MONTHLY REPORT

18/07/2014

Alun Ffred Jones AM
Arfon Assembly Member
June 2014
 
Notes from the June Diary
Monday 2 June
Meeting with deputation from Trelew, Patagonia at Galeri, Caernarfon to discuss plans for 150th anniversary of Welsh Colony
Tuesday 3 June
Assembly Public Accounts Committee
Briefing with BMA Cymru
Plenary session
Wednesday 4 June
Finance Committee
Plenary Sessioin
Thursday 5 June
Environment Committee
Pwyllgor Etholaeth, Caernarfon
Monday 9 June
Radio Cymru Interview, Welsh Language Act
Surgery, Caernarfon
Executive meeting, Codi’r To, Caernarfon
Tuesday 10 June
Plenary Session
Wednesday 11 June
Meeting with SEACAMS Bangor University at Assembly
Environment Committee
Plenary Session
Thursday 12 June
Public Accounts Committee
Friday 13 June
Surgery, Caernarfon
Meeting regarding Solar Park near Felinheli
Saturday, 14 June
Sioe Dyffryn Ogwen, Bethesda
Sunday 15 June
Fundraising walk on Offa’s Dyke with Ieuan Wyn Jones
Monday, 16 June
Armed Forces Flag-raising Ceremony, Caernarfon
Meeting with CAB
Meeting on Breton situation
Tuesday, 17 June
Public Accounts Committee
Plenary Session
Wednesday, 18 June
Finance Committee
Travel to Pembrokeshire
Thursday 19 June
Environment Committee visit to Skomer and Cleddau Estuary
Friday 20 June
Dŵr Cymru meeting
Meeting with Gwyn Angell Jones regarding Welsh missionary links with Bryniau Casia in India
Monday 23 June
Meeting with Anheddau Cyf Company, Bangor
Meeting with Iwan Trefor Jones, Gwynedd Council
Tuesday, 24 June
Public Accounts Committee
Plenary Session
Wednesday, 25 June
Environment Committee
Dramatic Presentation by Coleg Menai Students at Assembly
Plenary Session
Thursday 26 June
Ysgol Llandygai visit Assembly
Finance Committee
 
Questions and Speeches
3 June
Questions to Prime Minister Carwyn Jones
Motor cycle accidents
A.Ff.J. There is also the fatal accident in Pontblyddyn and another one on the A470, all of them involving motorcycles. What discussions has the Government had with the police and crime commissioners to see whether a campaign could be established to try to change the habits of some these drivers?
C.J. I think that that is something sensible and something, I am sure, that the Minister would want to consider...
Government Statement on Science
A.Ff.J. I thank the Minister for the statement. It is clear that the link between scientific research and economic success is entirely crucial if Wales is to make progress and become economically successful in the future, and it was good to celebrate science in the Assembly a few weeks ago and to see the enthusiasm of the educators who came here that day.

It is also good to be able to celebrate the success of the research that is taking place in Wales, as has already been noted, but we are still short of the Government’s target to gain a fair share of UK research funding here in Wales. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what is being done to ensure that we become more successful in the future. It is also good to note the international collaboration that has proved successful in our universities and that that brings success to scientists and to the universities themselves.

With regard to questions, I would like to ask the Government this: how is the Minister encouraging universities to improve their performance in this area? Also, how can we turn more of the good research that is happening into entrepreneurial businesses? In that regard, I would appreciate having more statistics on the success of programmes—for example, the life science programme that she referred to. I would like to see more statistics about the number of businesses that have been established and to what extent they employ people.
In terms of encouraging young people, of course, there is a particular problem, as she notes in her statement, regarding attracting women to science. What support can the Government give to plans to encourage more young people to take science subjects at A-level and then to do what she mentioned, namely to enjoy those subjects and see this whole area as one that they can enjoy and have fun with, as well as an area that they can make a career of? There have been cuts in some of those programmes that encourage competitions in schools, and I would like to know what support the Government is to give in future in order to create those situations where young people can be creative in studying science subjects.
Edwina Hart: I think that it is very important that we continue to work with the universities and encourage them to improve the issues that you have raised...

