Y Pwyllgor Craffu ar Waith y Prif Weinidog

Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister

26/04/2024

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

David Rees Y Dirprwy Lywydd, Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Deputy Presiding Officer, Committee Chair
Jack Sargeant
James Evans yn dirprwyo ar ran Russell George
substitute for Russell George
Jenny Rathbone
John Griffiths
Llyr Gruffydd
Mark Isherwood

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alistair Davey Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Dr Rachel Garside-Jones Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Taryn Stephens Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Vaughan Gething Prif Weinidog Cymru
First Minister of Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Bethan Garwood Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Meriel Singleton Clerc
Clerk
Michael Dauncey Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Samiwel Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Sian Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher

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

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

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 10:04.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 10:04.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau a dirprwyon
1. Introductions, apologies and substitutions

Good morning. Can I welcome members and the public to this morning's evidence session of the scrutiny of the First Minister committee? Before we go into our business, can I just do some housekeeping? Can I remind Members to either put your phones on silent or turn them off, or other electronic equipment that may interfere both with the broadcasting and with the session itself? If you are remotely coming in, you are able to have the translation. For those in the room, simultaneous translation is available on the headsets, because we operate bilingually. And it's channel 1 for translation from Welsh to English and it's channel 2 if you require amplification. There is no scheduled fire alarm today, so, if one does take place, please leave the room and follow the directions of the ushers to a safe location. Does any Member wish to declare any interests today? I will put on record that a member of my family is working in children's services.

10:05

Same, Chair. One of my family does work in children's services.

Okay. With no other declarations of interest, can I then give apologies? We've received apologies from Russell George, and can I welcome James Evans, who is substituting for Russell? And Mark has indicated to us that he has a commitment and he has to leave at 12 o'clock, which is probably during our second session.

And, for everyone to be aware, today's evidence session is in two parts. The first part is focused on care-experienced children and it's themed. We will then take a short break so officials can be exchanged. The second part will be on the topical questions, and that may, obviously, cover many issues that are of interest to our constituents today. 

2. Plant sydd â phrofiad o fod mewn gofal
2. Care-experienced children

So, with that in mind, we'll move on to the first evidence session. Can I welcome young people and care-experienced people in to us today from Barnardo's, Voices from Care Cymru and National Youth Advocacy Service Cymru? Welcome. And I know that you had an input into the work done by the Children, Young People and Education Committee as well into this area, so, thank you for that. Right. First Minister, welcome to your very first Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister.

Do you want to introduce your officials for the record, please?

Yes. To my left is Alistair Davey, deputy director of social services and enabling, and to my right is Taryn Stephens, deputy director of social services improvement.

Thank you for that. And can I first of all congratulate you on your appointment as First Minister, since we have not had a chance to do so as a committee?

As you will know, you'll now face some of the questions regarding that position.

And this theme is on care-experienced children, and we want to lead off with James Evans.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Congratulations, Prif Weinidog, on your appointment. My first question to you is: what is your current understanding of the lived experience of children in the care of the local authorities across Wales? What do you think their lives look like and what do you think are the big problems that they face in the care system here in Wales?

So, we have an understanding of what care-experienced children and young people think and what their lived experience is because we are deliberately engaging and listening to them. The recent summit is one part of that exercise, but it's not the only one. Local authorities should have mechanisms in place to get direct feedback from children and young people going through the care system. And the challenge in all of this is that some children and young people have a much better experience than others. For far too many children and young people, we don't have a great lived experience, and that's why there is a real commitment to improving that experience. The improvement programme that we're going through that comes from not just the last Government, but continues with the same commitment in this one, is all about the recognition that we need to improve what we do and how we do it, and the voices of people themselves are an important part of it. So, very much how we move to 'with us', not 'to us'. And some of those are difficult balances and judgments to make, particularly when a choice is being made about whether someone should or shouldn't go into the care system. So, it's a challenging environment, but it's important that we recognise that we do need improvement, otherwise we won't deliver it. And then we have all the very practical challenges of resources in people terms, in financial terms, how and why we're looking to re-organise the way the system works. Because the ultimate end in all of this isn't about how we can design a new framework so we can put a new piece of paper in front of you, it's about will that help us to continue the transformation in the services that are needed to deliver better outcomes with and for people as children and young people and the adults they'll become.

You mentioned in your initial response there about the radical reform summit, which was signed by your predecessor Mark Drakeford. And I would put on record his unwavering commitment, actually, to the lives of care-experienced people; he did a lot of work in that area. He and Julie Morgan signed that declaration on behalf of the Welsh Government. You're the new First Minister and you have a new Minister as well covering this portfolio area. Would you be willing, First Minister, to re-sign that declaration on behalf of your Government and your ministerial team, and perhaps update it to include some of the recommendations that were part of the Children, Young People and Education Committee report into this very important area of work?

10:10

Well, there are two quite different questions there. The first, about signing the declaration, I don't have any problem with at all, because this Government remains committed to delivering improvement. The second, about the recommendations of the CYPE Committee, the response from the Government is the response, and I don't think it's helpful to try and go back into a cycle of re-litigating the different recommendations. This is about how we deliver improvement and the visible commitment of this Government, not just about the answers I give today, but actually what we continue to do, and to do with our partners, because we don't directly deliver the services. We've got oversight about the objectives, about some of the requirements in the system, but this is about working with local authorities and the wider third sector, some of whom are with us today, because the other important part, as I said in my first answer, is that this is about improving outcomes, and outcomes for some of the people who are with us today, but, more broadly, the children and young people who are in all of our local authorities, all of our constituencies, all of our regions across the country, and the recognition that some people are living outside of Wales because of the particular needs that they have that we can't always meet within Wales. 

So, with regard to care-experienced children, where does this sit on your list of priorities for your time as First Minister? You've outlined a little bit of that already, but it wasn't in your leadership manifesto when you stood to be leader of the Labour Party. I know you've mentioned this area of work before, so I'd just like to know where does it sit in your list of priorities, First Minister, to actually improve the lives of young people across Wales and those people who are here with us in the room today?

I think there are two points, probably, to make in response to that, James. The first is that a leadership manifesto does not cover every single area of life that matters, because it can't. If you write a telephone directory, you'll still miss something, and that's the challenge. The leadership manifesto was a pitch to give a sense of direction about what's important to you, about why you want to persuade people that you are the right choice. And actually, a lot of that has got nothing to do with policy platforms as well. And I'm sure, when you engage in one of your regular leadership contests in your own party, you'll see it's not all about what's in the manifesto. 

The second point, and I think the more important one, is that, actually, the commitment from the Government that I lead is undimmed. You're not going to see a rowing back from our commitments to changing the legislative framework, you're not going to see a rowing back in terms of our commitment to continue to listen to and to try to work with children and young people, to try to work with partners who deliver services and the partnerships we need to carry on. And when I did talk about the key first 1,000 days in a child's life, that matters for all our children. It matters—if you get to be a dad—

—it would matter to you about those first early days, when everything is new and difficult. Children don't come with a manual. And yet actually, we know that, for children and young people in the care system, those first 1,000 days are even more important as well, because sometimes choices are made literally within hours of a child coming into this world. So, actually, it is so important to think about how we get things right for that part of our lives as well as how we support adults as well who are making choices.

So, regardless of what you do and don't see in a leadership manifesto, this is a key priority for this Government; our commitment will continue. You'll see that not just from me, you'll see that from the entire ministerial team—not just the Minister for Social Care, who will be introducing a Bill on children's residential services and the profit motive before we get to Whitsun recess, you'll see this from the new Minister for Mental Health and Early Years, you'll see this from every member of the Government if you go through an aspect of their portfolio. And people understand that there is a multiplicity of areas of influence, and this Government retains our commitment to improvement. 

On that point, First Minister, can I just clarify, you've highlighted two members of your Government, both working in the health portfolio—health and social care portfolio—and you've highlighted it's across other Ministers. Is there going to be a lead Minister in this area, because housing is a very important issue for some people, particularly as they leave care and move to living independently. So, is there going to be a lead Minister to look at all the issues?

Well, Dawn Bowden is the lead Minister for Social Care. The clue is in the title. She is the Minister for Social Care; other Ministers have an interest. The education Minister has an interest for understandable reasons: what happens in the first 1,000 days, what happens before that, parental influence, what then goes into our school system, how you look at the well-being of that child as well as their outcomes, and knowing there are still big differentials between looked-after children and the rest of the general population.

The local government Minister has an obvious interest as well. The economy Minister has an interest, because, at the moment, we don't deliver outcomes for children and young people who have gone through the care system in economic terms to take full opportunity of the talent they have as well. So, actually, every Minister has an interest. You can look all the way through. But the lead Minister will be the Minister for Social Care, and I don't think that should be difficult to understand and see, but she will obviously need to work with a range of others within the Government, as indeed she'll need to work with me.

10:15

That's fine; we have, now, clarity as to who the lead Minister will be on this. Jack.

I'm grateful, Cadeirydd. Prif Weinidog, I'll just take you back to one of the answers to James Evans, where you referred to the Bill forthcoming around eliminating profits from care and allowing not-for-profit providers to operate in Wales. That was a commitment in the programme for government under the previous First Minister. Can I just get you to confirm, so it's in no uncertain terms this morning, that that commitment remains and it's very likely that a Bill will come forward in the next coming weeks?

Yes, I'm happy to say that our expectation is that the Bill will be introduced in the week before Whitsun recess. The Bill has been improved in drafting terms. It's also an opportunity for the new Minister, who will take the Bill forward, to have more than two or three weeks in post before the Bill is introduced. So, I'm very clear that that Bill is still on track and a commitment to make those changes remains. 

Thank you for that, First Minister. If we can move on to questions around the basic income for care leavers pilot, others may have different views in this room indeed, but I think the pilot was a bold and brave decision by Welsh Government at the time. I think it was one that sets an example of how to create policy in difficult areas and test the means of innovative ideas. The pilot was originally estimated to have 500 care leavers to be involved in that. The figure I have in front of me is that around 635 people enrolled. Do you have the figure for the full cost of the pilot in total, just for transparency for all and just to consider?

So, we still have £20 million allocated to the pilot [correction: We initially allocated £20 million to the pilot] and so it then depends on the take-up and the length of time people access it for. If we do need to find more resource, then we'll do so, because we're not going to artificially end the pilot for all the people who enrolled within it. And I'm looking forward to the evaluation on it.

I know there are lots of people who are interested in a broader basic income pilot, but I think this has been a good place to start because we know it's an area where we do need to improve outcomes for people. And so, actually, I hope that we'll find out something both about whether a broader basic income pilot would succeed and deliver value, but I think there is also significant value in looking at how we improve outcomes for care-experienced young people, and I'm very proud that we have, as a Government, committed to doing this. And the pilot certainly isn't going to be ended—the pilot will continue and the evaluation, crucially, will continue so that we can actually understand what has been successful and why, and, if there are parts that haven't worked, understand that too as well.

I thank the First Minister for that. Is the evaluation of the pilot—? And we've seen interesting reports of evaluation: we've seen stories where individuals have gone on to own their own home, they've gone on to be paramedics, because of the, in their words, introduction of this pilot and the support that the pilot has given. To me, that's a success, but the need for an evaluation is really important here, both for making sure that it's a sound policy, but also to win over some of the arguments from opposition. If the evaluation comes back as a good example of where it has supported care leavers in the right way, if funds in the future become available, would this be something you'd consider as a more substantive policy rather than a pilot?

