Author: chrisblogassembly

Access to banking in Wales [Infographic]

Have you noticed that its getting increasingly harder to find a bank, or cashpoint when you need one?

Here’s why:

Wales lost 43% of its bank branches between January 2015 and August 2019.

A total of 239 in all.

What’s more, 10% of our free ATMs have disappeared in the last year.

Access to banking and free cash machines in Wales is not a new concern, however the scale of closures continues to increase at an alarming rate.

You told us in a recent survey how losing your local bank branch or cashpoint is affecting you, your community and businesses in the local area.

You can see some of the feedback from the survey in the infographic below.

Urgent action needed

The findings of an inquiry into access to banking in Wales have been published. Calling for urgent action from the Welsh Government to protect our valuable banking network and champion Welsh consumers at a UK level.

If you’d like to read the full report on access to banking in Wales, you can download it here.


Securing our voice in international agreements

Guest post from David Rees AM, Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee – National Assembly for Wales.

“So what happens when the wheels come off? When the car crashes?”

“What do you mean ‘the car crashes’?”

“When you hit a crisis point in the Brexit process, when things start to break down, if it crashes, you must be able to look in the mirror and say ‘I did all I could’.”

That’s a discussion I had in 2016, when preparing the Assembly’s cross party Brexit committee to embark on its mission to do all it possibly could to defend Welsh interests in the process of leaving the EU.

More than two and a half years on, I’m still asking myself the same questions. Have we hit that crisis point, and have we done all we can?

From identifying the issues most at stake for Wales, to representing them in Brussels, London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin and Cardiff, we have worked tirelessly to identify and act on the issues that will most affect the people of Wales.

We’ve had to be flexible, adapting to shifts in the negotiations and emerging proposals for the UK post-Brexit.

In the last month we’ve had to tackle a new aspect of the process – scrutiny of international agreements.

As the UK leaves the EU, it will also leave a number of international agreements.

The UK Government has been working with international partners to try to replicate the effects of the current agreements.

International affairs, and trade in particular, are, from the perspective of the UK Government, often seen as reserved matters.

We take a different view.

These agreements, in almost every case, engage areas of policy devolved to Wales such as agriculture, transport and citizens’ rights.

They have the potential to reshape the devolution settlement and, if issues of importance to Wales are not considered, they have the potential to disadvantage sectors of the Welsh economy.

This need not be the case and Wales potentially stands to benefit if UK international agreements incorporate Wales’s values and priorities.

But we need to be sure that this is the case, else how can we be sure that we’ve done all we can to protect Welsh interests?

To do this, we look closely at these agreements and how they affect us in Wales, with a focus on those agreements where most is at stake.

We aim to understand how they cover devolved areas, and what implications there might be for policy in Wales. This includes analysing what has changed from the original agreements, and what impact these changes might have.

Where we identify issues, we make recommendations to raise awareness of Welsh concerns, so that these are fully considered, thus ensuring Wales’ voice is heard in making these agreements.

What have we found so far?

We have seen that the Welsh Government, despite its best efforts, has not been consulted properly on some of the international agreements signed by the UK Government.

Our work has already contributed to improvements in the level of access that the Welsh Government now receives.

We also reported on the incomplete nature of some of the trade continuity agreements, something picked up and reported in the press recently.

Returning to my questions, are we doing all we can? On this aspect of our work, at the current time, I feel that we are.

Is there more to do? Yes, without doubt. And it feels like there’s some way to go before we complete the mission we set ourselves in 2016.



David Rees
is the Assembly Member for Aberavon and the Chair of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee at the National Assembly for Wales – the Assembly’s ‘Brexit Committee’.


 

 

Disability Access Day –The National Assembly for Wales, an accessible venue for visitors and staff

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

Our guest post comes from, Catrin Greaves, a recent recruit to our Parliamentary and Visitor Services team.

Catrin discusses the ups and downs of working life for someone living with the neurological condition dyspraxia and what its like working at the Assembly with dyspraxia, as we mark Disabled Access Day on 16 March.

Disabled-access-day

What is Dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder, is a common life-long condition affecting how the brain and body communicate.

There is no known cause for dyspraxia, though as in my case, it can be related to being born prematurely.  Someone living with dyspraxia can experience a range of symptoms, including difficulty with motor skills,  understanding and following instructions and directions, short term memory issues, difficulty with planning and coordinating daily activities, and sensory issues, where a person can be over- or -under sensitive to stimulation such as sound, touch, smell or temperature.

