Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

15/06/2021

In the bilingual version, the left-hand column includes the language used during the meeting. The right-hand column includes a translation of those speeches.

The Senedd met in the Chamber and by video-conference at 13:30 with the Llywydd (Elin Jones) in the Chair.

Statement by the Llywydd

Welcome to this Plenary session. Before we begin, I want to set out a few points. This meeting will be held in hybrid format, with some Members in the Senedd Chamber and others joining by video-conference. All Members participating in Senedd, wherever they may be, will be treated equally. A Plenary meeting held using video-conference, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Welsh Parliament, constitutes Senedd proceedings for the purposes of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Some of the provisions of Standing Order 34 will apply for today's Plenary meeting, and these are set out on your agenda. And I would remind Members that Standing Orders relating to order in Plenary meetings apply to this meeting, and apply equally to Members in the Chamber and those joining virtually.

1. Questions to the First Minister

The first item this afternoon is questions to the First Minister, and the first question is from John Griffiths. 

Air Pollution

1. What early action will the Welsh Government take to tackle air pollution in Wales? OQ56616

Llywydd, the programme for government, published today, reiterates our commitment to a clean air Act for Wales. As early as this week, we will support and promote Clean Air Day Wales, raising awareness of air pollution and the part that each one of us can play to make the air cleaner and healthier.

First Minister, the impact of air pollution is very significant in terms of our health, as shown in asthma rates and other respiratory conditions, for example, and also with regard to environment and climate change. I know, First Minister, you are fully committed to radical and timely action for this Welsh Government, and that's certainly needed with regard to public health and our precious environment. We need to find practical and productive ways forward that have a real positive impact in our communities, and, as far as air pollution is concerned, road traffic is quite a major part of the problem. The transition to electric vehicles will make a very welcome impact on these issues, and, indeed, Newport Transport has a fleet of electric buses, which is a good example of progress. First Minister, will you look at Welsh Government schemes and support for the switch to electricity for vehicles for those most in use in our communities—buses, taxis, local authority—[Inaudible.]—and local delivery vehicles as well?

Well, Llywydd, I thank John Griffiths for that supplementary question and, of course, agree with him about the significance of clean air to human health, to the environment, to biodiversity, and indeed to our economy. The Welsh Government, Llywydd, is investing nearly £30 million in electric and low-emission buses, in taxis, and in improving our charging infrastructure, particularly in those places where people are most likely to be travelling—so, at railway station car parks and public car parks. Our £4 million green taxi pilots have purchased 50 fully electric wheelchair-compliant taxis, so that taxi drivers can take them on a use-and-decide basis, so that they can see the advantages for themselves. 

And, Llywydd, can I particularly commend the actions of Newport council for the leadership they have shown with the extended flexi bus service that has recently been introduced? On Thursday of this week, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change will be visiting Newport council to celebrate the launch of their new active travel routes as part of Clean Air Day, and I know that that's going to take place at Lliswerry, where the council will be showcasing some of the 15 new electric buses that they have available as part of their electric vehicle fleet and which will help significantly to provide clean air for the citizens of Newport.

I do find it somewhat amusing that John Griffiths, our colleague, speaks of early action on air pollution. As the First Minister and I know, he's already very late on this argument. In fact, in May 2019, he told the Senedd that this debate had been ongoing for a decade, and we all know that you, First Minister, have failed to deliver on your leadership promise, and I quote,

'to develop a new clean air Act'.

Now, whilst I appreciate that the responses to the White Paper consultation are currently being reviewed, it does remain the case that we may not see regulations set until spring 2024. So, I warn John Griffiths that positive action does seem set to be ever further delayed.

However, turning to you, First Minister, there is a short-term step that you can take. The £3.4 million revenue funding and £17 million capital funding, allocated for air quality action in 2021-22, represents a real-terms cut from the previous year. So, will you undo this cut and invest further in tackling the world's largest single environmental health risk? Diolch, Llywydd.

13:35

Well, Llywydd, despite the climate health emergency, and the constraints that that placed both on the Senedd in terms of legislation and on the Welsh Government's capacity, having had to divert significant resources to the burden of coronavirus legislation that has had to pass through the Senedd, we published our clean air plan in August 2020, we published the clean air White Paper in January 2021. We published alongside it a consultation on reducing emissions from domestic burning of solid fuels. And we are responding now to the consultation—the significant replies to consultations, which have come in from all parts of Wales. I expect to be able to publish a summary of those responses in September.

So, Llywydd, despite our capacity to move ahead with the clean air legislation that I had hoped we would be able to bring forward in the last Senedd term, we have been able to make significant steps ahead, and we will continue to invest. We'll continue to invest in the way I've already explained—in those practical actions that John Griffiths pointed to, that make a practical difference.

There is a street in my region, in Hafodyrynys, that's known as the most polluted street in Wales. The likelihood is that there are many other streets like that in Hafodyrynys but we don't know about the pollution because the monitoring isn't there. Now, the clean air Act that you've mentioned, First Minister, which we all await, should provide an opportunity to increase air monitoring, to highlight the problem areas and to help get to grips with these issues, to avoid other streets from choking in fumes from congestion and domestic burning, like the previous residents of Hafodyrynys. This Act should be tabled within the first 100 days of this Government. Will you bring forward the timetable, First Minister, and start the clock on saving thousands of lives?

Llywydd, I will make a statement on the legislative programme before the summer break. It will set out our plans for legislation. It will inevitably have to attend to the continuing constraints that coronavirus places on us and the demands that it makes on our legislative services. We have not finished yet with Brexit legislation, which the Senedd will have to find a way of dealing with. But, nevertheless, I will set out the legislative programme. It will include our ambition to bring forward a clean air Bill for debate in the Senedd. And Delyth Jewell is right, Llywydd, that monitoring is an essential part of the way in which we can identify clean air difficulties, and then marshall a response to them, as my colleague Lesley Griffiths did in relation to Hafodyrynys, confirming the plans that Caerphilly County Borough Council put forward to us and funding them in full. So, the record of this Government in dealing with those clean air hotspots, where monitoring has identified them, I think stands up very clearly to examination.

Transport Connectivity

2. What action will the Welsh Government take to improve transport connectivity across Wales? OQ56609

Llywydd, our strategy for transport connectivity across Wales is set out in the Wales transport strategy, 'Llwybr Newydd'. For south-east Wales, for example, this draws on the recommendations of the Burns commission and its 58 recommendations, ranging from improvements on the south Wales main line to local measures.  

13:40

Thank you, First Minister. Yesterday, I met with the representatives of Paragon ID, the leading providers of smartcards for transport and smart cities. They are responsible for providing smartcards for over 150 cities worldwide and were behind the Oyster card, as seen here, in London. First Minister, it is a passion of mine to see an all-Wales travel card. I'm hoping to have a card just like this that will allow people from all socioeconomic backgrounds and age groups to use this card. For example, a person could board a bus from their home in Newport to the railway station and then use the same card on the train to Swansea and get the bus from Swansea station, for example, to Swansea University. During our discussion, it became apparent that much of the technology for an all-Wales travel card is already in place, and all that is required to bring this about is for the Welsh Government to work with stakeholders and provide the investment. Establishing a Wales travel pass for use on local or sub-regional networks across all operators will ensure more seamless journeys for residents, tourists, commuters and students all across Wales, and ultimately encourage tourism, assisting visitors to travel easily and conveniently from north to south, from east to west Wales. Will you, First Minister, commit to exploring the possibility of introducing an all-Wales travel card, similar to the Oyster card here, in Wales? And I promise not to make you call it the Natasha Asghar travel card if you do. 

Well, Llywydd, I congratulate the Member on her appointment as the transport spokesperson for the opposition, and thank her for the ideas that she's explored this afternoon. While she was meeting her group yesterday, I was meeting a group of entrepreneurs from Cardiff who were promoting the idea of a Welsh card to me that they have been developing, which would have some of the same characteristics as the card that she has just outlined. So, in principle, I think there is a great deal that is worth exploring in the ideas that the Member has set out. I don't think it would be right for me to commit to a particular solution promoted by a particular company or a group of companies, but she asks me whether I will commit to exploring the possibility of a card that would improve transport connectivity across Wales, and I'm very happy to give that commitment.  

If we are to have a transport network that is fit for the twenty-first century, then it must service the vehicles using those roads. To date, the network isn't fit for purpose in that regard. There aren't enough charging points, never mind hydrogen stations. Now, I note that your programme for government, which you will refer to later on this afternoon, will state that you will create a modern legislative framework for transport in Wales, but there is no detail contained. Can we have an assurance that our road network will be fit for purpose for new vehicles and that rural areas will not lose out? And can we also have a timetable for the development of the charging points and hydrogen stations that will be necessary? Thank you. 

Well, Llywydd, I thank Mabon ap Gwynfor for that question, and, of course, I agree about the importance of creating and putting things in place that are appropriate for us and fit for the future. I am not setting out the legislative programme this afternoon; that will be laid before the Senedd before the end of term. However, to legislate in the areas of buses and taxis in particular was in our programme before the election, and we're eager to press ahead to legislate in that area in order to create a system for the future that is fit for purpose. And, of course, we're thinking about rural areas. That's why we're investing as a Government in charging points. The UK Government's opinions is that it's up to the market to create those kinds of possibilities, but we know that that won't happen across the whole of Wales if we just depend on the private market. That's why we're investing as a Government and we're investing in rural Wales as well.   

First Minister, I think there's a very broad welcome for the £70 million that the Welsh Government is going to be providing to enhance the Ebbw valley line over the coming years, and, in making this investment, of course, the Welsh Government is making good the failure of the United Kingdom Government to invest in these matters, and I think many of us would wish that the UK Government would spend as much on Welsh infrastructure as they do on their own press officers; we might be in a better position. First Minister, could you give us this afternoon an outline of the timescale for the enhancements that we hope to see on the Ebbw valley line? Could you also give me an undertaking that you and the Government will continue to campaign for the devolution of rail infrastructure to ensure that we will have the tools and the funds to do the job ourselves? 

13:45

I thank Alun Davies for that, Llywydd. It was a matter of great disappointment to us that when the UK Government finally published its long-delayed response to the Williams review, it made no mention at all in that response to the potential for future and further devolution of responsibility for rail infrastructure, as that was part of the original terms of reference that the UK Government itself set for the Williams review.

But, when it came to it, it chose to ignore that whole aspect, despite the fact that the Hendy review of union connectivity specifically says that devolution of transport responsibilities across the United Kingdom has been a success story. The Hendy review urges the UK Government to build on that success, and I look forward to that real test of the UK Government when it publishes its final response to the Hendy review this summer.

As far as the Ebbw valley line is concerned, I was very pleased that we were able to provide that £70 million to Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council. It will enable us, Llywydd, to move ahead with greater services for that part of Wales. From December of this year, a new hourly service will be brought about on the Ebbw Vale line from Crosskeys to Newport, and the £70 million that we have provided will allow two trains an hour to operate on that line from Ebbw Vale itself from 2023.

So, the plans are there to use that money to improve services in the way that the Member has suggested and to answer some of the questions already raised this afternoon, Llywydd, because not only will they bring better transport facilities to that part of Wales, but they will allow people to use an effective, convenient public transport system, leaving the car behind and adding to those benefits of clean air and other environmental improvements that we've already discussed today.

Questions Without Notice from the Party Leaders

Questions now from the party leaders. Andrew R.T. Davies, leader of the Conservatives. 

Thank you, Presiding Officer. First Minister, you've previously said that your Government will not raise Welsh rates of income tax until at least the economic impact of coronavirus has passed, but you've also said that you will not rule out a rise in taxes before the end of the Senedd term. Will you be raising income tax at some point during this Senedd term?

Well, the Member will have to wait to see. As we said in our manifesto, it will depend on the circumstances. While the economy is recovering, there are no plans for this Government to raise taxes in Wales, because we know that the recovery depends on making sure there's effective demand in the pockets of Welsh citizens to go out there, spend money and help with the economic recovery—the economic recovery that is underway, Llywydd. There are encouraging figures out today on employment rates in Wales that demonstrate that that recovery is underway here.

What lies beyond the recovery can only sensibly be decided in the circumstances that we will face when we get there. The Member will understand that in the last 15 months we have gone through a period that none of us could have anticipated even 18 months ago, yet he invites me to make decisions today for what will happen years into this Senedd term. It's not a sensible thing to do and I won't be doing it.

I think it's a perfectly reasonable question, seeing as your programme for government does touch on income tax rates and whether the Government will use them or not. Also, what's talked about are particular levies or surcharges for social care or, indeed, education, which was highlighted on the weekend by an academic here in Cardiff.

You have to pay for services someway, either through taxation or through levies or surcharges. So, what is your preferred route then, First Minister? If you're not prepared to give an indication of what you're likely to do with Welsh income tax, do you believe that there should be a sector-specific surcharge on social care or, indeed, on education, to help fund education, with the deficit that we know exists in the education budget?

Llywydd, my preferred route to paying for services in Wales is to grow the economy so that there are more buoyant receipts from an economy so there is a bigger cake for us all to be able to use to pay for services. So, that's where I start. I don't start, as he does, with asking about taxation; I begin by asking the questions about what we can do and what contribution the Government can make to growing the Welsh economy and providing, therefore, the investments that are necessary. There is no mention in my party’s manifesto of a levy for education, and that has no part in this Government’s plans. We did, in the last Senedd term, when we debated it extensively here, work on the Holtham proposals for a social care levy to help pay for the demographic changes that we are going to see in Wales. All of us here know that the future in Wales is of an ageing population, we have a higher proportion of our population over 65 than any other part of the United Kingdom, we’re the only part of the United Kingdom where people move into Wales at the age 65 to retire, and we have to think together about how that is to be paid for in the future. The Holtham proposals for a levy were a serious contribution to that debate, and we’ve done a lot of detailed work to see how that might work.

It will only be able to work when we know the proposals of the UK Government, signalled, briefly, in the Queen’s Speech, and promised by UK Ministers before the end of this calendar year. Then we will be able to see the interface between any proposals of the Holtham variety, or other ways of paying for social care, and the benefit system, which remains reserved to the United Kingdom. Only when we can see all parts of that complex jigsaw will we be able to make the most effective decisions about the way Welsh money can be used to pay for the social care services we will need in the future.

13:50

Well, First Minister, you will not indicate your use of income tax powers. You have indicated more clearly in your second answer the use of a social care levy, surcharge—call it what you will—and ruled out an education levy surcharge, which I’m grateful for you doing that. But one thing your programme for government does talk about is a tourism tax and actually consulting on the legislative proposals that such a measure would require to be brought in here in Wales. Can you indicate to me how you believe such a measure would help the tourism sector here in Wales when we know that high taxation actually impedes economic growth? I start from the position of low taxes encourage economic growth because they encourage people to go out, take the risks, take the challenges, and grow that economy. But your programme for government clearly indicates that you’re going to bring in a tourism tax, so how on earth will that help a vital sector of our economy repair itself after the COVID crisis?