Well, I'm entirely open about that and that's the reason for having the pilot. It's a pilot to understand if it delivers the improvement we want it to. Because we've had such a high take-up—you don't normally get the levels of take-up we've got; our understanding is that it's a 97 per cent take-up of the eligible cohort, which is extraordinary, and that's a good thing—that then means we've got a firmer understanding of our cost base. It also means we should have a firmer understanding for this group of people whether this is an intervention that works, because you haven't got large numbers of people doing other things as well.

And I'm interested in whether the pilot works, what the evaluation says. I can't give hard and fast commitments to future budgets or indeed what goes on beyond an election, because some of this will be past that, but I would be surprised if the party I lead was not interested in carrying this forward and having some sort of commitment in our manifesto to understand whether this is something—we aren't just proud of a pilot—whether it does give us, as you say, a longer term basis to have a successful intervention to support young people who have come through our care system, and that's why we started the pilot. I certainly hope the evidence allows us to do that, and then it will always be a challenge of not just what the Government proposes in a budget, but what the Senedd decides to endorse.

10:20

Yes. Thank you, First Minister. Just finally, Chair, on this point. The evidence and the evaluation is clear, do you have a timeline for when the final report on the evaluation will be? And included in that—. We've heard the voices of care-experienced care leavers who took part in this pilot, and their voice is going to be crucial to the evaluation, so will they be included in the final evaluation for this?

So, it's part of Cardiff University who are doing the evaluation for us. That's due with the final report expected in 2027, and we can't understand whether a pilot's been successful without hearing directly from the voices of people who have taken part in the pilot. So, the evaluation won't be worth while without the voices of people themselves.

So, 'yes', is the clear response to the request for a commitment, and I do already recognise that, anecdotally, we're hearing from people about the difference that it's making. So, there are reasons for optimism about this being an intervention that is well worth while, and I do look forward to the evaluation as it goes through. Whilst the final evaluation won't be until 2027, I would like to be in a position leading a future Government that confirms a permanent approach, that we have a good evidence base that will continue to improve our plans, not just for this group of young people, but actually what that means for us as a country as well.

Just a point on that from me: clearly, 2027 is, as you highlighted, after the next election. It's three years away, and eligibility has ended for it. What's your thinking regarding people who have just missed out, but are coming through in this next year, two years, and, as a consequence, will not benefit from this pilot? Is the Government looking at perhaps what it could do, or to extend that pilot? I understand that the evaluation of the pilot is separate, you've evaluated what's gone to date, but what's happening to this cohort that's coming through now, and particularly in those pilot areas where they've seen their compatriots maybe benefit, and they may not as a consequence have the opportunity to benefit? What's the Government's thinking on that?

I think that's something that the team that are looking at the pilot need to take into account. I think that's something that they will be doing, and to learn some of those lessons. And obviously, there will be financial implications of that, so that is something that will need to be considered. But you're right, you know, there's parity there for those that are later coming into that scheme.

And when do you think we can expect some form of—I don't know; not a decision—a proposal based upon that evaluation—a quick, short evaluation?

Well, the challenge is that we need to see the evaluation reports themselves, and we can't put the cart before the horse. We've had one initial evaluation report published in February, and we need to see as the evidence firms up and hardens. The first, that initial evaluation, was positive. It showed lots of good anecdotal feedback directly from people who had taken part, but we need to understand, for it to be a permanent intervention, whether it stacks up beyond the anecdotes, and then some of the challenge is understanding the longer term impact as well. And that is always difficult, because we're stuck in electoral cycles, and we? But actually, there's a reason why we've got a pilot that goes beyond an election cycle; there's a reason why we've got multi-year commitment and multi-year evaluation, because then we will have a firmer evidence base to make future choices. And I don't want to prejudge what the evaluation is going to say each year that we get it. What you can expect, though, is that there'll be a response and a consideration of what that evaluation says, and that will help to guide what the Government does in the meantime, as well. So, it's not like there'll be a hands-down, don't-do-anything-else approach, because I'm sure we're going to talk more about the wider transformation we're looking for.

10:25

Thank you very much indeed. If I may, could I just go back to questions relating to the first part of this session? I don't think you could see me waving, but I tried. Firstly, about your housing comment—very pertinent—just pointing out I was party to a committee report and inquiry two decades ago in which care-experienced young people identified housing as their No. 1 priority. We're now two decades on.

But in terms of more broad issues, my focus is on outcomes. I'm sure yours is also. Priority is what works on a sector-blind basis, not policies like eliminating profit for the sake of it. Personally, I remember horror stories about state provision of services for care-experienced children and young people in my younger days, and still receive casework from neurodiverse parents being targeted, intentionally parent blamed and threatened with care proceedings by people working in the statutory health and social care system. So, I object to services—profit and non-profit, state and independent—that are uncaring, unaccountable and badly commissioned.

But notwithstanding that and given your earlier comments regarding the radical reform declaration, and for clarity, will you provide absolute reassurance to this committee, and more importantly to care-experienced children and young people, that your Government will continue to prioritise delivering the commitments in the radical reform declaration agreed between care-experienced young ambassadors and Welsh Ministers, and an absolute commitment to continue with the programme of summit meetings between Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers and care-experienced young people, which have been facilitated by Voices from Care?

Yes, of course, we'll continue with not just the declaration, but the deliberate and planned engagement between myself as First Minister and other Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers with care-experienced children and young people. As I said earlier to James Evans, as well as, not instead of—as well as—the summit process, there are other engagement routes as well, and I want to make sure that those are available. So, it's not a one-shot event where engagement takes place, because that is then a single, anecdotal event, and I don't think it's helpful to see it in those terms, but to have a single event where there's clarity that there will be Cabinet Secretaries, Ministers and the First Minister engaging in addition to the regular engagement, I think, is a commitment that I'm more than happy to give. Because, as I say, it's important to listen to the voices of children and young people themselves.

I know we'll probably come to talk about staff, but the experience of our staff, whether in the statutory or the voluntary sector, or indeed the private sector, is important too in terms of how they do their job, how they're able to do a good job, and their ability and opportunity to listen and then make the decisions they need to make as well. I'm sure we'll come onto that during the course of the morning.

Thank you, Chair. Just briefly, if I may, you mentioned in an earlier answer the multi-year cycle nature of much of this, and you've just referenced there the importance of people within the sector being able to do their job. Of course, one challenge is that the non-governmental organisations in the children's rights sector go from 12 months to 12 months when it comes to funding. Having worked most of my professional career in the third sector, that really does stymie a lot of the work that you can do. So, are there any assurances or any commitments that you can make in terms of moving to more valuable or meaningful funding cycles, maybe three to five years, when it comes to those organisations?

We'd like to be able to do that, and at various points in time of the life of this institution, we've been able to. The challenge is that, even after the last UK spending review, we were clear that there would be really radical differences between one year and another. What the last three-year spending review did was it front-loaded lots of the spend, so, after that, there were real reductions in the money available, and there have been a multiplicity of fiscal events, if you want to be polite, in the last couple of years that have really upset the budget lines. I am hopeful that the next spending review will give us more certainty about our budgets and that will mean that we can give a planning horizon for a range of partners. NGOs, local authorities and others are asking for the same point: 'Can we have some multi-year certainty?' And if we were talking about European funding, we'd have the same conversation. An annual planning cycle doesn't get you the best value for money, but actually, we need more certainty to be able to do that. So, I can't tell you that I can do that today; I'm hopeful that we'll have a spending review that means that, before we get to the end of this financial year, we can give that forward greater certainty, because I understand why it makes a difference for planning and delivery.

10:30

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Bore da, Prif Weinidog. I want to ask some questions on care rates and long-term outcomes. We had a very valuable discussion before we started this committee meeting with the young people here and those who work with them. I think it's clear that there's a lot to be done to improve the experience of our young people and children in care—the services they receive and, indeed, the outcomes that they have. One of the basics, when we look at the difficulties—and it has been difficult for an awfully long time for different levels of Government to make the progress that I think we'd all like to see in terms of the experience that our children and young people have—one of the basic questions, then, I think, given that it is so difficult, is: are too many children being taken away from their families and into the care system in Wales? And it was the view of your predecessor that that was the case. The number of children in care in Wales increased by 83 per cent between 2003 and 2022, and we now have more than one child in every 100 in Wales living in care and those rates are significantly higher than in England. So, with that sort of background, First Minister, are you in agreement with your predecessor that too many children in Wales are being taken away from their families?

It's worth reflecting that Mark Drakeford was my predecessor as the health Minister as well, and when I was his deputy in that role, he had a very clear view that we were taking too many children into care. Part of the reason why I came into Government was that he wanted to have a greater oversight over the system and to think about the social care side as well. You get the difficult balance of the individual choices and then seeing the overall picture. And actually, since then, the picture is still broadly one where too many children and young people are taken into care. So, that is my view; I think too many children do get taken into care.

And this is the challenge in our whole system: if we were taking children into care and we thought that spending lots of money on the system was actually getting much better outcomes for those children and young people, then we'd look back and say, 'We're doing a good thing'. There's all the dislocation and the pain in doing that, but actually, what we know is that some people get decent outcomes from the care system; far too many people don't. So, overall, our system is taking people into a care system that doesn't deliver the outcomes that we would want. That's why we have a transformation programme; that's why we have a commitment to improving outcomes and at the same time, looking at how we can take fewer children and young people into our care system.

There is a range of factors around that. It's not as straightforward as Government declaring, 'You cannot take children into the care system', but it again highlights why earlier intervention and support for families and the support around that family really matter. Because an approach of making a declaration won't get us to where we need to be, neither in the numbers nor, crucially, in the outcomes for that child and their family in their context.

So, could I ask you, then, First Minister, have you had discussions with the Minister for Social Care, or will you have, in terms of what needs to happen to reverse this trend of more children being taken into care in Wales? What sort of long-term investment can we expect in terms of preventative services?

So, that is the programme that we're engaged in, and it's the challenge of delivering a longer term change and needing to have—going over to what Llyr Gruffydd pointed out—choices that are made over more than one year and the consistency in what we're doing. So, I don't think it's about having a significant new policy initiative to try and tear things up and do something slightly differently; actually, it's about doing successfully what we understand to be a better way of working and finding all the different resources to make it to work. So, that does mean working with lots of different partners: it means the statutory sector, it means NGOs, it means the families, it means the children and young people themselves. You've got to do that and you've also got to have an ongoing conversation around what takes place in our courts system that drives some of this, not all of it. It's not an excuse, because, actually, there are still choices that are made. So, all of those different parts of practice are things that we need to be able to address, and the programme we've got is trying to do that. The framework we've got is about how we do that successfully, what that means in practice, trying to make sure we deal with some of our resource questions to make sure people are able to do that and to have the time to do that, and never forgetting the end goal isn't simply to see a change in our numbers; it's to make better choices to deliver better outcomes with and for children and young people who are in our care system already, or who would otherwise be in our care system if we can't provide the intervention and support to deliver a better outcome for them.

10:35

Okay. Thank you for that. Of course, one important aspect of this picture is the huge variation between local authorities in Wales, and that's even if you take into account factors like deprivation and other circumstances involved. Per 10,000 head of population, it varies from 200 in Torfaen to, I think, just over 50 in Carmarthenshire. So, it's a massive variation and unexplained variation. So, is there a role there for the Welsh Government to work with local authorities to try and understand why that variation exists and to try and close that gap?

Yes. I'll ask Alistair and Taryn to come in and talk about both some of what we're doing and what it means in practice. The former First Minister was not a fan of having lots of targets. One of the targets that he did introduce was in the reduction in rates, and that's because there is a problem there. A target isn't the only means in itself, but it's part of wanting to understand and to highlight this significant variation, which isn't explained by economic and social factors. If you went through northern Valleys authorities, you'd still see a variation between them, when, actually, the social context isn't radically different to explain that. So, we know that there's variation that exists and there are different factors around that too. That's why the improvement programme is there, that's why we want to look at and highlight the rates that differ so much between different authorities, and that's why we've got to keep on coming back to not just the numbers, but then are we delivering better outcomes as well. Alistair.

