in different ways in the future. I'll repeat what I've often said on the floor of the Senedd: what we're not prepared to do as a Government is to solve one problem in a way that makes another problem even worse. It is fundamental that we move away from the failed way of dealing with things that we've had for nearly a century, where we have responded to the growth in the car by building ever more roads, which induces ever more traffic, which leads to cries for even further roads. There is no way out of that dilemma simply by carrying on doing the things that have served us not very well up until now, and that's what lies behind the roads review. We will of course go on investing in roads, in every part of Wales. We'll go on investing in roads to encourage modal shift, to deal with safety measures, and to provide access and connectivity to jobs and to centres of economic activity. So, the roads review—which, by the way, was a review; the policy is the Welsh Government's transport policy—does not lead to a wholesale disinvestment in roads; it just calibrates that investment in a way that allows us to respond seriously, not just by saying, 'I recognise climate change, but I'm now going to go on and do something that will cause even more damage to the climate', but recognising climate change as the existential challenge that faces us as a generation. We are determined that we will go on having a transport system that allows people to travel effectively, more likely to use public transport, more likely to use active travel measures, and does not rely on failed ways of solving problems that don't solve the problem in the first place and, inevitably, go on doing damage to the planet that can and must be avoided.
Chris, did you want to add something?
Yes. Just briefly, if I could outline what we're doing to implement the national transport delivery plan. In the national transport delivery plan, there is a list of road schemes that are the responsibility of the Welsh Government, because they are the strategic road network, and you can see the timescales for them in that plan. They're being taking forward with local authorities and other partners to reflect the recommendations that came out of the roads review. On our own roads, we're progressing those schemes where we lead.
Then, in terms of local roads that the roads review looked at, we are providing support via Transport for Wales's regional teams, as well as funding from our local transport fund, to help local authorities, for the roads that they are responsible for, to look at solutions that reflect the new road-building tests and our aspirations about modal shift. A good example of that in north Wales, for example, is Llanbedr, which I've been involved in, where the roads review recommended that a proposed relief road did not go ahead in its current form. We are working with the community and with the local authority to put together a package of measures that we're putting funding into to alleviate the pressures in Llanbedr village. But the Deputy Minister has been very clear that, as part of that package, if those measures don't solve the whole problem, a low-speed relief road could be considered, to a lower design footprint and a lower carbon footprint, as part of that package. So, a road could be part of the solution, but it's not the starting point.
And then, just finally, Chair—sorry—we've also asked Councillors Llinos Medi and Anthony Hunt to lead a review of economic development and transport schemes. This includes Warren Hall in north Wales, and that piece of work will be tasked and finished over a number of months. It's really to look at how we make sure we can capture the economic development benefits and look at housing and other regeneration outcomes in a way that delivers sustainable transport solutions. They'll come up with some recommendations on Warren Hall and other schemes and a more general approach for us to take on economic development sites.
I've got Llyr as well, and then I'll come back to you.
I was literally just going to ask you where that work was at. You mentioned Warren Hall. Does that include Wrexham Gateway as well?
Wrexham is not part of the place-based advisory group, but we are having conversations, right across Government and with Wrexham council, about a way forward on that as well.
I'm aware of time. Perhaps things are leading themselves on to the next part of the agenda, so I'm happy to pause there.
We'll move on to some economic aspects. Before I pass on to my colleagues, the question of the free port is clearly important. It's a major issue and major possible investment and economic opportunity for Anglesey, and other parts of north Wales. But, as you know, First Minister, the other free port is partly involved in my constituency. I think what I want to try and have reassurance on is how is the Welsh Government going to work with both free ports to ensure they both get the maximum benefits available to them. In particular, floating offshore wind was in the Celtic Freeport bid, and offshore wind in Anglesey is clearly an important area, so we want to make sure that we don't double up and we don't see jobs being displaced from one free port to the other free port as a consequence of this.
