Y Cyfarfod Llawn

Plenary

14/12/2022

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.

1. Questions to the Minister for Economy

Good afternoon and welcome to this Plenary session. The first item this afternoon is questions to the Minister for Economy, and the first question is from Heledd Fychan.

Flood Insurance

1. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Climate Change regarding support for businesses in South Wales Central who are unable to obtain or afford insurance due to the ongoing risk of flooding? OQ58874

I have regular meetings with my colleague the Minister for Climate Change. Our funding objectives and strategic priorities to reduce the flood risk to communities and businesses across Wales are set out in our national flood strategy and the programme for government.

Thank you, Minister. This is a specific question in terms of insurance, because, for residential homes, there is an insurance scheme through a levy on insurance companies, namely Flood Re. Such a scheme isn't available for businesses, which means that many have very costly insurance or cannot obtain insurance to safeguard them from flooding. With the climate crisis meaning that floods are increasingly likely, a number of businesses in my region are very concerned and have said clearly that they won't be able to afford to reopen if they experience flooding again in future. So, I just wanted to ask whether there have been any discussions in terms of creating an equivalent scheme to Flood Re for businesses, and, if not, would the Minister commit to looking into such discussions?

I'm happy to have a discussion with my colleague the Minister for Climate Change around insurance for businesses because I understand, too, the Flood Re, developed in association with the Association of British Insurers, covers domestic properties; it doesn't cover businesses. So, I'm more than happy to take up the Member's suggestion, around the conversations that are ongoing and where the prospects are for a scheme to help cover businesses as opposed to households. So, I'll happily take that up myself with the Minister for Climate Change and report back.

Minister, as we know, inflation is having an adverse effect on every budget, and money allocated to help reduce the impact of flooding and coastal erosion is no exception. Given that the cost of materials that will be used in providing flood defences has risen considerably, budgets are going to be stretched and it's now more important than ever that funds are used efficiently. Can I therefore ask what conversations have you had with the Minister for Climate Change and the Minister for Rural Affairs to ensure that assessments are being made to ascertain if budgets allocated to help prevent flooding and coastal erosion are not only providing value for money and are being used efficiently, but are also meeting the needs of those who need them?

Yes, I can confirm that those conversations do take place and it's a real concern for the Welsh Government. You'll see in the draft budget that we published yesterday the reality of how we make the whole budget balance. And the relative value of the Welsh Government's budget has significantly decreased because the realities of inflation within that prioritisation is looking at both of the points you make around the value for money in the schemes that there are, the efficacy and what that actually means, and how far our money can stretch in providing adequate flood defence measures. It also reinforces the other action we're looking to take to deal with some of the challenges and causes of flooding, as well as the flood defence schemes that you mentioned.

Support for Businesses

2. What support is the Welsh Government offering to businesses in South Wales West in light of the cost-of-living and cost-of-doing-business crisis? OQ58888

As the Member will know, the levers to tackle cost increases on businesses, interest rates for borrowing, taxation of windfall profits and regulation of the energy market lie squarely with the UK Government. Our priority remains to support businesses to decarbonise and to save. We continue to identify opportunities to redirect resources to reduce burdens on businesses, and, of course, the Member will be aware of the statement made by the finance Minister on non-domestic rates.

Diolch, Weinidog. The cost-of-living crisis, high inflation and rising energy costs in particular all pose huge threats to businesses in the hospitality sector especially—a sector that employs 200,000 people in Wales. And while I welcome the inclusion of more support on business rates in Welsh Government's draft budget yesterday, albeit with the caveat that perhaps support could be more flexible and targeted, there's certainly more that could be done here by Welsh Government to help businesses survive this cost-of-doing-business crisis, particularly energy-intensive businesses in the hospitality sector, such as restaurants and independent breweries. The owner of one restaurant in my region, Ristorante Vecchio in Bridgend, recently shared how their energy bill was now at £8,000 a month. So, Minister, what is Welsh Government doing to help businesses invest in energy efficiency and green energy in order to reduce their costs and help lower the carbon emissions of our businesses at the same time?

13:35

Thank you for the question. This is not just topical, it's important not just for now but for the future as well. And we're looking at opportunities both to decarbonise but I would say also to save costs and to help the bottom line, and I think it's important that we do both of those things. Some businesses will be persuaded by the broader imperatives of the climate, and others will want to know, 'Will this help me with my business, or not, because I need to survive to next month, to next quarter, to next year?' And that's exactly what we're doing. We've got campaigns that we've already launched previously, through Business Wales—the resource efficiency advisers are already in place, we have a green ambition campaign and green growth pledge through Business Wales, and we can help businesses with their ambitions to become greener and smarter. But, in particular, when it comes to direct support—and I've outlined this in both evidence to committee and, I think, in previous questions as well—early in the new year, we'll do more on launching some of the work we're going to do on specific decarbonisation support, together with the scheme that the Development Bank of Wales will provide for loan finance, to help businesses to invest in decarbonisation, to invest in energy generation, as well as efficiency, and that really should help businesses with their bottom line, in addition to the support we're providing through non-domestic rates relief here in Wales, as announced at the start of this week.

Our small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, and it is in our national interest for companies to be sustained and to grow. What discussions has the Minister had with the Development Bank of Wales about the risk to businesses' viability over the next six to 12 months, and the potential for support that could be available? Thank you.

We have a range of finance support available through the development bank for small and medium-sized businesses. Part of our challenge, as has been indicated by Sioned Williams in her opening question and the follow-up, is that there are particular pressures in different parts of the economy. So, broadly, those businesses that rely on discretionary spend—and I met the visitor economy forum today—are being squeezed at the one end by reductions in consumer spend, and at the same time their costs are going up, not just energy costs, but a range of those, and they're finding that their raw material costs, food and drink, are all rising. And you will have seen today that headline inflation was 10.7 per cent, and food inflation is at 16.5 per cent. So, a range of people in different sectors have even more extreme pressures than the headline rates. And what we're trying to do is to both understand what's taking place in those sectors and the availability of the support that we have. The truth is that, over the next year, there will be a very difficult picture for lots of businesses, and we will have to prioritise the support that we have available. And often, as well as the broad sector support we have, we'll have to have individual conversations with businesses. And I would say again, for businesses that are concerned about how to find out what support is available through the Welsh Government, Business Wales is the first gateway to do so, and they can direct you to all parts of our support system, to make sure that, if we have the support available, we can help provide where it is, and, equally, if support might be available through a UK Government scheme, we can direct you to that as well.

Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from the party spokespeople. The Conservative spokesperson, Paul Davies.

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, it goes without saying that 2022 has been a particularly difficult year for Welsh businesses. We know that businesses are facing continued challenges in terms of cost pressures, high interest rates and global economic weaknesses. Businesses have made it clear that issues such as business rates, skills development and infrastructure investment continue to be a major concern. And whilst I appreciate the Welsh Government has provided additional support for business rates for some businesses in its budget, there is still more that needs to be done to ensure that businesses are in the best shape possible to help lift the economy out of recession through economic growth. Minister, the Federation of Small Businesses recently told the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee that one third of businesses said access to skills and helping skills growth was their greatest barrier to growth. Therefore, what immediate action are you taking to address this issue and ensure businesses can recruit and retain staff in the very near future?

Well, there is both the challenge that we face and indeed the action that we're taking. And the challenge that we face, the Member will know, because we've talked about it and it's a reality, is that the challenges in replacement European Union funds are a significant problem in the skills landscape. We funded a whole range of our skills interventions through former EU funds. The fact that the replacement funds deliver a significant cut in cash terms to Wales, of over £1 billion over three years, is a real problem for us. And, actually, the landscape in terms of having UK Government interventions that cut us out make it more difficult as well. I continue to try to have constructive conversations with the UK Government about how we could resolve some of those challenges. What we are doing, though, within the levers we do have, is you'll have seen there's the broad choice I've made within the draft budget in my department around what we're going to try to do to preserve the impact of some of our spending around apprenticeships and skills. That includes the training at the outset of someone's career, at various points in their career, and, indeed, personal learning accounts. I've been very pleased to work with the Minister for Education in particular, to look at maintaining the progress we've made on personal learning accounts, and, indeed, the skills investment we're looking to make not just across sectors, but, broadly going back to question 2, the points around how we have the right sort of green skills available in the economy. So, there's a range of things we are already doing in the skills space, but it will be a difficult challenge in the year ahead. But you'll continue to see direct Welsh Government support on exactly this issue. 

13:40

Well, Minister, the Confederation of British Industry have said that their recent employment trends survey found fewer than half of businesses expect to grow their workforce in the next 12 months, and they do rank access to labour and skills, followed by the cost of living, as their top three priorities. So, it's vital that the Welsh Government delivers pro-growth economic policies and, where it needs to, reverses policy making where there is evidence that it can damage businesses. For example, businesses across Wales have said that the proposed tourism tax will have an enormous impact on their businesses. They've also made it clear that changes to the criteria for a holiday let property to qualify for business rates will have a detrimental impact on them too. Minister, when businesses are telling you that your Government policy will have a detrimental impact on the economy, it's vital that the Welsh Government listens. Minister, why haven't you listened and dropped proposals for a tourism tax, and the 182-day holiday let rule, in light of the fierce opposition the policies have had from Welsh businesses, and what message do you have as economy Minister for those businesses in Wales that will be affected by the Welsh Government's plans?

Well, when it comes to anti-growth measures, the most significant anti-growth intervention, of course, took place in the six weeks of Liz Truss's premiership. That was a significant intervention that made all of the challenges that exist within the economy much, much worse. And it was amusing to hear the anti-growth coalition being talked about and then seeing the hole that was blown by Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss. So, there's no need for any lectures from any Tory in this Chamber, or anywhere else, on this issue.

When it comes to what we are doing, we're delivering on the manifesto we were elected to deliver. That includes the measures we're taking on the visitor levy. It includes a conversation I had this morning with the visitor economy forum, where they're looking to work with us on the design of a levy that actually tries to do what it's supposed to do, and, in areas of the country where there is a challenge that local authorities want to reduce the levy, to then understand how that might be delivered in a way that works with the industry that we want to see carry on growing. And, actually, the biggest challenge facing that sector and others isn't the visitor levy, it isn't any policy position the Welsh Government takes; it's the challenge of not seeing enough growth in the UK-wide economy, the challenge of the cost-of-living crisis, the challenge in our ability to trade with other parts of the world, and what that's done to inflationary pressures in the economy that are above and beyond the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

When it comes to skills and labour, we are recognising those issues and challenges, and that's why our interventions could and should make a difference. We have challenges in labour supply that we are looking to address earlier in the life cycle of people, as well as what we're doing on skills investment. We need a much more grown-up conversation about migration and its value to the future of the economy. We need much more recognition of the cost-of-living challenges, which, if left unaddressed, will mean businesses will not last into the longer term future. And that's why the energy relief scheme for businesses is so important. And the difficulty is—and this came up very much today, and in other business meetings that I've had—that if the UK Government don't pass the legislation, discounts won't get passed on to businesses. So, you may find businesses that can't wait until the review is up, and they understand what will happen in the longer term future, who may not be here to deal with that future.

So, when it comes to the immediate challenges that are facing businesses, those are the direct conversations I'm having with them, and, indeed, that I look to have with the UK Government, where the real focus for action should be in the here and now. 

Minister, the reality is that, with one hand, you're trying to offer an olive branch to some businesses via additional rate relief, and, with the other hand, you're implementing policies that could be fatal for hundreds of Welsh businesses. I guess the Deputy Minister for Climate Change was right when he said that the Welsh Government didn't know what it was doing when it comes to the economy. So, let me try another one. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales's latest business confidence index for Wales shows that business confidence has fallen for the fifth consecutive quarter, and they are right to say that it's vital that 2023 is the year to develop environmentally sustainable long-term economic growth. There are significant opportunities in the move to decarbonise the economy, and I know that work is currently being done by the Development Bank of Wales to fast track a new invest-to-save scheme to support businesses to decarbonise, but, unfortunately, businesses continue to delay in investing in green solutions due to rising costs. Therefore, Minister, can you provide an update on the development bank's decarbonisation programme? And I listened very carefully to your earlier answer to Sioned Williams, and I understand that you will be making further announcements next year, but can you tell us when you'll be making those further announcements? 

13:45

Let's just deal with some of the challenges that come here. And I do say this as gently but as honestly as I can, to the Member: when it comes to talk of anti-growth policies, when it comes to talk of whether you know what you're doing, actually, you just need to look at what happened in the disastrous six weeks and what it did to tank the economy across the UK. Your party, that many of your own members were celebrating not just the election of Liz Truss, but celebrating the plan that she introduced, now need to look long and hard at themselves, at what actually happened. And it's not just that. If you look at what the CBI are saying, they say the UK Government does not have a plan for growth. And, actually, without a plan for growth across the UK, it will make our challenge much, much harder.

When you look at what we are doing, I will be announcing, early in the new year, with the Development Bank of Wales, a scheme to support businesses to grow, a scheme to support businesses to decarbonise and improve their bottom line. I'm looking forward very much to the announcement early in the new year, and I then look forward to a constructive response from Members in this Chamber and beyond. I'm very clear this Government thinks that, in a very difficult year ahead, there will be opportunities to help preserve Welsh businesses and Welsh jobs, but also, in a range of sectors, to see real growth, where we do have opportunities. I'm determined to do that, whilst calling out the incompetence of the UK Government at every possible turn. 