Thanks, First Minister. We work very closely with local authorities. We've just conducted interviews with all 22, going through about where they are, about their own state of the nation. And we're aware of the workforce issues that they face, the pressures that they're under and the sort of ever-increasing complexity of need for children. We've seen lots of reviews into this area around variation over the years. I remember one from Cordis Bright, about a decade ago, and it very much looked at culture and leadership within local authorities, how that local authority was joined up as a corporate parent between housing, children's services and education, around the role of the independent reviewing officer, their quality assurance, their approach to threshold. One of the things that we've seen is there are lots of different practice frameworks across Wales, and one of the things we're introducing is a national practice framework. So, there's a lot going on in this space that we're looking at with local authorities, about why we have that variance. We know, a few years ago, not every local authority had an edge-of-care service; everyone does now. That's part of the investment that we've put in as the Welsh Government. So, there's a whole range of things that we're talking about with local authorities.

It's interesting about Carmarthenshire. Probably most of the children in Carmarthenshire are not from Carmarthenshire. They are placed from the M4 corridor. They are from Cardiff, Newport. So, there's something there about—. And this is going back to our approach around eliminating profit, it's that we have 25 per cent of our children placed out of county. So, they're not in their local community. I don't think that aids reunification with their parents, keeping in touch with their schools. So, there's work that we're doing about making sure we have locally accountable services—the profit that's coming out from residential is very high, that money can be reinvested—and making sure that not just fewer children are coming into care, but that their length of time in care is as short as possible, and that we're making sure that we have the provision that meets their needs, and we support their parents with things like parental advocacy. So, there are lots of things about the service around prevention that we need to focus on, but also around the leadership of local authorities and how they work both locally and regionally. I'm not sure if, Taryn, you want to—.

10:40

I would echo many of Alistair's points. I think it's probably important to note as well that Social Care Wales are leading on a piece of work that's looking at practice frameworks across Wales that local authorities are implementing, which guide their practice, and that review will be completed in September of this year, and that will inform us further about where we can see changes and variations in children-looked-after numbers, and what practice frameworks are associated with that. So, that will inform policy, moving forward.

I've got Jenny and Mark who want to ask supplementaries. We'll come back to you, John.

What your two civil servants have outlined is, obviously, very important work, but what I'm concerned about is the pace of change, because, despite the fact that we had a First Minister who made this one of his high-level commitments and ambitions, we're still not improving what we do and how we do it. The slippage in the milestones that the Government established have just constantly slipped. The six new standards were supposed to have been completed by the end of March this year; they're now not going to be produced until the end of the year. And, in the meantime, we continue to be an outlier in terms of taking the numbers of children we're taking into care, and the huge cost involved, when there has to be better ways of doing this. So, I just want to hear from you, First Minister, as to how you're going to change the dial much more speedily, because we haven't got time on our side and children's lives are being affected as a result.

One of the big challenges we know that we face is about the urgency for change and, at the same time, there isn't a switch to flick that changes outcomes for people, because the support that you need, the intervention you need, to prevent children from going into the care system, and still making sure that they're safe and they have good prospects for the future of their life, that's part of it, as well as, then, what you do when people are in the care system as well. It does highlight, though, the commitment from the First Minister, going all the way back to his time in practice before he was a politician, his time as a health Minister and now, and, actually, the stubbornness of some of the cultural challenge is really difficult. So, it sets out all the challenges we have, but what we'll continue to do is to be open. And, actually, having the openness about what our data shows us and the openness about listening to children and young people themselves is, actually, one of the most important drivers, I think. There'll be a continued commitment from the Government. 

When you see the legislative reform that we go through around the profit motive, that is all about delivering a better service. It is not about taking ideological approach to saying, 'I don't like profit'; it's actually about an approach that says, 'We are convinced that the market does not deliver the right quality of care and the right outcomes, and, actually, it will continue to take money out of the system without delivering what we need.' So, it's about improvement that always—

That always has to continue. What I can't do though, Jenny, is I can't tell you that there is a particular issue that I can put my finger on that will deliver the increase in pace that everyone in this room, not just around this table, would want to see. That is about trying to understand what the evidence tells us about how you deliver improvement and how rapidly you do it, and then coming back about where we are, and being honest about that as well.

Okay. I urge you to look at why we are consistently missing the targets that the Government sets itself when we hear some local authorities are even suggesting they might go bankrupt as a result of their failure to change the model of support.

Alistair will—[Inaudible.]—then I'll deal with the financial point.

Just to say, on targets, we do everything to meet our targets, and we set ambitious targets. You will see, from the work that we're doing, that we're doing a huge range of things. On the national practice framework, we haven't done a national practice framework before. We've tried to learn the lessons from England, which didn't go so well. We've got Anthony Douglas doing that work for us. We haven't changed the deadline about, 'This will be done by the end of the year.' However, when we went out on the first six, and we've done the consultation, the feedback that we've had from local authorities is they thought the frame of it and what it was trying to achieve, they wanted us to do further work on it, so Anthony is doing that at the moment. And I think that once we get the first six right, then it will be much quicker for us to do the others. So, I would just say, 'Just bear with us on that.' Absolutely, I know it was supposed to be done by the end of March, but it wasn't fit for purpose so we've rightly gone out to do it. Anthony's rewriting it at the moment and I'm hopeful that will be done in the next two weeks, when we're meeting up with him again. We've got to make sure that it's fit for purpose out there, because I think what we're hearing is there's no point having something that's just going to sit on the shelf; it's got to be something with practice frameworks. All the research is that if they're too long, nothing happens. If you don't have the right culture, leadership and training, nothing happens. So, I'd rather have a little bit of a delay as a Government to get it right, and then we'll come back and we can update the committee on our progress, absolutely, Jenny.

10:45

But there is an endemic problem, isn't there, that good practice doesn't travel well, and that there is huge variation, as John Griffiths has said, between local authorities? So, we somehow have to get a grip on this because of the urgency for the outcomes for children.

And that is part of the challenge, isn't it? You want to see the most urgent action taken, and yet, actually, if you intervene before you’re ready, and before you have the right intervention, you could actually make the situation worse. And we do know that, in this area, if you try a 'wave a big stick' approach, that isn’t going to work. You’ve got lots of different partners to work with—parents, families, the children and young people themselves, the different agencies in the statutory and non-statutory sectors. You’ve got to get more than one group of people pointing in the right direction to support people to help them to make choices, and that means there’s complexity in the challenge and in the answer to deliver the improvement that everyone in this room wants to see, and wants to see happen as soon as possible.

The financial challenge that you mentioned, Jenny, is real. It isn’t just the challenge in children’s services that drives an extraordinarily difficult climate for local government; it’s the reality of the fact that there is less money available comparatively compared to 10 years ago or more. And when you then have all of those challenges that are taking up every discretionary service and reducing them, it does start to bite in your big statutory services as well.

We have a conversation with local government about the finance. I met with the leader and the chief executive of the WLGA this week. There are obvious concerns across the local government family about the current and any future settlement. I don’t think it would be right to say that this particular area is what could cause a significant challenge for an individual local authority on its own. It’s a multiplicity of challenges. I think, otherwise, that sounds to me like blaming an area for the overall picture that local government finds it faces after a succession of real-terms reductions in budget. Even with the additional financial resources we’ve put in in cash terms, there are real pressures on their budgets, as there are in every area of the public realm.

Thank you. First, a very brief comment, and then my specific question. We know from previous decades there's absolutely no guarantee that a non-profit model would prevent moneys leaving the sector. In fact, when, in previous decades, we had public sector provision primarily, they cost more generally and delivered less. So, it should not be presented as a guarantee that there will be additional money for the sector accordingly.

Earlier, I referred to neurodiverse parents. The majority of my casework involving care proceedings, or threatened care proceedings, involves neurodiverse parents, primarily mothers, neurodiverse children, or both. I’m wondering what analysis the Welsh Government has undertaken or commissioned to establish whether this trend, which is also evident in my work as chair of the cross-party groups on autism and disability and so on, is a factor that needs to be focused upon in the Welsh Government’s actions to tackle the rising levels of care proceedings. More broadly, as Chair of the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee, we know that an issue continuously raised by the auditor general in various reports is the lack of effective monitoring and evaluation of existing legislation and guidance, such as the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, and also the Equality Act 2010, and the Welsh Government’s own autism code, which enables local authorities and others who don’t necessarily wish to acknowledge those pieces of legislation and what they require of them to parent blame and, unfortunately, target articulate neurodiverse parents who dare to challenge them by quoting their rights in Welsh and UK law. So, my second and final question in this context would be: how will you address the deficit in monitoring and evaluation of existing particularly Welsh Government legislation to ensure that where local authorities don't understand or are not applying the requirements of them under that legislation are helped, supported, but ultimately required to do so?

10:50

It's not quite a supplementary, but we'll take them. 

Look, I'll deal with the Bill again and I'll say something about where we are in improving outcomes with and for neurodiverse people, and then I'll ask Alistair to deal with some of the more specific points. So, on the Bill, Mark, I don't think today is the day to keep on rehearsing our different views on a profit motive in residential services with and for children. I understand you've got a different view. I don't want to get drawn into a detailed debate around it, but we're not going to judge the position we face today on what happened 30 or 40 years ago. We need to understand what's happening now with the market that exists, with the money that is being paid and with the escalator of additional resources that will be required if we stick to the current market response, and the understanding that that doesn't deliver against all of the needs that our children and young people have.

So, the intervention is not simply about the profit motive. In fact, it is about how we deliver better outcomes for people and make better use of the money that we are putting into that system. We'll go through scrutiny on the Bill, and I'm sure you'll have a further opportunity to express your own views. I'm a man of the world; I understand you're unlikely to support the Government on this.

On neurodivergence, I recognise the picture you're painting where some parents feel they are being blamed for trying to stand up for their children, and I've seen this lots in my own casework where you support people, and it can be a very difficult time in feeling that you're having to fight for your child to have a future, including when your child is an adult as well. I also, though, recognise that from where we were many decades ago to now, I think we are in a better position in both understanding and recognising neurodivergence, and not just existing. There's still a challenge that we regularly hear from some actors, claiming that lots of neurodivergence isn't real, and I think that is always unfortunate and not well-founded on the evidence.

But it's actually about how neurodivergence is seen as a strength in some areas of future activity. There are businesses that want neurodivergent people, to identify them as an asset, and what that then allows that person to do is to see themselves and the strengths of who they are, to see the whole person, and not to continue have someone saying that they're a problem. And I think remembering that we are talking about people here and how we improve their outcomes is the most important thing in all of this, and changing the tenor of our debate. 

When it then comes to reform and improvement, this is not a finished area. The reforms we have introduced and their delivery is something that goes across a range of areas. I've had conversations, for example, with the new Cabinet Secretary for Education about the need to continue the monitoring and the effectiveness of our delivery on additional learning needs reform as well. So, there's a recognition that, for the progress we've made, there's still a great deal more to do, and I expect that everyone in this room who's an elected representative will have their own examples of casework of where they recognise there have been problems, and other areas where you've been able to help effect some improvement. That's why the reform and improvement programme is necessary, in more than just this one area that we're talking about today.   