I think displacement is one of the big issues you have to think about in free ports altogether. Free ports, just to be clear, are not a policy of the Welsh Government; they're a policy of the UK Government, where we have been able to work successfully alongside ministerial colleagues there to agree two free ports for Wales. But built into our view of free ports is that we have to monitor and safeguard against displacement of jobs into free ports that would exist otherwise in surrounding areas. And of course, we're not in favour of competition between the two free ports that we now have. They must both play to their strengths. Their strengths are very significant, but I think, actually, significantly different as well. In the Holyhead free port, there will be offshore wind involved, but I think it is more likely to be fixed-bottom offshore wind in the Liverpool bay area, whereas in the south, the focus is very much on floating offshore wind.
The free port also needs to play to its strengths in Anglesey, which are very many, such as the connections to Ireland. I think Jack Sargeant referred to lessons we can learn from Andy Burnham and the bus activity in Manchester. I meant to say in my answer there that the last meeting of the north Wales Cabinet committee was attended by Andy Burnham and the mayor of Liverpool, but also, significantly, by the two Consuls General of Ireland—the Cardiff and the Manchester consuls—because part of the strength of Anglesey is the way in which it is that route through from the Republic into Wales and onwards through the land bridge. And in energy, it's also got the huge potential that Anglesey as an energy island has, which is more than energy from the wind; it is all the stuff that Minesto, for example, is doing to harness energy from the sea. So, I think, for the free ports to succeed, they should be thought of as complementary, and definitely not competitive, and both the free ports that we have in Wales must play to their own strengths.
I'll move on to other aspects of the economy now, and Jenny first.
I just wanted to look at Ynys Môn and the opportunities that arise out of the roll-out of universal free school meals, not just for the well-being of children, but also the economic development possibilities of embedding sustainability into food procurement. Obviously, it's a tragedy that 730 jobs have been lost at 2 Sisters in Llangefni, but Môn Mam Cymru is mainly called that because of the fertility of its soil and its ability to produce the fruit and vegetables that Wales is very short of, and not arriving in the quantities or the quality at the price that people can afford. So, how are we using this threat to economic development also as an opportunity to increase the role of horticulture both in public procurement as well as for the general population?
First of all, Chair, just to acknowledge the impact that the closure of the 2 Sisters factory has had on the island. An employer with that number of jobs in a relatively small, local economy was very real. I commend the commitment that the local authority has shown to the combined effort involving the Welsh Government and the UK Government through the Department for Work and Pensions, but the local authority as well, to look after the people who found themselves displaced by that.
It is a local authority, I think, that is very committed to its local agricultural industry as well and to making sure that in procurement terms the meals that are served in our schools and the extra funding that is now provided because of universal free school meals in primary schools do maximise the amount of local produce that it's able to put on the table in that way. I'm probably not close enough to the detail of the way in which the local authority specifically is looking to increase the supply of vegetables and horticulture on the island.
I do hope to go to the Anglesey show this year, where we will see many of the very proud and very committed people who work in that industry on the island and more broadly in north Wales. I hope they will think of this as an opportunity. There is public money there. We want it to be used not to go into the pockets of industrial suppliers of not-optimum-quality food, when there are local suppliers of high-quality products that could be used in that sort of beneficial cycle, where the public investment through the procurement drives more economic activity locally.
But you recognise that food security for a healthy diet that Eluned Morgan and Lynne Neagle have been speaking about recently. We have to ensure that our population can feed itself healthily, and surely this is an opportunity to process some of this produce in a way that is usable.
Of course, I agree with that completely. You could not be unaware of the food security issues on Ynys Môn because of all the things that we are now having to do in terms of post-Brexit trade to make sure that flows of goods in and out of Holyhead are tested against those biosecurity and other safety issues. We are going to have new facilities, new activity all around that very visible issue of food security.
And it might be just worth mentioning the food technology centre that we fund in Coleg Llandrillo/Menai on the island as well just to harness that. There's a lot of innovation in terms of food companies, small to large, on the island that we've visited with various Ministers, but the food technology centre brings it together. Of course, the food technology is also linked to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, linked to the new centre that's planned for Glynllifon as well. So, north Wales is very rich in terms of its food and drink industry, which we have to protect.