Diolch, Llywydd. Minister, the announcement in the draft budget relating to business rates relief has been broadly welcomed by businesses across Wales, especially so in the hospitality, retail and leisure sector. The Federation of Small Businesses said, for example, that the measures will go some way to alleviate the pressures on small firms that they are facing. However, I am sure the Minister is aware of comments made by Wales Fiscal Analysis in Cardiff University, saying that it is arguably a blunt instrument to use when dealing with a recession, and, of course, by their analysis, larger businesses instead of smaller ones would benefit more from this non-targeted support. How would the Minister respond to that?

Well, as ever, we're using the tools that we do have at our disposal, and the understanding of a scheme that people understand, because of the way that we have supported businesses in this area before, and, of course, we already have a range of reliefs built in to our system for smaller businesses in any event, and we've got a cap on the amount that businesses can benefit from as well. That actually means that the largest businesses won't have an even bigger amount provided to them. The cap means that we can then recycle more of that money that would otherwise go to larger businesses into our smaller and medium-sized firms. As ever, we're always interested in how we can have better and more targeted tools. There is, though, a pay-off or a trade-off in all of these. A scheme that is simple and easy to understand and administer, that can get money out rapidly, can have some edges around it that are more fuzzy. If you look for a more targeted scheme, it will make it more complex, and you're going to have to invest more time, energy and effort in the design and the delivery of it, and the more targeted and more complex a scheme, the more likely you are to see businesses fall through the gaps in it. So, there's always a choice to be made here. I'm comfortable we've made the right practical choice in where we are, and we'll need to continue to flex, as we move through the next difficult year ahead, with a recession that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer acknowledges we're at the start of, and, as I say, it will be a difficult year ahead for many businesses in the sector, which is why we've made this announcement of support over the next two years. 

Thank you for that answer, Minister. Of course, one of the things that they mentioned was that smaller businesses would miss out on that support. So, isn't it the case that we need that targeted support? There is a recognition that support is needed elsewhere. We've heard about energy today, and that business rates themselves, of course, as well, need reform. That, of course, was the view of the director of the CBI, who said that we should use the reprieve now in Wales to see how we can reform business rates. I'd be interested in knowing the Minister's view on that. Of course, we're at the time of year where hospitality in particular relies on the revenue made now in order to survive those much quieter few months in the new year. It's true, of course, generally, we've seen increased footfall, but spend per head is down, and today's news on inflation paints a very bleak picture for the hospitality sector in general.

I've mentioned previously in the Chamber—we've heard it again today from both Sioned Williams and Paul Davies—about the need to help small businesses go green. But what the sector is also facing is a recruitment crisis. In what way does the Minister see the Welsh Government's role in addressing this recruitment crisis? This crisis was an issue during the pandemic, it's continued to this day, yet very little seems to have been done by the Welsh Government to address it effectively.

13:50

There are two things. On non-domestic rates reform, that is a conversation that I continue to have with the finance Minister, who, as you understand, is the ministerial lead when it comes to reform of taxation. There's a significant programme of reform that continues to move at pace on broader taxation. You know of the work we're doing on council tax reform, for example. So, we are looking at what the future might look like. Understanding how we deliver a different scheme is really important to understand how you smooth out winners and losers within it to get to a better or a fairer system. That is work that we continue to look at.

When it comes to the particular challenges facing hospitality, it is one of the things that I am genuinely concerned about, when it comes to how much consumers will spend in this period of time that is really important for the hospitality sector and what that means for those businesses and their ability to survive in the new year, when January is normally a slower month, and whether businesses will look again, as a number of them already are doing, at whether they reduce the hours or the days that they're open as a means of dealing both with the reality of reduced consumer spend and the staffing problems that you've referred to. 

During the last year, we have worked alongside the industry to try to do something more positive about recognising it as a sector that people can go into for careers and not simply casual work, which is the way that it's portrayed by some people as the only way of working in the sector. I've committed to looking with them again in the new year at what we might be able to do to encourage people to take this up as a job, as a career, to try to address the reality that we're not seeing people who want to come to work in the sector. As we've discussed in the Chamber and outside before, part of the challenge is the way that consumers behave in some parts of the hospitality sector, and about recognising, whilst the sector is short staffed, to show some kindness and understanding for those people that are there, as well as looking to get more people to want to come to work in the sector at a rate that is fair in terms of our ambitions around fair work and fair pay and also allows the businesses to plan for their own future.

The SA1 Development in Swansea

3. Will the Minister provide an update on the SA1 development in Swansea? OQ58856

Yes. Good progress continues at SA1, with good levels of developer and occupier interest. The University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s matrix innovation quarter proposals are progressing, the student accommodation development on Kings Road is nearing completion, and the Welsh Government has completed the acquisition of the Prince of Wales dock.

Can I thank the Minister for that response? As I mentioned yesterday in a question to the First Minister, there have been a number of high-tech successes in SA1. Also, SA1 is a further development in Swansea that combines residential, high-skilled employment and commercial activity, with development being driven by, as the Minister said, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. And I think it is important that we look to more high-skill, high-value jobs, rather than the Conservatives' view that we want to have lots of low-skill, low-paid jobs. When will the Welsh Government complete the transfer of the highway infrastructure to Swansea council?

Thank you for the points made. You're right that it is an area where we're seeing a successful combination in the development of a scheme that combines residential, high-skilled employment and commercial activity. What we're looking to do is we are having constructive conversations with Swansea council about the adoption and what we hope will be the eventual transfer to local authority responsibility of the estate roads. I know it's an issue that residents at SA1 take an interest in. As we're at a point where we're having conversations between lawyers about how that might work, when we get to the point when I'm able to give a more definitive update, I'll happily provide that to him, because I know this is an issue of significant concern to the Member and his constituents.

Can I thank Mike Hedges for tabling the question? Although I'm not too sure where his supplementary came from. But the Minister will no doubt be aware of the importance of the SA1 site and the investment and high-value jobs that come with the development. The last time this was raised, Minister, and in answer to my colleague Altaf Hussain, you mentioned that, quote:

'There is still some undeveloped land at SA1 in the ownership of the Welsh Government, and we're looking to ensure that that is fully developed and finalised.'

Obviously, the land that has already been developed has proven to be very effective in, as I mentioned, attracting that investment to the area. With the potential for even more jobs and investment in this area, it's vital Welsh Government does all it can to attract that investment. Therefore, could the Minister update the Senedd as to what discussions are taking place to finalise some of that undeveloped land, particularly the land under the ownership of the Welsh Government, and what further economic benefit will that bring to the local area in SA1?

13:55

Yes, we continue to be in discussions with developers about the land—again, for a mix of residential and commercial uses. I don't want to comment about the actual discussions that are ongoing that are yet to be completed, but we are looking at options for that continued development to help to finalise it, together with the steps we've taken to acquire the Prince of Wales dock as well. So, you can expect there to be continued development on the site, and I think the fact that there's been significant development already gives us prospects to be optimistic about the proposals and the discussions that I've referenced being brought to a successful conclusion, with further development on there, further jobs and high-quality homes for local people.

Horizon Europe

4. How does the Minister intend to support Welsh research and development in light of ongoing uncertainties with Horizon Europe? OQ58889

Welcome back. It is frustrating that political differences between the EU and UK have created continued uncertainty and the inability to resolve association with Horizon Europe. The UK Government has previously allocated £6.8 billion for EU programmes in this area to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, without a separate Welsh Government allocation. We do have a range of support, including funding through our Horizon Europe unit, based in the Welsh European Funding Office, and Global Wales, plus the innovation strategy that is in development.

Thank you for for that response, Minister.

The UK Government recently announced a package of measures to support UK R&D amidst the continuing uncertainty over association with Horizon Europe. Within the package, as you've mentioned, is a pledge of £100 million quality-related funding for English universities, from which Wales will receive consequentials. It is important to highlight the fact that QR funding is unique in the sense that there are very few areas where Wales is directly competing against England, but universities are one of those areas competing for grants and students, both domestic and international. The loss of any funding reduces potential growth in Wales and increases the likelihood of brain drain. Welsh universities must have the same pro rata as English universities, if we are going to be able to compete for UK-wide funding, so is the Minister therefore willing to make assurances that any consequentials that come the Welsh Government's way will be ring-fenced for QR funding for Welsh universities?

So, the education Minister has already announced an increase in QR funding previously. When it comes to consequentials from this announcement, we are in active conversation with the UK Government to finalise the amount and the usage of that. There is always a challenge—and I understand why it's made—when there is an announcement made for a particular sector within England for exactly the same use to be applied here in Wales. Welsh Ministers will decide what to do, when we have finalised the amount coming, and we'll make that decision openly and transparently for Members and, indeed, people interested in this particular sector. But I'm very keen that we do see a return on that money that does not mean that Wales loses out in the money that's available. And I recognise the importance in this area of actually doing something to resolve the gap that has been left in research funding for universities as a result of the failure to resolve Horizon Europe.

Luke Fletcher is quite right to say the UK Government has announced that, if it is unable to associate with Horizon, then it will continue to support the research and innovation sector through transitional arrangements. This includes the UK guarantee scheme, which then provides funding to researchers and innovators unable to reach their Horizon Europe funding while the UK is in the process of associating to the programme. The UK Government provides over £8 billion-worth of funding support across five different schemes, including funds for industrial strategy and global challenges. And most recently, of course, we've seen the establishment of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, set up with an initial £800 million investment to develop high-reward research. Now, by way of contrast, alongside Horizon, the Welsh Government offers just two additional research and innovation funds: Sêr Cymru and SCoRE Cymru. So, to point the finger at the UK Government, when they provide the overwhelming bulk of R&I funding, really isn't good enough. So, Minister, with this in mind, how will you be working with the UK Government to make sure that Wales does deliver on its own science funding commitments? Thank you.

14:00

There are a couple of different points I think that we should make. There is the fact that because replacement funds have not been made available, we are over £1 billion down over three years; that's a matter of fact, not opinion. That directly affects research, development and innovation funding. That's, again, an inescapable fact. When it comes to improving the return for Wales from UK funds, that's a point that I've discussed both with the sector here as well as with UK Ministers.

Now, when it comes to the points that the Member has made about ARIA and other aspects, those actually are supposed to deliver funds on a UK-wide basis. I had some quite difficult conversations with a number of different science Ministers in the UK Government about the creation of ARIA itself and how it would function, and making sure that there was a structure that directly involved chief scientific officers from around the UK and not being centrally driven with one point, because the challenge is that the way that a number of funds have previously been delivered, about high-quality and high-value scientific research, the golden triangle in England tends to do a great deal better than the rest of the UK, including English regions as well as Wales. I'm very clear about our need in the new innovation strategy to get more from those UK funding sources; it's part of the reason I've met with UK Research and Innovation, part of the reason I've met yet again recently with Innovate UK, and I'm optimistic that when we get to not just the new strategy, but the way in which decisions are made, we should see a better return for Wales.

The other thing that I think would help all of us is some stability at the UK level. I welcome George Freeman's return to being the science Minister; he is someone who I think has been constructive and someone who understands the sector. I think what's been unhelpful is that I think I am now on my fifth or sixth UK science Minister to have conversations with. We would all be better off if there was a period of welcome stability. Even if we disagree with the UK Government's perspective, actually having some stability there would be welcome for all of us.

Average Salary

5. What is the Minister doing to increase the average salary in Dwyfor Meirionnydd? OQ58883

We are using our skills, business support and economic development levers to help create and safeguard good-quality employment and to help improve progression opportunities. This supports our efforts to increase gross disposable income per head as part of our economic mission and our approach to a well-being economy here in Wales.

I thank the Minister for that response, but I fear that the Government is looking for far too simplistic solutions to questions that are far more complex. There are a range of vacant jobs in Gwynedd at the moment; some pay very well, some not so well—doctors, vets, lecturers, teachers, planning officers, carers, and many more. But, nobody is asking the question why people aren't taking up these posts. The recent census shows the population falling here in Gwynedd, with a significant increase in the population over 65 and a worrying reduction in the working-age population. So, there is something far more deep-seated happening here. So, will you as a Minister, therefore, commit to carrying out a deep dive into what exactly is going on in rural Wales, in order to understand this phenomenon as to what is happening, and then, having gathered this information, we could start to identify the solutions to deal with the real problems?

I'm not sure that we need a deep dive, but what I did do at the start of this term, in work that I commissioned Jonathan Portes to do for the Welsh Government, was to look at a range of our challenges and factors. It includes both the reality that, as the Member has said, in some parts of Wales we're seeing a population move away from those areas. That's a big challenge in making sure that we have communities that have a future. It's part of the reason we set out in the economic mission the need to ensure that we help younger people to be able to plan their future in Wales, as well as attracting people to move to Wales to be part of our future story. Those could be Welsh diaspora moving back to us, it could be others too as well, because we want to see a real life for communities that is economically successful.

The challenge is also about the sort of economic future that we offer, which is why we need to invest in skills. It's why we need to recognise that in a range of the areas the Member has mentioned, the point that I made earlier about the relationship with migration is really important. Part of the challenge in the veterinary world that the Member mentioned—and I should note that I think I'm an honorary patron of the British Veterinary Association; my father was a vet as well—is recognising that, actually, part of the big challenge we've had is that a number of vets have come from Europe and further afield, and actually there is a big risk in what's already happened with a number of those people having left the UK. So, the pool for vets is short. At the same time, we're going to have an even bigger demand, particularly because of our changed border arrangements as well.

