Monthly Report October 2015

26/11/2015

ARFON ASSEMBLY MEMBER

ALUN FFRED JONES AM

OCTOBER 2015

From the October Diary

Thursday, 1 October

Finance Committee

Friday, 2 October

Surgery Dyffryn Owen – Talybont

Surgery Dyffryn Nantlle – Penygroes

Monday, 5 October

Surgery, Caernarfon

Visit Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen

Tuesday, 6 October

Plaid Cymru Group Meeting

Plenary Session

Wednesday, 7 October

Finance Committee

Plenary Session

Opening of artist Eirian Llwyd’s exhibition at the Senedd

Thursday, 8 October

Environmental Committee visits Solcer House,’green’ energy low carbon house near Bridgend

Friday, 9 October

Visit Pontio, Bangor

Visit Moelyci environmental project near Bethesda with Councillor Siân Gwenllian

Monday, 12 October

Assembly Public Accounts Committee meets at Swansea

Tuesday, 13 October

Public Accounts Committee – Cardiff

Plaid Cymru Group Meeting

Plenary Session

Wednesday, 14 October

Chair Environment Committee

Plenary Session

Thursday, 15 October

Oxfam bus – Assembly

Finance Committee

Friday, 16 October

Golwg magazine interview

Surgery, Caernarfon

Surgery, Bangor

Awards ceremony, MPCT Bangor

Monday, 19 October

Visit Friars School Council

Surgery, Bangor

Tuesday, 20 October

Public Accounts Committee

Plaid Cymru Group Meeting

Assembly Committee Chairs forum

  Plenary Session

Wednesday, 21 October

Finance Committee

Plenary Session

Thursday, 22 October

Chair Environment Committee

Friday-Saturday 23-24 October

Plaid Cymru Annual Conference, Aberystwyth

Monday, 26 October

(Half term week)

Surgery, Caernarfon

Golwg interview

Tuesday, 27 October

Surgery, Caernarfon

Visit Abbey Road Centre, Bangor

Cwestiynau ac Areithiau yn y Cynulliad

6 October

Questions to First Minister Carwyn Jones

Local Museums

A.Ff.J.  Given the Government’s decision to abolish CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries Wales and the suggestion in Dr Haydn Edwards’ report on behalf of the Government itself to create three regional bodies to support local museums, how does the Government intend to sustain and develop local museums in Wales for the future, given their important role within the tourism industry?

C.J. Well, we all understand how important local museums are because we know they can create stories or narratives for visitors, which isn’t the case with the larger museums.

Land Transactions Tax and Landfill Disposals Tax Consultations

A.Ff.J.

Thank you for this latest update on devolved taxes. They don’t raise significant income, but it’s important that we do this in an orderly manner, in preparation for more significant developments at a later date. In terms of landfill disposals tax, the proposals for this tax are quite simple, and Plaid Cymru wouldn’t do anything significantly different to England in the short term. We’ve heard from stakeholders, of course, about some of the problems that could arise if that were to be the case.

In principle, we support the proposal to vire some revenue to community schemes, and we note that this is popular in the responses to the consultation, but, of course, this, in a way, is some kind of spending commitment, bearing in mind the financial climate in which you are working as a Government. Can we hear from the Government, therefore, what kind of revenue she anticipates will be vired to a community fund of this kind?

In terms of a land transaction tax, clearly the development of a land transaction tax is very attractive as a replacement for stamp duty, and this will provide significant policy opportunities in future, although the scope is perhaps a little limited as a result of changes that have occurred in England following the proposals made in Scotland. It appears that most of the respondents seem to support the devolution of this tax, but, as I was saying, they are concerned about short-term variations. The next Welsh Government will have to look again at the English rates in 2018 in order to see whether there is scope for altering the bands and the rates.