Indeed. Well, Llywydd, I look forward to bringing forward proposals for debate here in the Senedd on a tourism tax, an idea, as I heard my colleague Mike Hedges say, that has taken root, and very successfully, right across the globe, and has been put forward by a series of local authorities of very different political persuasions in recent times. Whether it’s a Lib Dem-controlled Bath and North East Somerset Council, whether it’s a Labour-controlled Liverpool City Council or whether it’s a Tory-controlled Aberdeen City Council, there are proposals for tourism taxes at that level, and that is what the proposal in my party’s manifesto is about. It is about giving the power and the authority to local authorities in Wales to make a decision for themselves as to whether or not a tourism levy would allow them better to go on investing in the circumstances that make those areas attractive to tourism.

I’m very clear in my own mind, Llywydd, that a tourism tax, properly done, will benefit the industry because what it will allow those local authorities to do is to invest in the things that make those areas attractive to tourists in the first place. At the moment it is those local resident populations who pay for everything. They pay for the toilets, they pay for the car parks, they pay for the local museum, they pay for the local festival—anything that is put there to attract people into the area, it is those local residents who bear the cost in full.

A tourism levy, charged on people who choose to go to those areas, in a very modest way, when you add it all up, could be a significant opportunity for local authorities to invest in the conditions that make tourism a success. Where local authorities don’t believe that it would be a tool that they would seek to use, they’d be under no obligation to do it, but I’ve had many encounters on the floor of the Senedd with the leader of the opposition when he urges me to devolve—not simply to Cardiff, but onwards to local authorities to strengthen their ability to make decisions for their local populations—and that is what we will bring forward when we talk about a tourism tax. More powers for local authorities to make decisions that are right for their local areas and populations.

13:55

Thank you, Llywydd. In the words of the Minister for Climate Change, Wales needs to do twice as much to tackle climate change in the next decade as it did in the previous 30 years. Last year, the Climate Change Committee that advises UK Governments said that the absence of a clear strategy for the whole economy for 2050, at Welsh and UK Government levels, means that Wales is not on the road to reaching the target of 80 per cent, never mind net zero. If we look back, emissions have dropped by 31 per cent in Wales since 1990, as opposed to 41 per cent across the UK. Why do you think Wales is falling behind?

Well, Llywydd, it's because we've taken seriously a number of the points that Rhun ap Iorwerth has made. That's the reason that we have been able to create a new Minister and department with the responsibility to tackle climate change; a Minister with the powers in housing, energy, transport, and the environment too. Therefore, the UK committee will publish the latest report on Wednesday, as I know, Llywydd, that you are aware, we as a Government don't usually put items down on the agenda for Wednesday, but we have put a statement down on the agenda for tomorrow, to give an opportunity for Members to hear from the new Minister about her plans and about the response of the Government to the committee and the latest report.

I welcome the fact that there is a Minister for Climate Change. I listened to her first interview on the BBC, and there was a great deal of talk about transport and roads, and the First Minister will know that I'm very eager to encourage a shift towards electric vehicles and so on. And that's all important, but buildings use more energy than transport.

If we're serious about tackling climate change, we have to be serious about tackling energy use in buildings. And to cut emissions from heating in domestic premises, we have to replace fossil-fuel burning boilers and we have to invest in energy efficiency, and given that the majority of the housing stock—the vast majority of the housing stock in 2050—will be the inefficient housing stock that we have today, when are we going to see work beginning in earnest and at scale on the kind of retrofitting of heating and insulation needed to get us to where we need to go?

Well, look, I entirely agree, Llywydd, with the points that Rhun ap Iorwerth is making about the vital importance of a retrofitting programme. The Welsh Government will bring forward such a programme. We will invest significant sums in it, because the energy that is given off by the houses we live in is one of the major challenges we face. It is also why we are so determined that the 20,000 new social rent houses that we will build will be houses that will generate as much energy as they use. And the investment that we made in the last Senedd term, in our innovative housing programme, has given us some really vital experience and information that we can use, with real-life examples of housing being built in Wales, that does exactly that—generates more energy than it consumes. Then that has given us a really solid platform from which we can build the sort of houses of the future that will contribute to the effort to address climate change, rather than being another drain on it.

It's perhaps worth looking a little closer at what you mean by 'significant sums'. I think your Government last November said you wanted, between now and 2050, to decarbonise 1.4 million homes. I think my sums, if they're right, say that's 132 homes every day for the next 29 years. Perhaps you can tell us how many Welsh homes were decarbonised last year, because from where I'm looking, it feels as if we're at a bit of a standstill.

Retrofitting, of course, is an investment; it's an investment in the environment, but it's an actual investment also in making savings through energy efficiency. It could create tens of thousands of jobs. It's exactly the kind of project that could attract investment—real financial investment—through Government bonds, for example, and Plaid Cymru has talked of maybe a multi-billion pound scheme over a period of time, financed in that kind of way.

Now, your Government has had to admit that the £20 million invested in the optimised retrofit programme is, and I quote:

'not…going to come anywhere close to decarbonising Welsh homes.'

Well, you can say that again. So, First Minister, it's more than two years now since the declaration of a climate emergency, we're something like 7 per cent of the way to 2050 already, so when will you put the financial model and the detailed strategy in place to begin retrofitting at pace, because the clock is ticking and the emergency is deepening?

14:00

Well, Llywydd, again, I don't demur for a moment about the urgency of the crisis that we are facing. The Cabinet met yesterday and agreed a proposal from the finance Minister as to how we will create the budget for next year over the summer and bring proposals to the floor of the Senedd in the normal way in the autumn, and that will be the way in which we will create the budgets that we need for the many, many different demands that there are on our public services. The one thing we will not be able to use, Llywydd—and I've had this discussion with the leader of Plaid Cymru in the last Senedd—is Government bonds, because Government bonds do not add a single pound to the spending capacity of the Welsh Government. All they offer you is a different stream of funding to the funding streams we have already, and they don't add to it. They're just a different way of funding, and, actually, a more expensive way of funding, much of the expenditure that we use. But, in the system that we have, for every pound that you raise through a Welsh Government bond, you lose a pound of money that comes to us in capital expenditure from the UK Government. So, it's not that they are a bad idea in themselves, and we've taken some steps to be able to create to Welsh Government bonds, were they to be cheaper than borrowing money from the UK Government. But what they don't do is to add to the total amount of money that you can spend, and therefore they're not an answer to some of the challenges that Rhun ap Iorwerth has quite properly raised this afternoon. The sums of money that we have, for the purposes for which we are responsible, are fixed through the Barnett formula and the decisions that the UK Government make. I hope that the UK Government will be true to its commitment to climate change and everything that was said in Cornwall last week and in preparation for COP26. Then we will see the flow of investment through to Wales that will allow us to do more and to do more things more quickly, just as we would like to do.

Health and Social Care Staff

3. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the impact that the pandemic has had on the ability to recruit future health and social care staff? OQ56607

I thank the Member for that question, Llywydd. The pandemic has vividly demonstrated the vital importance of health and social care services. This heightened awareness, positive changes in working practices and the development of new models of care all provide the basis to recruit future staff, joining the record numbers already employed by our NHS in Wales.

Thank you, First Minister. As you are no doubt aware, the UK Parliament's Health and Social Care Committee, in their damning report, stated that NHS staff and care staff are so burnt out that the future of health and social care services are at risk. Whist their report relates solely to England, I dare say things are not much better on this side of Offa's Dyke. Even before the pandemic hit these shores, our health and care staff were exhausted and overstretched; COVID-19 has only made the situation worse. Having worked in the sector for over a decade, I can tell you first hand that many staff struggle to cope with the burden placed upon them due to staff shortages. Whistleblowers at the weekend spoke of the pressures managers place on staff to work longer hours. Unless urgent action is taken, more and more staff will be forced to leave. First Minister, what will your Government do to ensure that we have sufficient staff working in healthcare in order to reduce the burden on existing staff and ensure patient safety?

Llywydd, I've no doubt at all that the pressures felt by our fantastic health and social care staff are very real. They have worked through one of the most difficult periods in our lifetimes, and they're now working equally hard to try and make up for all those things that have not been possible while dealing with coronavirus, and they're doing so now against the backcloth of the rising delta variant here in Wales, with the realistic prospect that it will be sending more people back into the health and social care system. So, I agree with what Mr Davies has said about the pressures that people have worked under.

What are we doing to help address that? Well, we are employing more staff. At the start of the last Senedd term, there were 74,000 staff in the NHS in Wales; as we go into this term, there are more than 85,000 members of staff. Those are full-time equivalent: in head count, it's well over 100,000, and that's more than 11,000 more staff in the NHS in a single term, and that at a time when his Government in Westminster was cutting the budgets of the Welsh Government year after year after year. I see him shaking his head, but it's a simple matter of fact, a fact not denied by his Government in England, who told us that austerity was something that was completely unavoidable. Despite that, we went on employing more staff in the NHS here in Wales. Over the last six years, we've increased the training places for physiotherapists by 44 per cent, for nurse training places by 72 per cent, for midwifery by 97 per cent. Those people will come out of training, including the new medical school that we're committed to in north Wales, to make sure that staffing in north Wales has a particular focus—they will be available to work in the Welsh health service. They will join those extra staff that are already there, and they will help—they will help. And it's not a solution by itself, I understand, but they will help to address the impact that the last 12 months have had on our staff in health and social care and help to lift that burden from them.

14:05

The recruitment of doctors continues to be a problem in the north Wales area, as you're aware, with far too much being spent on locums and far too many vacancies in surgeries. I am very pleased that you have supported the consistent calls made by Plaid Cymru for a new medical school in Bangor, and you've just confirmed that once again, and that this is now being implemented. So, will you confirm that the new medical school could open in the year 2025? That's in four years' time, and that is what the health board has announced recently.

Well, Llywydd, as the Member will know, there is a group that is chaired by Professor Elizabeth Treasure, the vice-chancellor of Aberystwyth University, and herself a very distinguished senior clinician in the Welsh NHS, to develop the plans for the medical school in Bangor. Stage one of their work is complete; stage two of their work is being carried out at the moment. It involves the local health board, it involves professional representatives as well, it involves some other voices who will be directly involved in making sure that that project is properly completed and makes the contribution we all want to see to making sure there are doctors and other members of the clinical team available in north Wales. The team plan to complete stage two of their work in July, and, provided that it arrives in that way, I know that the Minister will look to make a statement to Members here, drawing on their advice and setting out the timetable of the sort to which Siân Gwenllian has referred this afternoon.

It was a—[Inaudible.]—to visit the Princess of Wales Hospital in my constituency of Bridgend last week, and meet with the incredible staff. They have been tremendous throughout the pandemic, and I know that everyone here today recognises, appreciates and thanks them for their bravery, for the sacrifices that they've made, and for their steadfast commitment to patient care. They and I welcome the Welsh Government's commitment to now addressing the waiting list for operations, particularly orthopaedic and ophthalmology, as well as the £100 million funding for our health boards to begin this vital work. As I know our First Minister is aware, in order to clear the backlog of surgical operations, we will need to have enough theatre staff to assist. However, there is currently a shortage of operating department practitioners, leading to a limit on the number of surgeries that can take place. Please will our First Minister tell us how Welsh Government will ensure that we not only attract enough ODPs to help clear the current backlog but also ensure that we have a pipeline of them in the future for our Welsh NHS?

14:10

Well, Llywydd, I thank Sarah Murphy for that important question. She's right to highlight the key role of operating department practitioners within the surgical team. She will know from her visit to the Princess of Wales that the current challenge in operating theatres is not simply one of staff, it is also dealing with the restrictions that safe practice in the coronavirus context also requires. She'll have heard, I'm sure, directly from staff about how theatres have to be cleaned thoroughly between every operation, as to how some procedures—where it was possible to have an operating list with eight procedures in a day, they can now only manage three in a day, even when fully staffed, because of coronavirus restrictions. Nevertheless, she is absolutely right to point to operating department practitioners as key.

She will know that we have already announced an extra £100 million of investment in the health service here in Wales to help it with the recovery from the pandemic, and that is already helping to recruit additional theatre staff. But the Member made another important point: it isn't simply recruiting more staff who are already trained; it's making sure that the training system in Wales produces the staff that we will need for the future. And Health Education and Improvement Wales has set out its plans to do that. It has ambitious plans to increase the number of not simply doctors but all those other people on whom the health service depends, and operating department practitioners are amongst that number.

Road Safety

4. What action is the Welsh Government taking to improve road safety in Wales? OQ56579

I thank the Member for that question. We routinely monitor data such as personal injury collisions, road geometry and use by pedestrians and cyclists to inform the need for road safety improvements. We are also taking forward initiatives to roll out 20 mph speed limits on restricted roads and tackling pavement parking.

Thank you for that answer, First Minister. The twenty seventh of June will mark the second anniversary of the tragic death of my constituent Olivia Alkir. She was just 17 years old and was killed in a car crash on a rural Denbighshire road. As a result of that tragedy, Olivia's mum, Jo, and Olivia's best friend, Joe Hinchcliffe, started a campaign, the Olivia's Legacy campaign, to promote safer driving, particularly amongst first-year drivers. And their campaign includes the request for all first-year drivers to have telematics devices in their vehicles, which, as you know, can promote improved, safer driving. First Minister, we've managed to secure the support of the chief constable of North Wales Police, Carl Foukes, and many others on this journey with this particular campaign. I appreciate that some of these things are not devolved matters, but can I ask: will you support now the Olivia Alkir legacy campaign to ensure that telematics devices can be something that we can encourage all young people to have in their cars in that critical first year after they've passed their test in order to avoid the awful tragedy that Olivia's family have suffered?

I thank Darren Millar for that. I do remember very well the very, very sad death of Olivia 12 months ago, and I can only imagine the impact that that will have had on her family. Like so many families, they have, as Darren Millar said, channelled their grief into trying to make sure that the same experience isn't shared by others. As far as I am aware, telematic services are not a responsibility devolved to us here in Wales, but I'm very happy to make sure I look carefully at the work of the campaign. 

One of the things that we do fund as a Welsh Government is the Pass Plus scheme for young people. So, it's free for young people in Wales. So, having passed their test, they can then go on to have a further six modules, as I remember, making sure that they don't think that just because they've passed their test, they're fit for all the challenges that driving on modern roads will face them. So, I very much want to associate myself with the general points that the Member has made, and give him an undertaking that I will look carefully at what the campaign is saying on the matter of telematics.

14:15

Gwent Police covers the South Wales East region that I represent. In recent years, they were the only police force to record a rise in road traffic accidents. A closer look at these figures shows that incidents where someone was seriously injured have more than doubled from 82 in 2015 to 179 in 2019. I've been involved in a speed reduction campaign on the streets of Six Bells in Blaenau Gwent; residents are worried that if something isn't done soon, somebody will be seriously injured before long. One of the barriers to introducing traffic calming measures is that a serious incident hasn't happened yet. We should be able to act before somebody dies. What can the Welsh Government do to streamline the process to enable communities like Six Bells to have more control over the traffic calming measures on their streets?