So, it is multifactorial—I recognise that—and our challenge is how we manage to have a response in the economic mission, but also a range of other Government departments too, that tries to meet that challenge to both get the sort of people we need to come into Wales and to give people who are brought up here the opportunity to plan a successful future in Wales as well, whether that's in urban or rural Wales. That's part of the reason I'm looking at economic development opportunities that aren't simply based around a model that says, 'Move people to cities', because that model itself won't work for Wales.

14:05
The Cost-of-Living Crisis

6. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to provide support to businesses in Mid and West Wales as the cost-of-living crisis intensifies? OQ58880

Thank you. The levers to tackle cost increases for businesses, interest rates for borrowing, taxation of windfall profits and regulation of the market lie squarely with the UK Government. Our priority is to support businesses to decarbonise and save, and we look for opportunities to help them to do so.

Thank you very much. As we all know, small businesses are the backbone of our rural economy. However, the cost-of-living crisis has been a significant blow to them, with a recent report by the Federation of Small Businesses noting that 63 per cent of small businesses have seen energy costs increasing over the past year—two out of every five have seen their costs more than doubling.

Now, Mid and West Wales has a particularly high number of off-grid businesses that are dependent on LPG or oil for heating, and are therefore vulnerable to price variance in the market. For example, Caws Teifi—a notable cheese producer in Ceredigion—has experienced LPG prices increasing from 40p per litre to 80p per litre, and the total costs for energy on an annual basis have increased from £20,000 to £40,000. So, whilst rural businesses face these huge increases, the Westminster Government has only earmarked a pitiful sum of £150 to support off-grid businesses. So, as small businesses face an uncertain future, what support can the Welsh Government provide to assist off-grid businesses this winter?

There is particular support available through Business Wales, and some of the energy efficiency advisors look at what might be possible for those businesses, because it will vary from one business to another. I recognise the point the Member makes about off-grid businesses and their energy costs as opposed to those businesses seeing energy cost increases who are on grid as well.

It also reinforces, though, the challenges in the energy relief scheme. As I said earlier, it's a scheme that hasn't had legislation passed, that isn't seeing discounts being passed directly onto businesses in the here and now as we face a winter, and the point that when the review is done, it will make a material difference for those businesses in terms of planning for the future. If the scheme doesn't have not just a longer term base to provide the certainty for businesses, then some of those businesses may choose to make permanent choices about their business. So, when that relief scheme comes, it will be an important point for businesses right across the UK, not just for those that are within the definition of what is an energy-intensive business. Part of my concern is whether those off-grid businesses will be part of the consideration for that. The points that we make, and indeed, in my recent appearance at the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee, I committed to sharing the evidence that we've provided to the BEIS consultation on the energy relief scheme, which will be directly relevant to a range of these businesses. I'll make sure that that is available, and it will become public once it's provided to the committee.

Minister, I was alarmed to read that ONS statistics show that the average price of a pint of beer has gone up 9 per cent compared to last year, and more than 50 pubs a month are now closing across the UK, compared to around 30 pubs a month last year. Pubs are the heartbeat of many communities in Brecon and Radnorshire, and they play an important social role for many people. So, I'd like to ask the Minister: what is the Welsh Government doing to support our pubs through a difficult winter and beyond?

14:10

Well, we do certainly recognise that pubs are an important part of community life, not just as businesses employing people, but giving places a sense of place as well. And I've recognised again the way that pubs have been highlighted today and the brewing businesses have come up on more than one occasion in this set of questions: the challenges of raw material increases, the challenges of energy increasing in cost as well and what that then means for pubs that are then facing their own challenges in terms of getting the right number of staff and, indeed, their own costs going up. So, I recognise there's a challenge. The difficulty then comes, beyond the support that we have provided through business rates, about what other support we can practically provide in a budget that has little room for manoeuvre. You'll see in the draft budget there isn't a spare amount of cash that the finance Minister has held back to do so. And it's also on the back of today's inflation figures showing a modest fall from 11.1 per cent to 10.7 per cent, but as I've said, the headline rate for food and drink that directly affects how pubs can do business has gone up 16.5 per cent. So, I recognise there is a wide range of challenges, and it's the part of the conversation we'll continue to have, not just with the sector but with the UK Government to understand what we can do and what resources will be available to try to support pubs as businesses and important hubs within communities.

Net-Zero Skills Action Plan

7. Will the Minister provide an update on the Government's proposed net-zero skills action plan? OQ58886

Yes. I expect to launch our net-zero skills action plan in early 2023, and no later than the end of February 2023.

Well, thank you for that confirmation because we all recognise that it's very difficult to make progress with this agenda without a workforce that's empowered with the skills to deliver many of the interventions needed to achieve net zero. The Minister for Climate Change did emphasise to the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee recently that she couldn't emphasise strongly enough how important it was to make progress on this agenda as a matter of urgency. Now, the plan was to be published in the spring, of course. That was postponed until the summer. That was further postponed until Christmas, and now you have confirmed, of course, that that will happen in the new year. Can I ask why there were these delays and can I ask you to echo what you said in your first answer, that there won't be further slippage?

Yes, I'm happy to confirm about some of the challenges that we needed to take on board. As you've seen, during the year, there have been a number of different events. It was our expectation that we would accomplish it within this financial year, we then had to deal with the shocks that have come at various points in the year, not just the autumn, but we then, as we'd reached the autumn and the challenges of the changed economic picture that radically took over, also wanted to include the latest evidence and advice available from the Climate Change Committee and a number of other publications. It would have been odd, I think, to have published our plan on net-zero skills and then the next day to have received evidence from the Climate Change Committee. So, we're looking to take those into account. I am expecting to be able to make an oral statement on the net-zero skills plan, so you will hear directly from me at the time about what we've done and why, and the balance we're looking to strike, having all of that information available, to how we bring together net-zero skills in a more co-ordinated way, what that will mean for businesses, what it will mean for sectors, what it will mean for providers, and crucially for people who want to equip themselves with these skills in the future as we look to decarbonise our economy and do so in a way that delivers on a just transition.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with Floventis Energy, one of the many floating offshore wind companies choosing to invest in the Celtic sea. Floventis have developed the capacity to generate 200 MW of floating offshore wind energy, 35 km off the coast of Pembrokeshire—yet another key player helping us to achieve our net-zero ambitions. The opportunities in the Celtic sea, Minister, are vast: a successful Celtic free port bid, coupled with the renewable energy opportunities could and should supercharge Pembrokeshire into a green energy peninsula. Therefore, I'd be grateful to know what the Welsh Government is doing to futureproof our workforce, giving current and future generations the skills to succeed in the green sector now and into the future. Diolch. 

Well, I should just make the point that, in responding, I won't be making any kind of indication about the free ports and the competing bids. It was mentioned in the question, and I just want to make that absolutely clear. However, my officials are reviewing the bids, together with UK Government officials, as the bidding deadline has finished. But I think you're right to point out that this is an area where we do expect significant economic growth, as well as green energy generation opportunities. It will also be something where, in the net-zero skills plan, I think the Member and the businesses in the sector more broadly will see a recognition of what we're able to do and what we're planning to do to try to make sure that we do capitalise on the economic opportunity that exists. This is one of the areas where I have a good deal more optimism in the year ahead than in some of the sectors that will face more challenges. I think there are people with resources they want to invest, opportunities they want to take up, and I look forward to a range of areas, including Pembrokeshire, taking advantage of the opportunities in the Celtic sea and what they will mean for the future of the Welsh economy.

14:15
Tourism

8. What discussions has the Welsh Government had about making Cardiff an attractive tourism destination for Welsh and international visitors? OQ58879

The Welsh Government continues to have discussions with a range of partners in supporting the cultural, sporting and business life of the capital city, which already contributes to making Cardiff a vibrant and attractive destination, both today and into the future. 

Diolch yn fawr, Weinidog. Cardiff docks made Cardiff into a capital city by exporting coal to the whole world. Today, we are fortunate to welcome people back to Cardiff Bay, and it's a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. I've received a number of complaints that we're not maximising the potential of Cardiff Bay. The impression given to tourists enjoying the boardwalk around the Mermaid Quay currently is less than great, with large sections of the boardwalk fenced off for many months at a time, seemingly in a semi-permanent state, with no schedule of works in sight. There are similar issues to be seen on the Cardiff Bay trail, and I know all these walkways are very familiar to the Minister. Therefore, what discussions have you had with Cardiff city council and the port authority to ensure that 2023 is the year that Cardiff Bay can truly maximise its tourist potential? Diolch yn fawr.

I should note that I have to answer in very broad terms, given that this is in my constituency. I can't have ministerial discussions on this particular point, but I certainly do take up the opportunity to talk with the council and other partners about this and other areas of interest within the great and glorious constituency of Cardiff South and Penarth.

Economic Development

9. What is the Minister's latest assessment of economic development in Newport East? OQ58872

Welsh Government continue to work collaboratively with Newport City Council and the Cardiff capital region to help build a strong economy in Newport and the surrounding areas.

Minister, I've recently met with constituents who work at Newport Wafer Fab and Nexperia, and they're very concerned, along with others in the 600-plus workforce, at the current situation, and particularly, of course, at the UK Government decision forcing Nexperia to sell at least 86 per cent of its stake in Newport Wafer Fab. These are very well-paid and high-tech, highly skilled jobs, as I know you're aware, Minister. The UK Government, having cited national security concerns for their decision, now seem to have walked away from the consequences. I know the workforce feel this very strongly, having met with them onsite and here just this week, along with colleagues such as Jayne Bryant, in whose constituency, of course, the plant is situated. Obviously, what the workforce wants and the company wants, Minister, is for UK Government to engage, to have a dialogue, to be part of finding a way forward that protects these crucial, valuable jobs, and indeed planned investment. So, Minister, will the Welsh Government do all it can to ensure that the UK Government faces up to its responsibility and supports these quality jobs and this high-tech industry in Newport?

Thank you for the question. I recognise what the Member had to say about Jayne Bryant. Nexperia is, of course, in her constituency, but I recognise the Member will have a number of constituents who work there as well. I had the opportunity to meet a group of staff from Nexperia in a meeting hosted by Jayne Bryant, and I know other Members took the opportunity to drop in to listen to them too.

We agree that the UK Government needs to undertake more engagement around the future of this particular business. There are over 600 well-paid jobs at that site in an industry with a very clear future, but an industry that also will, I think, need some time to transition to a future should the divestment and sale go ahead. There are challenges about the order book, because those people are Nexperia customers. There's also a challenge about future investment that would need to be made, and, crucially, about the people. It's not just the 600 people with families and well-paid jobs we should be concerned about, it's about some of those people who, if there isn't a clear plan for the future, may make alternative choices.

That is not what I think lies behind the UK Government's decision on the national security basis following the review, but I'm looking for certainty about what the future means—a plan for the future that involves the UK Government and involves further conversations with the company and other potential investors. Those are points that I've been looking to take up when I meet Grant Shapps, Secretary of State at BEIS. I'm due to meet him before the end of this week. We're certainly looking for an approach together with the UK Government that involves us and our direct relationships with the business and, indeed, the wider sector.

14:20
2. Questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services

The next set of questions are questions to the Minister for Health and Social Services—[Interruption.] The first question is from Natasha Asghar.

It's okay. 

Fracture Liaison Services

1. What action is the Minister taking to improve fracture liaison services in Wales? OQ58875

Sorry, I'm just rescuing my water now. Thank you very much. I have made clear my expectation that all patients in Wales should receive equitable access to fracture liaison services, and we are working with health boards to achieve this.

Thank you, Minister. Osteoporosis, I am sure you understand and know better than I do, affects more than 180,000 people in Wales, and fracture liaison services can help to transform the quality of life for many older people in Wales and deliver cost savings to the NHS. At present, only two thirds of people in Wales aged over 50 have access to the fracture liaison services, compared to 100 per cent coverage in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Extending and improving the quality of service could free up the 73,000 acute hospital bed days and 16,500 rehabilitation bed days estimated to be taken up by hip fracture patients over the next five years, delivering huge savings to the NHS. For example, the Royal Osteoporosis Society says providing a full FLS in the Aneurin Bevan health board area would cost just over £343,000 a year. Over five years, 337 hip fractures and 114 spinal fractures would be prevented, saving the NHS an estimated £6.6 million. So, do you agree, Minister, that we have a real opportunity here to improve the lives of people across Wales? Will you commit to investing in the fracture liaison services to provide 100 per cent cover across Wales? Thank you.

Thank you very much, Natasha, and thank you for the opportunity to draw attention to the fact that, actually, in cold weather, in icy weather, in snowy weather, you are more likely to fall. I would ask, in particular, those who are more frail to pay particular attention at this time of year, because the last thing we need is more pressure on our NHS at this point in time. So, thank you for that.

I think it's really important that we do everything we can in the preventative space when it comes to ensuring that we improve the fracture situation in Wales. We know that one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 are expected to break a bone during their lifetime, so that's a lot of people. And so, we do need to put some measures in place. I was really delighted to have attended the conference on World Osteoporosis Day in October where we made it very clear that we do expect to see significant improvement in this space. What we've got is a situation where Wales currently has about 72 per cent coverage, and England has about 57 per cent coverage, but I am determined to get to 100 per cent, and that's what that conference was about. It was really about asking people to look at best practice and to make sure that health boards take their responsibility seriously in this area.