People with dyspraxia all have their own unique challenges and everyone should be treated as an individual with their own specific needs – as I like to say if you’ve met someone with dyspraxia, you’ve met precisely one person with dyspraxia.

‘She’s one of the cleverest young people I know, but she can’t use a photocopier…’

This was once said about me by a former manager! It highlights perfectly that dyspraxia does not affect a person’s intelligence but it can affect many everyday tasks.

To find out more about dyspraxia, visit the dyspraxia foundation website.

What is working life like for someone living with the neurological condition dyspraxia?

Dyspraxia can pose many challenges in the workplace, with high potential for what I like to call ‘dyspraxidents’! Incidences of: tripping over; forgetting things; getting lost for the umpteenth time; feeling panicky when the phone goes, your colleague is trying to talk to you AND the Plenary bell is ringing; etc.

Some of the things that I struggle with include:

  • Sensory overload, especially related to conflicting noise.
  • Short- term memory issues.
  • Difficulty with learning new sequences in order to complete practical tasks.
  • Difficulties with time management and planning.
  • Difficulty with directions and numbers (Maths was my enemy at school!).

However, with some understanding and a few simple adjustments, I see my dyspraxia as an asset. People with dyspraxia tend to be empathetic, which is highly useful to me in my role engaging with visitors from a wide variety of backgrounds and who have different requirements.

Staff with varied neurological differences can bring a different way of thinking to an organisation, and a unique set of skills and strengths.

The Senedd in Cardiff Bay

My Role – Working with dyspraxia at the Assembly

Working as a Visitor Engagement Assistant, my role is varied and interesting, I work across all the venues on the Assembly estate, including the Senedd and the historic Pierhead building.

I help the public to be inspired by and learn about the work of the Assembly, this includes everyone from tourists and locals to students and family groups. I conduct tours of the building, engaging with visitors on many topics, including the environment, Welsh culture and of course, the political work that happens in the building.

I also contribute towards the smooth running of Assembly business, making sure that the right people are in the right place at the right time. Not an easy task for a dyspraxic person!

Conducting tours around the building, I have perfected my knowledge of how the building is accessible to visitors and am proud to say that we are an accessible venue, our facilities include:

  • Ramps and lifts.
  • Autism-friendly labelling.
  • Hearing loop systems.
  • Wheelchair hire.
  • A range of different toilet facilities including gender neutral toilets, accessible toilets, a Changing Places facility with adult hoist, and toilets for people with mobility issues.
  • Disabled parking spaces.
  • A quiet room for prayer, contemplation and a calming space for distressed visitors.
  • A specific ‘Visitors with autism’ webpage.   

More information on the enhancements that have been included in the design of our estate, to ensure the building meets its target of being exemplar in terms of accessibility in the public areas, is available on our ‘Access’ webpage.

An accessible venue for visitors and staff

As well as having a range of facilities on site which ensure that we are an accessible organisation, the Assembly also champions accessibility for its employees. As I spend more than thirty hours in our buildings each week, I am pleased to say that the Assembly really values the wellbeing of the people who work here.

“I believe it is important that the Assembly leads the way in promoting an inclusive organisational culture and that it is a modern, accessible parliamentary body with which people from a diverse range of backgrounds can easily and meaningfully interact. It is incumbent on us as the National Assembly for Wales to lead on this and share our experiences, ensuring that the values of equality, diversity and inclusion are respected and practiced by all.”

Elin Jones AM, Llywydd, National Assembly for Wales.

In keeping with its values, the Assembly has a range of facilities that have made it easier for employees like me to carry out my role, and for a wide spectrum of employees who have specific needs to be considered, these can be disabilities, family commitments, or religious obligations.

In particular I take advantage of our:

  • Quiet Rooms, which can be used for many different reasons including for prayer, quiet reflection, or a break for people struggling with sensory overload. I often use it when my brain feels too full from all the different sights and sounds of this busy assembly building.
  • Embrace our disability network, which helps people to connect with each other, share their unique challenges and champion causes that are close to their hearts across the organisation.
  • Mindful network, which champions positive mental health. This is important for me because dyspraxia can adversely affect mental health, as dyspraxic people are more prone to anxiety and depression.

More information on our networks is available on the Diversity webpage.

Another reasonable adjustment that helps me is that my friendly manager sometimes offers gentle prompts to make sure that I am on track with my work.

This is very helpful because my dyspraxia symptoms can vary, with ‘up’ and ‘down’ days where I can feel more easily overwhelmed or more motivated.  