Diolch, Cadeirydd. In terms of outcomes, First Minister, education is absolutely key to life chances and personal development, and when we look at the five GCSE statistic that's used—grade C or above in five subjects including mathematics, English or Welsh—it's very different for care-experienced young people compared to the general cohort. I think it's 17 per cent compared to 54 per cent. So, again, there's a lot of progress that needs to be made. Would you expect the new education Cabinet Secretary to come forward with a new strategy to address these issues, and make sure that we do have that radical improvement as we move forward?  

10:55

The answer to that is 'yes' and 'no', John. So, yes, I expect the new Cabinet Secretary—and I've spoken to her—to want to deliver improved outcomes for children and young people in well-being and outcome terms, in terms of what education provides for them and their platform in life—absolutely, unquestionably. Whether you need a new strategy to do that for care-experienced children and young people, I'm not so convinced about.

Part of what we're trying to do in the Government—. And you will recall a previous First Minister, from some time ago, who talked about the Welsh Government being a strategy factory. We have lots and lots of strategies; what we actually need to be able to do is to do more in the delivery space and the practical improvement. So, I would need a high bar to be set before we have another strategy. I understand why people call for a strategy in an area where they think there's an improvement that needs to be made. The danger is that you end up having lots and lots of different strategies that don't talk to each other, and you lose the coherence of what you're trying to do.

So, yes, we want to see standards improved for all of our children, and, yes, we know that this cohort of children—and I know the phrase we normally use is 'looked-after children' in the education sector, in the definitional terms—but how we improve outcomes, because 17 per cent achieving five GCSE equivalents of C and above doesn't reflect the ability. It reflects the challenges in their life, in the main. So, that's what we need to be able to do and to recognise. So, the greatest ability we're talking about, about that child's life, is almost always a platform for greater achievement, and you know that instinctively, but actually there's a lot of evidence that supports that as well. So, that is what I expect the commitment to be. So, don't expect a new strategy, but you can expect to hear real commitment from Lynne Neagle, in her new role, about what she is determined to do for children and young people across Wales.

Yes. Just a really quick point, First Minister. I sat on the inquiry looking into care-experienced children, and we heard a lot of evidence of young people, during their education, at key points during their educational life, being moved during the middle of GCSEs into different educational establishments, being moved just before GCSEs, being moved into different schools, or they just get settled in one school and they get moved again. So, even though you say we don't need a strategy for care-experienced children, they do face significant challenges that other people in education do not. And that's the key point of what I think John was trying to get at there: we do need some special provision there for that, if we are seeing that those young people aren't getting the grades they want because of the upset they keep having in their lives. So, there does need to be something in place to make sure that they are getting the education that they need, and they aren't being moved all the time, which does affect their life chances as well.

I think there are two specific things I can talk about: one is that part of the pupil development grant does include specific funding to try to support outcomes for care-experienced children. So, it's specifically taken account of in the way that grant is delivered, and that was a choice that the Government made some years ago, because it recognised the additional challenges. The second, in terms of specific parts, is we are piloting a virtual schools model to help improve outcomes for care-experienced children. We're expecting a report—. I think, is it March next year that we're expecting the report back on that pilot? And more than that, though, there is the point about how you make decisions around and with a child and to understand their context. And the exam season they're in is one of those really important parts of context.

If you come out of school with two GCSEs, when you're capable of getting seven good ones, it doesn't just mean you haven't done everything you could've done; actually, second and third-chance education is always there, but it's harder than getting it right first time. So, actually, that context in which you make choices around that child is important. The difficulty is that we're not here to review every individual choice that's made, but to understand what would have been a better choice for that person. And, by the time you're into GCSEs, 15 and 16-year-olds have often got a wide range of views on life, and some of them you would say have a greater life experience than adults of many years their senior. So, to understand and to hear their voice effectively in the choices that are being made about their future, I think, really is important. So, I recognise that disruption has a real impact.

Yes. I think those are really good points. This is the area that comes up at the summit, about social workers coming in to schools and being disruptive, so there's work that we're doing with the national practice framework, also about having everyone trauma informed. We think we need to do better and more on that, I think that's absolutely crucial; how foster carers work with schools, and get that link, because, obviously, they're the ones that are working with the child at home. So, I think there's a whole range of things here that we're working on. We visit schools and we hear in particular about the transition from primary to secondary. That's a real area that the virtual schools model is looking at, because that can be very difficult because a child can lose some of its support networks, and it comes back to having trusted adults. There's a lot we're doing in this space, and I'm happy again to update the committee on the work that we're doing.

11:00

I want to move on because we have a short amount of time and there's a lot of areas we haven't yet touched. So, Jack, do you want to talk about corporate parenting? 

Yes. I'm grateful, Chair. First Minister, you said to John Griffiths earlier on that too many people go into the care system and that you share the view of the former First Minister, but when children do enter the care system, the latest figures show—. I'm conscious James Evans just talked about the interruptions of moving schools, but also the importance of a stable home. The figures show that over 25 per cent of children who have gone into care in the year up to March 2023 moved homes or care placements more than two or more times. What role does the state play as the corporate parent in trying to improve that? How do you envisage some improvements to ensuring that children that go into care do have a stable home, for all of the benefits that we have discussed already?

I think you'll find that most new local authority councillors don't realise that they are corporate parents—don't realise that they've got end parental responsibilities for significant numbers of children they've never met. I think there's then a challenge about how a local authority gets engagement from its membership more broadly, and actually in particular the leadership of that authority around what it will do to improve outcomes. Now, that's part of what we've been looking to do to make sure that more people sign up to a greater understanding of their responsibilities and what that then means.

And then you've got all the difficulties that we've rehearsed before of the resource base that a council has, of the different agencies you need to have to support that child and their family in their context, to understand how you improve their outcomes, and ideally you want fewer interventions, fewer moves, because all of that disruption always has the risk of making things worse within that move at that point in time. Now, that does not mean those choices are always simple or easy, because that child could be at risk and need to be moved at points in time, but to want to have greater stability in our system is part of what we're looking at.

And, again, there are examples of where this is happening. Gwent is often a good example of where authorities and the health service are looking at what they can do together to understand the different needs of people, but there's more improvement that we need, and again it comes back to how you deal with levelling-down variation helpfully and how do you make sure that there's a greater understanding. We've got a corporate parent pledge as well that lots have already signed up to, including Welsh Government and Welsh Ministers.

Thank you. On the point of the corporate parenting charter, I think it's called, both the children and young people's committee in the extensive inquiry they did, and the Petitions Committee, came to the same recommendation that all public bodies in Wales should sign up to the corporate parenting pledge to try and remove some of those barriers about understanding who is a corporate parent and what that means for the child in care. I believe the children and young people's committee heard that the problem with that is that it's a voluntary pledge, and therefore it's unenforceable. Do you think the pledge needs to be stronger, and if so, what does that look like? 

I think the challenge always is, 'What does that look like?', and if you design an architecture of reporting systems, how you get useful information from them and whether you're getting people to focus on what they actually need to do to improve outcomes for people. So, there's always a challenge about your human resource base. But we are looking, and we've got a corporate parenting implementation group to look at how organisations are not just signing up to that, but what they're then actually doing. So, I want to understand more about that ongoing work, how that's being done, and how we do then get back useful information on what they're actually doing to improve their role. Because I think that's the thing we're driving towards, isn't it? It's, 'How do we get real improvement?', and the corporate parenting charter is a part of that, but it does need to be carried through.

Thank you. I think, in all the evidence that committee members of the Petitions Committee heard, was the need for the children's voices to be heard, and we have some of them in the room today. As part of that implementation group, how are those children's voices being heard? Are they involved? Are the organisations involved? I can see Alistair nodding, so I'll go to Alistair first. 

11:05

We work through Voices, and young people are represented in all our groups that we're working with, so we're absolutely hearing their voice. Actually, what they were saying on the corporate parenting implementation group is—. I think some of them are challenging, saying that we should all sign up and make sure this is in legislation. We're saying that we're on a journey around awareness, where we would expect all our local authorities to sign up, and our local health boards, but that we want to get the message out and get others involved. I think, for them, one of the key issues was what are they signing up to, how will they will be accountable.

There's something about, as we go on this journey—and I think this has already been our commitment as Government—if we don't think people are signing up to this charter, we can use legislation in the future; of course we can. But I think what we're trying at the moment—and I think the group is in agreement—is that we work in partnership, get the word out there, hold some events, where we're actually celebrating the things that they're doing for young people to encourage other organisations. We're getting the private sector signed up. I think John Lewis in particular is very keen. So, we're trying to get the message out. This isn't just about the public; this is about private as well. It's about jobs. And the health service is very committed to this; we know they're a huge employer. And jobs are absolutely crucial for the future of our young people.

I think it's early days for us. I would say this is ambitious. We've got others coming to us from other nations asking about what we're doing. Other places do covenants and things. So, we're looking at what's the learning, how can we take this forward and build on it. I think we just want to work with organisations in Wales to sign up.

Thank you, Alistair. I'll move on to corporate grandparenting, which, again, is perhaps something that local authorities aren't aware of in terms of their duties there. I was stunned during the time of the Petitions Committee inquiry, where many care-experienced parents explained their experience where they felt some members of social services judged them to be unfit parents just because they'd been in the system themselves. I remember one story of a parent saying social services came in and told them, 'You'll never be a good parent, you'll end up just like your mother', and poured an unopened bottle of wine, which had been there for six months as a Christmas present, down the drain. It seems the judgement was pre-made for this individual. Do you think that is a societal issue and a change of culture is needed, as we've talked about today, or is there something more in the system where we can point to, to try and help these individuals, where they don't, perhaps, need to have their child taken away from them, they're good parents, and they have their own experiences to reflect on?

I'll say something, and then I'll ask Taryn to come in and say something from a practitioner point of view as well. We know that this is something that—not just for the children and young people who are here today—is a broader challenge as well, and that there are always societal challenges. When you have societal stigma, it would be surprising if that isn't reflected in large groups of workers.

The care I think we need is in the clarity that the example you've given is not acceptable, and you need to see that person in their context, and see who they are, not turn up with a decision already made without ever having met them. But it is, then, how do you support someone in their context. If someone is experiencing domestic violence or abuse, how do you support them, how do you keep them, and potentially a child, safe as well? What does that look like? And then, at the same time, it's needing to have a conversation that doesn't default into, 'It must be the social worker's fault', because, actually, we need more people engaged in this field, and in a way where they get to do their job and support people effectively. Often, that is them working in partnership, not just with the person, with the family, but, actually, with non-governmental organisations and other support groups as well.

So, it is about how we have improvement in the clarity, and what our expectations are for values and understanding, and what that means in practice, and, then, how we go on to try to support that person. Taryn's actually been on the front line as a social worker in a way that I have not, and I don't think—. Whilst you've been an engineering apprentice, I don't think you've done this yet. 

On that note, having recently moved into Government 10 months ago from being a head of children's services, I think the experience for the sector would be that there's some real progressive work being undertaken in terms of our corporate grandparenting duties. I think that is a journey. I think there's been real bravery from our young people to share their stories about their experiences, which are really allowing local authorities to shape how they enhance services in a different way. I know at the social care accolades yesterday we heard Swansea won an award for the work that they are doing in supporting care-experienced young people who are becoming parents, and taking their corporate grandparenting role forward. As I said, I think there's more to do. It's about how we support our practitioners. It's about how we create a workforce who have the assessment skills and psychological safety to balance risks in a different way that allows them to make different decisions. I feel confident that the sector are aware of the challenge before them and are taking that forward, but as I've said, I think there's work still to do. We do know that the regional integration fund and the transformation fund, underneath the eliminate profit, to safely reduce children becoming looked after, are all contributing to how local authorities are able to develop their services in that area.

11:10

I'm conscious of the time we have, Chair, so I'll hand back.