The Women's Health Plan

2. Will the Minister provide an update on the women's health plan and its relevance to women and girls in Mid and West Wales? OQ58882

14:25

The NHS Wales collaborative has led the development of a 10-year women's health plan, and this will form the service's response to the requirement set out in the women and girls health quality statement. The plan will deliver improvements to health provision for women across all regions of Wales.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Minister, you may recall me sharing my constituent Emily's story some months ago during Plaid Cymru's opposition debate on women's health. Tragically, she was forced to endure almost a 10-year wait for a diagnosis of endometriosis, a condition that affects one in 10 women across Wales. Now 24, Emily lives with stage 4 endometriosis, adenomyosis and other symptoms that remain to be diagnosed. She can no longer work, nor drive, and lives with chronic pain every single day. Despite her best efforts to work with clinicians and the health board to improve the care she receives, she's still waiting for a referral for specialised care and treatment. She tells me she has no option now but to pay for private healthcare. We know that this is just one story of many. 

Minister, you said that the first stage—and we've heard you confirm this—of the update to the women's health plan would be published in the autumn, and now we are in the final week before the Christmas recess. So, I urge you to say when exactly this plan will be published, and it should be published immediately to avoid the kinds of experiences that individuals such as Emily have faced over the past few years.

Thank you very much. I'm very sorry to hear Emily's story; she is one of many women suffering from endometriosis. We have recognised that we need to do far more in this area, and that's why we do have endometriosis nurses in all health boards across Wales. So, improvements are being made, but we also recognise that we need more doctors who can undertake the interventions necessary for many women.

In terms of the announcement, what we have done now—. This will be an announcement made by the NHS, rather than by Government, but I have seen it. I've said that I am happy with the direction of travel and I very much hope that that will be published and made available during the next week. What's contained within that is the results of a consultation that we carried out with women across Wales to ask them what they think is needed in such a plan. And what we'll have is that response, what the 4,000 respondents think should be included in the plan, and then that will be taken forward and hopefully we'll have a further step forward in the summer. Because this will be a 10-year plan, and I'm very eager to ensure that we don't just look at issues related to gynaecology and those aspects of women's health, but I think it's also important that we look at things like asthma, anxiety and migraines, which impact women in a different way. So, there's a lot of work still to be done, but what was important was to ensure that it was women who felt that they could influence the shape and content of the programme.

Minister, as you're well aware, we as Welsh Conservatives held a debate in this Chamber on gynaecological cancer that affects women. We had some clear calls in that debate that we feel could actually really help women right across who are suffering with this awful, awful disease. What I would like to know today from the Welsh Government is what are you doing to address gynaecological cancer here in Wales, and what actions have you taken, following on from that debate, to make sure that no more women in Wales have to suffer from this horrendous disease.

Thanks very much. I'm pleased to say that I have followed up on that debate, and one of the things that I've done is to hold a cancer summit meeting, where, obviously, we looked at the breakdown of where we need to make further progress in relation in particular to gynaecological cancer. We're putting pressure on health boards to make sure that they understand what are the optimum pathways, to make sure that they can learn from each other. One of the key purposes of these cancer summits is that they understand what is the optimal pathway, following the best clinical advice. So, there has been progress, I'm pleased to say. I think we've got a long way to go, if I'm honest. Some of that is about workforce, but obviously, we'll be making announcements soon about what we plan to do in the workforce space.

14:30
Questions Without Notice from Party Spokespeople

Questions now from party spokespeople. The Conservatives' spokesperson, Russell George.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Can I wish you and colleagues across the Chamber a happy Christmas, Minister? 

Not a single surgical hub exists in Wales. Surgical hubs have been identified by the Royal College of Surgeons as essential to tackling the record treatment backlog in the NHS, which now stands at over 0.75 million cases in Wales. They've also proven central to reducing the backlog in England, which is why a further 50 are on the way, in addition to the 91 already in place. Minister, can I ask you why there aren't any surgical hubs in Wales when we have been telling you and your predecessor to put them in place for over two years?

Well, you may have noticed that, actually, where the populations are based in Wales, it's very different from what exists in England—they have big cities; they have places that are near each other. It's much easier for them to organise separate surgical hubs. What we are doing is we're ring-fencing elective surgery, which is effectively doing the same thing. So, making sure that elective surgery is not knocked out by the demands of urgent care. And in that sense, I think we have seen a lot of progress. Certainly, what we've got in Hywel Dda University Health Board is now two new modular places where, actually, we're expecting to see about 4,000 additional procedures occurring per year. In Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, there is, again, effectively a hub, it's the same thing; it's a ring-fenced facility, and there, you'll see 4,000 additional cataracts a year being done. And also the Cardiff and Vale Orthopaedic Centre, where there is, again, protected activity. So, you call them what you want, that's effectively what they do—they do the same thing as surgical hubs.

Thank you, Minister, for your answer. Of course, they're not effectively the same thing, because we're having a very different outcome in Wales. We've got 50,000 people, Minister, waiting over two years for treatment and the same figure in England and Scotland is zero—they've been wiped out. So, we're in a very different position. So, although you've set out a different position in Wales, I would suggest that that position is not working. We have one in four patients here waiting for over a year for treatment and the figure in England is one in 20. Average waiting times in Wales are 10 weeks longer than in England. So, I would say, look at what's working in England and do as England do when it is working. And I don't think it's safe to say—. I think it's very difficult for you to meet your targets this year, Minister; you've got a target to meet by the end of March and I think that it is more or less a reality now that you're not going to meet that target. I hope you do, but I don't think you're going to meet that target. I think it's going to be a very difficult target to meet even by the end of 2024. 

Well, thanks. Listen, we've put in stretching targets; I'm confident that we are going to meet the target in many areas of specialisms and, obviously, we're going to be pushing everybody to try. But we always said that orthopaedics in particular would be a particular challenge.

I think you've got to just understand that, actually, when your capital budget has been cut, effectively, which is what's happened, it's very difficult for us to establish new centres. And so, the option that you have available to you is to reorganise what you already have. So, we could theoretically say, 'Okay, we're going to stop doing accident and emergency in a particular hospital and we'll ring-fence that', but you're going to be a brave politician if you do that at the moment. And I'm certainly not in a position where I'm prepared to do that when the pressures on our accident and emergency are so great. But actually, what they've done in England is they've closed huge numbers of hospitals where they were previously providing accident and emergency, and we haven't done that in Wales. Now, that comes at a cost—it's very, very expensive, but actually, I just think there is a political decision that is being made here. And the public, I think, are keen to see most of those accident and emergency places remain open.

14:35

Well, Minister, you've just got to look at the stats—the stats speak for themselves: in Wales, we are waiting 10 weeks longer for treatment than patients have to in England. So the stats do speak for themselves, and you can't get away from that.

But what my final question of the year would be to you, Minister, is: what do you believe is your biggest regret of 2022? And there is a bit of a shopping list here for you. Was it keeping in place the ineffective vaccine passports; recording the longest ambulance waiting times on record; the worst A&E waits in Britain; leaving a fifth of the population on an NHS waiting list; nurses on strike, ambulance workers on strike, midwives on strike; 1,200 further nurse vacancies and £130 million spent on agency nurses; NHS dentistry becoming a rare luxury; failing to support GPs to be more accessible and modernising NHS technology; or dodging accountability through a Wales-wide specific COVID inquiry? Is this what Keir Starmer means when he says, 'Look at Wales to see the good a Labour Government can do'?

Well, happy Christmas to you as well, Russell. [Laughter.] And I'm very pleased that that was your last question this year. Look, I've had better years, if I'm honest, and obviously, there are a lot of things that I wish that we'd seen improvements on and I wish we'd gone faster with some areas. Because for me, the key thing is to keep an eye on what is it that the public needs, and what they need is care in the right place at the right time. And I regret that we haven't been able to do more of that. And there are valid reasons for that: we have had a COVID pandemic; we have had massive inflationary impacts that have sucked £200 million out of the NHS budget; we have had massive, massive increases in demand; and we haven't seen some of the progress that I would have liked to have seen in relation to waiting times. But we're not at the point yet where we've hit the deadline, and I, as the Minister responsible, will continue to press the health boards, to make sure that they do everything they can to make sure that they work towards meeting those targets that we made very, very clear in April that we expect them to meet.

Thank you very much. And in the final health questions of the year, may I take this opportunity to wish the Minister, the Senedd, and everyone working across the health and care services a very merry Christmas? But it sounds quite an empty greeting, when we look at the challenges that those services face. I truly didn't know what to ask today. There are so many things that I could pursue: the winter challenges; the staff recruitment and retention crisis; treatment waiting times in A&E; ambulance waiting times; the future of the air ambulance; strikes; I could have included the shortage of antibiotics—there's a topical question that's been accepted on that. Where does one start? But let me ask you this: what state does the Minister expect the NHS to be in by the time I can ask my next questions here in the Senedd? I fear that patients and staff have lost faith in the Government's ability to manage the NHS. Can I ask the Minister to give us something—anything—that we can see as improving, a corner turned, in order to prove that we can trust in the Minister?

Well, it's clear that we spend a great deal of time preparing for winter—we know that there will be pressures during the winter months. They've already started—we've seen how much pressure there was on the services over the past weekend. It doesn't help when we see rates of scarlet fever increasing—we didn't expect to see that. So, there are things arising that we don't expect to see. But of course, additional funding is available for next year, for the health service. That is going to be a difficult situation when you factor in inflation. But there are some areas where I do think we will see a difference over the winter. One of them will be the fact that we are going to see 100 additional ambulance workers starting in post during the Christmas period. They've been in training; I hope that will take away some of the pressure from the ambulance service. And, also, there will be an announcement on Friday from the Deputy Minister, on care, which also, hopefully—. We've been working on that for many months, together with local government, to provide additional help in our communities, but we'll make a more detailed announcement on that at the end of the week. 

14:40

Well, 'hope' was a word used there. I fear that that is the Minister hoping for the best; the NHS isn't going to overcome its problems if the Minister simply hopes for the best. And with more ambulance staff, of course, it's a problem of failing to get patients into hospital, so more staff isn't going to resolve that issue. 

I do turn, though, in my second question, to the various pay disputes—nurses in Wales striking for the first time this week, ambulance staff and midwives to strike too. I'm keen to find a way through this, but Welsh Government still isn't even engaging in meaningful negotiations. Now, the Minister says her hands are tied. Let me ask her this: does she even want those hands to be untied, because nurses tell me that what they see is a Minister seemingly happy to hide behind the inaction of UK Government? And I'm not talking about financial constraints; goodness me, I know it's tough, and the Conservatives on the UK level need to hang their heads in shame for the proactive role that they've played in helping create the economic mess we're in. But, currently, the Minister is able to avoid the reprioritising, the innovative thinking, the possibility of using devolved powers at the Government's disposal by saying that there's nothing she can do. Well, if she really isn't able to negotiate, as she suggests, what is she doing to try to be given the powers to do so, so that we can support our workers and avert these strikes?

Well, look, first of all, I think it's important that I set on record once again that we understand the strength of feeling felt by those people who feel like they've got no other option but to take industrial action. We believe that all our public sector workers should be fairly rewarded, and we think that the chaos that has been created by the Tory Government, and the increases that we've seen in terms of inflation, has eroded a lot of the money that actually would have gone into the pockets of those nurses.

And I think what's important is that we understand that it's not just money going into the pockets of the nurses that's been eroded, but the fact is that, this year, I have had a bill for £207 million for energy that we weren't expecting. Now, £200 million would be the equivalent of giving a 4 per cent increase to NHS workers. Now, I don't think that we can switch the lights off in our hospitals. I don't think that we can switch the heating off in our hospitals, but that might be an option that Plaid Cymru might want to take. But that's not an option that I feel that we can take. And that's the difference between lobbing grenades from the other side of the Chamber and actually being in power, because you have to make those difficult decisions. And I frankly think that we have to keep the lights on, and to keep patients warm when they come into hospital. That's a decision that we've made. 

Bangor Medical School

3. Will the Minister provide an update on the establishment of Bangor medical school? OQ58869

Intake numbers for the Bangor medical school have been approved, and funding has also been approved for 140 students per year once the school reaches optimum capacity. A letter of assurance was sent to General Medical Council colleagues in November to allow Bangor University to continue their forward momentum through the accreditation process. Thank you.

Well done, and it's good to see this scheme developing. But I would like to know if any further work is ongoing to ensure that the necessary percentage of prospective students who have skills in the Welsh language will attend the medical school. A new scheme was announced for 'More than just words', and I would like to know how the themes in that scheme are being implemented in Bangor, specifically, the theme with regard to planning for a bilingual workforce of tomorrow.

I’d also like to ask, as you heard me yesterday asking the First Minister, about the possibility of developing Bangor as a centre for health and medical training, referring to the teaching of dentistry and pharmacy as degree subjects. In terms of dentistry, there’s only one dentistry school in Wales. Don’t we need another one? Isn’t Bangor the obvious place to establish the second school of dentistry in Wales, bearing in mind the health and medical expertise quickly developing there?

14:45

Thank you very much. May I say that I was delighted to have met Professor Mike Larvin recently, just to ensure that we are making progress with developments in the university? We are highly aware that we do need to be cognisant of how much recruitment there will be in terms of the numbers that are Welsh speaking, and I know that a particular focus has been placed on that, with work currently being done in that area. So, I’m pleased to say that that is something that they are taking seriously.