4 June
Questions to the Minister for Natural Resources and Food, Alun Davies
Natural Resources Wales
A.Ff.J. Your advisory panel on the woodlands strategy says in evidence to the Environment and Sustainability Committee that Natural Resources Wales does not get the best value out of its contracts. The reason for that, according to the panel, is that the processes are complex, inconsistent and unclear. What has gone wrong?
A.D. I do not recognise that analysis...

Softwood Industry
A.Ff.J. Will the Minister make a statement on the forecast for the softwood industry in Wales? 
A.D. The recently published 50-year production forecast will help to inform the level to which the wood processing sector should invest and direct its activities in the future. The information should encourage investment in domestic timber utilisation, which, in turn, will support economic growth and woodland management.
A.Ff.J. Are you confident that there will be sufficient softwood to meet market needs for the future, bearing in mind that the majority of that wood comes from woodlands in the possession of the Government?
A.D. Yes...

Questions to the Minister for Housing and Regeneration Carl Sargeant
A.Ff.J.  Entire areas in towns and cities where there are universities and further education colleges—but mainly universities—suffer because these areas start to look untidy because of the poor condition of the houses, which are, of course, rented by students. Will your Bill do anything to enable local authorities to get a better handle on these areas, as, of course, they affect the lives of other residents?
C.S. This is the very reason that we are introducing the landlord licensing scheme...

Welsh Conservatives Debate: The Digital Economy
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this debate and to move the amendments. Clearly, many of my comments will rehearse points already made by Eluned Parrott and William Graham because the themes are common and the problems tend to be the same throughout Wales. Expanding and upgrading our digital infrastructure is crucial to ensure a stronger and sustainable economy. Everyone would agree on that. That infrastructure is very deficient at present. Everyone would also agree, I would assume, that we need to promote the use of broadband in Wales. Activity levels are very low in Wales as compared with other areas in the United Kingdom. I would like to hear what the Government will do about that—promoting and improving the use of broadband.

I want to direct my comments mainly to two aspects of the issue, namely the story of that 4% that the Superfast Cymru programme will not reach and I also want better and more accurate information about the progress in the programme that BT is responsible for. To start with the BT programme, the latest information provided by Ofcom shows a very depressing picture, with around half of the territory of Wales described as being category 5, which is the worst category in terms of broadband performance. So, where are we at present with the programme? If you look at the most recent BT update, you will see that it includes a number of facts, which, if they are all accurate, seem very strange. That is, it states that 135,000 properties have been connected to date. It goes on to state: ‘by the end of spring 2014, 480,000 properties will be covered.’

It is now the end of spring 2014, and I would like to know whether the Government agrees that 0.5 million properties have now been connected in line with the programme. BT goes on to say that it has connected, from its own funds, 600,000 properties in Wales. If those figures are all accurate, then we truly are making successful progress. However, I have my doubts about that from my experience as a Member locally. We need a more accurate update in order for us to provide accurate information to our constituents.

Amendment 5 concentrates on developing a similar strategy to the one for broadband in terms of 4G coverage. Doing so could possibly go some of the way towards solving some of the problems faced by that 4% that I mentioned earlier. I will come to that now. If BT manages to succeed in supplying 96% of properties and businesses in Wales with a broadband connection, there will be a remaining 4%. BT, appearing before the committee around a year ago, was relatively confident about that figure, and also mentioned that recent developments would mean that it could reach areas that it had not, in the past, believed to be accessible. However, that is not the evidence on the ground.

So, the question is this: what will happen to this 4%? What are the Government’s plans for the 4%? Many of the 4% are in rural areas, as we have already heard, but they are also in highly populated post-industrial valleys and, as Eluned Parrott said, in some areas of our cities. Whatever happens, a number of properties will get improved broadband, but because of the copper to cabinet lines and distances, the speeds will not actually attain the higher levels that we had hoped for. However, what happens to that 4%? That is the question to which I want a response from the Deputy Minister today. It is possible that enhancing that 4G network could provide one solution to that problem, but, as far as I know, there is no comprehensive strategy by the Government to enhance that network either. So, while there is some good news, we need some reassurance that the Government is also looking at those hard-to-reach areas that will not benefit from the current programme.