I just want to go on to one final point on that. The Welsh Government's own guidance says that local authorities, when they are acting as a corporate parent, should be asking, 'Is this good enough for my own child?' CYPE went on to expand upon that, and said that they should consider whether they would be happy if their own child was cared for by the system that was operating. Do you think that latter question should be more focused in local authorities' minds, and particularly councillors' minds? Because, as you cite, First Minister, whilst we set the guidance and framework, local authorities are delivering on the ground, and it's important that they are comfortable that the services they provide are sufficient to ensure that they would be happy if it was their own child in the care system.

I think for elected members, particularly those who aren't aware, I think it is a useful question to get them to consider, because I don't think any elected member would say they'd be happy for their own child to have some of the experiences that children living through the care system do. The challenge is, though, that actually when you then get to practitioners, practitioners understand that they're engaging around a family because there are risks for that child and for that family. And that's in its broadest sense. That's not being negative or asserting that these are, like in some of the language we've heard in some of the other parts of the UK, 'problem families'—we want to talk about the strengths and opportunities families have to help them to deal with some of the challenges that exist.

For all of us elected members around this table, we can provide different opportunities for our children and families, and we're happy to do that in terms of what we're able to do for our families. And I wouldn't want to say to someone around this table that you should not be able to do that, but it's the understanding of how do we do something to improve our system, because we know that the system we have does not deliver those outcomes that we would expect for our own children, and that's the point about the improvement. How do we look at what 'better' looks like? How do we understand the complex life that that family has? How do we look at what that means for that child? And how do we then say, 'This is what we're doing for improvement'?

So, you come back to the whole reason why we've got all these different interventions. They're all about the end improvement in outcomes. So, I understand why the question is asked. It's something helpfully provocative to say, 'Would this be good enough for your child?' but you still then need to go on and say, 'So, if it isn't good enough, what do you do about it?' and recognise there's a need for improvement. And that's where we are with getting policy into practice and needing the urgency that Jenny talked about, but still understanding what the right intervention is, and that will differ for different families as well.

One of the questions that will help answer that is resourcing, clearly, because how we help and support families is a resourcing matter, much of it. We'll go on to workforce now. Then we'll go on to child poverty, because I'm very conscious of the time, when we have got, still, large and important areas to cover. James.

I just want to test your patience a little bit, Chair, and just go back very slightly before I move on to workforce, if that's okay.

Well, you'll need to be very quick, because we haven't got a lot of time.

It's about care-experienced children who then have children themselves. It's an area I feel very strongly about. I've listened to those people, and they are discriminated against because they've been in care before. They're ultimately discriminated against—there's no other word for it. And I don't think, personally, and from the work I've done on the committee, that Government are doing enough in this area to stop those people being discriminated against. I'd be interested to hear from your officials what the Welsh Government is doing to protect those parents. And I do feel like they need to be protected from social workers as well, because they are discriminated against, and I think the Government should do more in this area.

I'll ask Taryn to come in, because I think this gets into a space that I think is really difficult. You talk about protecting those people from social workers; actually, we need social workers to be able to do their job to support people to help make choices, and these are difficult choices that get made. And if there is a very poor outcome, if a child or a young person comes to harm, you can guarantee people ask questions around, 'Where were the social workers? Why didn't they act earlier?' So, you have this balance. And every time you see a national story on this, there is a frenzy around the social worker. So, we've got to understand—as I said to Jack Sargeant—what is and isn't acceptable, but, then, how we support people to make choices with the families that we're trying to help, with the young person we're trying to help. This is all about improving outcomes, not going in with stigma, not going in with predetermination, but to still think about how do we support that person in their context. Taryn.

11:15

I think it's very important to note that, in terms of social workers and social work practice, they are incredibly committed to achieving good outcomes for care-experienced young people and for people who they are undertaking assessments for care and support. So, it's important to consider the complexities of the system that they work in. And I think that's where our focus should be, in terms of how the system supports care-experienced young people to keep children within their care. What is important as part of that is how we support our social workers to be able to make the right decision at the right time—how we increase the services that I've alluded to earlier, in terms of how they can wrap around our care-experienced young people. Because we all know, as parents, that parenting is very, very difficult. We all know that we rely on our extended family members, particularly when we become a first-time parent. And what we need to do is create a system that allows that for our young people. What we need to do for social workers is ensure that they have the resource and services available that allows them, when they identify a need, to have an intervention that will be bespoke and support that young person. And that, I think, is why the transformation of children's services agenda is really important in terms of how we change that system to allow practitioners to have the right environment for practice so that they can gain the right outcomes for our young people.

We've got some great outcomes, haven't we, from Reflect. I know we've got some people here today who will be testament to work the work that we've been doing. There's also Project Unity, Baby and Me, our strength-based practice framework, very much looking at all the support that we can provide to parents—and parental advocacy support. So, I appreciate there's more that we can do, but I think we've got some great examples of things that we're doing that we should be building on across Wales.

Thank you. It actually leads on well to the next set of questions from me, which is on workforce. I don't like using the word 'crisis', but there is a coming crisis in our social care workforce right the way across Wales, especially in the children and young people area across Wales. And for those here today, the amount of changes that they have in social workers, for families, there's no continuity. Those young people are having to explain their case over and over again to different social workers. Then you've got the over-reliance on agency staff as well. In my time in local government, the cost of agency was crippling the local authority. That's where most of our money was going, to pay for agency staff.

Over time, when looking at other committee reports, this is an area that really needs to be focused on laser-sharp about how we actually address the social care workforce issues across Wales. But the problem that we always found is who is ultimately responsible for sorting the problem out. Because I've said in my time on the committee that the buck seems to pass between different agencies: 'It's not us, it's them.' So, First Minister, who is ultimately responsible for sorting this out? Is it the Welsh Government? Is it Social Care Wales? The Association of Directors of Social Services? Or is there somebody else there who can come in to actually grasp this issue and try and sort it out once and for all? Because we're not serving the young people of Wales properly when we keep having the revolving door of social workers, which we've currently got now.

I think demanding a single-answer response to that would not be honest, because the Welsh Government has responsibilities and local authorities have responsibilities. We set policy frameworks, we make budget choices, and then local authorities make their own choices as well.

On agency, there's been a reduction in agency in Wales. From October last year to January this year, there's been a reduction of 40 in number in terms of agency staff—from 320 to 280. So, there's been a reduction. There's been a move due to some agency staff being made permanent social workers. Actually, you want to see that continue. Because, actually, to plan and run your service, having a more stable base of permanent staff is always a better basis to be on, and, actually, it's better for the local authority financially as well.

We do, though, have an unavoidable challenge in the amount of money we're able to provide to services. Everyone here would be able to give an example of where they think that more money could be used and should be used and it would be an entirely reasonable case—not just in this field, but a whole range of others. And yet we've just set our budget, and painful choices in that budget. A few weeks ago, I was being asked about the national museum. If you told me I had a single £1 to spend and I can either put it into children's services or the national museum, I think most people would know where I'd choose to spend that single £1.

So, you've got to do more than one thing in setting the budget, and all of us know that. When you run your own household budget, you have to say 'no' to some things in order to say 'yes' to others. The difficulty with the Government is that, when we're saying 'no' to some things, that can have real consequences in terms of jobs, in terms of service delivery, and here, crucially, not just jobs and service delivery, but what you're then able to do to help improve people's lives. And it's why council tax choices are always difficult for local authorities as well. So, I don't think it's as simple as saying that one person should craft this and grip it and make it work, because you need a budget as a base to do that with, and you then need to understand what model you're investing in as well.

Putting lots of money into a system that doesn't deliver—and that's our view on the way that profit works in parts of our system—well, we don't think that that will deliver. So, sometimes you do need to transform the way that your system works and, other times, it's a straightforward challenge of the resource you have and don't have. Despite that, we think we are making real progress in a number of areas, and you heard examples from Taryn and Alistair on those. But I would always want to do more, and to do more as quickly as possible, in the way that Jenny I'm sure will not just urge me today but in a range of other fora as well. And that's important. You should never lose sight of the fact that your inability to move as fast as you want to means that there are people living through a circumstance that you recognise isn't acceptable. 

11:20

I think, First Minister, the point is that we have to talk the service up, don't we, as well, because nobody wants to go to work for a service that people talk down all the time. And I think it's very, very important that we do that. And I just want to put on the record my thanks to all those social workers out there across Wales, who do a great job. But one thing that we've heard a lot about is caseloads, and a lot of people who work in the service say that they've got unmanageable caseloads of 20, 30, 40 cases, sometimes, for one individual social worker. They can't manage that, and then it drives them out of the service because they just can't cope with that pressure. And then you've also got people underneath the social work level who don't want to train up to be social workers because they don't want to have that level of responsibility. One of the recommendations that came through a report previously was about setting a maximum level in legislation of caseloads per social worker. We're talking about radical reform of the service; that could be a radical reform that could actually make a huge difference to recruitment and retention of our social workers. Is that something that you'd be willing to look at?

Well, you know the Government rejected that recommendation. I think anyone who proposes that should think what you do if you reach a limit and you're not legally allowed to take on any extra work if you have another child who needs support, another family. Do you say, 'The inn is full, take your luck in the stable'; or do you say, actually, 'We've got to find a way to try to manage in the resources we've got'? It actually underpins, though, the reason for reform in the way that we deliver our services—the need to get earlier intervention, the need to make sure that we're more effective in what we're doing in supporting families to make better choices.

I understand why, on a piece of paper, it might be attractive to say, 'Just set a limit, and that will stop people being overworked', but you've got to think actually what is the consequence of that for staff, who may say, 'I want to do more, I know there's more need out there and I'm being stopped from doing that.' Or do you then just simply get into actually being even more reliant on agency and other actors as well? So, I don't think it's as simple as changing the law will make all of these problems go away. I actually think it would be a poorly judged intervention if that's what were to happen. The improvement programme that we have, the ability to have a more predictable base for investment in the service, all of those things will make a difference, as well as the way that we work. So, these aren't just nice things to say; they matter in terms of getting people to trust you to engage and then how you can help and support them in making choices.

And I should say that my own experiences, as an elected representative and as a parent, really do colour my view on a whole range of these things, and how difficult some things are, meeting people and understanding what can make a really big difference to them. Sometimes, it is just about someone listening to them, and other times they've got a really complex life with lots of challenges, and you still want to support them to see a better outcome for them. And you then go to your own home and you often reflect on how fortunate you are. Not everyone has that as part of their day-to-day experience. It's why, though, going back to the start, the commitment from the previous Government with the previous First Minister remains, with this being a priority for the Government and trying to make sure that we continue with our focus on improving outcomes.

11:25

I'm going to move on. Sorry, James, but we've got very little time left in this session, and we haven't touched child poverty yet and I want Llyr and Jenny to come in with questions, and I will go an extra five minutes beyond our time for this purpose. So, Llyr.

Thank you, Chair. You told the Senedd last week that

'the fight to lift children out of poverty will be at the heart of this Welsh Government's mission.'

So, what does that mean? What will you be doing differently to your predecessor?

Well, we already have a child poverty strategy—it's about how we are actually able to deliver around that and for that. One of the things I've been really clear about is to refocus again on the first 1,000 days in a child's life, understanding the difference that can make, and, actually, the difference you can make before birth—so, actually, it's a 1,000 days plus—to understand, at that point in time, particularly for first-time parents, the motivation to try and do the right thing and the understanding in a positive way, not in a negative, 'If you get this wrong, you will do something terrible', but, actually, in a positive way, that you are going to be the biggest influence in your child's life and how you can make a massive, positive difference. And, actually, we know that that has longer term consequences in a really positive way. If you get it right in that first 1,000 days, then outcomes in that child's life and that parent and family's life are likely to be better—there's plenty of evidence about that.