In terms of dentistry, I’m sure you will have heard the First Minister mention yesterday that we are very eager to look at the broader dental team. I think we have to start with that team and ensure that we increase the numbers that, for example, are qualified dental therapists. We will see increases there; we have done in the past. But, I have put pressure on Health Education and Improvement Wales to ensure that we go even further in that area and, to me, that’s the most important thing. We have to try and turn the system on its head and work with dental therapists. So, I would want to see that as a first step, and then, in the future, we can look at dentistry further.

I'm pleased to see this question raised this afternoon, as, when the Government actually gets round to delivering the thing, rather than just talking about it, I'm sure it will have positive knock-on effects for people across north Wales who aspire to have careers in health and social care, and go some way to improving the recruitment and retention problems we currently face in Wales.

Now, last week, with the Health and Social Care Committee, I visited the nursing and midwifery school at the University of South Wales in Pontypridd, and they have state-of-the-art simulation wards that give students the opportunity to practise in a mock environment, to build their skills and confidence before being introduced to real-life situations. But, as with a lot of things under this Labour Government, what south Wales has in abundance, north Wales lacks. So, could the Minister outline some more details of the exact specifications of the medical school in Bangor, and whether students in north Wales will have the same opportunities as those in the south, so that we're best equipped to provide first-class care to people who need it the most and make sure north Wales people aren't left behind? Thank you. 

Thank you. Well, I'm sure you will understand that, actually, we are very keen to get this under way as soon as possible. We are very aware that we need to increase the numbers of people in training to become medics, but, of course, we have to work within the confines that are set by the GMC. So, it's not up to us to say, 'Right, switch it on'; we have to work with the GMC, which gives permission to the university to move on. What's good to hear, I think, is that already a team of 13 staff across medical and science teams have been recruited, and 6.6 of these are full time.

I think it's unfair to say that it's just in south Wales. I know that the Llywydd and I went to visit the new nursing training centre in Aberystwyth University recently, and they certainly had areas where there are simulation areas as well. Obviously, we'll have to wait and see how things develop in the school. You'll be aware that the capital constraints are very, very tight at the moment. So, at the moment, we'll see, as things continue, how things develop. Hopefully, by the time we get up to the full cohort of numbers, we will have a Labour Government that will be able to put more money into the system. 

14:50
Ambulance Waiting Times

4. Will the Minister make a statement on support for the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust in combating waiting times? OQ58866

Welsh Government funding has enabled the Welsh ambulance service to deliver a range of actions to improve ambulance performance, including the recruitment of 100 additional staff, reformed rota arrangements, reductions in sickness absence, and new investment in technology to support clinical decision making.

Thank you, Minister. On Saturday, more than 2,000 emergency 999 calls were presented, this being a 17 per cent increase on last week. The trust responded to more than 200 immediately life-threatening red calls, and also 111 received over 10,000 calls—the busiest day ever for the service. In the face of the tsunami of calls, on Sunday, the trust declared a business continuity incident. Some were left waiting for hours while others were asked to make their own way to hospital. When considering that WAST staff have worked an average of 31,700 hours of overtime every month since April 2017 at a total cost of £61 million, it is clear that the continued operation of the service is hanging by a thread. Minister, you know my view that pressure should be alleviated in major hospitals by transferring those patients who are fit for discharge but who are still awaiting a social care package to community hospitals where there are still empty wards. I would be really grateful for your thoughts on that. Will you consider moving forward again, as you did last winter, with the ward, say, in Llandudno, where people were able to leave hospital and go there as a halfway house before returning home? That takes a lot of pressure off the families, the patients and the health board. Also, what plans have you got, moving forward, about asking for volunteers to come forward and help the Welsh NHS over the winter period? Thank you. 

Thanks very much. You're absolutely right to highlight the incredible pressure on the emergency services at the moment. As you say, we've seen, this October, the number of red immediately life-threatening calls the highest on record—77 per cent more than in October 2019. This is huge compared to what we've seen before. We have done a huge amount of investment, we've put huge support in place, we've put urgent primary care centres in place, we've rolled out 111, which didn't exist this time last year in north Wales. So, all of those things have actually taken a huge amount of pressure away from accident and emergency, but the demand keeps coming. 

Obviously, last weekend, a lot of these—very, very understandably—were parents worried about their children. Certainly, a significant proportion of, for example, the 18,000 calls to NHS 111 were from parents who were worried about children with sore throats. So, we understand what's going on and we understand the pressure. Flow, as we all know, is a significant challenge for us and, as I say, the Deputy Minister and I will be making an announcement on that on Friday along with our local government colleagues. 

The issue with beds is actually not the beds but the staffing. That's where the challenge for us constantly is. How do we get the staff in place, and in particular in relation to packages of care that need to be provided by local government? I'm very pleased, now that the budget has come out, that you will see that we have committed once again to honouring the real living wage, and hopefully that should attract more people into the system. 

Volunteers are already helping out, but I think it is important that we try and galvanise where we can. What I don't want to do is to ask volunteers to come forward without a very clear plan. So, it does exist, and lots of health boards have these things in place. We've just got to be really careful that we don't raise expectations and then don't follow through. So, a structure is really important. That exists in some health boards, it exists in local government. So, volunteers certainly are helping, but, obviously, we will keep looking at how we can do more in that space.

14:55
Waiting Times for Treatment

5. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to tackle waiting times for treatment in north Wales? OQ58885

I am pleased to see that the longest waiting times for treatment at Betsi Cadwaladr have fallen and are 21 per cent lower than they were in March 2022. As part of targeted intervention, they are receiving support from the planned care recovery and improvement team to ensure that they are able to plan their elective care effectively.

A constituent has contacted me who is a dental nurse. She suffers with carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands. Clearly, that impacts her ability to work, but it also has an impact on her well-being and quality of life. She was told before the summer that she would have to wait 12 months for treatment, but only if it was an emergency. It was confirmed in September that it was an emergency but that the waiting time was now two years. Now, such is the pain and the impact that the condition has on her that she's now decided that she must access private treatment. To pay for that, she is having to sell her home, Minister. So, what's your message to people such as her, who are driven to the private sector and very often have to do that although they can't truly afford to? And aren't you ashamed that people are having to sell their homes to get treatment—[Inaudible.]   

Thank you. Of course, I understand why people might feel that that is a system—

—from the private sector that, of course, is supposed to be available to them on the NHS?

I think that Llyr Gruffydd froze there—not because of the weather, but because of technological problems. But I think that the Minister got the gist of the question. So, the Minister to respond. 

Thank you. We understand that people are fed up in having to wait so long. Carpal tunnel syndrome is something that an orthopaedic surgeon has to be involved in. I think that it is important that we monitor how much work the orthopaedic surgeons do. It's very important that we continue with this work.

We had another meeting recently with the British specialist in orthopaedic surgery to ensure that people understand what the system is—what the best pathway is to get as many people through the system as quickly as possible. So, there is a job of work to do across Wales to improve the performance of what is already in place when it comes to orthopaedic surgery. So, I'm sure that, in Betsi Cadwaladr, they have heard that message clearly from me recently. 

I thank Llyr Gruffydd for raising this important point, which, of course, is a broader issue not just around carpal tunnel syndrome, but around the fact that many people who have paid their taxes or national insurance over many decades are unable to gain treatment in a reasonable, timely manner, as something that they have paid for, for many, many years. So, I wonder first of all, Minister, whether you think that that’s a fair situation for many of my constituents to be in, who have paid into the system for such a long time but cannot gain the treatment from the system when they need it. And also, in relation to private healthcare, I wonder if you could outline how you are working with the private health sector to utilise any capacity or capability and fund NHS patients who can access that care in a more timely manner. Thank you very much. 

Thanks very much. I think that what's really important is that we keep on remembering how many people are actually helped on a monthly basis. What's really interesting for me—. Obviously, I get a lot of people coming up to me and complaining about their waiting times. But I also get a lot of people coming up to me saying what an absolutely magnificent job the NHS is doing for them. And I would like to take this opportunity, just before Christmas, to thank NHS workers across Wales for the incredible work that they have done over the past year. It really has been a relentless year. We understand that it's difficult and, obviously, we thank them for all the work that they have done.

It's important to understand that there are people working flat out. There are also some spaces where, actually, we can improve performance, and the first thing for me is we've got to get the maximum capacity from the people we're already paying at the moment. So, obviously, we are doing a certain amount in the private sector already, but, for me, I want to get my money's worth out of people we're already paying, and sometimes—it's interesting, isn't it—they haven't got a packed plan for the day that actually they should have. There may be good reasons for that, but then that's up to management to make sure that those systems are in place to ensure that people who have these incredible skills are able to do the job that they've been trained to do. So, that's why we have these very regular meetings now with surgeons, with health board executives, just to make sure they understand: this is the optimum pathway, why aren't you doing more day cases, why aren't you doing the longest waiters, as we've asked you to, first? And actually there's a long way to go on some of this stuff, and I think my job as a health Minister is to push them on what we have asked them to do and to deliver. 

15:00

Diolch, diolch, diolch, diolch. [Laughter.] Will the Minister—? Diolch yn fawr iawn. Christmas spirit.

Cancer Services Action Plan

6. Will the Minister provide an update on the timetable for publishing the cancer services action plan? OQ58868

I need the answer. [Laughter.] Thank you. I expect the cancer services action plan—the NHS’s response to our policy expectations set out in 'The quality statement for cancer'—to be published at the end of January in the run-up to World Cancer Day.

The Minister will know that the cross-party group on cancer is currently carrying out an inquiry, particularly into the issues of deprivation and cancer. There seems to be a direct correlation, from all of the evidence that we've heard in two sessions, so there's clearly a great anticipation of driving forward on the cancer action plan. I wonder if she has any preliminary thoughts herself on the work that the CPG on cancer is undertaking currently, and that very question of not just bringing forward the action plan, but the issue of the impact of deprivation clearly on incidence of cancer, both in terms of diagnosis, treatment, care and the success of a successful life after cancer as well, and living with cancer.

Thanks very much, Huw, and can I thank you for the work that you and the CPG are doing on this really important area? Because one of the key things that we are conscious of all of the time in relation to health is inequality. So, why is it that some people are getting very different treatment? And obviously there's a link with deprivation, and we need to make sure that we're addressing that. So, it's one of the key things that we keep on looking at.

There are factors where, actually, we need to make sure that we're getting the right messaging to avoid cancer. So, obviously, we need to make sure people are cutting down on smoking, they need to be eating the right kinds of food, they need to be doing exercise, and actually we've got to make sure that that deprivation link is broken. I know that my colleague Lynne Neagle's doing a huge amount of work in this space to make sure the healthy eating programme, for example, is very targeted at some of those areas of greatest deprivation, and there is a link—let's be clear, there is a link with cancer. 

So, I'm pleased that we have the single cancer pathway and of course we also now have these rapid diagnostic centres around Wales. 

Minister, in the past couple of weeks I have repeated the need for you to outline to the Senedd the outcome of the cancer summit held more than a month ago, and described as unprecedented and significant, where a number of key actions were agreed to. What progress have you made in taking this agreement forward, and why has this Government failed to respond quickly to the clear urgency that was set out in that cancer summit? Thank you.

Thanks very much, Altaf. I think I've responded to a letter from you on this, so I'm surprised that you haven't received that yet, so I'll chase that up immediately after this. But I think what was important for some of the things that came out of that cancer summit meeting was the need to make sure we do a lot more straight to test, so you cut out some of the waiting time, because, obviously, the sooner you catch cancer, the less complicated it is and much easier it is to treat. So, there are some health boards that are in a really different place to others. One health board, for example, does about 37 per cent straight to test, and another does about 79 per cent. Highlighting those kinds of things in a summit meeting, making sure that everybody tries to work to best practice and that we're benchmarking is really important, I think. I think there's also an unacceptable variation in terms of tumour sites. As we've heard today, gynaecology is an area that needs a lot more attention, and there are other areas where, actually, we're doing much better, so why are we seeing that variation? So, those are some of the questions that we've asked them to focus on. 

Also, I think we've got a lot more to do in terms of making sure that we use digital technology as much as we can, but also that we think about what the future might look like. There are real developments now in terms of cancer in relation to, for example, liquid biopsy tests, and we need to make sure that we're on the right page and ready for those when that development really is mature enough for us to use. 

15:05
Ambulance Services

7. What assessment has the Welsh Government made of the adequacy of ambulance services in Dwyfor Meirionnydd? OQ58884

Ambulance response time performance is not where we, the NHS or the public would like it to be. We have a national ambulance improvement plan in place, supported by over £3 million of Welsh Government funding. This features national and local actions to support improvement, including in Dwyfor Meirionnydd.

I thank the Minister for that response, and I was pleased to hear the Minister speaking earlier thanking health sector workers, but words and claps don't pay bills; you need to discuss with unions in terms of wage levels. But that aside for the time being, the stories of patients waiting hours for ambulances are far too common, I'm afraid. I can point to the case of a 78-year-old woman having to wait 18 hours for an ambulance with a dislocated hip; in another case, an 88-year-old woman suffering from dementia had to wait 11 hours with a broken hip.

But even more concerning is that I understand that the ambulance service, in response to this crisis, intends to transform the provision and service, and rather than aiming to treat patients 80 per cent of the time, it will instead aim to treat and transport patients 20 per cent of the time. So, that raises concerns in terms of what the ambulance service's priority is with this reorganisation—is it to be on the telephone or treating patients? 