Yes, some questions around Wrexham and economic development, First Minister. Just to begin with, we've all followed the amazing story of Wrexham football club recently and the Hollywood owners, and the success that they've had. Indeed, in Newport at Newport County FC, we look forward to renewing rivalry with Wrexham in the coming season. But I just wonder, First Minister, what work the Welsh Government is doing with partners to look at how that success of Wrexham football club can be built upon, given the worldwide reach that it's had, really, in the United States and elsewhere in terms of the recent events, the potential for tourism and economic development more generally.
Well, Chair, Wrexham has been in the spotlight internationally in a way that would have been very hard to have imagined only a few years ago. It's an astonishing success story of the football club but of its owners as well, who I think have shown a genuine commitment to Wales beyond what you would have expected as owners of a football club to show. We've been very lucky to have had their help in a series of events in the United States itself, and, of course, Wrexham are on tour in the United States over this summer, so there'll be further opportunities to cement that relationship.
The football museum I think is one of the ways in which directly we will be able to take some advantage of that. It's the product of a previous budget round agreement between the Government and Plaid Cymru. It's moved ahead significantly with over £5 million-worth of further investment in the latest round. I was able to call in at the football museum stand at the Urdd Eisteddfod in Llandovery. It was staffed by incredibly enthusiastic people full of ideas about how that museum will operate. The word 'museum' sometimes is misleading, isn't it, because it makes people think of very conventional ways of displaying the history of an area. They have ideas far beyond that—interactive stuff celebrating the wider heritage of the Wrexham area, the diversity of the local population, and so on. I think it will be a very exciting opportunity. It will certainly add to the magnet that will draw people into Wrexham, and then the Wrexham Gateway to support that, the developments at the football ground itself, the return of international football to Wrexham, which has allowed the FAW to play its part in additional investment as well, and the interchange—the rail-bus interchange to make public transport an integral part of all of that. I think it's a genuinely exciting moment for Wrexham, and we must hope that the strength of the local authority will be fully harnessed in making sure that those possibilities are realised.
I thought it might be worth committee knowing that we're also hosting events in the Wrexham football ground, so, most recently the North Carolina contingent came over to learn about tidal energy and the wind energy that we've got. Also, a lot of them were from universities, where we could link them into Glyndŵr University, Bangor University. So, very much looking to harness globally, but certainly the Americans are very interested.
It's very good news. Just in terms of that Wrexham Gateway project, First Minister, obviously the Racecourse ground is very much involved in that, so it sits very well with the recent developments at Wrexham football club. But is there anything you can say in terms of timescales for the work that's involved, and also whether the local authority are having any success, or how they might be supported to have success, so that the public-private partnership that's necessary for the project to have its full benefit comes about?
I think that the Kop stand development is due for completion in time for the 2024-25 season. That's not far off, so there are some reasonably short-term timescales for part of the Gateway project. The Welsh Government does work with the local authority but also with the university here as well to make sure that additional private investment is crowded in by the public investment. I always think that is the way to try to think of public investment. I've never believed those people who say that public investment crowds out private investment. Used smartly and properly, public investment is a catalyst to draw in private investment, and that is what will be necessary if the ambitions that there are around the Wrexham Gateway and for the future of the city are to be realised. The local authority is a key partner in that, so we work alongside them.
Just one further question, if I might, Chair. The Wrexham Enterprise Hub has recently closed, First Minister. I wonder if you could share with us the reasons for that decision, and whether you're satisfied that, in terms of alternative advice to businesses, that will not be reduced or damaged by the decision.
Well, there is a one-word answer to the first part of John Griffiths's question, Chair: the reason is Brexit. The hubs were supported directly through funding from the European Union. That funding is no longer in the hands of the Welsh Government. It was taken by the UK Government, reduced by over £1 billion, and the decisions on its use are made now in Whitehall and not in Wales. The hubs were directly the creation of European Union funding. I am myself very sorry to see them close. I visited the Wrexham hub a while ago. I heard directly from young people there particularly about how having this space and the cross-fertilisation that went with meeting other young people starting businesses was helping them all. But, in the end, when the budget isn't here, the purposes for which the budget was used cannot be continued. We have already diverted significant amounts of Welsh Government money into supporting Business Wales, which was also a European Union-funded initiative. Those services will be available, but they won't be that physical presence on the high street in the way that the Wrexham hub and other hubs provided. So, I regret the fact that they won't be there, but the answer is very simple: the money that supported them is no longer available in Wales.