And it's also why there's the commitment to the continued roll-out of improving what we're doing with Flying Start, which of course, is a co-operation agreement commitment. But, actually, there's a much clearer and firmer evidence base about the difference that that programme has made. In Wales, we've maintained and invested in that; in Sure Start in England, it's been reduced significantly. So, there are things that we're doing with our money, and the join-up of those and highlighting the importance of that time. And if we can have extra resources, I'm keen that we can invest in that first 1,000 days in a child's life to do more and more of that. Now, I hope that the context of what the Government is able to do financially will shift during the course of this year, but it remains my view, and the view of all Ministers in my Government, that this is a key priority for the whole Government.

I'm not sure whether I'm hearing you saying that there hasn't been sufficient focus on the first 1,000 days in recent years.

No, I'm not going into attacking the previous Government that I served in—

Well, you don't have to attack them—you can just be honest with the committee.

No, this—. I'm a grown-up and I understand where that leads.

Oh, and I'm not, am I, First Minister—is that what you're saying?

Well, come on, I mean, I'm asking questions and, you know—.

I understand how all those things get reported and viewed. I'm clear about the need to refocus again on the first 1,000 days of a child's life to understand the difference we can make and to prioritise that within the Government and with our partners too. We actually have a base of things we're already doing to build on and to make more progress on, and that's what I'm interested in doing.

So, does the child poverty strategy that was published, which you referenced in January, sufficiently reflect your ambitions for child poverty?

If we delivered the objectives in the child poverty strategy, we would make a radical difference to the lives of children here in Wales. And I was the Deputy Minister for tackling poverty in my first ministerial role. We had a plan at the time that we wanted to deliver against. We had hard outcomes and targets in that, and we found that, actually, the things that we were in control of, we were making a difference with, but we actually found that there were lots of other things outside of the Welsh Government's and our partners' ability to control and direct that were making a really big difference. It is a matter of fact, not opinion, that UK Government tax and benefit choices have made things harder for less wealthy families with children. That's just the undeniable reality of it. So, we're swimming against the tide in one direction. 

And also, the reality of the economy has been flat. We've been in a recession. We're likely to have come out of it, but the flatlining of the UK economy has had direct consequences in Wales, and it's this point about, when work pays, children will benefit. And we know at the moment that, for far too many children and their families, work doesn't pay. That's why so many of our children grow up with an adult in that household who's in work. So, our economic mission and our ability to improve the economy is a key aspect of child poverty. That's why it's mentioned within the objectives in the strategy.

I understand the calls for targets in the strategy, and I understand why they're made. I still think we have the right approach in being able to measure and understand what difference we're making and to be clear about what we will do with the levers we have, and our clear call for other actors to make different choices will make a real difference for children and their families here.

I was going to ask you about targets, obviously, and that's something—

The Chair of the committee will, I'm sure, ask those questions.

Oh, well, there we are; let's leave it to the expert, yes. [Laughter.]

The Equality and Social Justice Committee heard a wealth of evidence that the Welsh Government's draft poverty strategy lacked ambition, and focused far too much on what we can't control, which is what goes on at the other end of the M4. So, we can't do anything about the way the universal credit system is set up or the way in which it punishes children in large families. So, focusing on what the Welsh Government can do, to what extent does the child poverty strategy published in January actually reflect your ambitions?

11:30

Look, I was a member of the Government in January, and the child poverty strategy remains, and, actually, within that, you can see, in the objectives, if we can achieve those objectives, we will make a real difference for children growing up in poverty. We want to have fewer and fewer children growing up in poverty, and our end objective would be to want to eliminate child poverty. If you look at what we're looking to do, our priority of creating a fair work nation, that would make a real difference. We don't have all the hard levers in that place, but we certainly have the ability to influence, the power of the pulpit, in what we do, the expectations around not just money that is paid, but actually about how businesses and public services have working conditions to support people to be parents and to be effective in the workplace as well.

So, there's a part of that that is about the leadership space and there are parts where there are harder measures we can take. So, the fact that we continue to fund the council tax reduction scheme makes a real difference and puts money into people's pockets. It costs nearly £0.25 billion. So, all of those things are measures we're taking and I think they're often banked and not understood because they're there, but, every year, we have to make a choice to keep on committing to them. So, there are a range of different measures that we take. The ambition of the Government I don't think is the problem; it's our means to deliver that and whether actually having targets tells you a different level of it. I don't think it does. Because if you have targets you're not responsible for, then, actually, that is always a hostage to fortune and people regularly and understandably say, 'You have missed the target', rather than, 'What have you done with the means available to you?' whether those are hard or soft opportunities.

But, if you don't set child poverty reduction targets, you don't have your Government focusing on achieving those child poverty reduction targets, and, against you, you've got the children's commissioner, Audit Wales and the Bevan Foundation and many others, saying, 'We must have clear targets'—not that relate to what the UK Government's doing, because clearly we can't influence that, but as to what the Welsh Government plans to do to reduce child poverty, given that it is one of the biggest drivers of children in need and people being taken into care.

So, you have outcomes from our well-being framework about the progress we are and aren't making. I don't agree that, without a target, there won't be a focus. Actually, I think you'll find, when we go through the rest of this term and beyond, there really will be a focus on what we can do to address child poverty. I'm very clear, in early conversations with Lesley Griffiths, the new Cabinet Secretary with responsibility in this area, that she understands and wants to focus on what we can do practically around child poverty as a Government as well.

So, look, the point about other people disagreeing is actually healthy; it's part of the point of scrutiny. You don't have to agree with every voice that doesn't share your view, but it does remind you of, and I think helpfully highlights, the crucial nature of this issue, not just in the earlier discussion we've had, but on a whole range of areas about the sort of nation we want to be as well. So, there will definitely be a commitment. My own experience as an elected representative really does inform lots of my perspective. I see the sharp end of lots of these things in my own constituency, so it is—

No, indeed, but the point I'm making is—

The point I'm making, Jenny, is it informs the commitment I have. It's not illusory, it's very real, because I see what that means in the lives of my constituents, as do others as well.

The point is the monitoring framework sounds woolly, and it doesn't convince elected Members on the backbenches—collectively, of all parties—that it's going to deliver a sea change in a focus on reducing child poverty.

Well, it's entirely reasonable for you to have a different view, Jenny, and that's fair enough. The process that we're engaged in and the policy we have, the objectives we have, are all about delivering improvements in outcomes. We'll of course take on board comments around the framework. I think the charged nature of saying something is woolly and unconvincing, I wouldn't accept that, but I'm always interested in what 'better' could look like, as indeed is the new Cabinet Secretary, as indeed was the previous Minister with responsibility. I don't think anyone could question Jane Hutt's commitment to this area; it's about what we can do and how we do it.

11:35

Exactly, how we marshal the resources to achieve the outcomes.

We've gone beyond our time, but, from that last point, First Minister, can I therefore assume that your new Cabinet Secretary will be reviewing the strategy to see how it can be strengthened, based upon some of the comments you've heard?

We're not going to write a new strategy. I don't want to set that hare running. This is about what we do to deliver against what we've committed to doing. It's how we do that, the partners we have. When I set out a set of priorities for the Government, it was about how we actually make some choices about what we're going to prioritise, and the fight against poverty is definitely one of those. It's then how we do it, rather than setting out a new bank of strategies, because I think that takes up time and resource when people need to go out and actually do the job, rather than rethink how you do that. We have a world of strategies in the Welsh Government. I'm interested in the focus on the things that make the biggest difference, and often that is about delivering on what we've already said, rather than rewriting the piece of paper.

So, the delivery unit, which I think is under Rebecca Evans at the moment, is something that will be looking very carefully at how it delivers the strategy.

We're looking at the Cabinet Office function and how it improves delivery right across the Government. I'm sure there may be questions, if not in the next session, then in the future about how that's making a difference.

I'm sure there will be. Okay, I'm going to draw the session to a close, because we've exceeded our time. Can I thank you for your time in this session, and can I thank your officials? For your officials' information, of course, you will receive copies of the transcript. If there are factual inaccuracies, can you please let the team know so we can put the record straight as soon as possible? For the remainder of us, we'll continue in approximately 10 minutes. We'll take a short break now. When we come back, we'll go into a topical question session. Thank you very much.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:37 ac 11:51.

The meeting adjourned between 11:37 and 11:51.

11:50
3. Gwaith Craffu Cyffredinol
3. General Scrutiny

Could I welcome Members and the public back to this evidence session on the scrutiny of the First Minister? The second session is focused on more topical themes, and we'll be talking to and asking questions of the First Minister in relation to those, particularly on his role in the Government that he's now leading. First Minister, do you want to introduce the official with you for this session?

I'd like to introduce Dr Rachel Garside-Jones.

And is she the director of co-operation agreement?

Yes, and transition director.

And transition. We might well be talking a bit more about things outside the co-operation agreement, as well.

Rachel has a brief that is beyond the co-operation agreement; it's part of her responsibilities.

Thank you for that. I'll start off with the questions, if that's okay. Clearly, yesterday's announcement by Tata in relation to the end of the consultation period and its intention to continue with its proposals to close both blast furnaces in Port Talbot within the next six months—in fact, probably just over five months—and the implications that that has, both for steel making in the UK and in Wales in particular, and the other aspects of Tata's sites—. I suppose I want to ask the question as to what assessments and what preparations you're making to support local communities that are going to suffer as a consequence of this, because the announcement will result in 2,800 directly employed Tata staff losing employment. It will ensure that, probably, totally, up to 9,500 people in the supply-chain contracts around Tata will see jobs disappear. Local businesses in my constituency and communities will see their businesses affected, because the spending power of individuals will be decreased and, therefore, they will struggle. So, how is the Welsh Government looking at supporting those communities in the years ahead, because, in my view, this decision is a cut-off, cliff-edge situation, where we'll stop steel making in Wales and there will be no steel making in Wales for at least three years before an electric arc furnace is built, and that is if one is built and if it is built in the time they give us? There are a lot of 'ifs' there. So, where are we going, and how is the Welsh Government helping communities such as mine, in the years ahead?

So, yesterday's news crystallises the outline proposals that Tata made at the start of this calendar year. It's a really difficult day for workers. Workers hearing rumours, and then there is some finality about Tata's proposal. And that's the other point in this—Tata's proposals and their plan. So, I again want to pay tribute to all of those workers who are still going into work, still producing steel under really difficult circumstances, uncertain about what their own futures will be. And when I've met those workers and their trade union representatives, they're really clear not just about their own selves and their families, but they're all genuinely and desperately worried about their communities as well. So, this is a really big deal in both Port Talbot and in Llanwern. And workers in all the sites, Trostre and Shotton, are worried about what this means for them, as well.

So, my position on the future of steel hasn't shifted in the sense that I think there is a healthy future for steel. I think the UK Government needs to play a bigger role in helping to de-risk some of the capital investment required. More ambitious capital investment, I think, would deliver better returns for the UK, in terms of steel making. It is still a sovereign asset for the UK to have a primary steel making capability. That remains my view. Whether it's in the defence sector or a whole range of others, we will be reliant on other parts of the world to make that steel for us. It's good news for other steelworkers; not great news not just for our steelworkers, but for the future of the UK economy and Wales's significant role in UK steel making. And the regular example we continue to give is there will need to be steel in floating offshore platforms and others. I expect that there will be a programme for them.