But even more concerning is that ambulances in Meirionnydd spend most of their time in the north-east of Wales on calls, because of the deficiencies there. So, what will you do to ensure that ambulances in Meirionnydd remain to treat patients in Meirionnydd, rather than having to travel far and wide to treat patients in other regions, leaving major parts of my constituency without coverage? 

I think there are different models that are appropriate to different areas of Wales. So, one of the things that I saw when I visited Hwb Iechyd Eifionydd was very good work by paramedics. So, what they did was to send local paramedics in—advanced paramedics—and they could help very many patients, which meant that they then didn't need to go to hospital. So, the most important thing for me is that we transport only those people who truly need to be taken to hospital, and that's why we have seen a difference. We've seen fewer people taken to hospital, and that's a good thing. Generally speaking, what people need is help in the community. Clearly, if they are in a serious condition, they will need to be transported to hospital. But what's important is that we provide care, where possible, in the community, but there is also provision available to take them to the nearest appropriate centre. I understand that that can occasionally mean that ambulances will be a long way away from Meirionnydd, and that's why we do have new rosters, which do mean that the equivalent of 72 additional people working in the ambulance service are available, on top of the 100 additional staff because of the way that we have redesigned where ambulances are located.

15:10
Waiting Times

8. What is the Welsh Government doing to improve A&E wait times and ambulance response times for people living in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr? OQ58876

The steps taken to reduce waiting time in A&E and to reduce ambulance response times include creating more ambulance capacity, delivering clinical streaming services, using virtual ward models and enhancement of same-day emergency care services.

I have heard of a number of cases similar to those expressed by Mabon ap Gwynfor in my region: one constituent waiting over 17 hours outside of A&E in an ambulance with stroke symptoms; another disabled constituent waiting for 12 hours outside of the A&E department for a bed after a fall; and even one man travelling back and forth to A&E to provide blankets and food for his elderly mother because she had to wait in a chair overnight.

In terms of the bigger picture, the situation in terms of response times in Hywel Dda is amongst the worst in Wales. In October, only 39.3 per cent of red calls were answered within the eight minutes. Six months ago, when I raised the same issue with you, you said that you didn't accept that there's an emergency or a crisis. Have you changed your mind now? And in terms of what's going to happen on 21 December in terms of the strike, do you expect or will you ask members of the armed forces or the police to step into the breach because of the strike action?

Thank you. I'm sure that Adam Price will have understood by now that part of the problem in getting people into the hospital is that we can't get them out. So, there are over 1,000 people in our hospitals who shouldn't be there. Part of the problem is because people can't be recruited in local government to work in the care services. So, that inter-relationship is something that everyone needs to understand, and that's why our priority, in our health and care team, the No. 1 priority, was to ensure that we pay the real living wage, and, for me, that's the most important thing in helping with recruitment. And as I've already said, there will be a further announcement as to what we have been doing in this area to work with local government, over many months, to help with that patient flow in getting people into our hospitals, because every bed is taken up, and that, of course, is a problem.

In terms of the strike action on the twenty-first, of course we are still making preparations for that. We will look at how things are going to work tomorrow; a great deal of preparation's been done already. At the moment, we don't intend to use the armed forces, unless that is truly necessary, unless there is a situation that would mean that there would be a serious problem in keeping the public safe. But we have been speaking, for example, to the police in terms of the police helping with resuscitation and so on. So, preparation has been done with the police also.

15:15

I thank the Minister for those responses during that question session. 

3. Topical Questions

There is also a topical question for you, Minister. That question is to be asked by Mabon ap Gwynfor.

Antibiotics Shortage

1. What steps is the Government taking to tackle the antibiotics shortage over the Christmas period? TQ699

Thank you. We are working closely with the UK Government, the makers and wholesalers in order to hasten the movement of additional stock in the supply chain as a result of the significant increase in demand. We are also working with health boards and community pharmacists to ensure that stock is available for distribution where demand is highest.

Thank you to the Minister for the response. A large number of parents and pharmacists have approached me over the past few days concerned that they're unable to source penicillin, amoxicillin, clarithromycin, and erythromycin. Pharmacists are unable to give liquid antibiotics to children, as they're not available, and they have to show carers or parents how to open the capsules and then mix the powder with another liquid in order for children to receive the medication. On top of this, the cost of purchasing in these drugs has increased hugely from £1 or £2, in some cases, to £8 or £10. Now, scarlet fever season has started earlier than usual, and people are naturally concerned about group A streptococcus. It concerns me, therefore, that the message from the Government over the past few weeks has demonstrated a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the situation. The people of Wales need assurance that basic medicines will be available when the need arises, without having to travel long distances, sometimes 30 miles or more, or wait weeks to access these medicines. So, will you give us that reassurance, and will you urge the manufacturers not to take advantage of this crisis by raising their prices?

Diolch yn fawr. Well, I absolutely understand the concern of parents in these very difficult times. When your child is ill and you know that there's a potential that they could get invasive strep A, then you understand why we've seen a huge increase in contact numbers. I think we had 18,000 calls on the weekend, and 54 per cent of the call activity on Sunday related to children who were under 14. So, we have got a multi-agency incident management team in place. There has, as you said, been a surge in demand for antibiotics, which did lead to a temporary disruption in supply. We are working with the UK Government to speed up the movement of additional stock into supply chains, and we've issued guidance on alternative antibiotic choices and on the administration of tablets and capsules to children where penicillin and liquid antibiotics are unavailable. Also, we've given advice on how solid dosage can be given to people who have swallowing difficulties where there is a shortage of liquid medicine. So, we are giving that advice, that advice has gone out, and, obviously, if there are alternatives, as there are, then we need to keep an eye on that in terms of the price of the antibiotics. 

Thank you, Minister. The next topical question is to be answered by the Deputy Minister for Social Partnership, and is to be asked by Joel James. 

Welsh Fire and Rescue Services

2. What action is the Welsh Government proposing to ensure more rigorous employment standards in Welsh fire and rescue services in light of the allegations against South Wales Fire and Rescue Service? TQ700

These allegations reveal appalling and completely unacceptable behaviour that has no place in the fire and rescue service, nor anywhere else. South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority has already announced a review of its own processes and culture. This needs to be truly independent, robust, and comprehensive.

Thank you, Deputy Minister. The ITV Wales news story on Monday evening reported that south Wales fire service has had at least two individuals who have fallen short of the exemplary standards promoted by the fire and rescue service. I think we can all agree that their abhorrent behaviour should never, ever be tolerated, and I would like to add my voice to acknowledge the bravery of the victims in coming forward to highlight this and what has happened to them.

The coverage also alleged that south Wales fire service has a culture of cover-up, and these individuals had not been permanently removed from their posts when the incidents first came to light. Instead, they were transferred elsewhere, including to a White Ribbon station. I believe it is true to say that almost every organisation, company or institution will undoubtedly at some point have to deal with staff, or several staff, who fall appallingly short of meeting the values and conduct that are expected of them. These individuals, both who commit acts and those who cover them up, not only do tremendous damage to their victims, but leave long-lasting consequences for their company and co-workers.

I'm conscious that, as you say, the fire service has now launched an independent review of the culture, discipline process, and of any historic cases. But I'm also conscious that full details were not provided of these cases in the coverage, and this might be a case of a failure of proper procedure, rather than a failure of culture in the service. With this in mind, and given what has happened, Deputy Minister, will you outline what discussions you have had with the fire service on this matter? Is it not time that active service personnel undertake regular and continual vetting procedures, similar to those they went through when they were applying for the role, to ensure that the standards expected of them can be maintained throughout their careers? Thank you.

15:20

Can I thank Joel James for raising this today? It's right that we have an opportunity to address this on the floor of this Senedd, and I absolutely agree with him that the allegations that were brought to light in the ITV news report were absolutely abhorrent, but you're right that it shouldn't take a news report for action to be taken on these issues as well. You talked about the bravery of the women that have come forward. That is not an easy thing to do. It's a significant step to take. But that shouldn't be a necessary step to take. That behaviour shouldn't exist in the first place, but the support should be there within those organisations to enable people to feel safe and to come forward without fear of repercussions from that.

Actually, I had an urgent meeting with the chair of the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority yesterday morning, and made it very clear to him the need for a fully independent and wide-ranging inquiry into these matters. It should be similar to the one that the London Fire Commissioner established to investigate claims of racist bullying, which reported last month. On the points the Member made, I particularly stressed to the chair that this inquiry needs to be headed up by a trusted figure who's wholly independent of the fire and rescue services, such as a barrister, and that its scope must encompass all forms of discrimination, harassment, unacceptable behaviours and cultures. It must be free to inspect any documents and to survey or interview staff, and that its findings must be made public. It cannot be addressed as an isolated incident; it needs to look at the structures that have allowed that to happen and what action needs to be taken to ensure it isn't repeated in the future. I've asked the chair for urgent assurance on these matters, and I'm happy to keep this place updated on that.

I think, in closing to Joel James, what is clear is that we need zero tolerance, not only of this sort of behaviour, but also of cultures and institutions that allow people to be bystanders as well.

The White Ribbon pledge is never to commit, excuse or remain silent about men's violence against women. When the service allowed two abusers to keep their jobs, it broke that promise. Llywydd, I want to pay tribute to the brave women who have spoken out, and note my deep disappointment in the service that I've worked closely with on the White Ribbon campaign for many years. We'll see what the investigation finds, but clearly something has gone very wrong here.

First, Gwent Police; now south Wales fire service. Do you agree, Deputy Minister, that people have every right to expect zero tolerance of gender-based violence in all their public services? And what is being done within public sector organisations to identify and deal with offenders? Will you please table a debate on this, with your colleague Jane Hutt, for a workplace strategy based on dignity and respect, because according to the report, any level of either dignity or respect had been completely removed from the females who were employed in this organisation?

I know that, with Jane Hutt, I'm launching a report that will move into this space in January, with the Wales Trades Union Congress. I think it would be an excellent idea if all public sector organisations sent some heads of departments to that launch, so that they could at least learn something and hopefully take that learning back to the workplace. This is an absolute disgrace. It's let people down, and if half or a fraction of what was in that report is to be believed, it is absolutely beyond comprehension.

15:25

I absolutely share—well, actually, to say that I share Joyce Watson's disappointment is probably an understatement. The Member raises some really salient points about what I and Jane Hutt and you can do moving forward now, and I'm more than happy to take that up with regard to the debate and actually how we bring people together. You talked about the White Ribbon campaign and your disappointment that they've broken that pledge. In 2014, we were incredibly proud that the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service became the first fire and rescue service in the world to get White Ribbon accreditation, and only last year they declared their 47 fire stations in the region to be safe havens. Now, we've seen that that accreditation has been removed following the publication of these allegations, but I think what it does tell us is that a corporate commitment to this isn't enough; it needs whole-scale cultural change and practices and processes in place that support and enable that as well. You talked about other services, and I think what's clear to me and everybody in here is that we've heard time and time again about bad apples—that 'bad apples' narrative—and it doesn't and it cannot wash. Enough is really enough.

Gender-based abuse and prejudice and hatred towards women in our front-line services are totally unacceptable. These are the services that are supposed to protect us and serve the public, and they are therefore supposed to represent the very best principles in our society. So, we cannot permit a service that has such close contact with the public and that has such a safeguarding role to hold such stereotypical, prejudiced and dangerous views about specific groups in our society, especially as there is increasing evidence that people who hold such prejudiced views act upon them too. The public and these specific groups in particular must have faith in these services—as citizens, as colleagues, and as representatives of the values of our society. The fact that the fire service is no longer listed as a White Ribbon supporter organisation on the White Ribbon website is shocking when you really think about it, that our fire service—or one of our fire services—has had to distance itself from a campaign that seeks to eradicate violence against women by men.

Joyce Watson spoke about the concerning cases in Gwent Police recently. In the wake of those cases, does the Deputy Minister believe that, perhaps, there should not just be an inquiry into these specific cases and this specific service, but perhaps that we need a wider ranging inquiry into the culture and processes of our front-line public services? Could the Deputy Minister perhaps please outline how the most recent violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy will help to prevent situations like this from recurring in our public services? And what do you believe is going wrong here?

I agree with Sioned Williams.

And with the points you raise in terms of—I don't think we can downplay just how shocking this is, but alas, for many of us here, sadly, it's not surprising because we know this sort of behaviour is endemic, not just in workplaces but across society. We've talked before, when we've talked about everyday sexism, misogyny, that it's not all men, but you can probably guarantee that just about all women have experienced some sort of harassment, been on the receiving end of misogyny, or just been made to feel uncomfortable in a place where they should feel safe. So, I think, like I said before, enough is enough. We're at a point now where it cannot continue.

And just in respect of what you said about the fire and rescue service, we're waiting to see the terms of the investigation that the South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority have pledged to undertake, but prior to that, as we've said, we know there are wider problems within the fire and rescue service. There was an independent review of the London Fire Brigade published just last month, which revealed numerous shocking and disgusting instances of racial and sexual harassment, so we can't be sure that they are confined just to one service. Ahead of the ITV news broadcast on Monday evening, I had written to the three fire and rescue authorities in Wales asking for assurances around how they had approached these issues on the back of the London Fire Brigade report. We'll go through the process now of working with South Wales Fire and Rescue Authority in terms of what the parameters of that inquiry will look like, going back to what I said in response to the first question about making sure that it is truly independent and that it doesn't just look at individual allegations, but looks at wholesale culture and process and the support that is in place there. But if that isn't forthcoming, we will consider undertaking such a wholesale review ourselves.