In terms of my questions, does the Minister have any concerns about the future of land registration, which is still done on an England-and-Wales basis, and will she be working to ensure that an official map will note the residential and non-residential properties in Wales? Secondly, the Minister has worked on these proposals only from the point of view of public funding; we haven’t heard much from the rest of Government on housing policy or specifically on what the Government intends to do in relation to home ownership. Is the Minister working with her fellow Ministers on modelling the impact of stamp duty on first-time buyers, and would mitigating some of that cost be a good use of public funds? Finally, land transaction tax will vary a great deal in terms of performance, in line with fluctuations in the housing market, and stamp duty, of course—. Because of those variations, that could create some difficulties in the future. So, what do you anticipate that the contribution of this particular tax will be when it comes into force in Wales? 

Minister for Finance and Government Business Jane Hutt: I thank Alun Ffred Jones for his comments and questions, indicating their views, the views of Plaid Cymru, in terms of the direction of travel in terms of policy development…

7 October

Questions to Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sergeant

Bird Protection

A.Ff.J.     If we can return to the wild birds that you alluded to. Of those protected species of birds here in Wales, over the past five years, how many of them have shown an increase in their numbers?

C.S. I don’t have the details to hand, but I will write to the Member and place a note in the Library regarding the question that the Member asked.

Questions to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty  Lesley Griffiths

Child Poverty

A.Ff.J. In your response to Rhodri Glyn Thomas, you mentioned that Communities First is the main strategic tool of Governments to reduce child poverty, and those areas are defined, of course, by the Welsh index of multiple deprivation. How many of the 100 poorest communities included in the original list have now actually been raised out of that list as a result of the success of that project?

L.G. I don’t have those figures to hand but I’ll be happy to write to the Member.

13 October

EU Funding Programmes

A.Ff.J. Thank you very much for the statement. I just have a few questions: you refer to the STEM Cymru 2 project to encourage school-age children to take an interest in engineering. Is this fund targeted at specific areas or for the structural fund area as a whole? That’s the first question.

You make reference to the importance of the Horizon 2020 fund, and we would all agree that this fund is exceptionally important, particularly to universities and certain industries here in Wales. You state that there has been a satisfactory start and that a sum of around £22,000 has been achieved by bodies in Wales. What’s your aim in relation to this particular fund? What will success look like—£100 million or £200 million? What do you think the capacity is in Wales to attract funding from this particular fund?

Finally, you say that the IQ-Net conference will be staged in Cardiff and that delegates there will be discussing simplification, for three days, apparently. What’s your understanding of the word ‘simplification’ and what do you hope will emanate from that particular conference?

Jane Hutt: Thank you very much, Alun Ffred Jones.  I did launch the STEM Cymru 2 project in Sony in Bridgend as part of the West Wales and the Valleys beneficiary in terms of that programme…

14 October

Funding Floor

A.Ff.J. Minister, the Conservative party committed in its manifesto to introducing a funding floor. Does the Welsh Government have any role in this process, or is the UK Government drawing up its own funding floor without reference to you or to the Government?

Jane Hutt: Well, I did have a meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury only four weeks ago, just before my last set of finance questions. At that meeting, we did discuss the funding floor, and I stressed the urgency of the UK Government now coming back to clarify the implementation of the funding floor in line with the spending review.

A.Ff.J. With a funding floor—thank you for that—the devil is, of course, in the detail. A floor does not actually guarantee any additional funding for Wales, and the so-called Barnett squeeze, where Wales loses out financially, only happens when public spending increases. The level of agreed funding is, therefore, important. As Minister, can you confirm what relative level of funding per head we are currently receiving and at which rate you want a floor to be fixed? Was this part of the discussions you had with your counterpart?

J.H. We certainly had discussions about the position we’re in now. In fact, it’s very pertinent, your question…

A.Ff.J. I agree it’s vital for our public services that we know about future relative levels of funding, and the people of Wales do sense that the country is being underfunded and will be unimpressed that this has persisted for so many years, both with the Conservatives and Labour running the UK Government. When can we expect the funding floor agreement to be announced, and is such an announcement linked to income tax being devolved?