Llywydd, I thank the Member for the question. The annual police recorded road accident figures for 2020 will be published later this month, and we'll be able to take those into account in all local circumstances. I'm aware of the issue raised by the Member because it's been mentioned to me previously by the Senedd Member for Blaenau Gwent.

The call for investment in safety on all roads is a very genuine one, Llywydd, but the only way we are able to respond to it is by an evidence base. And I know that that can be frustrating for some communities, but it's the way in which we're able to make decisions that are fair across the whole of Wales. There is a very established way of doing that, using the GoSafe Wales system, and that allows us to collect evidence on a uniform basis through the whole of Wales and then to make investment decisions according to where the need is greatest. I understand the frustration of local campaigners at that, but making decisions on investment in advance of the facts would only serve to disadvantage some other areas where the calls will be equally insistent and equally important to a local population.

Would the First Minister agree with me that some of the best ways of improving road safety are to reduce speed limits in built-up areas, creating traffic-free zones and putting active travel at the peak of the travel pyramid? But how can we ensure that we persuade people to come with us on this journey to a fairer, greener and better future? How do we make it easier for people to make the wise choices for ourselves, for our communities, and for the planet, too?

Thank you very much once again to Huw Irranca-Davies for that question, and I do agree with him: it's one thing for the Government to do things—the Government here, or local authorities—and there are lots of things that we can do, and there are lots of things that we are going to do in the future, but it's another thing to persuade people to do the things that we can all do in our everyday lives. In my opinion, the most effective way to do this is through persuasion, to put everything in place to help them, and to persuade people, when they travel in a way that doesn't lead to climate change or changes in local environmental conditions, they're helping; they're helping their families and they're helping children and they're helping the community where they live. When we can persuade people to behave in that fashion, they can do everything that they can do and use the facilities that the Government can put in place to help them.

14:20
Council Tax Levels

5. Will the First Minister make a statement on council tax levels in Wales? OQ56610

Llywydd, the average band D council tax in Wales for 2021-22 is £1,731. Local authorities and police and crime commissioners in Wales are given the flexibility to set their annual budgets and council tax levels in order to reflect their local priorities. They are then accountable to their residents for the decisions they make.

I thank the First Minister for his answer. Council tax payers in two councils in my region, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend, are forced to pay some of the highest rates of council tax anywhere in the UK. In both areas, they pay in excess of £1,900 per year on average for a band D property. We know that Welsh councils generally charge more on their council tax bills than their counterparts in England, and yet these councils have even managed to set rates above that high average. I know in your programme for government, which has been published on the Welsh Government website today, you say you'll seek to reform council tax in Wales, which clearly, based on these figures, is long overdue. Therefore, can I ask you for the specific detail of how you'll achieve this, to ease the burden of council tax on hard-working people across Wales?

Llywydd, it would help if the Member's question were based on just a few simple facts, wouldn't it? It is nonsense to say that council tax bills in Wales are higher than they are in England. The average band D council tax in Wales is £167 a year less than the English average. The average rise in council tax in Wales for the current financial year is 3.8 per cent; it's 4.4 per cent in England. He gets his basic facts wrong, and it doesn't help the case that he wants to make. No doubt he will be welcoming the fact that Neath Port Talbot council has agreed a council tax rise of 3.1 per cent for its local residents this year, significantly below the level agreed, for example, by Conservative Monmouthshire. So, his residents are lucky, aren't they, to be living with a Labour council?

Now, where I do agree with the Member is that the system we currently have does not fairly distribute the need to fund local services, and we will bring forward proposals during this Senedd term to reform council tax to make it fairer for Welsh citizens. That will not be an easy thing to do, because in any system that you look to make fairer, there will be some people who will have to pay more in order that those people less able to pay can pay less, and I look forward to his support when those proposals are brought forward.

Local Government

6. What assessment has the First Minister made of the role of local government during the COVID-19 pandemic? OQ56617

Llywydd, the significance of the part played by local government has quite rightly been highlighted during the pandemic. The partnership of Welsh Government, local government, private businesses and the third sector has been at the heart of our collective efforts to keep Wales safe.

Diolch, Llywydd. I was struggling with the mute button there.

Thank you, First Minister, for your response to that point. I too would like to praise the work of councils specifically through this very difficult time of the pandemic. I know from my own experience the sacrifice, hard work and dedication that council staff have shown through this crisis, and they of course deserve a lot of credit, right from our recycling crews through to our librarians, social care workers, right through to our teaching assistants, all of whom have gone above and beyond. In light of this exceptional demonstration of delivering for our communities, this again surely shows that, rather than decision making being withdrawn from local authorities into regional bodies through things like corporate joint committee, actually, more should be decentralised and devolved from Cardiff to councils. So, aside from your previous reference to a tourism tax, what plans do you have to show further commitment to our councils and communities by devolving more power and financial support to them?

Llywydd, I'll begin by agreeing with what the Member said about the tireless commitment of staff in local authorities right across Wales during the pandemic, and, indeed, of the leadership of those councils. Throughout the pandemic, we will have met leaders of local authorities in Wales at least weekly, sometimes daily, in order to make the very challenging decisions that were there for us to make in order to keep all parts of Wales safe. I think that local authorities have demonstrated the significance of the part that they play in those local communities.

I don't agree with what Mr Rowlands said about the need for regional working between local authorities, and, indeed, I've often thought that the way that the six local authorities across north Wales come together in the north Wales growth deal, and in other aspects, is a bit of a model for the rest of Wales as to how local authorities can operate on a regional footprint, and therefore enhance the services that can be provided to local residents. And the legislation that was passed by this Senedd during its last term, I think, will underpin the efforts of those councils who look to make sure that by pooling their resources, sharing the solutions that they can develop, that they will all benefit as a result.

It is an irony, Llywydd, isn't it, that earlier in the afternoon a proposal that the Welsh Government would bring forward to offer more powers and more choices for local authorities is being opposed by the leader of the Conservative party, while I'm urged by other members of his party to do exactly that?

14:25
A Default Speed Limit in Urban Areas

7. What is the Welsh Government's timetable for introducing a default 20 mph speed limit in urban areas? OQ56618

Following completion of the necessary statutory procedures, a national roll-out to a default 20 mph limit is planned for April 2023.

Thank you very much for that, First Minister. Clearly, it's interesting to see that there is a lot of interest in road safety in today's questions, as well as the impact on air pollution and on carbon emissions. I just want to focus on the impact on children of speeding, because you say that persuading people is the most effective way of doing something about these things, but, unfortunately, in my constituency we have a significant number of drivers who think they have a God-given right to speed past school entrances, to not stop for pedestrians on zebra crossings, even when they are children, and also to park on prohibited zig-zag lines that you often find around schools, as well as around zebra crossings. And that obviously doesn't help the fact that we have one of the highest child pedestrian death rates in Europe, closely following behind Scotland and Northern Ireland. So, how does legislating for a 20 mph limit in residential areas as the default—? How will that be effective if we cannot change this culture of simply ignoring the law as it currently exists?

Llywydd, the Member makes a number of very important points. Pedestrians are five times more likely to be killed at 30 mph compared to traffic moving at 20 mph, so decreasing speed reduces accidents and saves lives. And that is particularly important for children, as the Member has said. We've talked about a series of interconnected things this afternoon in relation to air pollution and traffic. I could have said, and maybe should have said in my answer to the very first question this afternoon, Llywydd, that Clean Air Day in Wales on Thursday has as its main theme protecting our children's health from air pollution. And Darren Millar reminded us earlier of the very sad death of a young person in his constituency, and Members will I'm sure be aware of the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a young child, where the coroner concluded that her death had been caused by the induction and exacerbation of asthma caused by polluted air in the town and street on which she was living.

So, these are very important points, indeed, that the Member raises, and maybe not as pessimistic as maybe the very end of her question suggested about the possibility of culture change. Culture change always seems very hard, but in our own lifetimes, we've seen it happen. When the very first Assembly sat after the elections in 1999, people smoked in offices, smoked in canteens, smoked on the bus on the way to work, smoked when children were present at the table, and now we wouldn't think, would we, of doing that, and this is only 20 years later. I think had we said back then that we could change the culture of smoking in that way, we would have thought that was a pretty ambitious thing to have done. So, I think culture change can happen, and it happens by a combination of efforts.

As I said in my earlier answer to Huw Irranca-Davies, I believe it best starts by persuading and encouraging people—even people who do very bad things, as the Member said, around schools and so on. I don't think demonising people changes people's minds and it doesn't change the way that they behave. We have to be able to make a case to them that doing something different is better for them and for the people that they care for. Then we need to take the sort of positive actions that I also referred to in an earlier answer—all the things that we are doing as a Welsh Government to create that infrastructure for active travel, to make public transport more available and accessible. Then, we have to have enforcement. And we know that when people deliberately park on double yellow lines outside schools, causing the potential dangers that they do, then enforcement sometimes has to be the answer where persuasion has failed.

So, Government action is important, but it's only part of the way in which we can make the culture change that Jenny Rathbone has referred to happen. I don't think we should rule out, Llywydd, the possibility that public opinion may already be in advance of the appetite for political action in just the way that we saw with smoking; I remember the debates here, where there was a lot of fear that somehow we were ahead of where the public were, and the public turned out to be there before us. 

14:30
Alcohol-related Deaths

8. What assessment has the First Minister made of alcohol-related deaths during the pandemic? OQ56588

Can I thank Dr Hussain for that question, Llywydd? Despite fluctuating, alcohol-specific deaths have remained relatively stable over recent years. Provisional figures suggest a rise in numbers in 2020, but more data is needed to confirm and to assess this. The reasons for any rise may be complex and will need additional analysis. 

The First Minister will be aware that figures on alcohol-specific deaths only include those where each death is as a direct consequence of alcohol misuse—that is, wholly attributable causes, for example alcoholic liver disease. Screening and referral systems in general hospitals and seamless access to detoxification and residential rehabilitation services are the proven means of reducing such deaths, by identifying those at risk of serious illness and providing services for their recovery from alcohol dependency. Does the First Minister agree with me that all health boards should report on the screening and referral systems in general medical departments to identify patients with an alcohol dependency, and will the Welsh Government commit to provide funding to ensure that all patients who need it have access to detoxification and residential rehabilitation? Thank you. 

I thank the Member for that supplementary question. He is, of course, entirely correct that the figures that are published are 'direct cause of alcohol' deaths, and the problem of alcohol misuse is a far wider one than that. On the final specific point that the Member raised, the Welsh Government rehabilitation framework has 30 different providers of residential drug and alcohol services on it. Between April 2020 and May of this year, there were 194 referrals to those centres, of which 93 were to Brynawel, a residential centre I know the Member has a particular interest in. I was very pleased myself, when health Minister, to visit Brynawel and to see the services that it provides. During 2020-21, the Welsh Government made available an extra £750,000 to support residential provision of alcohol and drug recovery services, of which £250,000 went directly to Brynawel, to support additional placements there. I know that he speaks with authority on this matter, from the work that he does, and I hope that he will recognise the additional investment the Welsh Government has made, and the difference that that is making in the lives of people with alcohol dependency and their ability to access excellent services of the sort that Brynawel provides.

14:35
2. Business Statement and Announcement

The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement. Lesley Griffiths.

Member
Lesley Griffiths MS 14:36:16
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Diolch, Llywydd. I've added two statements to this week's business. Today, the First Minister will make a statement on the programme for government, and tomorrow, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change will make a statement on climate change. Finally, tomorrow's short debate has been postponed until next week. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically.

Trefnydd, can I call for two separate statements, please? The first is from the Minister responsible for culture. The Welsh Government will be aware that, for UK City of Culture applications this year, the deadline for expressions of interest is coming up next month. For the first time ever, groups of small towns will be able to apply for city of culture status, rather than just larger cities. That obviously opens this opportunity up to many towns and villages across the whole of Wales. I've already been contacted by an enthusiastic group of volunteers in the Vale of Clwyd area—not the Vale of Clwyd constituency—and they are very much hoping that they can put a bid together to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity that it presents. I think it would be good if the Welsh Government could encourage these sorts of applications to come forward, and give some guidance to those smaller towns and communities, because, otherwise, I think we may miss this opportunity, and it would be great if Wales was able to seize it with both hands.

Secondly, can I call for a statement from the Minister for health in relation to referrals and treatment for prostate cancer in Wales? I was astonished to be told recently that the number of referrals for prostate cancer had fallen by over 2,000 in Wales due to fewer people being tested following the restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Clearly, that's very alarming—it could mean that there's undetected prostate cancer out there, and people's health could be damaged as a result. So, I think it would be good to know what the Government's strategy is to get on top of that in the future. Thank you.

Thank you, Darren Millar. As you say, it's a very exciting opportunity for small towns, and it's good to hear that there are groups of volunteers in your own constituency who are looking to put forward a bid in relation to the city of culture. I will certainly ensure that any guidance or information that we are able to give to interested groups is given out.

In relation to your second point, I think with any health issue—and you refer specifically to prostate disease—awareness should be raised about screening. You might be aware that this week is Cervical Screening Awareness Week, and it is really important that we do all we can to make sure people are aware of what is on offer, particularly around screening, which obviously can provide a level of protection. I think you make an important point around the COVID-19 pandemic as well—there are so many other harms. So, it is really important that we do raise awareness.

Could I ask for a statement on the accessibility of the public transport network in Wales, please, not just relating to the actual trains and buses themselves, but bus stops and train stations, particularly the stations that aren't staffed? A number of constituents have raised with me the lack of sheltered seating and room for wheelchair users and people with prams, and, in one case that I'm aware of, a ticket machine being in a confined space with very little room to access it at all. I'm sure the Trefnydd agrees with me that the public transport network in Wales should be easily accessible for all.

Thank you, Luke Fletcher, for that. Absolutely, I agree with you that all aspects of public transport—as you say, it's not just the buses or the trains, it is the infrastructure around there—should be accessible. I am unclear whether there is a piece of work being done to look into that, but I will certainly mention it to the Minister with responsibility. 

14:40

I'm asking for a Government statement on proposed tree planting, to include how the public can become involved. If everyone in Wales who has a garden planted a new tree then we'd have an additional 1 million trees. I am sure that some Members will remember as children 'Plant a tree in '73, plant one more in '74'. Will the Government consider implementing such a scheme for 2023 and 2024?

I would also like a Government statement on supply teachers. I believe it is fundamentally wrong that they are not directly employed by councils or groups of councils. i think it is abysmal the way they are treated, and I would like a statement from the Government on supply teacher employment. 