I have two supplementaries, first from Jack and then from Mark.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. I want to go back to Wrexham football club, which might not be a surprise, I assume. I agree, First Minister. As the club ambassador for Connah's Quay Nomads, I was very happy to see the co-chair of Wrexham AFC, Rob McElhenney, spend some time with the Connah's Quay Nomads women's team, when we played them towards the end of last season. He complimented their skill and commitment as a club.
I think that it's important now that we capitalise on this incredible journey not just at the Wrexham level but right across north Wales, particularly at the grass-roots level of the game. I want to see the next Helen Ward or Bale—building on the legends of Rush and Speed—from north Wales play at our highest level in Wales. How can the Welsh Government help facilitate that—the successes of Wrexham—with the FAW, right at the grass-roots level of the game?
Well, Llywydd, I'm ill-equipped to enter into a debate on football with Jack Sargeant, but I want to echo one point. I should have said in my original answer 'the importance and success of women's football in Wrexham over the last season', as well as the men's team. As I said, when I visited the museum stand in Llandovery, one of the things that came through really powerfully to me was the complete commitment of the people who are planning it—that it reflects grass-roots football, as well as Wrexham's astonishing history of international football and recent success. Teams among BAME communities, refugees coming to Wales, the women's game, disabled football as well—they were very determined that the museum will be a showcase for all of that activity.
The Welsh Government, through Sport Wales, goes on investing in grass-roots football. The FAW has a part to play very much in that. The funds that we are able to provide, generally, are properly skewed towards creating facilities where under-represented groups feel that this is a sport for them. So, there are proper changing facilities for women's teams. Disabled people are not expected to make do with facilities that are not fit for their needs, and so on. In that way, we will go on investing to take advantage of the profile that the success of the football club here has had, not just in Wrexham itself, but in football across the whole of north Wales.
Thank you. All I will say about Wrexham AFC is that my eldest son spent a very long night in Wrexham celebrating—five o'clock in the morning he got home.
In terms of Wrexham Gateway, I recently met with the Wrexham vision impairment group, and they were concerned, particularly in relation to proposed transport hub 100 yards from here, or whatever it is, that they were not being involved in the design and delivery, or even in the discussion about that. They were concerned that it would create barriers for them and other disabled people. So, how will you ensure that that voice is integral to the future access and design for disabled people generally, and obviously people with vision impairment?
And if I may just go back very briefly to the 2 Sisters issue, how many former employees of 2 Sisters has the employment support hub found employment for so far? What discussions has the Welsh Government had about the future use of the 2 Sisters site, and what engagement to that effect are you having with Ambition North Wales to ensure that this aligns with the project priorities agreed with them and the two Governments?
Okay, thank you, Mark. On the first question, I will ask Elin to make sure—. The lived experience of people with visual impairments and other impairments ought to be built in from the very beginning because you learn so much directly from hearing from them about how new investment and new facilities are designed to make sure that they are properly accessible for them. So, thank you for that point.
It's quite difficult to know how many people have got jobs directly as a result of the hub that was established. We know the number of people who have used the hub, and that's well over 100 in one part of what they did and over 100 in another part. Once those people move on, they are under no obligation to tell you what has happened to them. The UK Government will have some information through the DWP about all of that, but actually it is quite difficult to go on tracking them, because they're not involved in any public provision once they have moved on. You can pick up stuff from people who report it to you, but there's no tracking system that allows you to answer that question easily.
But the hub, I think, was successful. It was very well used by people from the factory. I know Lesley Griffiths visited; Jane Hutt, I know, went there to make sure that everything that could be done was being done.