J.H. I, again, very much welcome the question, Alun Ffred Jones. I would expect, and I, indeed, am calling for the clarity about the funding floor and the implementation of it. We’ve discussed the mechanisms in terms of how it would be implemented. I would expect that to be announced alongside or, indeed, before the spending review on 25 November.

Cyllid Llywodraeth Leol

A.Ff.J.  The cuts to the rate support grant have led to a crisis for councils across Wales. Gwynedd Council, for example, is preparing to cut its budget by £50 million a year over the next few years, and most of those savings will come from changing working practices, and this will contribute to the savings. However, there will be cuts of £7 million, and the council is consulting with the public at the moment to see what sort of services the public is willing to live without. This includes, for example, closing all the leisure centres and the majority of libraries. What sort of cuts to services would be acceptable to you, as this is inevitable in the current climate?

Leighton Andrews, Minister for Public Services:  don’t think it’s a question of what kind of cuts would be acceptable to me. These are decisions, obviously, that Gwynedd has got to take…

20 October

First Minister’s Questions

Credit Unions

A.Ff.J. One of the best ways of helping people in debt is to lead them to use credit unions, of course. In America, you have a high proportion of people buying cars by using credit unions. But the growth of membership of credit unions in Wales is very slow. Shouldn’t the work of credit unions be co-ordinated, with a national campaign to increase the membership substantially?

C.J. That is something that we would consider. It’s true to say that credit union membership isn’t as high here as it is in some other parts of the world…

Environment Wales Bill

May I thank, first of all, the staff of the committee, the excellent Research Service and the clerks for their support and guidance? I appreciate also the valuable contribution made by the large number of witnesses who came before us to give evidence, and I, of course, thank my fellow Members for their contribution. So, for the third and final time I present a report on an Assembly Bill and I have some similar points to relay to the Minister in terms of how the Welsh Government has approached this legislation. But I want to begin on a positive note: as a committee, we support the general principles of this Bill. I will run through all Parts of the Bill and draw attention to our key recommendations, but may I say that I welcome the Minister’s comments very much? Even though I know very well that it’s in the detail that we will be able to judge to what extent he accepts the committee’s recommendations, I was encouraged by the comments that he made in response to the report.

May I thank, first of all, the staff of the committee, the excellent Research Service and the clerks for their support and guidance? I appreciate also the valuable contribution made by the large number of witnesses who came before us to give evidence, and I, of course, thank my fellow Members for their contribution. So, for the third and final time I present a report on an Assembly Bill and I have some similar points to relay to the Minister in terms of how the Welsh Government has approached this legislation. But I want to begin on a positive note: as a committee, we support the general principles of this Bill. I will run through all Parts of the Bill and draw attention to our key recommendations, but may I say that I welcome the Minister’s comments very much? Even though I know very well that it’s in the detail that we will be able to judge to what extent he accepts the committee’s recommendations, I was encouraged by the comments that he made in response to the report.

Moving in to Part 2 of the Bill, on climate change, we are pleased that Wales has joined Scotland and the United Kingdom in legislating for an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Even though it’s unusual for us a committee to want to provide powers to Welsh Ministers, in relation to the 2050 target, we believe there should be flexibility to vary this target, and we ask in recommendation 28 that the Minister brings forward an amendment to this effect. We also believe that we need to get moving on establishing carbon budgets. It is possible to do this before the end of 2018, which is the deadline provided for in the Bill. The Welsh Government should commit to a more ambitious timescale, and that’s what we are calling for in recommendation 32.

Moving on, then, to Part 3 of the Bill, charges for carrier bags—Part 3 onwards, of course, relates to a number of different aspects on the environment. So, charges for carrier bags—we need to consider the detail of proposals for changes to the charge for carrier bags that are made through secondary legislation, when those changes are made. But, in general, we see no problem with considering an extension of the charging scheme. But we do believe that the existing schemes should be left with minimal change and, in extending the scheme, we have called for the proceeds of this to be directed to environmental charities that operate in Wales—recommendation 41.