Thank you. I'm certainly old enough to remember the planting of trees in 1973 and 1974. You may be aware, Mike Hedges, that the Deputy Minister for Climate Change is going to be leading a deep-dive exercise into how we can increase tree planting. Clearly, I'm sure he'll be very interested in your suggestion. We've also begun to create the national forest, which was one of the First Minister's manifesto commitments. Again, I'm sure there is something we can do around the national forest also. 

In relation to supply teachers, as you say, they can be employed either directly via local authorities or schools or via commercial supply agencies. Obviously, headteachers and governing bodies are responsible for all staffing decisions and to make sure that they've got an effective workforce. We introduced the National Procurement Service supply agency framework back in September 2019, and that has resulted in a number of improvements to pay and conditions for agency supply teachers. We've also got the inclusion of a minimum pay rate, which resulted in a pay increase for framework agency teachers. 

I call for a debate or oral statement in Welsh Government time on care for people with learning disabilities and/or autism. The thirty-first of May was the 10-year anniversary of the Winterbourne View scandal, when abuse of people with learning disabilities and/or autism was exposed. In January 2013, the then Welsh Government Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services published a ministerial statement laying out the Welsh Government's plans to ensure that a similar situation did not happen in Wales. However, many people with learning disabilities and/or autism are still being placed long distances from where their families live. And, last week, we also heard shocking claims that autistic children were abused at a residential home in Wales—punished for engaging in autistic behaviour. 

The learning disability consortium, including Learning Disability Wales and Mencap Cymru, is calling on the Welsh Government to do six things, including committing to working with key partners on the strategy to ensure we can bring people with learning disabilities placed in all out-of-area residential services back near their families and friends, if it is their wish to do so; to outline what guarantees the Welsh Government have that people with learning disabilities are having regular care reviews; and measure what access people with learning disabilities have with advocacy services and how that information is being fed into Welsh Government. I call for a Welsh Government debate or oral statement on this urgent matter accordingly, because this urgent matter merits Government time for the Senedd to properly scrutinise them on this important matter. 

I think we would all agree that children and young people with learning disabilities should be educated and cared for as close to home as possible. I'm sure the Minister for education is aware of the report, will be looking at what the recommendations are and will bring forward further information at the most appropriate time.FootnoteLink 

We all welcome the long-awaited clean air Act in the programme for government. It has a lot of support here in the Senedd and beyond. In April last year, I called on our cities and towns to be more considerate of people, suggesting closing Castle Street in front of the castle to create a nice public place. I was pleased that Cardiff Council did close the street for public vehicles, but we're very disappointed that there are discussions about making a u-turn.

Does the Trefnydd agree with me that it's very odd, to say the least, that Cardiff's Labour council are using clean air funding from Welsh Government on something that will, in fact, increase pollution and affect the air quality of residents and the 45 million visitors to Cardiff every year? Could we please have a written statement from the Welsh Government on their position on reopening Castle Street, and on local authorities removing measures that in fact reduce air pollution levels? Diolch.

14:45

Thank you. As the Minister then responsible, I was certainly very pleased to launch the clean air plan last August in Castle Street in Cardiff. Obviously, any funding that is given from Welsh Government to local authorities in relation to clean air or any other matter is closely monitored, and I will make sure the Minister has heard your question and writes to you specifically about the point you raise.

Minister, as has already been mentioned, this is Learning Disability Week. Many of us are pleased to mark this and celebrate, I have to say, the contribution of children and adults with learning disabilities to our lives and at work, but we also note the continuing challenges faced and the social and economic barriers that make life far more difficult.

Minister, this is also the dark anniversary of 10 years since the Winterbourne View scandal, so could I echo the call of others here today to have a statement or a debate on the way in which Welsh Government will work with the asks of the learning disability advisory group in Wales: to reduce the numbers of people with learning disabilities being placed out of county and out of Wales and a long way from home and family and friends, if it is contrary to their wishes; assess the quality and the universality of discharge plans; assess the adequacy of advocacy services and the consistency of those services; and commit to employing people with a learning disability and their carers in regular care setting reviews, which are Welsh led whether the residential setting is in Wales or not? That would be a tremendous step forward, if we could have a statement or a debate on how we can match those six asks.

Thank you. You will have heard me say in my earlier answer to Mark Isherwood that I believe we all agree that individuals with a learning disability have the right to lead fulfilling, independent lives as close to home as possible. Sometimes, obviously, specialised care is required, and we know that should be safe, effective and high quality, and absolutely focused on supporting the individual. 

The Minister, you may be aware, has the learning disability ministerial advisory group—I think that's the name of the group who advise her—and she is meeting with them this month to discuss their views around priorities going forward, so that we can build on the achievements of the previous Government and, obviously, with the new Government, decide on the most appropriate way forward. I think the Minister would say they've provided an invaluable source of advice and she's agreed that their work must continue, going forward. I think what the membership of that group does is really provide the expertise that the Minister requires on deciding future action.

Last week, BBC Wales exposed a culture of bullying among NHS staff. The Welsh Government's statement said that,

'Any form of discrimination, bullying and harassment within the NHS is entirely unacceptable and we take these matters very seriously.'

Will the business Minister schedule a debate for the Senedd to explore how these matters are taken seriously and what measures now need to be put in place to give staff, and potential new staff, confidence that our health service respects and values people?

And also, the public consultation on the Welsh Government's race equality action plan closes on 15 July, as the Senedd is about to go into recess. This is clearly an important piece of work, so would the Minister schedule an oral statement from the Minister for Social Justice for the first week back in the autumn term? Thank you very much.

I'm sure we all agree that bullying or any form of discrimination is completely unacceptable, and I know the Minister for Health and Social Services is taking this very seriously and will be discussing these issues with the health boards in her regular meeting with the chairs and the chief executive.

I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch the second part of the question.

14:50

The public consultation on the Welsh Government's race equality action plan closes on 15 July, as the Senedd is about to go into recess. This is clearly an important piece of work, so would the Minister arrange an oral statement from the Minister for Social Justice for the first week back in the autumn term?

[Inaudible.]—look at that as part of our planning for the autumn term.

It's four years now since the Children, Young People and Education Committee of the last Senedd held an inquiry into perinatal mental health in Wales. Now, among the recommendations accepted by the Government was that the Government, in light of the fact that the mother and baby unit situated in south Wales isn't appropriate for mothers and parents in north and mid Wales, should engage as a matter of urgency with the health service in England to discuss options for the creation of a centre in the north-east that could serve populations on both sides of the border. We in the north are still waiting for such provision.

You may have seen the coverage given this week to the case of Nia Foulkes from Pentrecelyn near Ruthin and her experience of having to travel to Manchester for mental health services after the birth of her son. Not only was the experience of being so far from home and so far from her child nightmarish for her and her family, but all of the care and therapy provided was through the medium of English and she felt that she couldn't express herself properly, particularly given her state. Now, Nia has explained how she thinks her recovery would've been very different and far swifter had there been a unit available closer to home that provided services to her in her mother tongue. I'm sure you will join with me in thanking Nia for her courage in speaking out about that difficult experience. Can I ask, therefore, for a statement from the health Minister to update the Senedd on what intentions the Government here has to revisit the recommendation made in that Children, Young People and Education Committee report to consider options for that service and look anew at establishing a specialist mental health unit for mothers and babies in north Wales?

Diolch. I would certainly join you in thanking your constituent for speaking out. I think it's really important that, as Ministers and Members of the Senedd, we hear about people's experiences.

The issue around providing the right care in the right place is really important and, obviously, you mentioned the issue around the Welsh language issues that your constituent faced with going over the border in England. I would think that the best way forward would be for you to write to the Minister for Health and Social Services for her to be able to update you.

Can I take this opportunity to put on record the Senedd's best wishes to our national team ahead of tomorrow's game, and also to offer our thoughts and prayers on behalf of Senedd Members to Denmark's Christian Eriksen, to his family and team mates, after the tragic scenes over the weekend?

Trefnydd, I'd like to request a written statement on access to funding via student finance for people seeking to study a PGCE. Residents have contacted me who wish to study in Cheshire East school-centred initial teacher training, but currently cannot do so and get funding from Student Finance Wales. Now, students living in England and Northern Ireland can get funding to take this course from their respective student finance organisations. I would be really grateful if the Minister responsible could report back to the Senedd on this matter. Diolch. 

Thank you. I, too, would like to join Jack Sargeant in wishing our national men's team well in their match against Turkey tomorrow and to send our thoughts and best wishes to Christian Eriksen. It was certainly very, very disturbing, what we saw on Saturday evening.

In relation to your specific request around funding access to student finance for people who are studying a PGCE, under the current regulatory arrangements, the Cheshire East teacher training programme has to apply for specific designation of its courses in order for Welsh students to be able to then access that student support if they wish to study there, and I'm sure—. You know, we have to safeguard taxpayers' money, so it's really important that we are able to confirm that all such providers and courses can demonstrate that they meet the specific criteria that we set out in order to provide that. There are other incentives available to eligible students who wish to study a postgraduate initial teacher education priority subject in Wales that can then lead to a qualified teacher status, and there is a lot of information available on the Government website.

May I ask for a statement from the Minister for Climate Change on the impact of the proposed closure of the A465 on residents and businesses in Gilwern? Last Friday, I met with Monmouthshire councillor Jane Pratt and local businesswoman Fay Bromfield, who expressed their concerns on behalf of residents and businesses about plans by the Welsh Government and Costain for six weekend closures of the A465 between Gilwern and Brynmawr during the summer. This will create utter chaos, I'm told, for visitors, local residents and anyone passing through the area on what is now a very important route to west Wales. If these six full weekend closures go ahead, they will have a profound effect on tourist traffic as many UK residents are taking their holidays in Wales and this route is very popular to get to west Wales's beaches and the Brecon Beacons, and it will, naturally, be very busy. There has been no consultation with local people on this issue and no guarantee has been provided to local businesses that they will be compensated for the damage done to their businesses by this programme of closures.

Welsh Government officials could not confirm on which weekends the A465 would be closed, and it would be desirable if the closures were made after the summer holidays and the scheme extended, as it already is three years over time and another few weeks avoiding the summer holidays would be far better. Please could we have a statement from the Minister addressing the serious concerns of the people of Gilwern?

14:55

The Member raises a very specific concern. The Minister for Climate Change does have oral questions tomorrow, so, if there is a suitable opportunity, I think it would be best to raise it in her question session tomorrow.

Trefnydd, as the agriculture Minister, I'm sure you'll be delighted to celebrate the fact that Food Cardiff has won the silver award from Sustainable Food Places. It's a real tribute to the work they've done over the last five years, when they got the bronze award—one of the first cities in the whole of the UK to get that—to improve food in hospitals and in care homes, and, generally, to help all of the organisations involved—all 74 of them—to tackle food poverty and ensure that everybody has access to healthy food. 

As it's also diabetes awareness week, which really reminds us why this is so important, because of diet-related ill health, I wondered whether we could ask for a statement from the Welsh Government on how we are going to get all public services, as well as Welsh Government procurement processes, ensuring that we make healthy eating and local, sustainable food networks a much greater priority in order to counter the billions spent by food manufacturers to promote the sale of processed food that condemns far too many of our citizens to poor health and an early death. 

Thank you. I certainly would like to, first, congratulate Cardiff in attaining a silver Sustainable Food Places award. What I really like about this scheme is that it shares the same values as the well-being of future generations Act in embedding those sustainability values and ways of working. They're very much central to our development of a food strategy for Wales, going forward.

Local authorities and schools, or their contracted caterers, have the responsibility for purchasing food for use in school meals. They're obviously able to establish cost-effective procurement arrangements with local food producers, and I think there are clear benefits from that and it absolutely should be encouraged. Work is under way to boost food resilience in communities and increase local sourcing through supporting our food wholesalers to increase the supply of Welsh food supplies right across Wales.

Through 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales', we've invested £6.5 million to support our revised delivery plan through 2021-22, and that includes a specific £1 million towards the delivery of a diabetes prevention programme in Wales. A key part of the strategy is to take forward legislation on price promotions, planning and calorie labelling so that we can help improve the food environment. 

Of course, we use our food clusters—in the just over five years I've been in post, I've been a massive advocate of that cluster programme we've had within the food division. There are some really strong networks being created, and I think that's added significant local value to our food producers.

Minister, could we have an urgent statement from the Government on their analysis of the trade deal that seems to have been agreed last night between the United Kingdom and Australia? It appears from reports, and it certainly is the view of the two farming unions in Wales, that this is an opportunity for the UK Government to sacrifice agriculture in Wales, with the associated impact on rural communities, our language and culture, on the basis of short-term profits for Conservative donors in the City of London, and to sacrifice our rural communities on the basis of that prospectus, I think, is quite appalling. So, it would be useful if we could have a statement from the Government on the Government’s analysis of the potential impact of that trade deal.

Could I also seek to invite the Government and the Presiding Office to work together to ensure that we do have legislation to ensure that there are defibrillators available across the whole of Wales? Members will not be surprised that some of us found the scenes on Saturday night in Copenhagen particularly distressing. Certainly my memory of what happened to me was very similar to what happened to Christian Eriksen, and I think our hearts go out to him in what he has experienced, and his family, and we would all wish him a very good recovery.

But his life was saved, and other lives were saved, and my life was saved by passers by and people who had both the equipment and the skills required to save those lives. It doesn’t happen by accident, and Government can make that happen. Government has a power to do that. My life was saved because there was somebody close to me who could do cardiopulmonary resuscitation. We moved in a direction of ensuring that there is training available for CPR in the last Senedd, and the work that Kirsty Williams led on that is something for which we are all very grateful to her, but there are still not sufficient defibrillators. I know there are many charities and many people working extraordinarily hard on this, but unless there is a statutory framework ensuring there are defibrillators in every one of our communities—defibrillators that work and are maintained and where there is public access to them—there will still be too many lives lost that could have been saved.

I know there’s an opportunity for a Member’s legislative statement later this month, but what we need is the space and the time and the resources from both Government and the Presiding Office to ensure that this Parliament can act on the basis of what we know, what we understand, the appalling scenes we saw on Saturday night, and the experience of many of us, particularly those of us in this Chamber who have lost loved ones because we don’t have the facilities and the infrastructure in place.

15:00

Thank you. I will start with your second question first, and I know that it, obviously, is deeply personal to you, but they were, I thought, incredibly harrowing scenes on Saturday. I thought we saw far too much than we should have done on Saturday evening, but you make a really important point about a 29-year-old man’s life being saved because of the quick thinking of many people—the referee, his team mates, and the fact they got medical equipment—and you make the point about defibrillators.

Certainly, from a Welsh Government point of view, we’ve provided funding to the Save a Life campaign. That’s working with organisations right across Wales, so we can raise awareness of the importance of CPR and the use of defibrillators through the Touch Someone’s Life campaign. I think it’s fair to say the number of defibrillators right across our communities is building. We really need to encourage people to register them with the ambulance service so that the ambulance service are aware of them, and you referred to the new curriculum statutory guidance that does include an expectation that schools should include life-saving skills and first aid as part of a range of strategies.