15:30
4. 90-second Statements

We move now to the 90-second statements and the first is from Natasha Asghar.

Thank you so much, Presiding Officer. This Sunday marks the beginning of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah. Hanukkah is an eight-day festival of light and is a hugely joyous occasion for the Jewish community all across the world. Hanukkah involves lighting candles on a special nine-branch candle holder known as the menorah. A candle is lit each day and a lit menorah is placed near a doorway or window to announce the miracle of the festival to the outside world. It is a time for families to come together to eat, sing traditional songs and give gifts to children. It's also customary to play with a dreidel—a four-sided spinning top—stating, 'A great miracle happened there'. The game is often played for coins, nuts and other things. As we await the start of the festival, I would like to celebrate proudly the great contribution that our Jewish communities have made to our country. 

At a time of growing antisemitism across Europe, the themes of freedom and liberty that lie at the heart of the story of Hanukkah are as relevant as ever. Some of the common messages that come out are, 'Never be afraid to stand up for what is right', 'A little light goes a long way', or 'Be like a menorah and shine bright and observe your faith with pride'. We in the Senedd must strongly advocate the right of people to practise their faith without fear of violence and commit ourselves to fight the extremist ideology and prejudice that lies at the heart of antisemitism. So, at this special time of the year, as Jewish families come together to celebrate, let us be inspired by the message of hope Hanukkah brings, confident that hatred will be overcome and that light will always replace darkness.

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

There were almost 50,000 knife-enabled crimes recorded in the year ending June 2022. Sadly, one of those victims was my constituent Jake Pickstock, who, on 21 August 2021, and through no fault of his own, found himself with his head and neck slashed open and left fighting for his life at a nightclub in Llandudno. He required 62 stitches and he almost died twice. Jake is a lovely young man of just 25. He has moved on and is now a successful businessman, but he is determined that from that very negative issue, a positive must come out. The young perpetrator himself was only 19 and is now facing 10 and a half years. 

Jake and I have been working together over the past 12 months and we've founded Operation Pickstock to raise awareness of knife crime amongst the younger generation at night-time and throughout our local community. This campaign is seen in pubs and clubs across Llandudno displaying the posters, Llew Jones and Arriva Buses Wales are displaying posters on their buses, Conwy council are arranging for posters to be in taxis, and Transport for Wales are committing to display posters at stations. There's going to be training for pub staff, free metal detector wands, and we've arranged for a knife amnesty bin to be placed at Llandudno.

Lifelong damage in just 40 seconds—now that's a scary thought. Carrying a knife can bring about such tragic consequences. Jake Pickstock and I want to do what we can to make sure that anyone stops and thinks before going out, 'Never carry a knife'. What happened in Llandudno and to Jake could happen to anybody. When you go home to your constituencies, I hope you will remember the Operation Pickstock campaign, and try and spread this message. So many lives, including the families of both the perpetrator and, in particular, Jake Pickstock, the victim, were damaged by the consequences of a split-second decision. If that young man hadn't been carrying a knife, he couldn't have used a knife. Thank you; diolch.

15:35
5. Statement by Peter Fox: Introduction of a Member Proposed Bill: Food (Wales) Bill

Item 5 today is a statement by Peter Fox on the introduction of a Member Bill, the Food (Wales) Bill. I call on Peter Fox.

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. May I first of all remind Members of my declaration of interest as a farmer? It is an absolute pleasure to introduce the Food (Wales) Bill to the Chamber this afternoon—the first Member Bill of the sixth Senedd. Around 13 months ago, I was given the opportunity by you all to present an outline of the Bill, based on the principle that we need to get more locally produced food into our homes, our communities and our public services. But when discussing my ideas with stakeholders, it turned out that much more work was needed to ensure that the food system works for not just our producers, but our communities as well. And so, the Bill as drafted today has been expanded far beyond what I originally envisaged. I felt that it was important that we grasped this opportunity to strengthen the Welsh food system as a whole, to establish a more sustainable food system in Wales, to strengthen food security, improve Wales's socioeconomic well-being, and to enhance consumer choice.

These are the broad principles that have underpinned the provision and policy objectives of the food Bill. To achieve this, the Bill provides a framework that enables a coherent, consistent and strategic cross-governmental approach to policy and practice on all aspects of the food system. To inform this process, I have held a wide range of consultation—from policy round-tables to scope the initial approach of the Bill, I've had regular engagement with policy experts to discuss technical aspects, as well as a public consultation, which I launched at the Royal Welsh Show. That went over the summer, and we've received over 50 high-quality responses to the consultation. What this uncovered was strong support for the general principles of the Bill and its provisions. Over 75 per cent of respondents agreed that we need to see this Bill on the statute book.

Deputy Llywydd, the amount of work that has gone into producing the Bill, and the explanatory memorandum, has been immense, and I could not have done this without the expert support and friendship offered to me by the Commission Bill team, who have been drawn from across the Senedd Commission, as well as thanks to the external counsel. They have put a tremendous and immense effort in, from day one, to transform my ideas into reality, and to guide me through this process. I'm ever so thankful, and I have to praise the quality of the staff in the Commission—they have been outstanding. I also wanted to say a special thanks to my own support staff, particularly Tyler Walsh, who has been absolutely fundamental in helping me achieve this to date, and also Tom Povey, who has been invaluable throughout this process. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank every organisation, policy expert, and members of the public, from across the UK, that have helped us to shape the Bill. Your continued support is very much appreciated.

Deputy Llywydd, I would now like to turn to the Bill itself, and will broadly set out what each section does and why. We start with food goals. They provide a mechanism to ensure that the Bill achieves its key policy objective, or the primary food goal—that is, to deliver affordable, healthy and economically, environmentally and socially sustainable food for the people now and for future generations. This is supported by a range of secondary food goals that cover things like health, social and economic well-being, environment and biodiversity, and, of course, food waste. The Bill places a duty on public bodies to take reasonable steps to advance the primary food goal and the secondary food goals, such as through the national food strategy and local food plans. There is also a requirement on Welsh Ministers to consolidate existing targets, as well as to establish additional targets on how to meet the food goals. The reason for this provision is to establish a consistent direction of travel for the Welsh food system, as well as increasing accountability within it. During consultation, it was made clear that there is a lack of coherent approach to Welsh food policy, as well as within the wider food system. Sixty-three per cent of respondents to the consultation on the draft Bill believed that the Welsh Government food-related strategies are not joined up enough. And whilst there are a number of plans in place, many of these lack scrutiny and accountability mechanisms. 

Back in 2010, the Welsh Government's 'Food for Wales' strategy, which I know the Llywydd will know rather well, made welcome progress in establishing a more holistic approach to food policy. But it lacked systems of targets and data collection to measure what progress was made. After this, successive strategies, such as the 2014 action plan and the 2021 vision for the food and drink industry, have moved the focus towards economic growth and promoting exports, as opposed to using the food system to address wider social issues. So, the food goals reflect what the previous environment committee argued for in their report, 'Rethinking food in Wales'—that is for a strategy that reflects a whole-system approach. To translate the food goals into policy, the Welsh Government would be expected to produce a national food strategy, whilst some public bodies, such as councils and health boards, will be required to produce local food plans. It is expected that the local plans will reinforce the objectives of the national strategy. These will draw together existing policies and promote innovation at a national and local level. They will also ensure consistency in policy too.

Food Policy Alliance Cymru have pointed out a number of examples where food policy in Wales has been somewhat inconsistent, such as missed opportunities to connect Welsh Government's food and drink retail plan with the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy, and the minimum alcohol pricing policy versus the Government's drink strategy. These plans will also boost the food and drink sector in Wales by strengthening the resilience of local supply chains. It will create new economic opportunities within communities, by ensuring that public bodies increase their procurement of locally produced food, and improve the local environment by focusing on the production of more sustainable produce. 

Dirprwy Lywydd, the final main aspect of the Bill is the creation of a Welsh food commission, made up of a board and chair. It is intended that members will be drawn from across the food system. The commission will reset the governance of the food system in Wales, and will co-create and oversee the delivery of a national food strategy, alongside Welsh Ministers and other stakeholders. It will hold delivery partners to account, to ensure that food goal targets and policy aims are met. The commission can also use its role to build policy expertise and capacity within Wales.

There has been some discussion that, actually, a commission is not needed and that instead the future generations commissioner can look at food as part of their remit. I put on record my thanks to the support of the future generations commissioner through this process. But the commissioner is already under significant time and resource pressure, meaning they would require more resource to do so, which could be better directed to a body that has the capability and expertise to take a whole-system approach to food policy. The Bill also provides Welsh Ministers with the flexibility to set up and fund the commission within the framework set out within the Bill, meaning the Government can direct how much resource it feels necessary to fund the commission. The explanatory memorandum sets out some of the existing commissioners and their budgets to give the range of potential budgetary costs. 

In summary, Dirprwy Lywydd, I have today set out some of the main features of the Bill, and the rationale behind them. This statement starts a long process of Senedd scrutiny, and I am very much looking forward to discussing the proposals in detail, although I do hope that Members will be kind to me, as I enter those committee rooms with some level of trepidation. Of course, I am also very keen to continue my constructive engagement with Members and the Minister, and her officials in particular, and I do thank the Minister for our discussions to date. I know that the Minister understands and agrees with the principles behind the Bill. Whilst I know that there are aspects of the provisions that she feels could be changed, I really do think there is an opportunity for us to all work together to find a way to pass this Bill. I really believe that there is no need for any politics or anything like that to get in the way of delivering this Bill for the people of Wales. I am open to ideas and am willing to find a way forward over the next few months. I'm happy to let this Bill be the Senedd's Bill, and for us to collectively, together, make it happen, because the food system is inherent to the fabric of our communities and everything we do. We know that it can and must do more to support well-being and prosperity. So, let's make this a reality. Deputy Llywydd, I commend the statement and the Food (Wales) Bill to the Senedd. 

15:45

I call on the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, Lesley Griffiths. 

Member
Lesley Griffiths 15:46:36
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer, and thank you to Peter Fox for his statement, and for the conversations that we've had over a period of time, leading up to today.

I still firmly believe that this Bill is the wrong Bill, at the wrong time. Wales's Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 already provides us with a framework and a foundation for holistic integrated policies focused on the long-term gain for citizens and society. The Welsh Government has a strong track record of partnership working, with proven mechanisms for joined-up policy and action. I do agree that we need a joined-up approach to food matters that focuses effort on well-being. The Welsh Government is already working on that through our existing policies, and with the commitment to develop a community food strategy, which empowers community-led action, strengthens communities and brings multiple well-being benefits, and I'm working with Plaid Cymru on this issue as part of the co-operation agreement. 

This Bill will not add value, but will distract, create unnecessary cost and complexity, and ultimately, will not contribute to its own very-well-intended cause. It will delay our work on community food, and, as I've said, I believe that it is the wrong Bill. The Government will underline these points as the Bill progresses, but, for today, I would like to ask the Member two questions: how will the resource-consuming bureaucracy created by the Bill actually make a difference? And in what way does the Bill help, rather than hinder, the legislative framework already put in place by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? Diolch. 

Thank you, Minister, for your response. I do still respectfully disagree with you; I think there is a need for this, as respondents who have responded from all over the country—from health boards, from councils—say that there is a need for this, because there is a lack of joined-up policy in this regard. Whilst there are many good things coming forward, like the agriculture Bill and the sustainable farming scheme, they look at the producer, the production in the main; they don't take a holistic approach at how we use food in the best way to address societal issues. I know that the community food strategy is being developed, but it's very unclear what that contains, and we believe that it probably contains more around local initiatives to produce local amounts of food, but it wouldn't provide something that probably could be scaled enough to drive what I'm proposing through this Bill. 

Responding to your questions, the resources, as you'll know, in the explanatory memorandum, have been based—and there's a range of costs that they could fall within. Obviously, we need to—. Because it's a framework Bill, the discretion of what the actual costs of that are would be in the hands of the Government, in many ways. We believe that—I believe that—this Bill will give an opportunity to rationalise the food system and the regulatory framework that we have now, which will actually unlock efficiencies, and actually enable us to deliver valuable resources into other areas. I do not believe that the future generations commissioner has the capacity, nor do her food goals reflect the breadth of what we're trying to do with this Bill. The food goals we've created in this Bill synergise with the good work of the future generations commissioner, but to ask the commissioner to take on such a broad task as big as the food system is in Wales, on top of the things that she's already doing would be a big ask and it would take the commissioner's focus away from the important task they have of holding local government, other bodies and the Government to account in the areas currently looked at. So, whatever, you would have to put more resources into the future generations commission to be able to deal with the food system if you were serious about actually trying to deliver on that holistic approach for the food system. So, there is a cost, whichever way, if we're going to secure food security and make a holistic food system.

15:50

Firstly, can I congratulate the Member for Monmouth on introducing such a vital piece of legislation? As the Member has rightly highlighted in his opening statement, the Food (Wales) Bill does not just provide a foundational framework to establish a more sustainable food system in Wales, but as we've heard this afternoon it strengthens our food security, improves Wales's socioeconomic well-being and enhances consumer choices, far beyond what currently exists within the statute books. Therefore, I believe that it is the right Bill at the right time.