Part 4, then, the collection and disposal of waste—the main message from us in terms of this part of the Bill, which deals with the collection and disposal of waste, is that there needs to be more engagement with the businesses affected by these provisions. There is still a degree of uncertainty around these provisions, and in some cases, they could have a negative impact on employment. This is the aim of recommendations 42 to 48.

On Part 5, fisheries for shellfish—the Minister referred to this—again, the industry affected by these proposals needs clarity and certainty from the Minister about what is expected of it once these proposals are enacted. We recommend that the Minister addresses this by issuing guidance, and that is stated in recommendation 49.

In terms of marine licensing, it’s important that a full consultation process is conducted before introducing a new marine licensing regime, and we recommend some factors that should be considered as part of that process in recommendation 51. We are pleased that the Minister has committed to seeing the fees raised from licensing activity reinvested in the licensing service.

In terms of more general issues, I would make three points. The first is a general point about the breadth of issues covered in the Bill. There are eight distinct Parts to this Bill and they are largely unrelated. Some parts of the Bill could form a single Bill. However, there are other issues addressed in this Bill that are significant enough to warrant being separate pieces of legislation. I refer, in particular, to reforming the approach to natural resource management and tackling climate change. Climate change legislation was introduced as a single Bill to both Scottish and UK Parliaments. The problem for us, as those dealing with such legislation, is that there is insufficient time for us to have sufficient opportunity with stakeholders and Assembly Members to investigate all of these issues in sufficient depth and detail. I believe that this is a matter that future Governments should consider in detail before putting forward legislation.

The second point that I wish to make relates to the clarity of the law in this area. When we considered the establishment Orders for a single environment body for Wales, the Minister’s predecessor suggested that environmental law in Wales needed to be consolidated. We believe that this is something that should be considered by the next Welsh Government as the law, as it relates to Natural Resources Wales alone, becomes increasingly complicated and difficult to interpret. It is important to keep in mind that we should be aspiring to make laws that the people of Wales can understand without having to turn to specialist legal advice. That point has been made by others in another context this afternoon.

Finally, I turn to the issue of Minister of the Crown consents. From the information that we had, it appeared as though the Minister had formally sought the Secretary of State’s consent in August. Now, today, the Minister has stated that a letter had been sent on 1 April from the First Minister, but I have to say that that information has not been passed to the committee, so we weren’t aware of that. We would be very grateful, as a committee, if we were to receive a copy of that correspondence, because our opinion is that consent should be sought before the introduction of a Bill. So, I will wait until we receive the relevant information.

That aside, we are in a situation now where it appears that the Bill will have to be amended if it doesn’t receive consent by a Minister of the Crown. The Minister is obviously not going to withdraw the Bill today, as he threatened to do in committee, but the opposition parties’ support will be needed in order to do that. Due to the nature of the Minister’s response, it appears to me that we will be able to come to an understanding, that a great many of the points that have been raised by the committee will be given due regard by the Minister, and that the Bill will then be strengthened as a result, as we continue with the process over the coming months. Thank you very much.

21 October

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

Moelyci Centre

A.Ff.J. The general situation of the economy in several parts of Wales is very fragile, but there are successful and imaginative local initiatives. One such initiative is the Moelyci centre near Tregarth, Bethesda. It was established as a community initiative, with Government funding, and, under new management, there are very hopeful signs in terms of the shop, the garden and the centre. I invite you to come and meet some of the partners who are making a success of that initiative, when it would be convenient for you to do so.

E.H. Can I say that it’s always good to hear of successful community initiatives, because I think we’ve got to engage people in areas to take on projects like this, and I’d be more than happy when I’m visiting north Wales in the next few months, to pay a visit…