10 June
Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones
Creative Industries

A.Ff.J. The most prominent form of direct support for the creative industries is the Government’s creative industries fund. Like Finance Wales, that is public money that is invested in initiatives or private projects. Will you give us some details on this fund, please, such as how many investments have been made and how many repayments have been received by Government, for the sake of transparency and open government?
C.J. I will ask the Minister to write with more details.

Questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Jeff Cuthbert
Children’s Commissioner
A.Ff.J. What is the main contribution of the commissioner and his office to improving the wellbeing and hopes of the children of Wales?
J.C.  The commissioner acts very much as an independent voice and raises with me regularly...
17 June
Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones
Wage Equality
A.Ff.J. The care services, as you say, are full of women, and of course, it is a sector where, traditionally, wages are very low—typically, only the minimum wage is paid. Also, it is an area where there is an abundance of zero-hour contracts. You have referred to the duty of the Government in London; does the Welsh Government have the powers to influence this unfortunate situation, which, of course, undermines the ability of women to earn a fair wage?
C.J. It has some, but not enough. It is clear that we do not have powers for employment...

Welsh Language Policy Statement
A.Ff.J. May I give a cautious welcome to the statement? I agree with what you said towards the end of your statement, that no-one who is concerned about the future of the language should believe that it is a matter for the Government alone. That is entirely correct. However, the Government must lead and the Government must be seen to lead. I am not sure that the direction of travel is clear enough here in order to turn the current situation around.
I have one comment and two or three questions. In terms of education, I am very concerned about the silence on the foundation phase. I think that, if we are to turn the situation around, we must introduce the Welsh language as part of that programme and we must, therefore, prepare a workforce to deliver that. You refer to the organisations that will have duties to promote the Welsh language, and then say that the standards will require organisations to assess the impact of their policy decisions on the language. Which organisations are those? Are they out with the local authorities, the parks and Welsh Ministers? If so, which ones are they?

I also ask you to answer the question asked by Simon Thomas on growth areas, namely the recommendation made by the working group on the Welsh language and the economy. Are you going to act on this or have you rejected that recommendation?

Finally, in terms of planning, you say that you will explore all practical steps to strengthen the Welsh language in the planning system. Can you tell us exactly what those practical steps are? The view of planning officers with whom I have had discussions is that it is very difficult to act positively in favour of the Welsh language without specific reference in that respect on the face of the planning Bill. You can then go into detail about the kind of interventions that you can make under the planning Bill. I accept that it is not easy, but without that I think that it will be very difficult for authorities to do anything over and above the local plan itself. There are limitations on that, of course.

18 June
Questions to Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths
Joint Working Between Public Services
A.Ff.J. In a report released in January appertaining to the financial challenges facing local government in Wales, the Auditor General for Wales states that there are unreasonable expectations about the advantages of collaboration. Do you agree with the auditor general?
L.G. As I said, collaboration is not an end in itself, but I do think that it is a means of supporting the integration of services...