This piece of legislation comes at an incredible important time, not just for the agricultural industry but for the wider supply chain too. From gate to plate, field to fork, this will ensure that everyone has equal access to healthy locally sourced produce—an opportunity that not only supports our agricultural communities but sets them on a path to sustainable growth. But, in order to do this, we must use every tool in our toolbox, from utilising the framework within the agriculture Bill to developing the sustainable farming scheme. This food Bill can be the missing jigsaw piece that completes a series of measures that protect, promote and provide for the agricultural community. 

Having been on the committee scrutinising the agriculture Bill, I can assure Members that there is no duplication between these two Bills. Rather, they complement each other in a reassuring way. The sustainable farming scheme lays out post-Brexit agricultural support, the agriculture Bill provides a framework in which the industry can be safeguarded, and the Member for Monmouth's food Bill delivers the provision of affordable, healthy and economically, environmentally and socially sustainable food for the people of Wales. Basically, it ticks all the boxes that we're looking to get ticked when feeding our nation. These three parts—the SFS, agriculture Bill and the food Bill—are a ménage à trois of policy positively intertwined for productivity, procurement and prosperity. So, given this, I would be interested if the Member could further explain how his legislation will seek to supplement the four key sustainable land management objectives within the agriculture Bill.

Shifting my focus elsewhere, I was pleased to note how much industry support is there for the food Bill, which has been garnered by stakeholders. The Member's work—be that policy round-tables, regular engagement with policy experts or public consultation, which he mentioned in his opening remarks—has meant that this Bill has incorporated the support of all key stakeholders. This engagement has been most welcome. Following on from the discussions I've had with the industry, I would be interested to hear from the Member on how any potential concerns to the Bill have been alleviated within its drafting.

Lastly, from listening to the Minister's opposition to the Bill, it's clear that there remains some concern around the overlap between what Peter has proposed and the Welsh Government's community food strategy. However, I do not draw the same conclusion as the Minister, so I would be interested in learning more about the Member's views on the matter and whether you believe both frameworks are at odds with one another. 

Therefore, in conclusion, the principles, provision and policy objectives that you have outlined will not just enable a coherent, consistent and strategic policy platform on which we can legislate to enhance our food security, but you and your team have developed a framework that will enhance, strengthen and support our food system, making it fit for the challenges of the twenty-first century. It is with that that I commend the Member for Monmouth for his diligence and dedication in drafting this Bill, and I urge Members in this Siambr to support this groundbreaking piece of legislation. Diolch.

15:55

Well, can I thank you, Samuel, and can I also wish you a happy birthday today?

There is no conflict to the agriculture Bill here; my Bill creates that overarching framework where the current regulatory policy can hang under. The primary food goals and the secondary food goals enable all policy areas to contribute towards the wider aim. There is no conflict with the agriculture Bill, indeed, it can help by focusing all parts of the policy and those who interface with the policy, it can help them to come together. There were some concerns raised within the drafting of the Bill, and many people would have liked us to put more on the face of the Bill, but that is really, really difficult; every man and his dog would have liked to have had something within the Bill, it was that popular. But it was important to me to keep this as simple as possible, but what we did do was try to address some of those deeper concerns throughout the explanatory memorandum. There were issues of whether this had gone far enough with its environmental status, if you like, and we believe that we've addressed those in the explanatory memorandum, because sustainable food production that respects biodiversity and our countryside is in the DNA of this, of what we're trying to do.

I can't remember your last question. It was about—I can't remember what it was. [Laughter.] It was about compatibility— 

Peter, the Member asked you to reassert your position against the Minister's position.

My position against the Minister's? Oh, yes. Right, okay. Thank you for that, Deputy Llywydd, for reminding—[Interruption.]

I think I've captured it in some of what I said before. I believe that this is creating that overarching framework where there is a national strategy, where people can be held to account for delivering against those food targets and those food goals. At the moment, the various policies don't always get adhered to in the way that I'm sure the Government would like. So, there, you'll see some bodies delivering policy in the way it was intended, others interpreting it in a different way, so you have a lack of consistency in policy delivery across the piece. And when you have that, you have the lack of tangible data that you can use to actually influence how and where you need to change the food system, or address deficits in the food system across Wales. So, I think I've covered it.

I'm sure that the Member spoke for all Members in the Chamber when he wished the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire best wishes for his birthday. Mabon ap Gwynfor.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lywydd. And congratulations to Peter Fox for succeeding to bring this Bill this far, and I'd like to take a moment to express my general support for this Bill.

The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing Russian war on Ukraine has demonstrated how sensitive food supply chains and agricultural commodities can be to global events, serving as a stark reminder of the dangers of relying on imports of food and raw materials. The pandemic ultimately had the effect of highlighting the issues surrounding the interconnectedness and the interdependence of Welsh, UK and international agri-food supply chains. It's Plaid policy that we want to see a Wales where we have an increasingly localised food system—a sustainable system backed up by a robust and financially supported agricultural sector.

Plaid Cymru wants to see a Wales where everyone has dignified access to nutritious and sustainably produced food, in a way that secures a fair income for farmers and all food sector workers. We know what needs to happen to achieve this; we need a systematic approach that addresses the severe deficiencies in our current food sector. We need to see an increase in Welsh processing capacity across the board, and to reverse the loss of local processing capacity. In public procurement, we should prioritise the purchase of Welsh-produced food. Local and regional public procurement—for example in schools, hospitals and council offices—can help create markets for local food businesses.

Further to this, and I'm sure Peter Fox will lend his support to this aim, we want to see Monmouthshire build on its reputation as the food capital of Wales. Despite the fact that the country is rich in food and drink production, we still import massive amounts of food, and we waste massive amounts of food too. The food system we have isn't sustainable economically, environmentally and culturally.

Further to this, despite the levels of food production in Wales, broadly speaking, we have extensive food poverty, and disadvantaged areas in Wales are affected disproportionately by health conditions that can largely be attributed to diet. This Bill must ensure that healthy eating is encouraged by monitoring access to healthy food in the most deprived communities and ensuring that the food system is joined up with other sectors, for instance, by ensuring cookery is on the curriculum and that this includes local ingredients and healthy local recipes. Additionally, in light of the welcome introduction of free school meals for all primary school children, it would be appropriate that a food system brought about by this Bill would ensure that food and its production would be embedded in the life of our schools, with contracts procured locally whenever possible so that children should learn where their food comes from and develop the habit of eating nutritious, locally produced food early in life, meaning they'll be healthier, with benefit for the economy and the environment.

The Welsh Government has a significant role to play in changing food culture in Wales, and this Bill should be an opportunity to do so. One area where this clearly needs to happen is in our fisheries, seafood and aquaculture sector. Wales's fisheries, seafood and aquaculture sectors have an opportunity to develop and to contribute to the ambition for Wales to be at the forefront of sustainable food production. Wales is surrounded by coastline and our seas are rich with produce, produce that could feed the nation sustainably, but, at present, the sector is struggling. It lacks support and consumers aren't taking full advantage of the delicious and nutritious bounty of our seas. To develop our coastal communities, where the majority of our population actually live and work, we need to change our attitude towards Welsh seafood, support its production and build sustainable local seafood supply chains.

I support this Bill for the many reasons I have mentioned, and I'd encourage all parties in the Senedd to do so too while ensuring that we work collaboratively, feeding into this process to ensure that we can create a food system that works for Wales and all of our communities. Diolch.

16:00

Peter, I don't think I heard a question in the Member's contribution, so if you want to respond to the Member.

Yes. I do thank you, Mabon, for your input, and you captured the essence of what this Bill is about perfectly, and I thank you for articulating it so well. It's not just about the production of sustainable food, it's about creating a sustainable industry, it's about using the quality local food to address those societal needs. We've got to start moving away from looking at everything in a financial currency and start thinking of it in a social currency. How do we start invoking change in the health system so we address obesity and things like diabetes? How do we do that? Well, of course, as Mabon said, we have to start helping people understand and children understand the benefits of quality food and how we can use it. That's why it's so important that our education system responds to that aim and that goal. If we can help people start understanding the benefits of food, they might change their food habits.

These processes are long, but you have to start somewhere, and that's the importance of a holistic approach that looks at the whole food system, not at little bits in isolation and hope that they join together in the end. You have to have this holistic picture. That's why it's so important to have that overarching strategy and a commission with the key people to sit on it who would be from all sectors of the food system and how it would work.

And Mabon, you were absolutely right about aquaculture and the opportunities for seafood to enter into our local food system. There are huge opportunities if we exploit the riches we have within our midst and strive to use more locally produced and carbon-reduced food, because we would be able to reduce the mileage that our food travels. So, there is huge opportunity. Can I thank you for your support?

16:05

Firstly, I'd like to thank my very well-respected colleague Peter Fox for his statement today, as well as put on record my thanks to him and his team for all of their effort in drafting the Bill before us today.

Now, as the regional Member for South Wales East, I represent just a little over 650,000 people and, having met hundreds of them over the past few weeks, I can assure you, having spoken to them about this Bill, they do believe it's the right time, the right place and the right moment for this Bill to progress. So, Peter, they are all 100 per cent behind you.

Without a doubt, food is fundamental to everything we do as a society, and we really need to assess whether the governance structure that we have in place is adequate for the challenges that we face not only today, but in the future as well. From my understanding of the Bill, this is something that the proposed food commission will seek to address, and I think it's a really interesting idea. However, I know that there have been some suggestions that this doesn't need to be another body and that perhaps existing structures, such as the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, could cover the food system within their remit as well. So, Peter, could I ask why you believe a food commission is, in fact, needed, and what value do you think it will add to the governance of the food system? I know you touched upon it before, but I'd be really appreciative of a bit more information. Thank you.

Thank you, Natasha, and thank you for your support through this. Indeed, thank you to so many of you for your support through this. I think I did cover some of this earlier. I think it's absolutely fundamental that a commission—and not a commissioner, a commission—oversees the food system and its evolvement, not as a threat to Government, but working closely with Government, and probably on it. It's a framework Bill and we would leave it to the Ministers to decide the actual shape of that. But they can help and work closely with the Government in pulling forward a strategy, that holistic strategy I talked about. They can work closely with public bodies to develop their food plans, and then they can also take a role in monitoring and holding to account, where needs be, where the targets aren't being met. And I think that is fundamental. This can actually take pressure away from the Government in many ways, because it's a critical friend, a body that can actually do the hard work that is needed to make us have a resilient, sustainable food system, which we currently, sadly, haven't got. But I think, for all of the things we've seen over recent years—COVID, Ukraine—all of those things have focused our eyes on how vulnerable we are, and how vulnerable our food system is, and that's why it's important that we have this root and branch, holistic look. And I don't only think a commission is the right way to do that. However, as I said in my opening statement, I'm willing to work with anybody in this Chamber and, indeed, the Minister, to find a model that is more acceptable, if that is the need, but we mustn't lose focus of what that commission ought to be doing.

I humbly disagree with Lesley Griffiths that we don't need this Bill, because the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 was created in 2015, and we are now two terms later and we certainly haven't made the progress that we need to make on changing our relationship with food. The community food strategy you're working on with Plaid Cymru is a nice to have, but it is not at the centre of re-engineering—

Jenny, can you hold on a minute? We've lost your mike. It's not working. Can we check if Huw's mike is working?

Okay. I humbly disagree with the Minister for rural affairs and food. We need a whole-system change that we simply haven't achieved from the well-being of future generations Act, which was introduced in the fourth term, and we are now in the sixth term of this Parliament. The community food strategy the Minister is working on with Plaid Cymru is a nice to have, but it simply isn't at the centre of re-engineering our relationship with food, which is currently completely distorted by the dominance of the obesogenic food industry.

I can list at least six other ministries that need to be paying attention to this. First of all, the agriculture Bill and the sustainable farming scheme that it proposes to embed simply isn't clear enough, because the farming unions are saying that they do not understand what they are being asked to do. So, we need to have some greater clarity on the strategic importance of growing the food that we need to ensure the food security of our country.

Secondly, the new curriculum is really fantastic, and its emphasis on well-being is another opportunity to change the relationship of children with food. By the time they're three, they have already imbibed poor habits from generations of people who've not had that close relationship with food.

We start with breastfeeding. We have the worst breastfeeding rates for the whole of Europe, as far as I’m aware, despite the fact that it helps children not get childhood ear, chest and gut infections and offers protection, lifetime protection, from other life-threatening conditions. For women, it lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease—

16:10

—and obesity. And yet, the amount that we spend on breastfeeding is absolutely negligible. So, we absolutely need to change children's relationship with food.

If we're going to continue to be able to afford to roll out universal free school meals to all primary schools and beyond, we hope, in secondary schools, the £260 million that we are currently dedicating to that will only be affordable in the long term if we are drawing the ingredients for that food from our foundational economy. And that means developing those local food networks.

Then, on climate change—

—food is the largest emitter of carbon emissions by individual households—bigger than going on a plane, bigger than their transport costs, bigger than heating their homes. 

Lastly, clearly, the Minister for Social Justice must be involved in ensuring that everybody has access to healthy food, and her deputy, in charge of the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill, needs to pay much more attention to how we're going to publicly procure food locally. This is a journey, not an event, and therefore I strongly support—. I do not understand how you're going to do all of this complex work without this food commission. What is your strategy if you cannot get the Government to set up a food commission?

Before Peter answers, can I remind Members that this is a statement, not a debate? Therefore, there are time limits that have to be adhered to, please. Peter.