In relation to the Australia trade deal, we, obviously, as a Government, will be bringing forward a statement—either myself as the Minister responsible for agriculture, or my colleague, Vaughan Gething, the Minister for Economy with responsibility for trade policy. We have made it clear to the UK Government for years that what they were proposing is unacceptable to us. I’ve met with the farming unions. They’re very clear on their views—they too have made representations—and we certainly will bring forward a statement when we have all the information.

In the programme for government, the document says that the Welsh Government will ensure that estate management charges for public open spaces and facilities are paid for in a way that is fair. So says the programme for government. These are ordinary householders, in most cases, paying for green spaces that most of us pay for through our council tax. So, the fairest way to do it would be for local authorities to pay for them, and I know that the way that this has grown over the past 20 or 30 years makes that very difficult to do in one swoop. Perhaps in future local authorities can make sure they adopt green land, but at the moment we’re in a position that is very difficult. Cwm Calon in Ystrad Mynach, in my constituency, for example, now faces a wooded area being added to their estate, to which they would have to pay for, and the issue of estate management charges is something of a wild west. There are no caps on fees and there is no prevention from estate companies from charging astronomical fees. At the very least we need a cap.

Now, the Welsh Government has done the hard yards on this already by engaging in a consultation last term, which took place through the course of last year. A great deal of information has been gathered by both residents and organisations that know a great deal about this. So, I think now is the time to progress this and resolve this issue once and for all. So, please could we have an early statement from the Minister to explain how that will happen and end this injustice faced by home owners in Wales?

15:05

Thank you. Obviously, the First Minister, straight after this item, will be leading a statement on our programme for government, and it does reflect our manifesto promise to ensure that estate charges for public open spaces and facilities are paid for in a way that is fair. You, I think, point out quite rightly there's a great deal of information out there now, and I know the UK Government announced a package of reforms, and the Welsh Government have worked closely with the UK Government in relation to this. We held a call for evidence on estate charges, as you referred to, and the Minister for Climate Change is considering all options available before coming to any further decisions.

3. Statement by the First Minister: The Programme for Government

The next item is that statement by the First Minister on the programme for government. First Minister Mark Drakeford.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. Today, less than six weeks after the election, this new Welsh Labour Government's programme for government has been published. This is an ambitious and radical plan that delivers on the manifesto promises that we made during the election. It will help us create a stronger, greener and fairer Wales. The programme for government is being published much earlier than in the past, and that's because of the challenges we face in Wales and the need to tackle them with urgency. These are challenges that are unprecedented that have been caused by the ongoing impact of the pandemic, leaving the European Union, and, of course, climate change. This Government is determined to get to work on these issues and to start achieving the commitments that we made to and for our country.

Llywydd, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 provides a unique framework for Wales, and a number of those who are still here in this sixth Senedd helped to place it on the statute book. We are only temporary custodians of the wonderful country that we live in, and we all have a duty to make Wales a better and stronger place for our children. We publish today the well-being objectives that are required under the Act in order to reaffirm again the central part the Act plays in our thinking and our policies.

Llywydd, this programme for government is built around those well-being objectives; a set of objectives intended to maximise our contribution to the well-being goals and deliver actions over this Government term that will leave a positive legacy for future generations. 

We start this sixth Senedd still in the midst of a public health emergency and still living with restrictions and measures to protect our public health. Cases may have fallen markedly, but the emergence and spread of the new delta variant is a sobering reminder that the pandemic has not gone away. It's a pandemic that has had an enormous impact on us all and on every part of our lives. It has laid bare the deepening inequalities in our society. Our brilliant vaccination programme offers us a different relationship with the virus, but we will be living with it and with the many consequences of it for some time to come.

Our programme for government therefore is, first and foremost, about recovering from the pandemic, about ensuring our NHS can care for everyone who needs its help, especially all those who are struggling with mental health problems and with prolonged pain. It is also about supporting children and young people who have had their education disrupted over the last 15 months. No-one here, across this whole Chamber, wants a single child's future to be blighted because of the pandemic. And that is why there is a catch-up programme for education, and a young person's guarantee of an offer of training, education or work for everyone under 25 in this programme for government. And because this has been an economic emergency as well as a public health crisis, the programme for government also sets out our determination to go on supporting businesses to full recovery, and then to create that fairer economic future for Wales where no-one is left behind and no-one is held back.

And then, at the heart of this programme for government, Llywydd, and at the heart of this Government, is the urgent need to respond to that other great emergency of our time: the emergency of biodiversity loss and of climate change. Six weeks ago, a ministry for climate change was established, bringing together housing, transport, planning, energy and the environment—a clear signal that we will use all the powers we have to play our part in tackling the climate and nature emergencies.

This programme for government sets out the key areas where we will make the greatest difference in shaping Wales's future, and the actions we will take to deliver the change we have been trusted to deliver. The green industries of the future that will create new jobs and opportunities for people in every part of Wales. This Government will invest in these industries and build a new green economy constructed on the foundations of fair work, equality and sustainability. We will launch a new 10-year Wales infrastructure investment plan to support a zero-carbon economy, and deliver our transport and digital strategies to re-energise communities and make Wales a better, greener place to live and to work. That green transformation will include championing locally-generated renewable energy, introducing that clean air Act for Wales and designating the first new national park in Wales for 65 years. We will promote local green spaces, reduce waste and continue our work on a national forest that will reach across the whole of Wales. We will make sure that our farmers have a key role to play in our green future, and that the homes we build will be low-carbon homes. We will promote and support the Wales Trades Union Congress's plans for green representatives in all work places, extending our social partnership agenda to capture the vital contribution of workers and workplaces to tackling climate change.

And this Government will continue to challenge embedded power structures and push for fair pay. We will implement our race equality action plan, and address the systemic causes of racism, tackle the stigma of HIV and address the structures that disable too many of our fellow citizens. We will also continue to treasure the Welsh language and culture, as well as our dynamic and vibrant tourism, sports and arts industries. We will continue to work towards our goal of a million Welsh speakers by 2050, taking legislative action to do so, and support people to find affordable homes in the communities in which they have grown up.

Llywydd, this year has shown the full value of a distinctly Welsh tradition of volunteering and community organisation, and we will continue to ensure that local organisations and local democracy can thrive. Our plans permanently to embed the remote working practices we have learned over the past 15 months will allow us to make our communities even better places to live, but also to work.

This Government will also lead a forward-looking and inclusive conversation with the people of Wales about our constitutional future, including through an independent commission. At the same time, we will continue to strengthen our position on the world stage, using our global networks to work for a better Wales and for a better future for the world.

Across all of these areas, we will need to be radical, forward-thinking and determined to achieve the far-reaching change that is needed. That is why, Llywydd, the programme for government contains nearly 100 key and cross-cutting commitments that require the attention and the action of the whole Government. Around 150 more, equally important, commitments are identified to be taken forward by Ministers in their own portfolios. Every one of these commitments will help us deliver on the promises we made in our manifesto, making those practical changes that deliver change for people across our nation.

Llywydd, let me end where I began. This programme for government reinforces the importance that this Government attaches to the well-being of future generations Act, its seven goals and its five ways of working. The well-being objectives and the well-being statement that accompanies them demonstrate our commitment to make the Act bite not simply on the processes of Government, but on the actions that we will pursue over this Senedd term. Where there are others in this Chamber who have an appetite to work constructively to pursue and, indeed, improve the proposals we have put forward, they will find this Government keen to engage positively with them. These actions, then, set out in the programme prioritise kindness and collaboration over division and competition. They are rooted in the preferences and choices made by people in Wales on 6 May, and it's in that spirit, Llywydd, that I commend the document to the Senedd.

15:15

Thank you, First Minister, for your statement this afternoon and the document that was released this morning that we've had a chance now to read—all 17 pages of the programme for government that is available for Members and the public. Obviously, the public did vote for the Labour Party to be the Government here on 6 May, I accept that, and the questions—[Interruption.] I recognise that; I'm not disputing that, and the questions I put to you—[Interruption.] The questions I put to you today aren't out of churlishness, they are to try and seek more information on the commitments that you've made within your programme for government, in particular when it comes to health, for example, where the programme for government doesn't even mention the 12,000 extra members of the NHS staff that you're looking to recruit over this term that we know the NHS will require. Can you give us more information as to will they be in the early part of this Senedd term, or will it be over the whole part of the Assembly term that you will be looking to recruit these 12,000 additional hands to help our wonderful NHS, because we know the demands from the waiting lists are great? And also, can you give us information as to what programme the Government is putting in place to deal with those waiting times, because the programme for government does not touch on the specific plans about dealing with the near 600,000 people that are on a waiting list here in Wales.

When it comes to education, the programme for government talks about 1,800 tutors being put into the education system here in Wales. Can you give us an indication again of when those tutors are likely to be integrated into the educational establishments here in Wales? Because we know that the catch-up programme is desperately needed here in Wales, and, again, those extra hands within our education system are vital so that pupils who have missed out over the last 12 months can benefit from that catch-up programme that you referred to. Also, the programme for government talks about the reform of the school day and term. Is this just a specific part of the catch-up programme, or is it more of a fundamental change to the way education is delivered here in Wales? If it is more of a fundamental change, can you indicate how that change will be delivered and at what point in the Senedd term more proposals will be coming forward, so that we can scrutinise those proposals?

When it comes to the economy, the Labour manifesto talked about a stronger and better-paid workforce in Wales. It is vital for us to understand how the proposals within the programme for government will close the wage gap that exists between Welsh workers and other workers in the United Kingdom, which we know has grown over the first 21 years of devolution. So, can you explain to us how this programme for government will close that wage gap that now seeks to discriminate against Welsh workers as opposed to other workers in other parts of the United Kingdom? And can you indicate where you believe gross value added will be in 2026, at the end of this Senedd term? When you were an adviser to the Welsh Government and the then First Minister, the first Labour Government did put GVA targets there so that we, as an opposition, could scrutinise the progress of that particular Government. I note from this particular programme for government that targets are sorely missing, and it would be beneficial to understand, especially when it comes to the economy, how much ambition you have for the economy here in Wales.

House building is of critical importance if we're to close the gap in the aspirations of people wishing to have their own home and the reality of people having a roof over their heads. I welcome the point about 20,000 new social houses being part of the programme for government, but can you inform us: is that an additional 20,000 social homes that would be constructed on the instructions of the Welsh Government, or is it part of the overall planning process that sees section 106 obligations instruct builders to build those homes? Because we do know that, from completions here in Wales, the market is far short of being fulfilled at the moment. We need about 10,000 to 12,000 completions a year and, at the moment, only about 6,000 completions are happening here in Wales. There are, in fact, more empty homes in Wales than there are second homes. It is important we understand what policy the Government has to bring those empty homes back into beneficial use. And I note the programme for government doesn't talk at all about that particular aspect. 

When it comes to local government, the programme for government talks about council tax reform and, indeed, reforming the voting system. Are you in a position to enlighten us as to exactly what these reforms might look like this afternoon? Because they are fundamental to the make-up of local government here in Wales and, in particular, as we have local government elections here in Wales, I assume such reforms will be focused on the 2027 local government elections, rather than the 2022 local government elections. 

We fully support the clean air Act. We believe that that's a vital piece of legislation that needs to be put on the statute book, but I'll leave my comments on the legislative proposals to the statement that the First Minister has already alluded to, which will come later in the parliamentary term. 

When it comes to flooding, the programme for government talks about 45,000 homes being protected by additional measures. I'd be grateful to understand how the programme for government has identified only 45,000 homes needing that protection, when we know all parts of Wales suffer from chronic flooding episodes because of the very issue that the First Minister has rightly identified as being one of the greatest challenges we face—climate change. And so I'd like to understand why 45,000 homes and the areas that have been identified for that future flooding investment that will be made available.

I'd also like to just, in conclusion, understand the standing commission to consider the constitutional future, which the First Minister addressed in his opening remarks in his statement. Is that a sensible use of taxpayers' money, given that one of the remits that has been made available is to promote and support the work of the UK-wide constitutional commission being established by the UK Labour Party? It's perfectly right that the Welsh Labour Party, if it wishes to support such work, uses its own funds to do that, but is it right that taxpayers fund a specific party-political project that you identify in your terms of reference for such an independent constitutional committee that you've talked about in your statement? I appreciate for many people out there the focus will be on waiting times, the economy and education, but constitutional change does occupy a considerable amount of time and space within this Parliament, and I'd like to understand exactly why that is going to be informing UK Labour policy at taxpayers' expense. Thank you, Presiding Officer. 

15:20

Llywydd, I thank the Member for those detailed questions. I'll do my best to answer as many of them as I can as quickly as I can. The 12,000 additional staff for the health service is, of course, a five-year commitment because these are new staff coming out of treatment—out of training, I beg your pardon. A nurse who began training two years ago will be available in the NHS this year; a nurse who began training in September of last year will not be trained for three years. So, this is a production line of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists—all those many, many people that we rely on for the health service. Three years is the minimum length of time that it takes to train for any of those roles, and many of them are five and more years, and the investment that we make is an investment that doesn't see its payoff sometimes even into the Senedd term beyond the one that we are now beginning. So, those will be staff that will become available over the whole term, beginning immediately at the end of the current academic year. 

The 1,800 tutors that the Member mentioned: 1,000 of them are already recruited by local authorities as a result of the funding that we provided earlier last year, when we provided further funding. Local authority colleagues have begun immediately to add to that recruitment, and, with the £19 million that my colleague Jeremy Miles announced just a couple of weeks ago, they will have the confidence of knowing that those staff will be paid for by the Welsh Government to do the job that we have asked them to do.

The reform of the school day and the school term is a fundamental change, in my view, not a matter just of responding to the pandemic. It's very much an issue on which I will hope to work with others in this Chamber, including the Member's own party, if there are ideas and possibilities that he'd like to contribute to that. He'll know that the pattern of the school year in Wales is still the pattern that was established at the end of the nineteenth century, and reflects an agricultural economy. Even when I was growing up in Carmarthen, the autumn half term, Llywydd, was known as potato week, and that's because I and others were sent out to collect potatoes on the farm during it. We need an approach to the school year and the school day that reflects the needs of a modern economy and contemporary Wales. We'll do that in partnership; there are a lot of people we will need to take with us on that journey, and, where there are Members in this Chamber and political parties who wish to make a contribution to it, then I'm very, very open to exploring that together to get a form of education that best suits today's needs.

The way to close the wage gap in Wales, Llywydd, is by improving productivity, and the Resolution Foundation, in a report that it published towards the end of the last term, said that Wales was the only part of the United Kingdom where there had been significant productivity gains in recent years. Now, we need to work from the help that that gives us. We need to work with our colleagues in private businesses, so that they put the investment in place that will allow those businesses to become more productive, because productivity is the key to a better-paid economy and it's central to our thinking about it. I'm a First Minister, not a soothsayer, Llywydd, and I'm not going to make guesses of what figures will look like five years from now.