Plaid Cymru Debate: The M4 around Newport
A.Ff.J. I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. Members will be aware that the Environment and Sustainability Committee, which I chair, is scrutinising the decision of the Government to promote the route for a new M4 road, the black route, and related matters. Despite that, I wish to emphasise the fact that it is as Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on finance that I am contributing to this debate today. By the way, that letter has been public for over a week.
On 5 May this year, the Minister for Finance said that she would make full use of the power in the Wales Bill to borrow £500 million. She added that she would use a not-for-dividend body to raise an additional £300 million to complete sections 5 and 6 of the A465 by 2020, and the Minister also said that a further £200 million would be raised through a similar method to develop a specialist cancer care centre in Velindre. The Minister pledged to develop additional transport schemes in the north through similar funding arrangements, it appears, and we know that the Government has taken advantage of the borrowing powers of local government and housing associations to promote capital schemes, and we have been very supportive of that because we believe that it is very important for the economy, but also to develop infrastructure in Wales.
At the time, I welcomed this innovative way of raising capital by the Government as one of the few ways in which it could try to mitigate the cuts made to capital budgets by the UK Government. Plaid Cymru’s only criticism was that the work on the innovative finance model should have started out and concluded much earlier. Indeed, the development of a non-distributing model was in our 2011 manifesto, labelled ‘Build for Wales’. To be fair, the Minister for Finance was always supportive of such a policy; others in her party were not. Regrettably, that may have led to a delay in developing the vehicle. With that said, we are now in a position where some schemes are going ahead, or are about to go ahead.
It has to be remembered that Plaid Cymru’s ‘Build for Wales’ model was promoted as a response to the absence of borrowing powers and the failure of the private finance initiative to deliver value for money. The commitments that the Welsh Government has made using innovative financing models will still have to be paid back, as will any other finance that we borrow for capital investment. We are looking at serious amounts of revenue funding being committed to debt servicing. With health and education continuing to account for the bulk of Welsh Government revenue funding, we have to be in a position where large-scale borrowing is justifiable and has broad political support. That broad support does not exist for the new M4, and the Government has not gone out of its way to seek that support.

It is vital that the benefit of capital investment is felt across the whole of Wales. This is not a matter of pitting different areas of Wales against one another. As we know, capital projects have been approved in north-west Wales—for example, the Bontnewydd bypass over the past year or so. It is not a case of arguing that nothing is happening outside south-east Wales. However, the risk with the Welsh Government’s preferred black route is that future projects may be delayed due to the sheer financial cost of this particular scheme. Plaid Cymru has always been opposed to the concept of the new M4 to the south of Newport, but remains supportive of proportionate and sustainable investment to alleviate the problems of the M4 corridor.

24 June
Questions to Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths
Capital Funding
A.Ff.J. Capital plans are extremely important, of course, to the success of the economy; we will hear more about that later this afternoon. Does the Government here in Wales believe that Wales should have consequential funding through the Barnett formula as a result of the substantial spending on building HS2?
L.G. Obviously, those are ongoing discussions with the UK Government...
Questions to the Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths

Heritage-led Generation
A.Ff.J. Part of north Wales’s heritage, of course, are the quarries and the trains that used to carry workers and slates to and from those quarries. One of the latest successes is the small railways, one of which is the Padarn lake railway in Llanberis. Would you join me in congratulating the group working with the not-for-profit company on holding its energy festival for the area’s primary school children? Furthermore, would you accept an invitation to travel on that wonderful train along the banks of Lake Padarn?
J.G. Like many Members here today, I am sure, I very much enjoy train travel, and I would be very pleased to accept that invitation from Alun Ffred Jones...

The Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan
A.Ff.J. Thank you for the statement. Generally speaking, we in Plaid Cymru welcome the direction taken by the Government in terms of capital spend. Plaid Cymru, prior to the election, had identified the need for maintaining capital expenditure and to add to it in order to sustain employment and to give a boost to companies during the recession. We had also noted the need to identify additional sources of capital funding, and, of course, that is what was at the heart of our ‘Build for Wales’ proposal, and although the First Minister derided that idea initially, I am pleased to see that such a scheme is now part of this Government’s strategy.

May I also welcome the announcements made today on additional expenditure on social housing? That is to be welcomed; the needs are great in that area and it will not only meet that need, but it will be a boost for construction companies.

One difficulty with this report, as I see it, is that the list of schemes runs over a number of years and, therefore, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to identify what is happening within one year. I think that we need a little more detail in terms of the introduction of these schemes in order for us to evaluate their success or failure. For example, the scheme to redouble the Wrexham-to-Saltney line was announced, if I remember correctly, during the One Wales Government, although it is only now being delivered. So, I do think that there is room to improve the way in which we present the information that is available.

May I also say that it is very important that we evaluate the success and impact of those schemes? Such schemes of course provide employment, and that is to be welcomed, but I do think that the Government should be making some effort to evaluate the success of these schemes once they have been delivered. There is no, or very little, sign of that in this report.

