Monthly Report

10/11/2014

Welcome to the October issue of the monthly report on my work as Arfon’s AM. One of the most important issues I dealt with was the restoration of an evening bus service from Bangor to the Llanberis area. After an energetic campaign by local people, and meetings that Hywel Williams MP and I held with Gwynedd Council, success was achieved. Congratulations to the Council for coming up with a solution at a time of stringent financial cuts.

An important development in the Assembly was the consensus reached between the four parties on the way ahead in the devolution process. It is hard to predict the outcome of the constitutional shakeup caused by the Scottish referendum, but the united stand by Welsh politicians about the next step is good news.

FROM THE OCTOBER DIARY     

Wednesday, 1 October

Chair Environment Committee

Plenary Session

Thursday, 2 October

Finance Committee

Constituency Meeting, Caernarfon

Friday, 3 October

Surgery, Caernarfon

Open day at Y Bont, Penygroes (Family support agency)

Visit Cynefin Group (Housing Association)

Executive meeting, Codi’r To

Saturday, 4 October

Meet electors in Llanllyfni.

Monday, 6 October

Meeting with Elen ap Robert regarding Pontio

Llanberis meeting regarding bus service

Recording of Sharp End programme, ITV Wales

Tuesday, 7 October                                                         

Chair Plaid Cymru Group Meeting

Public Accounts Committee

Presentation of William Morgan Welsh Bible to the Assembly

Plenary Session

Wednesday, 8 October

Finance Committee

Plenary Session

Thursday, 9 October

Chair Environment Committee

Friday, 10 October

British Museum Society Conference, Millennium Centre

Monday, 13 October

Meeting regarding Llanberis bus service

Tuesday, 14 October

Chair Plaid Cymru Group Meeting

Plenary Session

Wednesday, 15 Tuesday

Plenary Session

Thursday, 16 Tuesday

Finance Committee

Meeting with Italian Ambassador

Friday, 17 October

Meet Gwynedd Council officials regarding Llanberis bus service

Surgery, Caernarfon

Record Wales Report programme for Radio Wales

Saturday, 18 October

W.I. discussion on food, Plas Tanybwlch

Monday, 20 October

Meeting with Scottish Power to discuss electricity supply to Cibyn estate.

Tuesday, 21 October

Meeting on third sector sustainability

Chair Plaid Cymru Group Meeting

Plenary Session

Recording for Rhaglen Dewi Llwyd, Radio Cymru

Wednesday, 22 October

Finance Committee

Plenary Session

Thursday, 23 October

Deliver eulogy at Elwyn Jones Griffiths’ funeral

Friday, 24 October

Surgery, Caernarfon

O’r Bae programme, Radio Cymru

Saturday, 25 October

Plaid Cymru Conference, Llangollen

Monday, 27 October

(Half term week at the Assembly)

Meeting at Bangor rail station – deterioration in service between north and south Wales

Friday, 31 October

Surgery, Caernarfon

Visit Caernarfon sewerage works

QUESTIONS AND SPEECHES IN THE ASSEMBLY

1 October

Questions to Health Minister Mark Drakeford

Monitoring of Local Health Board Independent Review Panels

A.Ff.J.  Who appoints these panels and how do we get information about their membership?

M.D. The panels... .are appointed by LHBs themselves. Their membership is advertised directly on LHB websites.

7 October

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

Fair Funding

A.Ff.J. Will the First Minister make a statement on fair funding for Wales? 

C.J. Resolving the fair funding issue remains a key aim of the Welsh Government.

A.Ff.J. Fair funding means a change to the Barnett formula. The Prime Minister David Cameron has made no comment on the issue, Nick Clegg has said that he does not want to unstitch the formula—whatever that means—and the leader of your party, Ed Miliband, has said that he is willing to look at the issue. For clarity for the people of Wales, can you refer us to a note, a letter or an e-mail where Ed Miliband has said that he will actually put right this deficit of £300 million that you have identified in the formula?

C.J. If I recall, he stated in a public interview in the media. .. What is important to us as a Government is that the funding that Wales deserves should come to Wales and the method of it getting here is not quite as important.;..

2014 Invest-to-Save Funding Round

A.Ff.J. Invest-to-save is clearly a very valuable scheme. The trick, of course, is to prove that it does two things, namely improve the service for the people and save money at the same time. These loans—that is what they are: loans—are to be repaid, of course, and so far, some 50% of the money has been repaid. Do you consider that to be satisfactory as a percentage, to date, accepting Mike Hedges’s point that some of these schemes are bound to fail to achieve their aims.

In terms of the independent evaluation, with some schemes the money is to be repaid after the savings happen and with others, the money has to be repaid more or less straight away. Why differentiate between schemes like this? Given that you are going to provide a list of schemes and their success to the Finance Committee, why will you not publish that list so that the public can see what happens to this money that is being invested in public services?

You have referred to the fact that the majority of these projects are now in the health service, very few of them are in local government, and yet, according to the latest budget, those savings are needed just as much in local government. What is the reason why so few projects come from local government, keeping in mind the fact that in the first year of this scheme local government was taking the greatest advantage of it?