On house building, the 20,000 social rented homes are the total number of rented homes at that social rented level that we expect to be created in this Senedd term, but it's certainly not the whole number of homes we expect to see built in Wales, which will be well more than that. And on empty homes, we will of course continue the successful work that began in the Valleys taskforce, with a significant amount of investment and hundreds of homes brought back into beneficial use as a result. I think we've learnt a formula there, and our ambition will be to extend that formula to other parts of our country.

The reform of council tax came up in questions earlier, Llywydd; it will not be easy to bring about, because any such reform, as I said, creates losers as well as winners, but the current form of council tax is too regressive, it's too unfair; it puts an unfair burden on the least well-off in our society to pay for the services from which we all benefit, and, using the work of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that was published towards the end of the last Senedd term, we will move forward with reform.

There'll be no changes to the voting system in local government next year, but the Act that this Senedd put on the statute book now allows local authorities to choose the electoral system that they think most reflects the needs and wishes of their own populations. And of course, there are parties in this Chamber who support different methods of election, and, where they're in charge, they'll now be able to make different choices if they wish to do so.

Forty-five thousand homes protected from flooding is the largest number that will ever have been protected during any Senedd term. So, it is not a small ambition, and I won't delay the discussion this afternoon, Llywydd, only to say that the rationale by which those homes have been identified, and the projects that are proposed, come through all local authorities and NRW colleagues, and are then endorsed and funded by the Welsh Government.

Finally, to the standing commission, its work will be available to all political parties and to all the different efforts that are made to fashion a future for the United Kingdom that allows the United Kingdom to go on succeeding. And whether that is the work of the select committees in the House of Lords and the House of Commons, who are currently involved in this work; whether it is work carried out in conversations with the UK Government, where we are still hopeful that we will conclude the inter-governmental review before many more weeks go by; or whether it is the work that Gordon Brown will be overseeing for the Labour Party, it is absolutely right that there is a commission here in Wales that brings together opinion from across Wales, within political parties and beyond, that fosters a proper debate here in Wales about our constitutional future, and makes sure that when other and wider debates are taking place, there is an authoritative source of advice that can be drawn on to make sure that the voice of Welsh people is properly heard in whatever forum that discussion may be being carried out.

15:30

Thank you to the First Minister for today's statement. It's the privilege of any new Government to set the agenda, to set the tone and the ambition at the beginning of a new parliamentary term. And I noted that the First Minister took pride in the fact that it's only six weeks since the election. I happened to look at newspapers from 10 years ago, and it was six weeks that had passed then too. 

'Finally we get a hint of a programme from the First Minister',

Those were the words of the Western Mail at that time. And the headline was,

'Is that all you've got, First Minister?'

So, perhaps I'll ask something similar in a slightly different way. As a list of valid and praiseworthy ambitions, there's a great deal that I would agree with in this programme. There are many ideas that I recognise from Plaid Cymru's recent manifesto even, and the values, the fundamental values set out, are ones that I share: principles of collaboration and co-operation not competition; a nation based on fairness, where everyone achieves their potential; providing public services for the benefit of the public, not for profit, and so on; as well as creating a nation where the Welsh language is at its heart and at the heart of public life.

But the fundamental question I think I have here, in looking at this, is: what will be different in five years' time, even if the Government does manage to deliver against many of these pledges? We heard the First Minister referring to the programme as ambitious and radical. They are warm words, of course, but I fear that I remain unconvinced that it's this programme for government that will provide the new direction that Wales needs, the transformation that we need in order to create a more just and prosperous future. When it comes to the pandemic, Wales has shown the value of caution I think. But surely, when we're talking about the work of nation building, we have to move a little more quickly. We have to be smarter, yes, but we also have to work harder and to aim higher. 

I accept that much of this is setting out the framework. We will try and influence and try and strengthen that framework, and perhaps the First Minister could comment on something that isn't in the programme, on reforms to this Senedd, because it's within the activities of this Senedd that we will seek to influence that framework, but there is a question as to what the framework is for. There is an absence of targets in some fundamental areas. So, how can we measure success?

I've accused Labour Governments in the past of being too managerial in their approach, of being satisfied with administering Wales rather than offering a vision. So, how does this programme provide a gear change from managing Wales to transforming Wales? What hope is there in terms of transforming the lives of 67,000 people on waiting lists for social housing, the 70,000 people living in poverty who don't qualify for free school meals? So, where's the realisation of the scale of the crisis in terms of the impact of second homes on rural housing? Where are the statutory targets on safeguarding biodiversity? There are fundamental questions here, and we'll have opportunities in the next weeks and months, of course, to deal with those in some detail.

15:35

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Llywydd, this Parliament will—. Dirprwy Lywydd, this Parliament will understand what I mean when I, as a Plaid Cymru Member, say that I fear we are currently limiting our ambitions as a nation. We have different viewpoints on the potential offered by independence. In our vision of a Wales that can build its own relationships with other nations in these islands and beyond, we look towards ambitions that aren't limited by UK Government or Whitehall. We heard the First Minister say, 'We will use all the powers we have to tackle climate change.' I think it's an hour and a half ago he was saying how frustrated he was at the limitations being placed on our ability to tackle climate change by Whitehall rules on borrowing, for example. We can be more ambitious in that way.

If the Labour Government, like the Conservatives, are determined that it's by continuing, effectively, to give an ultimate veto to Westminster, to allow UK Government to set the parameters within which we can try to forge a new future for our nation, then it's up to this Government to show that a truly transformative programme for government can be put in place within that UK context. I'm afraid that that is not what I see in this programme for government, but, as I wish the First Minister well in embarking on the next five years, I guess it's up to his Government to prove me wrong.

Thank you very much to Rhun ap Iorwerth for what he said at the outset of his speech, about the possibility to collaborate on a number of things that are in the programme where we have the same ideas, similar ideas, in the areas outlined in the Plaid Cymru manifesto. And I'm looking forward to collaborating where those possibilities arise. As Rhun ap Iorwerth said, Dirprwy Lywydd, Members will have to wait for some of the detail that he was requesting.

Llywydd, it was nearly 18 months, I think, in the last Senedd term before the Government published its programme for government, and it was a deeply detailed document; it had all of those bells, whistles, targets, and so on, that he might have been looking for, and indeed we could have decided to do that this time. Because in order to produce a document of that sort, you need an extensive amount of time and effort. My own view is that it was better to put in front of the Senedd a programme for government that captured the essence of what we were committed to in the election, what we wish to achieve as a Government, particularly those things where a cross-Government effort is required to meet the urgency of the tasks that lie in front of us. And that is why, as Rhun ap Iorwerth very properly recognised, some of the detail will be provided by Ministers as the commitments in the manifesto are worked through and the practical actions that lie behind the programme for government can be fleshed out in the detail that he was asking for.

On the issue of independence, he's right, of course, that we do take a different view. I would not describe it as being limited by Westminster. I think the scope for independent action by this Senedd has never been more vividly illustrated than over the last 12 months. But I continue to believe that Wales's future is best secured by powerful devolution, entrenched devolution, devolution that cannot be stolen or turned back, but within a United Kingdom in which we voluntarily choose to pool our sovereignty for common purposes, which are better discharged by a population working together on those issues, and climate change would surely be one of those.

So, we probably won't need to rehearse the arguments that we set out at extensive length in front of the electorate only weeks ago, and where the electorate has delivered its verdict. We will go on defending this Senedd; we will go on making the case for extended devolution, where we think that is the right thing to do; we will certainly go on making the case for a different future for the United Kingdom; and the commission that we will set up, and the work that will be led by my colleague Mick Antoniw, will allow us to have the depth of understanding and the depth of support from the Welsh public that will give those ideas the credence that they deserve. 

15:40

Before I call other speakers, can I remind everyone that I fully appreciate the importance of the programme for government statement and that people want to ask questions about the future direction of the Government, but we have a limited time, and, therefore, I want to call everybody on the list? So, if you can keep yourselves to your minute and be succinct, I'd be very grateful. Rhianon Passmore.

Diolch, Deputy Presiding Officer. First Minister, on behalf of the people of Islwyn, firstly, I wanted to briefly congratulate you on a stunning election victory in May, and for all that you have done personally in keeping Wales safe during the pandemic.

The unprecedented pandemic continues to rightly dominate all our minds and has changed all assumptions about how we will live, work and play in the years ahead, but simultaneously Wales continues to cope with 10 long years of underfunding and continued cuts to Welsh budgets, cuts to UK welfare support, cuts to trade and the Brexit downturn, all as we stare into the eye of the climate change storm. First Minister, the Climate Change Committee has warned that Governments must act swiftly and consciously in all public policy decision making. So, how, with this context, will Wales put climate change at the very heart of transforming our economy? And how will our Welsh Labour programme for government deliver a cleaner, greener and fairer country and a more equal society within those circumstances?

Well, Llywydd, I thank Rhianon Passmore for that. I hope she'll recognise that climate change is at the heart of this Government, that we have created a ministry and a Minister to draw together all the different threads that the Welsh Government has to make the maximum contribution that we can to that agenda. We do need a UK Government that is equally committed to playing its part alongside us, and I look forward to the opportunities that there will be to discuss that and to work collaboratively and co-operatively with other Governments in the United Kingdom to make the difference that we all need to make, if we are to hand on the beautiful, but very fragile part of the globe that we are privileged to occupy in a state that would stand up to examination by those who come after us.

Thank you, First Minister, for outlining your programme for government. You talked earlier about growing the Welsh economy and, indeed, there's a section there—I briefly had a chance to look at it—looking at the economy, and we welcome anything that drives the economy, especially in a bounce-back following this awful pandemic. But I'm sure you will agree with me that it's so important that Wales features on the world stage. I heard you saying about global networks earlier, but I don't see it in the programme as to how we're going to actually promote Wales on the world stage, because at the moment we're seeing GDP per capita at the lowest across the UK in Wales and we're seeing research and development investment at the lowest levels in Wales, hardly touching 1 per cent of R&D investment in the UK. And it's fundamentally important, because we have all of the ingredients in Wales to make us strong, yet we're not cementing them together in the right way, and we've lost many opportunities over many years through not doing things as fast as we should have done. Yet, Wales is home to globally recognised businesses and boasts huge economic credentials, including the compound semiconductor industry—

Right. Sorry, Deputy Presiding Officer. Well, the question is: First Minister, would you be focusing a lot harder on promoting Wales on an all-Wales and global scene so that we can actually reap the benefits of that opportunity and encourage inward investment? At the moment, we're not seen as a favourable place for investment because we haven't raised our profile enough on that global position and platform. I hope that we can do more in that regard going forward. Thank you, First Minister.

15:45

I thank the Member for those important points. The international strategy doesn't feature in the programme for government, but that is because it is a piece of work that continues from the last Senedd term. I took the decision in forming the new Government that the international strategy would be the responsibility of the First Minister's office, for many of the reasons that Peter Fox has set out.

Just in the next couple of weeks, Llywydd, I will be meeting ambassadors from different parts of the world with very different trading relationships with Wales. The new ambassador from Poland will be visiting Wales in the next couple of weeks, and the new ambassador from Japan will be visiting Wales. There, I take a slightly different view from the Member, because in terms of inward investment, we have secured inward investment from Japan for more than 40 years, and it's not the sort of inward investment that is sometimes rightly criticised by others—investment that comes, takes the money and is gone as soon as the money runs out. Investment by Japanese companies in Wales is long-term investment, and we go on being successful in drawing that investment into Wales.

The programme for government does indeed look to a Wales that is a global player, that is a welcoming place, that is outward looking, where people from other parts of the world want to come and make their futures and to invest in the fantastic things that we have to offer, not simply in terms of facilities and infrastructure, but particularly the workforce we have to offer here in Wales, with the skills and the commitment that it offers to so many companies from different parts of the world.

First Minister, it is a good, sound programme for government—[Interruption.] It is a good, sound programme for government on which there is a strong mandate to actually deliver this now, despite the criticism from the opposition benches a moment ago. I'm going to focus on just two areas that I'd like to, because we stand up and we ask you to go further, do it faster; we've got a five-year programme for government here. But the two areas I'd like to focus on are, one, buses and public transport, which I understand we might well have a debate next week on. It's how soon we can get to that point where we can actually get more local control of our bus services and related community transport services as well, so we can deliver that. And the second one is on the clean air Act. There's wide cross-party support now to actually move very fast on that, and to have good, measurable, ambitious targets within it. So, how soon could we see that as well? There are over 100 items in here, and as you say, there are more, actually, with individual Ministers as well that aren't even within this document. But on those two, I think you'd find good support—we just need to get on with it.

Thanks to Huw Irranca-Davies for those questions, Llywydd. I chaired the meeting of the legislative programme board of the Welsh Government where we, with really heavy hearts, agreed that we could not take forward the bus reform Bill in the last year of the last Senedd term, and that was simply because of the circumstances we all know we were facing at the time, with so many people who we would have relied upon to work on those proposals with us—in local authorities, in the bus companies and so on—simply not able to come to the table to carry out that work. But we will be committed to reregulation of the bus service in Wales to make sure that it is run in the public interest in future. I look forward to having those discussions with the many sectors that have a direct interest in it before bringing proposals in front of the Senedd.

On the clean air Act, which we've discussed a number of times this afternoon, it's absolutely part of our commitment for five years, but I have to echo what the Member himself said—both the programme for government today and the legislative programme that I will bring in front of colleagues before the end of this term are a five-year commitment, and there will have to be a sense of how the programme is capable of being managed through the Senedd with all the many demands and ambitions that I know we have.

I would like to focus on one very important area, namely childcare and early years education—a sector that's crucially important for recovery post COVID. Children the length and breadth of Wales have missed an important formative part of their lives, and there is increasing evidence that this is where the educational focus should lie. But it’s disappointing to see an appalling lack of ambition in the programme for government. It makes no sense to keep childcare and early years education out of the education portfolio. Surely it should be at the heart of the work of the education Minister. Can you explain why your childcare policy doesn’t focus on the child? The positive impact of childcare is to create better access to the workplace for parents, and mothers particularly, but we do have to look at all of the other benefits for the child, and then it will become quite apparent that we need a long-term plan to expand this crucial provision. COVID has demonstrated that quite clearly.
 

15:50

Llywydd, of course I agree with what Siân Gwenllian said at the end about the impact that COVID has had. This Government is very eager to do everything that we can to help children to get over the pandemic. That’s why we’ve spoken this afternoon about the investments that we’ve already announced during this term to help our schools and to help other people in this area to press ahead with the important work that they’re doing. Everything that we do in the childcare area relies on more than one Minister and, of course, we share or divide responsibilities among the members of the Government. We have to do that. Julie Morgan is responsible for a number of things that are relevant to the points made by Siân Gwenllian. She is pressing ahead with the work that she was doing in the last term—very important work—and she’s going to do it with the new Minister for education and other Ministers in the Government. At the end of the day, there are choices to be made in terms of who is responsible for things on paper, but the purpose of the programme for government is to show people how this Government is going to work on very important subjects where there is more than one Minister, and how the whole Government can contribute to the important issues that Siân Gwenllian has referred to this afternoon.