In terms of questions, procurement remains a very important element of the success or failure of this capital spend and the need to see as many Welsh companies as possible actually gaining such contracts. So, will the Minister outline indicators that are transparent and measureable on the percentage of public procurement contracts that are won on an annual basis by companies based in Wales?

Also, in the Minister’s latest statement on innovative funding models, which we welcomed in general, the Minister mentioned the fact that transport projects in north Wales were being considered. Could you give us some detail on these proposals and on what exactly is being considered from the point of view of the need to improve the A55, the considerations as regards a new crossing over the Menai straits and the north Wales main line as well?

In talking of railways, I would like to know whether the Government agrees with Plaid Cymru that Wales, when the HS2 project, and possibly HS3, goes forward, should have a consequential as a result of that expenditure for our own ends, as they are, to all intents and purposes, projects specifically for England. I think that it is important for us to know what the Government’s stance is on this issue.

Finally, in terms of the impact of this expenditure and the new borrowing on the revenue budget, including the innovative finance models, we need greater detail on the repayment proposals for any borrowing and any investments made through the not-for-dividend model. So, can we have that information as part either of the annual report or as part of a further report from the Minister in future?

25 June
Plaid Cymru Debate: Physical Activity
A.Ff.J. I want to focus on sports facilities and services mainly, and the point was made earlier, of course, that you do not have to participate in formal sporting activity to be healthy and for your own physical wellbeing. That is perfectly true. On the other hand, there is no doubt that participation in sport of some kind, whether competitively or otherwise, gives huge pleasure and it is beneficial on many levels. I am very fond of that quotation from that wonderful football player from Brazil, Oscar, who said: ‘Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy.’ Of course, he could afford to say that because he is such a good player, but never mind about that.

Before we can discuss sport and participation in sport, you need facilities, be they public, third sector or private facilities, and structures that maintain those activities. I am extremely pleased to see the encouraging figures from Sport Wales on the numbers participating in sport. That is to be welcomed, and, certainly, from 2008 onwards, when I had some sort of responsibility for this area in the One Wales Government, Sport Wales, and the credit goes to it, concentrated on developing leaders who would promote and develop physical activity within clubs and various sports. It has paid off and it is to be praised for that success. The emphasis was entirely correct. It took advantage of the enthusiasm within the structures at grass-roots level, of course.

However, in looking to the future, the truth is that the pressures on local government threaten our sports facilities the length and breadth of the country, and we have seen facilities closed in Wrexham and in other areas as the financial squeeze takes hold. In the next few years, we expect or fear that there will be stringent cuts in spending and in the budgets of local authorities, perhaps over 3%. In light of the competition or the needs of the statutory sector, the demands of education and social services, you can see why councils would look in detail at their expenditure in the area of leisure. I think that that would be a mistake, but there is no doubt that this is a very real risk.

So, what are we proposing as solutions in Plaid Cymru? Certainly, we agree with Sport Wales that we need to see collaboration between councils, but I do not think that that would be sufficient. We also believe that we should look in detail at the possibilities of some kind of national wellbeing ‘Oyster’ card to allow Welsh citizens to use facilities in various parts of the country. Certainly, in terms of developing and sustaining those facilities, you have to look at this issue anew. Bethan Jenkins has referred to Ireland, where local sports partnerships are responsible for promoting participation in sport at a grass-roots level. That is not so different from what Sport Wales is aiming for; it is just that those structures are not necessarily in place.

However, there is no doubt in my opinion that we need to look at that enthusiasm and that interest that exists within sport and within clubs in all parts of Wales as one solution to the problems. In Sweden, they are dependent upon the voluntary sector to organise sporting activity and to run facilities, but with the assistance of local government and the state. This is a model and structure that we in Plaid Cymru are keen to see developed in Wales for the benefit of our people, of course, and also as a means of empowering and energising our people at grass-roots level, and of achieving what we all want to see, namely, a healthy, fit nation that is also successful on the international stage.