 I am also allowed to work less in our Tŷ Hywel site, where the politicians’ offices are located, because this can become particularly busy and noisy. My team have helped me to work to my strengths, and their positive attitude has helped me to feel supported and a valued member of staff.

It is due to its commitment to being an inclusive organisation that over the years, the Assembly has been awarded numerous prestigious awards for its commitment to inclusion and diversity. These include, but are not limited to being recognised as a:

  • Disability Confident employer, by the Department for Work and Pensions.  
  • National Autism Society ‘Autism Friendly Award’ holder.
  • Top Employer for Working Families.
  • Age Employer Champion.
  • Action on Hearing Loss Louder Than Words charter mark, and Service Excellence Awards holder.
  • Investors in People Gold Standard organisation, by the international mark of global excellence.

For more information about working for the National Assembly for Wales, please visit our recruitment pages. More information on our commitment to Diversity and Inclusion is set out in our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2016-21.

Children’s Mental Health Week

Guest blog by Lynne Neagle AM. This article first appeared in the Western Mail.

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

In April it will be a year since the National Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee published its Mind over Matter report, which called for a step change in the support available to children experiencing emotional and mental health issues in Wales.

The findings were stark.

Half of all mental health problems begin by the age of fourteen.

Three quarters of all mental health problems set in by a young person’s mid-twenties.

One in ten of our young people will experience a mental health problem.

Based on these figures, and the wealth of expert evidence we received, we concluded that if we failed to put our young people at the very centre of our strategy, mental ill health would continue to snowball.

To stem the flow, we concluded that a step change is needed in how we approach emotional and mental health in Wales. We need to equip our children and young people with the skills, confidence and tools to be emotionally resilient. We need a strategy that sees us intervene much earlier, addressing the seeds of distress before they take root.

We were deeply disappointed with the Welsh Government’s initial response to our recommendations. As a Committee we took the unprecedented step of rejecting the response, and called on the Ministers to reconsider their position.

The Welsh Government reacted by setting up a Ministerial Task and Finish Group – chaired jointly by the Ministers for Health and Education – to reconsider the robust and comprehensive evidence we presented and the recommendations to which we gave considerable and serious thought.

I sit on that Group as an independent observer with full rights of participation. I intend to hold a mirror up to the Group’s work, and to seek progress that meets the Committee’s ambitions and expectations in this area.

More recently the Welsh Government announced an additional £7.1 million to specifically address the issues raised in our Mind over Matter report.

The additional funding is of course welcome and we look forward to seeing how exactly it will be invested. As we approach the first anniversary of the report’s publication, I believe the time has come to inject pace into putting the resource and support needed in place to support us all to implement and deliver this change.

I also believe we need to guard against the ever-present danger of seeking to re-invent the wheel. What is clear is that the current approach isn’t effective enough. So to recommit and reinforce the services already in place isn’t the answer. We need a new approach.

So it will come as no surprise in Children’s Mental Health week to reaffirm that the Committee doesn’t intend to stop here. If young people are to be placed at the heart of our overall strategy for mental health, we need to continue our drive to ensure that best practice is shared, change and innovation are delivered, and our focus is shifted from the reactive to the preventative.

On that basis, we have requested a new response to each of our recommendations from the Welsh Government by next month. We do not intend to take our foot off the pedal on this and we are committed to following up on the place our children and young people are given in future emotional and mental health strategies, approaches and investments with a close and forensic eye.

During the course of our inquiry last year we spoke to many children and young people about their experiences. Some of them were deeply upsetting. Some of them also demonstrated to us that, when the proper services are effective and in place, they can be of immense help to people struggling with their emotional or mental health. Thomas was one of the young people we spoke with.

As young people so often manage to do, he summed up our inquiry in one sentence.

“If I’d got these issues addressed a lot earlier, it wouldn’t have boiled over.”

We all have a responsibility – and an ability – to implement the changes that will enable young people like Thomas get the help they need earlier and avoid issues boiling over wherever possible. And those changes aren’t only for our children and young people, but for the adults they become, and the children they go on to have. It is incumbent on us to invest to save, to prevent rather than react, and to make the step change that is so urgently needed to build a population of emotionally resilient and mentally healthy people in Wales.

If we want sustainable services, a healthy population, and – most importantly of all – fewer individuals and families experiencing longer term challenges and hardships caused by mental ill health, young people must be at the heart of the strategy. Let’s remember Thomas’s words – if we get these issues addressed earlier, they need not always boil over.