First Minister, I welcome this afternoon’s statement and I welcome the radical vision that runs through it. It is one thing to present a lengthy, dry document, but there is something different about presenting a document that describes a radical journey for Wales. I welcome the document that we’ve had sight of today. I welcome not just the vision contained with it, but the radical principles that underpin it too. I do think that it’s a powerful programme as a result of that.

I have two questions. I welcome the fact that you’ve made a clear statement that you’re going to support the Tech Valleys programme in my constituency, but in terms of the Valleys more broadly, is there anything contained within the document that will act as a framework that can deliver policy across the Valleys? Because what we’ve failed to do in the past is not a failure of vision or a commitment to work in the Valleys, but the ability to deliver. I know that there is a suggestion in various sections of the document that there are democratic and accountable bodies that you want to create and I’m eager to understand more about that.

My final question—and I can see the Deputy Presiding Officer, even without my glasses—is: how will we know when you have delivered against that vision? Because the question that Rhun ap Iorwerth asked was a very important one. We don’t want a civil service document here; we need a political document, and I agree with you on that. But we also need a document that enables us as a Senedd to create accountability and to ensure that we understand and the people of Blaenau Gwent know when you have reached your objectives and when you have delivered against your ambitions.
 

15:55

I thank Alun Davies for what he said about the document. If we're going to be radical, in my opinion it was important to bring this document before the Senedd as soon as possible. When we do it that way, as I explained to Rhun ap Iorwerth, it's not possible to include everything—every way of working and delivery and targets and so forth—within the same document. But, Ministers will appear before the Senedd and they will provide more details and they will be accountable, as Alun Davies said, to the Senedd and to people outwith the Senedd throughout Wales. We're still discussing, Deputy Presiding Officer, within the Government, the best way of pressing ahead with issues in the Valleys and to press ahead with the work that Alun Davies did in the previous term. There are a number of Ministers within the Government who represent the Valleys, and that will be a help to us. We're still discussing the best ways of proceeding with that.

I would like, in welcoming this programme for government, to thank and congratulate the electors of Aberconwy for returning me to this place with the largest majority I've held.

On a more serious note, you explained that you would make sure, First Minister, that our farmers have a key role to play in our green future. However, the programme for government doesn't really address the issues that are facing them. The programme states, and I quote, that you will

'Forbid the culling of badgers to control the spread of TB in cattle.'

That isn't a strong enough statement. The Welsh Government has been issuing a tiny number of licences to mark, trap and take badgers to prevent the spread of disease on farms that have a TB chronic breakdown in a herd. For example, in 2020, you only issued seven licences. Compare that with the startling fact that over 10,000 cattle, in the prime of their productive lives, continue to be culled every year in Wales due to TB. The comprehensive approach adopted in England has seen an average reduction in the incidence of TB of at least 40 per cent in areas that have completed at least four years of badger culling. Just across the border in Gloucestershire, there has been a 66 per cent decline in new TB breakdowns. So, the prohibition on culling badgers is not supported by the evidence—

Yes, of course. That will result in infected badgers struggling—. Yesterday, I met with farmers and other colleagues in this place, and they're really upset, because Aberconwy now has gone from a low to an intermediary state. So, First Minister, when are you, and when are your Ministers, and when is the Wales vet going to acknowledge that we have a real problem with bovine TB and we have to address it and address it dramatically? Work with the farmers, stop working against them, and let's bring this to a satisfactory end. Thank you.

Llywydd, it's a brave Member of the Conservative Party who decides to raise the interests of farmers on the floor of the Senedd this afternoon, when their Government has just signed a trade deal with Australia that will damage farmers in Wales without any doubt at all. I saw the document that the UK Government had published on the Australia trade deal. It dealt with the fate of farmers in a single sentence. It deals with the export of swimwear to Australia at equal length. I think that just tells you something about where the priorities of—[Interruption]. And our programme for government will have to deal with the impact of your Government's choices on the fate of farmers here in Wales.

If I've learnt anything about TB, Dirprwy Lywydd, it's that there is no point in just trying to trade statistics about it, because for every statistic that you will quote, there will be a counter-statistic that can be—[Interruption.] And the science behind it is disputed as well, as she knows. This is for sure: the reason why low area statuses have moved up is because of the importation of TB by farmers buying infected cattle and bringing them into the area. That is the single greatest reason why low-incidence areas have moved up that very sad hierarchy. The culling of badgers will not happen in Wales—just be clear about that. That was in the Labour Party manifesto; it was endorsed by the electorate. It will not happen. And if we want a serious debate, it is better for farmers to recognise that and to talk with us about the things that we can do, rather than complaining about things that are not going to happen. Inoculation is a far better long-term solution to it. That is why we have employed Professor Glyn Hewinson, one of the world's leading figures in this field, here in Wales—brought to Wales in order to assist us with this agenda—and the ideas that he and other colleagues in Aberystwyth are working on to provide a vaccine against the awful disease that is TB in cattle, an awful disease that is distressing—deeply distressing—for those farmers who have to deal with it. But the way of dealing with it is through the new methods that we are working on here in Wales, and not by harking after things that are simply not going to be part of our response here.

16:00

Thank you, First Minister. Three short questions. Firstly, I welcome the commitment to proceed with a basic income pilot. Are you able to provide any more detail on this, in particular around geographical criteria? I know that Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council has expressed a willingness to work with Welsh Government on a pilot, so I'd be grateful if that could be considered. Secondly, I welcome the commitment to take action around coal tips, however, as many of the levers aren't devolved, what work is being undertaken to ensure that interventions are both substantive and lead to a real solution of the issue? Finally, will the Welsh Government continue to progress plans for a vacant land tax this Senedd term? 

Llywydd, I thank Vikki Howells for those very specific questions. I'm grateful to those local authorities that have come forward offering to assist us with a basic income pilot, offering to do it in their own areas. As the Member knows, we are working on ideas to involve looked-after children, young people leaving the care of public authorities, as the way in which we could mount a basic income pilot here in Wales, and I'm grateful to Rhondda Cynon Taf council and other local authority leaders who have come forward to offer to assist us with it.

I hope Members here will have had a chance to see the Law Commission's report published last week on coal tip safety. It's a sobering document. It touches on many of the things we've talked about this afternoon about the impact of climate change and rainfall in Valleys communities and the fact that standards of construction of coal tips, which were safe enough in their day, may well not be safe enough to go on protecting those communities from the impact of weather events, intensive rainfall and so on. It's a very, very good read, if anybody has a chance to look at it. It does rely on working with the UK Government, and let me say, I'm grateful for the fact that I've been able to co-chair, with the Secretary of State for Wales, the group that we have got together to work on coal tip safety. It was through that group that the possibility of Law Commission work was raised and then funded by my colleague, Lesley Griffiths when she was responsible for that area.

I wish I had as much positive stuff to say on the vacant land tax. The process we have attempted to run is the process set out in the Government of Wales Act 2017, passed by a Conservative Government. It's that Act that lays out how we can draw down the authority to create a vacant land tax here in Wales. We chose a vacant land tax, Dirprwy Lywydd, as you will remember, to test that machinery, with a relatively uncontentious and very specific piece of legislation. Since the election in December 2019, we have faced, I think, a blanket refusal by the UK Government to operate the machinery that they themselves set down. We'd had reasonable co-operation under the Theresa May Government and we were making I thought very good progress in getting an agreement with the Treasury and others on it. It's been a blank wall since December 2019, and that's deeply disappointing and I think it's preventing us from being able to take forward an idea that other parts of the United Kingdom would have been able to learn from, using that living laboratory that devolution provides, in which we can all try different things and then learn from one another.

16:05

I'm very pleased to see the intention of safeguarding coal tips through the introduction of legislation; I've also read the Law Commission consultation paper, which was quite horrifying, if truth be told. But, as we know, it takes time to bring forward legislation, and there's real concern in many communities that we could see further landslides, as we saw in Tylorstown in February 2020, unless there is further, urgent action taken.

One community that's extremely concerned is Ynyshir, where there are plans to build wind turbines on top of old tips, which would create further risks of flooding. So, what assurances can you give to communities such as Ynyshir that the Government will learn the lessons necessary and take urgent action to secure the safety of current coal tips before the legislation is in place?

Dirprwy Lywydd, I agree with the Member. Of course, we will have to take the time to work on the report by the commission and the number of other things that we want to do, and the Act will be on the list of things that we want to do during this term, when I have an opportunity to make a statement on the legislative programme before the end of the term.

Today, I'm trying to focus on the programme for government. I don't have a specific answer on the specific points that the Member has raised in her question, but there will be an opportunity for us to consider the points that she has raised as part of the work that we've set out in the programme.

I thank you for this programme to ensure that the world we leave our children is one that will not be a nightmare and will be worth inheriting. So, as we endeavour to tread more lightly on our production, consumption and waste of the resources of this world, I wondered whether you could tell us what the Government's plans are to ensure that private house builders are building the zero-carbon homes that we will need in future so we don't have to retrofit them.

I wonder whether you could tell us how well-being hubs, whether they're in practical reality, like the Maelfa well-being hub in Llanedeyrn, which will bring the important reform of primary care, general practitioners' services, pharmacy, social care and mental health all together—how will that be done virtually where well-being hubs have not physically been created yet?

Lastly, I wondered whether you could say a little bit more about the blue revolution. I know that David Melding would've reminded us about the wonders of the Welsh coast, but in light of the warnings that our oceans are in the worst state since humans started exploiting them—the words of Sylvia Earle, the first female chief scientist of the United States oceanography administration—I just wondered how we can do a bit more than the very welcome idea of supporting restoration of sea grass and salt marsh habitats.

Llywydd, thank you very much to Jenny Rathbone. Of course, our ambition for zero-carbon homes extends beyond the public sector homes that will be built during this Senedd term. One of the reasons for putting housing alongside planning and alongside energy in the portfolio of the new Minister is to allow her to have all of the levers she needs, including further reform, as I believe we will need to see, in building-standards work to make sure that we are not creating houses today that we will then have to retrofit in the future.

There are Cardiff Members here who envy the Maelfa development and wish that we had similar things in our own parts of the city, but our twenty-first century surgeries programme in the programme for government is a programme to create those well-being hubs in more parts of Wales. In the meantime, in the virtual way that Jenny Rathbone referred to, we’ll be working through the 64 primary care clusters we have in Wales, and who, I think, have done so much to support and to energise the primary care response that we’ve seen during the pandemic.

And finally, in relation to the marine environment, Dirprwy Lywydd, I should report that there was a meeting of the British Irish Council last week where I was able to put on the record the new programme of work that we have agreed with the Republic of Ireland—a five-year programme of work—much of it focused on that shared marine environment that is the Irish sea. We’re committed to working with the Republic on an agenda that brings researchers from our universities together and third sector organisations together to make sure that we use that fantastic environment for the renewable energy that we will need for the future. But we do it in a way that fully respects the unique environment and the diversity of that marine environment where its occupants know nothing about, Llywydd, whether they are swimming in Welsh waters, or Irish waters, or waters in between.

16:10

Diolch, Prif Weinidog, and can I thank Members for their contributions this afternoon? Looking at the timescales, we’ve managed to get everybody speaking. But if you want to see a good example of how to ask questions in the timescales, look at Vikki Howells and Heledd Fychan who both got their questions well in within a minute. Okay.

Point of Order

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. I just wanted to clarify for the record my interest in the question I asked the First Minister earlier. I referenced Bridgend County Borough Council in my question without making clear I’m a sitting councillor on Bridgend council, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to make that clear now.

Thank you for that, and it is now on the record, and therefore it's quite clear. Thank you.

We will now suspend proceedings to allow changeovers in the Chamber. If you're leaving the Chamber, please do so promptly. The bell will be rung two minutes before proceedings restart. Any Members who are arriving after a changeover should wait until then before entering the Chamber.

Plenary was suspended at 16:12.

16:20

The Senedd reconvened at 16:22, with the Deputy Presiding Officer in the Chair.

4. Statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services: Services supporting people to recover from COVID-19

The next item is a statement by the Minister for Health and Social Services—services supporting people to recover from COVID-19. Eluned Morgan.

Thank you very much, Llywydd. As we begin to focus on different aspects of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we must not forget those to whom the virus has caused lasting harm. For some individuals, even though they may have had a very mild or asymptomatic experience of the virus itself, we're aware that they may have been left with one or more symptoms, including breathlessness, brain fog, fatigue, joint pain and a number of other symptoms. There has also been an impact on the health and well-being of a significant number of people who did not contract the virus themselves. Our NHS in Wales is working extremely hard to ensure that the recovery supports the whole population equitably.

Long COVID is an outcome of the virus that we still don't completely understand. We don't yet know why some experience it and others do not. We don't know how long long COVID will last or why the range of symptoms is so wide, and it isn't possible at present either to prescribe a particular pill to improve the symptoms. And while we are supporting and monitoring research in these areas, we must help people to manage the symptoms of this condition and live as full a life as possible. That is why I am today announcing an investment worth £5 million to develop primary and community services to support these and other individuals who have additional needs as a result of the impacts of the pandemic. The funding will support a new patient pathway programme called Adferiad, or Recovery, and it will expand the provision in terms of diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and care for those suffering from the long-term effects of COVID-19, including long COVID in Wales.

And I'm very pleased to be making this announcement on the day that we publish our programme for government. During this term we have committed to supporting our NHS to recover, including pushing forward with our plans to bring together GP services with pharmacy, therapy, housing, social care, mental health, the community and the third sector.

This money for the Adferiad programme will be used to fund allied health professionals and rehabilitation staff to create primary and community infrastructure, including support for the development of community diagnostic hubs in primary care. It will also be used to provide training and digital resources that are of a high quality and that are evidence based, to help all health professionals to develop their expertise in diagnosing, investigating and treating long COVID and supporting people in their rehabilitation. It will also support investment in digital tools that will improve 'demand and capacity' modelling, and will ensure that the NHS helps people make the right decisions for their care and treatment.

In Wales, we aim to work together on the design of our services with those who use and deliver them. Our health professionals working with people who are experiencing these longer term impacts from COVID-19 are those best placed to understand people’s needs and what intervention will best meet those needs. Our health professionals are liaising closely with colleagues around the world to ensure that the latest evidence is informing our decisions and our responses. Additional resource and focus are currently required in primary and community care to ensure that we provide the right support and treatment to maximise people’s recovery. This also supports the strategic aim in 'A Healthier Wales' to provide appropriate and prudent care as close to home as possible.