The evaluation report says, in paragraph 3.38,

‘It is not within the remit of this evaluation to analyse in detail the performance in terms of financial repayment’.

I wonder why this was not included in the terms of reference of the evaluation and when you will be commissioning a repayment analysis.

Jane Hutt, Minister for Finance and Government Business:

I think that it is important to say that invest-to-save is about improving services and saving money at the same time, but it is also about opportunities to trial new ways of working, particularly because of the criteria in terms of innovation and collaboration...

8 October

Questions to Jane Hutt, Minister for Finance and Government Business

A.Ff.J. The draft budget provides an extra £225 million to the health service next year. At the same time, there is a cut of over £150 million in local councils’ revenue grant. What assessment have you done of the likely impact of these stringent cuts in local government on demand within the health service?

J.H. Clearly, it is important that you, again, acknowledge the £225 million that we are allocating to the health service...

A.Ff.J. My question was: what impact will the cuts have on demand within the health service? However, let us move on to the health service and social services. Last year, as a step towards better co-operation between the two services, the intermediate care fund was introduced. What are the prospects for this fund and how will the changes strengthen the collaboration between the health service and social services?

J.H. Well, of course, we are in the year of the agreement that we had to fund an intermediate care fund to help to integrate health and social care and to help to stimulate the integration and the changes that we and they know need to happen, and we are seeing the reSundayts of that...

A.Ff.J.  I wish that I could receive an answer to my question when I ask it. What I asked was: what about the future of the intermediate care fund and what will the impact of that be on the relationship between the two services?

You have told the Finance Committee that you have set a criterion for each programme and each service in terms of whether those programmes safeguard people. I think that ‘preventative’ was the word that you used. Can you explain how reducing the safeguarding people fund complements your strategy and supports vulnerable people?

J.H. I know that you, perhaps, would not want to be in my position in terms of being the Minister for finance facing a £1.5 billion cut in our budget from the UK Government, and I am sure that you would find it a very difficult place to be, Alun Ffred Jones, in terms of the tough decisions that we have had to make. We have focused on preventative investment and we have focused on early intervention...

The Finance Committee’s Report on Best Practice Budget Processes

A.Ff.J.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to say a brief word as part of this debate. The report on best practice in the budgetary process talks about transparency, and the witnesses—all the witnesses, in truth—have stated the need to link expenditure on Government programmes with outcomes. However, various witnesses also warn that there is a risk in setting aims or objectives that are too general in nature. For example, if you set an objective of improving the health of people in Wales, then it is very difficult to prove the link between the expenditure and the outcome.

At the same time, there is also a warning that setting too many minor targets can be just as counterproductive, which leaves us with questions as to what kind of objectives should be set. However, everyone is agreed that we need to measure the effectiveness of all spending programmes and that we need to be able to benchmark those programmes. That does not happen currently—or, at least, it does not happen on a consistent enough basis.

The example that I want to highlight this afternoon is an excellent example of good practice that came before the committee. It is an example, I believe, that could make a difference in the long term—and I emphasise that we are looking at the long term here. This is the CPB, which is, I believe, the name of the body in the Netherlands—the central planning bureau. The bureau has 100 staff and it evaluates the outcomes of Government policy. It is an independent body in terms of its work programme, with an independent management committee. It even evaluates the manifestos of opposition parties—if they so wish—before elections, which is an incredible service to us, and an incredible concept for us in these nations. However, what this body can do is to evaluate Government programmes as they proceed. It can even evaluate policies that a new Government is proposing in advance, giving a forecast of what it believes the outcomes will be. That is real transparency.

This objective evaluation of all Government activity, and the monitoring work of new policies, as I have mentioned, makes a world of difference. I think it would make a world of difference to the performance of the civil service. It would mean that politicians would have to think very carefully before rushing to create strategies and legislation, and it would improve the quality of opposition party manifestos. More importantly, in my view, it would put a strong weapon in the hands of the electorate. It would allow the electorate to have some sort of idea of how the Government is working and how effectively it is spending its budget. It would also, as I say, set a challenge for all of us involved in creating public policy. I do not expect the Minister to say that she is going to establish such a body in the next year, or the next few years, but I believe that, as a long-term aim and objective, it is a body that we in Wales should emulate if we are serious about creating an open and transparent democracy here in Wales.

Welsh Liberal Democrats Debate: The Pupil Deprivation Grant

A.Ff.J.

We could argue until the cows come home about how much money is available and how that money should be allocated, but, first of all, the cuts within this year demonstrate a failure to plan appropriately. It has angered staff and officials who had already made plans and were implementing a grant that, it appears, has a specific intention, and this fundamental lack of understanding of what is happening on the ground is something that we should be truly concerned about. After all, if the Government starts a year with a specific intention of spending money in a particular way that, hopefully, will have a specific outcome, then it is not good practice to withdraw that funding in-year, without any warning, of course, and without any discussion, in order to fill a gap elsewhere. It shows a lack of planning on a very serious scale.