Get the report

Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill

Update on the Bill by the Member in Charge – Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee

On 17 July 2018, the Assembly agreed the Financial Resolution for the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill.

This is a significant milestone for the Bill, as we can now progress to Stage 2 proceedings on the Bill – the disposal of amendments.

As many people who have followed this Bill will know, it represents a significant amount of work undertaken over a number of years by the Finance Committee of this Assembly and the previous Assembly.

The Ombudsman has a crucial role in representing the people of Wales when they have received poor service or been treated unfairly by public services.
Our main policy intent for the Bill, is to:

  • improve social justice and equal opportunities;
  • protect the most vulnerable in our society;
  • drive improvement in public services and complaints-handling.

If the Bill becomes law, it will extend the powers of the Ombudsman and make the role more responsive to the people of Wales.

It will do this by making it easier for people to complain.

The Bill removes the requirement for a complaint to be made in writing. By allowing the Ombudsman to accept oral complaints, it will allow the more vulnerable members of society to engage with the Ombudsman, creating a fairer and equitable Wales.

Concerned person making a phonecall

The Bill includes provision for the Ombudsman to conduct own initiative investigations – this power will enable widespread systematic maladministration or service failure to be addressed coherently. It will allow the Ombudsman to be more responsive allowing the Ombudsman to investigate matters reported anonymously and again strengthen the citizen’s voice.

The Bill aims to drive improvements in public services and in complaint-handling. It will also expand the Ombudsman’s powers to investigate private healthcare providers where patients have commissioned private treatment alongside that provided by the NHS.

The Assembly’s decision to agree the Financial Resolution means the Assembly has now been given authorisation, in principle, to spend money as a consequence of the Bill.

Whilst there are costs associated with the Bill, we believe there is potential for the Bill to realise cost savings to the wider public sector, with the majority of savings likely to come from provisions that drive improvement in public services, such as reduced compensation claims for the bodies in jurisdiction. Hence, wider efficiency gains.

Busy hospital ward

The Assembly is now able to consider detailed amendments to the Bill. As the Member in Charge (and on behalf of the Finance Committee) I will be tabling a number of amendments which I believe will strengthen the Bill.

These amendments have been developed through careful consideration of the recommendations made by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in its stage 1 report on the Bill. In addition, I’ve had a number of constructive meetings with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to discuss other areas of the Bill to ensure the Welsh Government is able to support the Bill.

Work is currently taking place to draft amendments which will be considered by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. Once again, I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the drafting and development of this Bill, which has taken another step closer to becoming law.

It is more important than ever that public services deliver for the people of Wales and that the Ombudsman is empowered to ensure that our services are citizen-centred.


For more information please visit the Bill’s webpage

Information of Legislative process

Follow the Committee on Twitter @SeneddFinance

 

Food, drink and Brexit on the menu for scrutiny of the First Minister

The food and drink industry is an important part of the Welsh economy and the food supply chain is one of the Wales’ largest sectors, employing more than 240,000 people with an annual turnover in excess of £19 billion.

In 2016, 92.7% of Welsh meat exports which left the UK went to the EU.

As well as being a major employer in its own right, food production also supports a number of other industries such as tourism and hospitality.

To scrutinise the First Minister on the Welsh Government’s support for food and drink, and current issues facing the industry in Wales, the Assembly’s Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister visited Newtown on 16 February.

With uncertainty still about the UK’s future post Brexit, the Committee was keen to question the First Minister about potential future international trade arrangements and the implications for the industry.

Visit to local food producers

To understand local business concerns Committee Members visited Hilltop Honey, a local food producer, and held a roundtable discussion with representatives from the company and two other local businesses, Cultivate and Monty’s Brewery.

The Committee toured Hilltop Honey’s facilities and discussed a number of issues facing the food and drink industry, including tourism, trade, branding and promotion.

In particular, participants stressed the need to promote the quality and range of Welsh products in a more coordinated and high-profile way.

In relation to Newtown and mid-Wales, the Committee heard views that there is a “lack of coordinated marketing message for Powys” and “not enough support to develop the tourism industry in the area.”

The importance of mutual support between Welsh businesses was discussed, with the suggestion that “Welsh companies have got to work better with Welsh companies” for mutual benefit.

The businesses present also expressed concerns about the likely impact of Brexit, including the loss of access to EU funds and continued uncertainty about future trading arrangements with Europe and further afield.