I have spent time speaking with those experiencing long COVID, and one of the pieces of feedback—. And I was very pleased to meet with the newly established group at lunchtime today, the cross-party on long COVID. And the feedback I receive most often is that people don’t know how to access help, or, when they do ask, there's a possibility that the person that they're speaking with doesn't know what support may be available. So, in response to these concerns, alongside the Adferiad programme, we will this week launch the all-Wales guideline for the management of long COVID. This important guideline for health professionals offers the latest information for managing long COVID across the NHS in Wales, and is supported by a package of comprehensive education resources. This includes advice on the referral process into secondary care where needed and clear guidance on when to arrange diagnostics for people living with long COVID. Updates will be provided direct to users of the guidelines, and, when new evidence and changes to guidance emerge, so our guidelines will be updated. Most importantly, it will mean that across Wales health professionals will have access to the same information and treatment advice on this condition and will also have a clear guide on when and how to refer onwards for treatment and support. When people are referred onwards, it will be important to ensure, where necessary, that a co-ordinated response is put in place, giving the individual tailored support, ensuring multidisciplinary specialists are mobilised to support the individual, as is the model in the Aneurin Bevan health board.

For many people with long COVID, the symptoms they are experiencing can be managed at home, and some supportive advice and guidance is needed just to help individuals to understand how to help themselves and also give advice on how to monitor the progress they're making. That's why NHS Wales have launched the COVID recovery app, which has been downloaded around 6,000 times already, and is actively supporting people to manage their condition and monitor their progress of recovery.

I think it's worth being clear that this is not to replace professional advice, but rather to supplement it for those who do require the help of a professional, or allow people to help themselves and manage their own care where their symptoms are milder.

I want to reassure those experiencing ongoing symptoms who may be worried about the future that we haven't forgotten them. Professional advice and support is and continues to be available. As we start to relax our restrictions, it's important to remember that the effects of COVID-19 infection can be long lasting, and that's why it remains important that we work together to keep Wales safe. I have asked officials to revisit the Adferiad programme on a six-monthly basis to ensure that we're keeping abreast of the latest evidence and science. Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd.

16:30

Minister, can I thank you for your statement today? I certainly very much welcome what you've said, in terms of funding for diagnosis and support for long COVID. I, like many in this Chamber, I think, would have been shocked by the ONS figures that said as many as 50,000 people across Wales have been suffering from long COVID. I, myself, spoke to a constituent fairly recently about their experience—going to work, feeling fatigued, out of breath—and the impact it had on their work life and family life. Thankfully, the person I spoke to recently had a very understanding employer, but that's not always the case, and the effect on the family life with bringing up young children was huge in terms of how it affected them.

It's been about five months now since your predecessor announced the long COVID app, which you referred to in your statement today, and that app, of course, provides information about self-support for people. I'm pleased that you said in your statement this isn't a substitute, it's additional information. But can I ask what feedback you've received, or your officials, on whether this app has been successful in tracking systems and helping people with long COVID to recover? So, has the app been successful and how has it been successful, I suppose, is the question.

It's clear from your statement today, Minister, that you're looking to expand diagnosis and treatment for those suffering from long COVID, which of course is very much welcome. And Long Covid Wales has been, I know, calling for some time now for specific multidisciplinary clinics to help with rehabilitation, saying that the—. Well, what they said to the previous Health, Social Care and Sport Committee back in March was that one-stop-shop clinics are needed, because people have not got the energy or resources to go back and forth to their GP and be referred to different places; they need to go and get treatment from one place. That's what they told the previous committee. So, I'd be grateful, Minister, if you could confirm exactly how the £5 million is going to be used and whether there'll be physical or virtual long COVID clinics with multidisciplinary teams, as has been the case, as you know, in NHS England over the past seven months. I certainly think they should be physical clinics, and I was perhaps a bit disappointed that that wasn't mentioned in your statement today, but perhaps you can clarify. If there are physical clinics, then perhaps you could identify where those locations are going to be.

I see that you briefly referred to research on long COVID in your statement today, and I note the National Institute for Health Research announced in February that it was investing £18 million to fund four studies of long COVID and, in March, it launched another round of funding worth £20 million. The UK Biobank also plans to send self-testing kits to all its 500,000 patients so that those with COVID antibodies can be identified and invited for further study. So, in that context, can I ask what efforts the Welsh Government is making to feed into UK-wide and Welsh research into the effects of long COVID and what support you're providing the Welsh NHS with in this regard, so that we can use this research, of course, to diagnose and treat further and future long COVID sufferers effectively?

And lastly and quickly, you've put some emphasis on GPs being part of the diagnosis pathway, and they'll be issued with new guidance—you pointed that out in your statement today—so, I'd just like to ask, have you, and what discussions have you had with GP representatives on the guidance before making this announcement today? Thank you, Minister.

16:35

Yes, the figures from the ONS were truly very large, and that's why I think it is important that we take this very seriously. We're still learning, as I say, about this particular very debilitating illness. One of the key things that people have said to me is that they need to be believed. So, there are hundreds of thousands of people across Wales who have contracted COVID. Now, a lot of them recover and don't have these long-term illnesses, but the ones who don't need to be believed, and that is one of the key things that they're asking for: 'We need this to be validated, exactly what we're going through to be validated.' That is why I think it's so important for us as a Welsh Government to make sure that we are standing by these people, and by launching this Adferiad programme, we're doing precisely that.

There have been about 6,000 people who have downloaded the app. What we're trying to do is to feed back to make sure that we're updating and getting better information, so that the efficiency and the effectiveness of that app are constantly updated, and hopefully that will lead to a better and more successful model, and hopefully even the debate today will help people to recognise that that app is available.

We have always in Wales used the GP surgery as our gateway to secondary care. That's the way that we really make sure that we're getting people to the right place within secondary care. And part of the issue that we're trying to avoid, particularly when people have particularly complex care, so they may have a problem with their lungs if they've been on a ventilator, but they may also have a heart problem, so where do you send them? Do you send them to the heart specialist or the lung specialist? What's the route to do that? So, that's why it's actually quite difficult to get clinics that really specialise in everything. So, I do think that the model that is being developed in places like Aneurin Bevan, where they will wrap around the individual and make sure that there is a team really looking at every aspect of how the individual responds, looking at their mental health, looking at their diet, looking at the really specific issues that they may have and the need to see both a specialist in lung surgery and a specialist in heart. Those things, I think, offer a much better route to go down rather than the clinics, and that's why we've gone and we've taken advice from clinical experts in this, and that's certainly what they have recommended.

In terms of the money, the money will go towards helping healthcare workers and allied health professionals to develop the infrastructure to deliver the services. We'll provide high-quality evidence-based training and digital resources, so making sure that those GPs know exactly what to look out for, and we'll be investing in digital tools that are going to provide data about services, demand, capacity and modelling. So, that's where the money is going to.

And when it comes to research, we are certainly co-operating very closely with the UK Government. We're all in this boat together; we need to understand and learn from each other, and we are helping and participating in the UK study called the post-hospitalisation COVID-19 study. That's being funded by the National Institute for Health Research and Medical Research Council UK, and that's being led by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre. We're pleased to be one of the highest recruiters, with sites across Wales for an urgent public health study that has been established. We've also got the inspiratory muscle training post COVID-19 study, and that's being led by Swansea University. And of course, we have already established the COVID-19 evidence centre, and that's a 24-month investment of £3 million. What we're trying to do is to make sure that we're not duplicating the work that's done elsewhere with the UK Government, but working together, and I think that is the important way for us to work moving forward.

16:40

Thank you very much, Deputy Llywydd. I will wear two hats, possibly, at this point—yes, as Plaid Cymru spokesperson on health and care, but also as joint chair, since earlier today, of a new cross-party group established here in the Senedd, which I jointly chair with the Member for Caerphilly. We could see that the scale of the problem was so great that we needed a platform within this Senedd to give full consideration to long COVID, and I'm pleased that the Minister was able to join us for a few minutes earlier today.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Government in Wales, for whatever reason, has been too slow in understanding what exactly we were discussing here. There are two different issues: people who have difficultly in getting over an acute illness, namely COVID, and problems after being in intensive care, for example. That's one problem that can be long term, but that's not what long COVID is. Long COVID can be something that happens to people who have been asymptomatic, as the Minister said.

So, I am pleased to hear the tone of the statement that we heard this afternoon, which without doubt, I think, recognises that we are discussing something where people deserve to know that they are believed; that there is a piece of work being done by Government that will take their concerns and symptoms seriously. Of course, what I'm looking forward to now is to see how this is to be implemented.

I've been keen to see specialist centres developed, and I share the frustration expressed already, and the jealousy, if that's the word, in seeing centres established over the border. Now, one of the benefits noted of that is that specialism is developed within these centres. The Minister has mentioned information sharing and this evidence centre, which will be gathering evidence, but I wonder what work the Government will do to ensure that good practice and lessons learned really are reflected in the treatments developed and provided across the health service in Wales. Because we are learning here, and we need to learn very quickly, but when lessons are learned it is very important that people benefit from that by seeing new treatments being developed.

One specific question I would like to ask the Minister: what's being done within the health service itself? I've already written to the Minister on this point, but I am aware of a number of health professionals who are on the front line, of course, and would have been more likely to have been infected. I see many people who have trouble getting support from their own employers within the health service to provide them with the treatment that they need so that they can return to the workplace. So, what work can the Government do to ensure that that support is provided to those health and care workers who were so selfless over the past 15 months, placing themselves in danger, who now find themselves not being supported—including one who's had to go private in England because she couldn't get the tests that she needed within the NHS in Wales?

I will leave it there for now, but I will say again that I welcome the tone, I welcome much of what we have heard, but the measure of success of these steps will be the real test. I look forward, within the cross-party group, to keeping a close eye through Long COVID Wales on how successful these steps will be, and I do hope that the Government will be willing to change direction if new evidence emerges and patient requirements are highlighted further in the coming months.

Thank you very much. Could I thank you and Hefin David for establishing the long COVID cross-party group? I was very pleased to be able to be there for at least a few minutes today, as you said. I am aware that we do need to listen, and I have been trying to make an effort in recent weeks to speak directly to people who have suffered from this. Long COVID is complex. It's not just one thing, and that's part of the problem; it's very difficult to wrap your arms around it. And that's why, I think, that the way into the system is through the GPs at a local level.

I agree with you that it's vital, particularly with a new condition, that we learn from each other and learn from good practice. I've received a list of what's being done across the different health boards, and it is interesting to see that people are dealing with this in different ways. But as we learn, I think it is worth us ensuring that that good practice is shared, and I do hope that it will create a model that we can follow for other complex conditions and illnesses. There are other illnesses where you need to see more than one specialist, so I do hope that we can think about changing the system. I do hope that we won't miss this opportunity to make changes during a period of great change.

In terms of those who are suffering from this within the health service, you'll see that within the Adferiad programme that there is a specific piece of work that recognises that and shows that we do understand that there are problems within the NHS, that we are very aware of this and that there are standards that need to be adhered to. I think there is more work to be done when it comes to other employers, and I'm looking forward to working with the unions, perhaps, to ensure that we do raise awareness among employers across Wales as well.

16:45

I warmly welcome this statement this afternoon from the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the recognition of the innovative work of Aneurin Bevan health board that was mentioned earlier. The Office for National Statistics has estimated that more than 1 million people in Britain have so far suffered from long COVID, and The Sunday Times only this week christened the UK as the long COVID capital of the world. The Welsh Government investment of a £5 million recovery programme to help patients living with this condition is to be very much welcomed. In Islwyn during the recent election campaign, I met many people who had experienced and survived acute COVID, only now to face their own battles with long COVID. One such Islwyn resident, Kate Alderson, has told me of the debilitating fatigue that still endures months later. So, Minister, as our scientific knowledge of acute and long COVID grows every day, will you commit to regularly updating this Senedd on the condition? And with the vast majority of health and social care workers being female and the typical long COVID sufferer being a working-age woman, what action can the Welsh Government take to ensure that women are not disproportionately damaged by the consequences of suffering from long COVID? Thank you. 

Thanks very much, Rhianon. I'm very sad to hear that you, of course, like everyone else here, have constituents who have been really affected by this really difficult and long affecting illness. I have made a commitment to ensure that we look at this Adferiad programme on a six-monthly basis, because this is such a novel disease and there's always new evidence. The point that Rhun made earlier about the need to learn from best practice I think is something that I hope we can learn from and build into reforming this programme as we go along. So, I can very much give that commitment. I'm sure that the health committee will be interested in receiving regular updates, and if they ask, I'm sure we can make sure that happens.  

I welcome the statement. Minister, can you inform us about the protocol for people who had their first AstraZeneca vaccination and developed complications like thrombosis and who are not listed to receive the second AstraZeneca vaccination? Should they have a booster using Pfizer? If so, when? Thank you.

16:50

Thank you, Altaf. I'm sure there's an opportunity to go into this in a bit more detail. It's not strictly speaking a long COVID issue. We are of course making sure that we follow the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. That's the way that we determine who gets what vaccine. As the balance of risk is changing in the light of the delta variant, we'll be looking for that guidance to come out from the JCVI. You'll be aware that they did come up with a recommendation that AstraZeneca shouldn't be given to those in the younger cohort, but we're waiting to hear now whether they will want to update that advice in the light of the delta variant, which is moving very quickly, certainly in England, but increasing here in Wales as well.

I'd like to thank the Minister, as Rhun did, as co-chair of the cross-party group on long COVID, for your attendance today. I think it demonstrated your seriousness to tackle this issue. I think equally so has been the decision you've taken to make it one of your priorities as one of the first things you do as health Minister. So, it's very pleasing to see that. Some of the issues that were raised by long COVID sufferers in the cross-party group today were particularly the fact that they find it difficult to get past the GP, because of the multitude of symptoms that present, and also the fact that children, they are concerned, are also being affected by this and not being identified. With that in mind, I think a key question for you will be: how will you consider the patient voice in everything that you do, and how will the patient voice scrutinise the decisions you take? Just as an early example of that, one of the things that Long Covid Wales are saying is that they want dedicated long COVID clinics. How do you explain to them that that is the path you've not chosen? How will you explain that to them? And then how will you return to that discussion later down the line when we see, hopefully, the fruits of the actions that you're taking today?

Thanks very much, Hefin. Can I thank you also for establishing this long COVID cross-party group? We've heard that complaint also—that many have found it difficult to get past the GP. That's why, on 18 June, the all-Wales guideline for the management of long COVID is going to be launched, giving much clearer guidance to GPs on what they should be looking out for and when they should be referring on. So, all of that should be in place, and I'm hoping that people on that call today will be comforted that it will be put in place. I hope that proves that, actually, we have been listening to patients. I've made a point of listening to patients, of looking at what is being said on social media channels. But also I think it's incumbent upon me to listen to the clinical advice that I'm given, and the advice that I have been given, very clearly, is that the route that we want to follow in Wales, and the route that conforms with our approach, which is to give care as close to home as possible, actually makes sense for us, to make sure that that route is through the GP. What we need to do is to strengthen the understanding of people in primary care, and to make sure that then they are directing into secondary care if and when necessary.

The Llywydd took the Chair.