Unfortunately, this has an impact on the very pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds that the Government and the Liberal Democrats wish to assist. I have to say, while I respect the comments made by Eluned Parrott, she talks about children from disadvantaged areas or backgrounds, and then she mentioned ‘affluent families’. In my area, for example, where these benefits are going to accrue to some schools only, it is difficult to describe ordinary schools in Llanllyfni, Bethesda or Llanberis as schools that are in affluent areas; they are not—they are relatively poor areas. Of course, the people in those villages go out to work, but the salaries are small and the background is remarkably similar to that of many areas that will benefit. So, I do reject that, and what is important is that we ensure consistency in the education provided across the spectrum in all areas without differentiation.

In terms of this pupil deprivation grant, of course there will be a general welcome in the schools that will benefit, but the fundamental question, and I think this is part of the discussion that we had in another debate this afternoon, is: what is the impact and reSundayts of this expenditure? To date, I have not seen that evidence.

Peter Black: Have you actually checked where this pupil deprivation grant goes, because virtually every school in Wales will benefit in some way from this grant?

A.Ff.J. They will, but it is based upon those in receipt of free school meals; that is its basis. Headteachers tell me that that in and of itself is not a scientific basis on which to determine who is in need. The truth is that there is no objective evidence, as far as I know—I am prepared to be corrected—of the impact and reSundayts of this specific grant. If I am wrong, I stand to be corrected. The question is: does it improve the attainment of pupils? That is why I hope that the Government has an evaluation programme in place in order to ensure that the money spent reSundayts in outcomes, because that is what would justify the expenditure, and that the schools where the grant has greatest effect implement programmes that have specific outcomes.

There are two other areas facing cuts, and one of them is apprenticeships. There has been much talk of the success of the apprenticeship programmes, but we hear the National Training Federation in Wales warning that £11 million will be lost, and that will mean the loss of countless opportunities for young people who need those apprenticeships. There will also be a serious impact on the Young Recruits programme, where we understand 9,000 young people will be affected.

These are minutiae in one respect, but the truth is that it means that young people will lose out on an opportunity at a time when they most need training to ensure that they can progress in life.

14 October

Questions to Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills

Investment in Education

A.Ff.J. When do you expect the educational progress arising from the pupil deprivation grant to become evident?

H.L. In terms of the pupil deprivation grant, again, I refer the Member to the very intensive work that we are about to receive from IPSOS Mori and the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods,

Questions to the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, Edwina Hart

Expenditure on North Wales roads

A.Ff.J. On the A55 between Llandygái and Llanfairfechan, in my constituency, when there is an accident or flooding—and, unfortunately, flooding occurs quite regularly—a lot of the traffic, including heavy vehicles, uses the very narrow Crymlyn road near the village of Aber, and lorries get stuck there. Indeed, a lorry was stuck there for two days some years ago. So, will your officials put measures in place to prevent heavy traffic from using this narrow, winding road, as this creates great difficulties for local people?

E.H. Obviously, you have raised this issue regarding north Wales, and this is quite a common issue that is raised with me when people are going off the main stretch to get around...

21 October

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

Scottish Referendum

A.Ff.J. One outcome of the referendum was the vow by three UK political leaders that there would be no change to the Barnett formula, which locks Wales into underfunding, as you have said many times. That is the position of UKIP also, as far as I can see. Were you part of any discussions before that declaration was made?

C.J. No, I was not. I did not speak to the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister. I did speak to Ed Miliband; that much is true. It was something that was done in a slight panic, bearing in mind what the opinion polls were saying in Scotland at the time. Now, of course, no one knows quite what is going to happen at the end of the month, but, in my view, what is apparent is that that vow has been made to Scotland and, therefore, it has to be kept. That does not mean that there should not be a fair settlement for Wales. That should progress also. Of course, we have had that commitment by Ed Miliband in order to ensure that.

22 October

Questions to the Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sargeant

Woodland planting

A.Ff.J. Will the Minister make a statement on Natural Resources Wales's target to plant 100,000 hectares of woodland by 2030? 

C.S. I thank the Member for his question. The Welsh Government, together with Natural Resources Wales, is committed to planting more trees in Wales. Future delivery of the Welsh Government’s 100,000 ha target for woodland creation is being considered as part of a review of the land use and climate change report.

A.Ff.J. That sounds to me as though that target is not going to last very long, and that is no surprise, because, in the last three or four years, only 1,200 ha of woodland has been planted. To be honest, this is replanting on land that is already woodland, and about 200 ha of new woodland has been planted. Therefore, is this a target that you are sticking to or is it, really, another target that will be dropped?

C.S. In my response to the Member, I said that we will be reviewing the issue around woodland creation. I did not say anything about dropping targets or otherwise...

Questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, Lesley Griffiths

Child Poverty

A.Ff.J. Many of the measures to tackle poverty, which are concentrated on children, are concentrated on Communities First areas. We know that half the children who suffer poverty because of family circumstances live outside those areas. How many of those children can benefit from the Flying Start scheme?

L.G. The two do work hand in hand.....