Both of the main parties in the UK general election will talk about wanting to invest in the future of the economy. People will make their choice about who they believe, but that investment in the future and in infrastructure will require steel in lots of what that investment looks like. If we get investment in our rail infrastructure here in Wales, for example, where will that metal come from? Who makes it? So, there's a point about procurement. And for the element that needs to be primary steel, we're potentially signing up to, across the UK, a future that means we're reliant on other parts of the world, and I think that is a mistake. 

When it comes to where we are, the final point I just want to make about the proposals Tata said they want to move ahead with is that their proposal for the final blast furnace talks about closure at the end of September. That could well be in the middle of a general election. It's possible, of course, there could be a general election over the summer—who knows? If there were to be a general election, then a different UK Government has a different approach and set of proposals. And it's still my view that Tata should not make any irreversible choices before that general election takes place. We will, though, continue to support the community around all of that steel making in Wales.

So, I spoke with the economy and energy Secretary yesterday, who attended the transition board. We've issued a joint written statement, setting out our view on where things are. We do talk about the support we want to be able to provide. The first blast furnace closure over the summer will lead to some potential redundancies. They may not be compulsory redundancies. Understanding what the end package looks like for direct workers will be important. Understanding the impact of the industrial action ballot on those negotiations and, then, the broader impact, not just on the direct workforce at Tata—. And we have sought assurances, for example, on apprentices all being able to complete their apprenticeships, wherever they are within the Tata family.

But we've also pointed out—and I am disappointed—that we've yet to have the detail that, I think, we should have on the contractor base, to understand, if this planned cut of significant proportion goes ahead, if the direct workforce are to receive redundancy packages, what those look like. The contractors, though, who won't receive those—. We need to understand what that contractor base looks like. Tata will understand who those contractors are. They'll understand, or certainly have an idea, about the scale of business that they're provided with. For us to support those businesses and those workers, including the potential for reskilling or redirecting what they're able to do, we need to know who they are, and that information has not been shared in a way that allows us to do that job. And timing is so important in all of this, because, actually, if we have that information a month before the final blast furnace closes, our ability to do something is significantly reduced. And that broader point about all those other businesses that are reliant on Tata is really important.

There are some opportunities in the wider workforce, whether it's the Global Centre of Rail Excellence, whether it's the longer term about what might take place in other parts of Wales. If all of this happens now, I think it would be hard to see how you produce 10,000 jobs in the next 12 months within steel-making communities that could be directly affected. Some people will find alternative work. There are sectors of the economy that want those people and their skills; there will be many thousands who could be left in a different position. So, the transition board and the resource it has—broadly, £100 million in there—together with Welsh Government programme support, whether it's ReAct or others, I don't think that's going to meet the challenge. If all of those workers are made redundant in that time frame, then we'll need more resource and we'll need to have resource for a longer period of time. So, that's a conversation with the UK Government about what they're prepared to do, as well as what the Welsh Government is prepared to do in working alongside communities and local authorities and others.

It's hard to give you a certain picture of all of the money that will have been made available, because there's still too much uncertainty. What I can say is that we're not going to walk away from steel-making communities and all the people that are reliant on not just what takes place in Port Talbot, but in Llanwern, Shotton and Trostre, and recognising the significant number of people employed in more than one local authority. I think there are 500 steelworkers employed in Bridgend and Swansea, for example. We know that many of the people at Trostre are not from within the county of Carmarthenshire as well; we know that Shotton still has a big footprint, and Llanwern definitely as well. So, we're interested in the future for all those people, and we want to understand the certainty we can work with. The sooner we get information from Tata about contractors, the more we can do, the more proactively we can do that, and we maintain our position that we think a better deal for steel is available.

12:00

Thank you for that. Can I also give my appreciation and recognition of the work you did as the economy Minister prior to becoming First Minister in the area of steel and Tata? I know you worked well with the unions and various communities in that aspect, and I know you'll do the same, and your successor in the economy portfolio is doing that. But I also want to make sure that you enhance the argument with the UK Government—the current UK Government—because my fear is, as you highlighted, that the blast furnaces will be turned off before the general election in a way that they cannot be restarted if a different Government comes in and changes the dynamics as to what the future of steel making is. I think that's a very important point.

The timing of all of this really, really matters—it really does. That's a point that is well understood within the Welsh Government, and certainly within the workforce. They are the real experts in understanding how that plant works and doesn't work.

I've got supplementaries from John, Jenny and Jack.

I'm pleased that you mentioned Llanwern, First Minister, because, understandably, there's a great deal of focus on Port Talbot—and rightly so—but, as you say, it's important for other traditional steel areas in Wales. That Llanwern plant is very important for some of the surrounding valleys, as well Newport itself, as I know you're aware. So, it's just a plea, really, that, as the Welsh Government takes forward its work with Tata, the unions and the workforce, the particular circumstances of Llanwern are very much to the fore as well.

I'm happy to restate the commitment and the understanding that the steelworking community around Llanwern is very much part of our consideration. If you think about the initial proposal that was made, they talked about the loss of 300 direct employees around Llanwern as well. So, I know this is a really big issue for the future of that steel-making community as well. I recognise your regular and continued support for that steelworking community as well.

The key issue is that we don't lose people with transferrable skills. Skills is at the heart of the economy Minister's strategy, and I didn't see anything in the announcement from the economy Minister about how we're going to support people, who are already going to be looking for other work, to encourage them to join the workforce in the renewable energy industry, where we have huge demands for appropriately skilled people. So, who's going to be leading on this? Is it ReAct or the transition board?

There's more than one thing at play. There's an unfinished industrial action ballot from two of the trade unions, there's the negotiation around the package that we've made available to direct employees, there's whether there are voluntary or compulsory redundancies and when those would potentially be scheduled. All of those things matter. If you want to have a future for primary steel making, you can't shrink that workforce by too much. All of those things are all the things that we're thinking through. If there were voluntary redundancies, for the sake of argument, then we would, of course, not just want to see the best package made available for them, but to understand the alternative opportunities there are, and how soon they are as well.

I had a round-table with people from the renewables sector in Pembrokeshire this week, and they already have some demand for people now. Some of that also still depends on choices made about the demonstrator projects. I'm very keen that, in the next contract for difference round, we see those demonstrators go ahead, because that helps to unlock the other opportunities and it helps to develop and solidify supply chains that could and should give a future to workers, whether they are moving from one employer or another. It also, though, helps to build the future workforce—not just 16, 17, 18, although I met a number of them on the Destination Renewables course, a really impressive course itself, and people are interested in the future because they know it will exist locally, but more than that, the movement around the economy, the transferrable skills for the workforce on Hinkley, for example. A third of that workforce are Welsh workers. Some of those will move on to the next nuclear project. Some of those may want to come back to Wales, where there is a long-term future in an industry that values and wants to use their skills.

The economy Minister is the lead Minister for the Welsh Government on skills. He will continue to lead the work around those programmes, in engagement with the transition board. The transition board has been designed to spend a sum of money that the UK Government has allocated together with Tata, and that’s £100 million. That isn’t going to be the long-term intervention we need with the long-term relationship with partners. We’re trying to engage with that board to make it as useful as possible as opposed to an intervention that cuts across what already exists, and what we need to see work. But we will need to have a relationship between the Welsh Government, local government, businesses and, indeed, in particular the Department for Work and Pensions, about the levers they may potentially have about how to support workers who may be displaced as a result of the proposals that Tata have set out yesterday. So, it’s more than one moving part, but the economy Minister is the lead Minister for the Government here in Wales.

12:05

Fair enough, but Unite says that 350 staff have already left, and clearly there will be more as a result of this absolutely appalling decision. So, we have to offer people hope as well as capture the really important skills they already have. 

That's exactly what we’re looking to do. Our challenge is making sure there’s not a sense of helplessness that the future that Tata have set out is inevitable. That is one of the things we do need to guard against, whilst recognising that there are businesses that want the Tata workforce. The challenge is what that does, to want to have a future for steel making, and crucially, also, the point around the sort of wages they’re able to command, and that impact on the local economy as well. There are many moving parts. The economy Minister and I, as I say, spoke yesterday, and there’ll be lots more of our time taken up on the response to the Tata proposal and what it might be possible to do. And as I say, the timing of a general election is crucial in terms of the sort of future we could have. 

I’m grateful for the First Minister’s ongoing support for the steel industry. Workers are still going in under the difficulties that they face and the stress that they and their families face, because they understand the importance of the industry. I’m grateful for what you said about Shotton, because the workforce and the workers I speak to in Shotton are rightly concerned for what their future means, albeit perhaps the immediate thoughts are with Port Talbot, and rightly so. Can I ask about the commitment around what the Welsh Government’s thinking is on the wider supply chains? That's not just the steel sites, but actually those companies and businesses in the advanced manufacturing sector who need to rely on readily available, good-quality steel, and that steel only comes from the UK. What conversations are going on in the Welsh Government about supporting the longer term aspects for their futures as well?

It's part of what we've been doing through the revised manufacturing action plan, understanding where people have their supply chains, what they're looking for, the types of steel that are required for some of that. In some forms of manufacturing it is highly specialised, and there are niche parts of Europe that do some of that, which we import. And we export some of that.

It’s worth reflecting that electric arc steel is an important part of today and the future. We will make more of our steel in the future through an electric arc process. That is a step forward on decarbonisation in itself, but we’ll still need primary steel that we can’t currently make through the electric arc process. So, this is about the balance of steel production and how it’s made, and who we rely upon. We’ll carry on having a conversation about what industry needs and where it needs it from. 

The other point in all of this is that because our trading relationships have changed, it isn’t just about whether it’s sensible from a sovereign point of view to be reliant on imports from other parts of the world; it’s about the costs in that as well. Because there are additional costs to importing and exporting goods now, and so there’s a broader picture about investing in the future here. We want to be on the right side of that. We have real health and strength in our advanced manufacturing sector in north and south Wales, and I want to see that continue with metal that is sourced as locally as possible and produced to the grade and volume that those businesses require.

12:10

Thank you. Before I hand back, just to say, Chair, this isn't just about steel capacity in the UK; this is about the life chances and livelihoods of all those families in Port Talbot and elsewhere, and it's about time someone takes the First Minister's lead on this and supports in the way the Welsh Government is trying to do, because it's a devastating blow. It's a repeat of what happened in the 1980s in Shotton if it goes the way it is, and we can't allow that to happen. 

Mark, is it a supplementary on steel and Tata? Go on. 

Thank you. Again, I'm grateful that you referred to Shotton in your introductory remarks. You've indicated the support that you want to see focused on all affected plants. When I've previously engaged with Tata Steel in Shotton, they've always emphasised that they're dependent on feedstock from the heavy end in south Wales. What work has the Welsh Government undertaken or will it be undertaking to establish, in technological or engineering terms, what the likely impact on Shotton will be in consequence of this announcement? 

There are lots of conversations that we're having directly with Tata around what the supply looks like for the downstream businesses at Shotton, Llanwern and Trostre. It's part of our concern. It's not just a question about Port Talbot. In seeing the company's proposals, how much of Shotton's business can be supplied by electric arc-produced steel? Where does that electric arc steel come from? What does that do to the cost base? What does it do to the longer term investment opportunities around Shotton, Trostre and Llanwern? These are all questions we're interested in the answer to, because it has a direct impact on the jobs in those communities and an impact on the wider Welsh economy. There's been no lack of questioning on this, and we look forward to detail in the proposals and the deliverability of those proposals as well, because there are still some challenges in getting to all the deadlines that Tata themselves have set out. So, I'm interested in a future for steel making here in Wales that does include more electric arc-produced steel. 