I'm told that there is genuine interest in the site. It is all in commercial negotiations, and, therefore, not easily shared where the interest is coming from and the terms on which the site might be used in future, but I definitely did see a note that confirmed that there was active interest. Elin will probably know more than me, but—
Not any detail on it, but I can find out.
Yes. The purposes for the site do absolutely need to be aligned with the wider ambitions for the economy of the island, which I think are really exciting. I'm one of those people who really thinks that, if things go as we want them to go, there are such enormous possibilities now in marine energy, in the hydrogen hub that's been established at Holyhead, in the work of M-SParc to create new opportunities on the island. As well as the traditional strengths of the island in agriculture, in tourism, I think the jobs of the future are really likely to find themselves realised along that north-west coastal part of Wales. As I say, it needs smart decisions by the UK Government, the Welsh Government and our colleagues in the local authority. But, done in the right way, I think there are possibilities for people living in that part of north Wales to create futures for themselves in that part of north Wales in an industry that, even five years ago, we would not have thought of in quite the same powerfully optimistic way.
First Minister, we've come to the end of our session, but I would like to allow Llyr Gruffydd to ask a question on the north Wales growth deal, if that's okay with yourself.
Jest un cwestiwn terfynol, oherwydd mi oedd yna adroddiad llynedd gan WISERD, onid oedd, oedd yn amlygu tensiynau posib wrth edrych ar approach Llywodraeth Cymru i fargen twf y gogledd, lle oeddech chi'n annog dod ag awdurdodau at ei gilydd, gweithio ar lefel rhanbarthol, ac approach Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig, wrth gwrs, oedd yn gweithio'n uniongyrchol gydag awdurdodau unigol, yn eu hannog nhw i gystadlu yn erbyn ei gilydd ar gyfer cronfeydd fel lefelu i fyny ac yn y blaen. Beth mae'r Llywodraeth yn ei wneud, efallai gyda Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig—neu ddim; gallwch chi ddweud wrthym ni—i drio rheoli'r tensiynau yna a pha effaith mae hynny'n ei chael ar ddatblygu economaidd ar draws y gogledd?
Just one final question, because there was a report last year from the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data that pointed to potential tensions in looking at the Welsh Government approach to the north Wales growth deal, where you encourage bringing authorities together, working on a regional basis, and the UK Government approach, then, that worked directly with individual authorities, encouraging them to compete against each other for funds such as the levelling-up fund and so on. What is the Government doing, perhaps with the UK Government—or not; perhaps you could tell us—to manage those tensions and what impact is that having on economic development across north Wales?
Diolch am y cwestiwn, achos mae tensiynau yna, fel roedd adroddiad WISERD yn dangos. Beth rydym ni'n ei wneud, rydym ni'n dal i gydweithio â Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig ar y fargen dwf. Roedd llythyr wedi cael ei lofnodi gan Vaughan Gething a'r Gweinidog yn y Deyrnas Unedig i'r awdurdodau lleol sy'n creu'r bwrdd yn gofyn iddyn nhw am nifer o bethau i roi hyder i ni fel y Llywodraethau sy'n ariannu'r fargen i fwrw ymlaen gyda'r arian. So, rydym ni yn cydweithio â'n gilydd fel yna.