I should point out there is a steel maker within sight of this place in my constituency that makes electric arc-produced steel. Obviously, it's a steelworks that I can't make any choices over, but we know that there's an opportunity to generate more high-quality scrap, to make sure we're not exporting that scrap, to produce more steel here that we can actually consume here in Wales and the wider UK, as well as the potential for export. But I still believe there's an essential future for primary steel produced in Wales, and at the moment the final blast furnace in Port Talbot at the start of this autumn would be the last working blast furnace in the UK. It is some future to be the only G7 country not to have its own primary steel-making capacity, and to be fair, that is a point that was recognised by the Welsh Conservatives as well as Plaid Cymru, Jane Dodds and Welsh Labour when we unanimously passed a motion within the Senedd. I'd like the UK Government and Tata to take proper recognition of that and to think again about not just the cost of investing in a different future, but the value of doing so.

Thank you for those answers, First Minister. I'm sure it's a live topic and we will continue to discuss this issue in the Senedd in the weeks ahead. Llyr Gruffydd. 

Thank you, Chair. I just want to ask a few questions about something I think many people would be keen to hear you respond to this morning. I'm not going to ask you about whether you registered the donation that you received as part of your leadership campaign to become First Minister and whether the process was followed, because you've explained that processes were followed, so there's no need to repeat that in your response to my question. My question is more around your judgment, because we now know that you knew where the donation was coming from when you took the money. I'd like to ask why you think that you were right to accept that donation.

As you acknowledge, I followed all of the rules and requirements—

As you acknowledge, I followed all the rules that I'm required to. It's a business engaged in my constituency that has not just employed current members of my constituency but also has improved what it has done in addressing those regulatory governance issues that were there. And the challenge is always, if you're not going to have state funding of parties or campaigns, where and how do you raise money? How do you do that? You make sure you follow the rules, make sure you then set out what you're going to do, and set out clearly that the position you set out as a candidate is not compromised by the multiple sources of funding that have all been declared. And so, if you look at what I said, for example, on environmental governance, I've been clear that there will be an increase in standards, so when the environmental governance Bill that is due to come before the Senedd in the last year of this Senedd term, that isn't going to be changed or watered down. You can expect to see the ambition that was not just in my manifesto, but also in my opponent's manifesto, to be delivered. So, there is no shift or downward turn in ambition, and this is actually about the reality that politics costs quite a lot of money. You've got to raise money and you've then got to go out and set out what you want to do, if you get the opportunity to take a leadership position, which is what I'm now able to do, following a one member, one vote ballot.

12:15

Before I ask Llyr to come back in, can I remind Members there are debates scheduled for next week on this particular theme as well, just to make sure everyone's aware of that? Llyr.

Yes. Although, the second most prominent Member of the Labour Party in Wales, Jeremy Miles, has said he wouldn't have taken the donation. We had a prominent Member of Parliament for Labour last night saying that she wouldn't have taken the money. Indeed, she has been calling for an independent inquiry. The chair of your leadership campaign has distanced himself, saying he had nothing to do with that donation. Two thirds of people who were polled recently said that money should be repaid. Why are they all wrong and you're right? Surely, on reflection, you must have an element of regret that you took that money.

I think the challenge here is that we can talk about the issue again and again—and I understand why some people want to—I haven't done anything outside the rules at any point in what I'm supposed to do in making sure those donations are declared to the Electoral Commission and to the Senedd, and, actually, what I need to do is to get on with the job people want to me to. You mention polls, well, you know, a poll produced yesterday showed that my approval has actually increased in the last month, when there have been lots of comments about this, and I think that's because people in their own lives are interested in what happens, and I've been entirely honest and open about what's taken place. I've also been entirely honest and open about my priorities for the country. I understand the economy, the cost-of-living crisis, taxes for working people are the biggest issues around most family dinner tables, when they go home to think about the future. I understand people are concerned about the NHS. I understand we needed to make progress on 20 mph. That's what I'm going to be focused on doing, and, you know, it's up to you if you want to spend your time—that's fine. I'm interested in bigger priorities for families and the future of Wales.

Well, there's no bigger priority than the judgment of a First Minister, the integrity of a First Minister, so what you're saying here now is you're showing no regret, no remorse.

Well, where's the question about my integrity?

Well, surely there's a question about judgment here, that you knew exactly who was paying this money in. Many of your colleagues within your own party are saying that they wouldn't have touched that money; you did. Surely, you have to reflect on that and accept that, maybe, under the ministerial code, perception is just as important as the reality, isn't it? And there are questions to ask about whether that was the right call to make. Many people are saying it was the wrong call that you made, but, clearly, you have a blind spot for that.

No. It's entirely appropriate to say people disagree, and they do sometimes. The question about the ministerial code, I think, is a widespread misunderstanding. The former First Minister looked at whether the donations breached the code. His clear view was, having taken advice, they don't.

And I think the danger and the difficulty here is if you're saying, 'Look, there's been no breach of any of the rules, there's not been a breach of the code', but you still want to carry on having a conversation, demanding, 'Well there must be; have an investigation and find out, there must be a breach somewhere.' Well, there's no breach in relation to DBW, there's no breach in relation to the code, and simply because other people want to say, 'Well, there must be,' that doesn't mean that there is a perception of a breach. That's actually about your conduct, not about whether people want to talk it up.

And, actually, there are no questions about my integrity that are real or legitimately clear. I've done—. I have been honest throughout this about what I have done and why. I've been entirely honest about that. It's something that I take seriously, in my professional career before coming here, and in my time in office, in all the difficult choices we make. If you want to say there are questions about my integrity, you need to set out what those are, rather than that you disagree, and other people disagree, on how you actually fund politics today, outside asking the public to do that, and I don't think there's any appetite for that.

12:20

Yes, thanks, Cadeirydd. First Minister, public confidence in the wider Welsh Government has been shaken lately regarding some controversial policy areas, which you and I probably disagree on, on the 20 mph limits, expansion to the Senedd, and more recently your own judgment over campaign expenses. The public have to expect that the Welsh Government is working on their behalf, and they have to respect that you are going to do your best job as the First Minister of Wales, representing Wales not just within our country, but on the international stage as well. So, what I want to know, First Minister, is how you can ensure and assure the wider electorate that you are the best person for this job, because I think, currently, the jury's out at the minute on whether you are. And I think you need to answer why you're the best person for this job. You were elected on a small mandate from Labour Party members, not the wider electorate, and I think it's your job to reassure the public, who will be watching this today, that your judgment is sound and that you will make decisions in the best interests of Wales, and not just to become First Minister of Wales. 

I think if we look at what's happened, it's a one member, one vote ballot across the Welsh Labour and trade union co-op movement. I'm very proud to have won. It's a real honour to lead my country and my party. Not everyone gets through a leadership contest, and, of course, there were coronation processes rather than contests in other parties. [Laughter.] That happens sometimes—

That isn't a point of criticism; it's a point about, 'That's what's happened.' It does not mean that you undermine the legitimacy of the person who's doing that job. That's entirely appropriate for people in their own parties, following their own rules, and that's how it is. I think to try to suggest, having gone through an election, that you don't have a mandate is—

You have a mandate from Labour members, not the public.

—not something that I think bears up to much objective scrutiny.

When you then look at the point of what the public think, and I know politicians always want to substitute their own view for the view of the public, and, actually, if you look at poll evidence on how people do or don't feel, it just doesn't support the contention you make. It doesn't support the contention you make in polling terms, or in terms of how people feel about me in my first month in office.

When you then look at what we're doing, I've set out what we want to do in a range of priority areas. The points I make about the cost-of-living crisis; the reality that the tax burden for working people is at record levels; the reality that we know we need to see improvements in our NHS—that's intrinsically linked and tied up to our funding challenges as well; the reality that I do want to see improved outcomes for children and young people across Wales, that focus on the first 1,000 days in a child's life. The priorities I set out in my first statement last week are still the priorities for this Government, and they are priorities for every Cabinet Secretary and Minister.

Interestingly, when you talk about Wales on the world stage and internationally, I think you'll find that the international press has been—. I've been taken aback by the level of interest, and it's been positive, so, actually, the platform for Wales is actually a good thing. I've always enjoyed the opportunity to talk about Wales within the rest of Britain and on the wider, international stage as well, and I look forward to more opportunities to do so, because I think we have a good story to tell the world about who we are and who we can be in the future. I want that level of ambition and the lack of apology for who we are, but to be really clear about what we've already achieved and what we can do to be a story that we tell the rest of the country.

I saw yesterday, for example—no, the day before yesterday—when I met the chief exec of Channel 4, who was coming to look at investments they're making with Welsh businesses for a significant part of the work that they do, I'm keen that we see more of that. There are real sectors of growth in our economy that are recognised within the UK that are real examples of excellence in what we do that I want us to do more of and be much, much prouder, and to shout about and have real ambition for our future.

I want to move on because we have very limited time and there are still areas of the programme for government in particular and the priorities that the First Minister mentioned, and, as I said to you, this is being debated next week in the Senedd, and there are two motions on Wednesday, so there will be an opportunity for Members to actually raise points there. So, unless it's very specific to an answer you've just received, we'll go on to the next topic, if that's okay.

I'm glad to move on from the topic, if you'd like. 

Yes. Obviously, the health agenda was one of your priorities, and I know Jenny has an area on that.

Yes. Obviously, one of the biggest challenges that the Welsh Government faces is how we turn the health budget around from being an ill-health service to a service where prevention and primary intervention have a much higher focus, so that we have a healthier population who need less healthcare. So many of the conditions that people are waiting for operations for are ones related to obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, eating the wrong diets and the long-term consequences of getting diabetes, and the cost—17 per cent of our health budget is spent on treating people with diabetes, which, in the case of type 2, is completely preventable and reversible, as you know, as the former health Minister. So, I just wondered how you get this health piece back from simply firefighting with waiting lists and all the other challenges Eluned Morgan has been facing.

12:25

So, you're right, Jenny: diet, exercise, smoking and our relationship with alcohol are the four biggest drivers for ill health, together with some of our environmental challenges. So, not having clean air; there's a range of evidence now about the harm that does. And in particular the challenge around obesity, it takes in lots of those, doesn't it? So, the challenge of what does better food look like? How affordable is it? How do you have the ability to take exercise as a regular and easy part of your life?

In the conversations I've already had with Eluned Morgan, I know she is interested in more and more focus on what we do to try and turn the corner on obesity. There were figures again earlier this week that suggested our rates for obesity may be higher than the official ones as well. What we do know is that it's a significant challenge for the future of the country, not just in healthcare terms, but in economic terms as well. We also know that you can't shame people into taking effective action. And it's the complexity of this in a whole range of other areas. So, it's what the health service does. It's actually more about those influences outside the health service in the environment that we live in, in the messaging around food, and like I said, how we make cheap, good food easier and readily available, how we do something about our relationship with alcohol. And actually, on alcohol, it's one of the few areas where a more wealthy group of people are likely to have a problem relationship with alcohol at various points in their lives. It doesn't mean that there aren't problem relationships with alcohol in different socioeconomic groups, but otherwise, in exercise, smoking and diet, you find a greater concentration in our least advantaged communities.

The challenge of giving people not just the information, but motivation and how you make it easier for them to make changes is real. So, if you think about what we're looking to do on some of the programmes that I know you'll have seen and all of us will have seen in our schools, about the understanding of diet, about the importance of it, the understanding of how much sugar there is in different foods, the understanding of the importance of exercise, whether it's a daily mile or something else, about exercise being normalised. So, it's all of those interventions where health and local government are big partners, but the biggest partner is the citizen and how you help them to make different choices. And I don't think we're yet in a position where we have all of those answers, but it's work that I know Eluned Morgan is very keen to do, but we won't succeed without other Cabinet Secretaries and without other partners outside the Government.