Beth sy'n rhoi hyder i fi yw bod yr awdurdodau lleol yng Ngogledd Cymru yn cydweithio â'i gilydd jest fel default setting. Fel yna y maen nhw, ac mae'r bwrdd a phob peth maen nhw wedi ei wneud i greu Ambition North Wales yn helpu i leihau effaith rhoi arian mewn ffordd sy'n jest creu amgylchiadau ble mae'r awdurdodau yn cystadlu am arian. Dwi ddim yn gweld y sens o gwbl yn y ffordd o'i wneud e fel yna, ond y ffordd dwi'n meddwl mae awdurdodau lleol yn y gogledd yn ymateb i hwnna yw trwy gydweithio, fod yn ymwybodol am y bids maen nhw i gyd yn rhoi i mewn, fod yn ymwybodol o sut mae hwnna yn mynd i gael effaith ar y gwaith maen nhw’n ei wneud gyda’i gilydd. Mae ateb lot, lot gwell na hynny ar gael, sef rhoi'r arian i ni yng Nghymru ei ddefnyddio yn y ffordd rŷn ni wedi dysgu i’w wneud e, trwy gydweithio, cynllunio gyda’n gilydd, nid trwy gystadlu am bots bach o arian am bwrpasau sydd, os dŷch chi ddim yn ofalus, ddim yn cyfrannu at yr ymdrech sy’n mynd ymlaen, ac yn mynd ymlaen, yn fy marn i, yn llwyddiannus, drwy'r cydweithio rhwng yr awdurdodau lleol yn y gogledd. So, dŷn ni’n lwcus, achos mae hanes gyda ni sy’n helpu ni i ddelio â’r tensiwn, ond mae’r tensiwn yna; mae hynny heb amheuaeth.
Thank you for the question; of course, there are tensions there, as the WISERD report demonstrated. In terms of what we're doing, we continue to work with the UK Government on the growth deal. A letter was signed by Vaughan Gething and the UK Government Minister to the local authorities that make up the board asking for a number of things that would provide us with reassurance as funders of the deal to go ahead with the funding. So, we are working together in that way.
What gives me confidence is that local authorities in north Wales are collaborating just as a default setting. That's how they work in terms of the board and everything that they have done done to create Ambition North Wales, all of that, helps to mitigate the impact of providing funding in a way that generates circumstances where authorities are competing with each other. I don't believe that that is the way to go about this, but I think the way that local authorities in north Wales have responded to that is through collaboration, by being aware of each other’s bids, and being aware of how that will impact the work that they do together. There is a far better solution than that, and that is to provide the funding to us here in Wales so that we can use it in the way that we’ve learned to use funding, through collaboration and joint planning, not through competition for small pots of money for purposes that, if you’re not careful, don’t contribute to the more general efforts going on, and going on very successfully, through that collaboration between local authorities in north Wales. So, we’re fortunate that we do have a history that helps us to deal with that tension, but the tension is certainly there; there’s no doubt about that.
The other final question to Sam.
Thanks, Chairman. Just on the back of Llyr’s question around the growth deal, obviously, as you’ve alluded to, there is a difference between the deal itself versus Ambition North Wales, the growth deal itself being a programme of funding for Ambition North Wales to deliver on. Looking back at the heads of terms that I was a signatory to in 2019, we’re four years down the line now, and of course have had a pandemic in the middle, but are you satisfied that, nearly four down the line, that the delivery of those projects that your funding supported is happening at the pace you’d want it to?
Well, that was the point, I think, of the letter, signed, as I said, jointly in April of this year, between the UK Government and ourselves: to seek further assurances from the board that it is turning those projects into delivery on the ground at a speed and with the level of intensity that was originally expected.
There are questions about the degree to which private investment is genuinely being realised alongside the public investment that comes with the north Wales growth deal. I want to be properly acknowledging of the additional challenges that local authorities have faced in trying to translate a plan of 2019 through the circumstances that they have faced in the meantime, but the letter is very clear that both Governments do require further assurances to sustain the confidence of ourselves as funders that the original intentions are being translated not simply into credible plans, which I think they do well at, but how those plans are then realised and delivered. We know that the board has pulled back on a number of its plans, has opened a further bidding round for further possibilities. We should hear the result of that in the middle of this month, and then, as I say, the Governments, jointly, through our oversight arrangements, will be looking for credible assurances that that money then is being translated into the impactful investments that were originally promised.
Thank you, First Minister. We’ve come to the end of our session on evidence taking, and therefore I’d like to thank you for your time, and your officials, and, as you know, First Minister, you will get a copy of the transcript for any factual inaccuracies, and please let us know as soon as possible, so we can have them corrected. Thank you very much for your time.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
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.
For colleagues, I'd like to propose in accordance with Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content with that? I see that they are. Therefore, we'll now move into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:19.
The public part of the meeting ended at 12:19.