First Minister answers local business concerns

Several specific suggestions that were proposed during the roundtable discussion at Hilltop Honey were raised directly with the First Minister during the formal Committee meeting.

The Committee questioned the First Minister over whether the Government could consider making a company’s first attendance on a trade mission free of charge, having heard that the costs of participating could put off small businesses from being involved.

Whilst the support already available from the Welsh Government was positively regarded, it was suggested that more companies may be able to participate if they could experience a first mission with a lower investment.

Given the emphasis that businesses had put on the need to promote the Welsh food and drink industry and Welsh produce, Members recommended that the Welsh Government should consider theming a future year of tourism promotion around ‘Wales as a home of food and drink’.

The First Minister agreed to give further consider to both of these suggestions and the Committee will write to seek further reflections.

Brexit and future international trade

Brexit and future international trade arrangements were key themes of the questioning of the First Minister.

The Committee heard of major concerns around the potential impact on food and drink producers if tariffs were applied to products exported from Wales to the EU.

The First Minister stated that:
“…90 per cent of our exports go to the single market. Meat, for example, can carry, in extreme circumstances, a subsidy of 104 per cent…Now, it’s obvious what the effect would be on our sheep meat exports if that were to happen, and there are a number of tariffs in other areas as well. So, tariff barriers are the ones that are most obviously talked about, because they would make our goods more expensive in our most important market.”

Concerns were also expressed about the impact of other barriers, such as slower customs processes impacting upon perishable goods and the need for continued alignment of food standards between Wales and the EU following Brexit.

In the absence of future EU support for the farming industry, the First Minister called on the UK Government to provide the necessary funding so that the Welsh Government would be able to guarantee payments to farmers.

The First Minister stated that this funding should not be part of the overall block grant to Wales and should be ring-fenced away from funding for other public services.

Catch up:

Catch up on the meeting now on Senedd TV.

Or read the full transcript.

Strengthening the quality of our Welsh democracy

Guest blog from Dr Elin Royles, Aberystwyth University.

The Senedd building in Cardiff Bay, Wales

The ‘Creating a Parliament for Wales’ consultation sets the direction for the next stage of Wales’ devolution journey.

It presents an important contrast to the real threat that the UK Government will centralise rather than transfer devolved powers back to the National Assembly for Wales in the EU Withdrawal Bill. Indeed, rising above the lack of respect and undermining of devolution, the consultation builds upon the 2011 referendum result.

It prepares the way for understanding how the people of Wales wish to see powers included in the Wales Act 2017 utilised. And there’s an opportunity for us all to contribute to the discussions.

A strong basis for the consultation was established by the Expert Panel on Electoral Reform established by the Assembly Commission. They took evidence and evaluated a range of matters in order to develop informed and robust recommendations regarding electoral reforms for Wales.

Personally, what’s extremely important about this consultation is that it provides an opportunity for the people of Wales to voice their opinions on proposed to enable the Assembly to work in a more effective way.

It tackles some key issues that have challenged the devolved body since its early years, such as the number of Assembly Members, and also influence how to strengthen the quality of democracy in Wales into the future.

View into the debating chamber in the Senedd

Even back in 1999 when the Assembly was a newly-established body with limited powers, the implications of the limited number of 60 Assembly Members soon became apparent.

From the Richard Commission, to the All-Wales Convention to the Silk Commission, independent reviews have called for increasing the number of elected members. In each case, they knew all too well that proposing more elected politicians is far from popular.

Nevertheless, they recommended increasing the number of members in order to strengthen the Assembly’s capacity to scrutinise the government’s work and legislation. Indeed, the Silk Commission suggested that there were real threats to how Wales is governed without increasing the number of AMs owing to high-level pressures and the constraints on their ability to scrutinise and fulfil their legislative duties effectively.

Given the increasing pressures, it’s no surprise that the Expert Panel has also recommended increasing the Assembly’s size to at least 80 members. A decrease in parallel in the number of elected members at other levels of government would also be a welcome step.

In seeking to strengthen Welsh democracy in the future, the Panel’s recommendations to reduce the minimum voting age in Assembly elections to 16 years old is an important step in order to raise political awareness and participation amongst young people.


Creating a Parliament for Wales

This is the start of a new phase of devolution and now is your chance to tell us how you want your National Assembly to be.

Get started >


In our research into Language, Education and Identity as part of the WISERD ESRC Civil Society Research Centre we have interviewed 16+ year-old students in schools and FE colleges across Wales, including asking them on their views on politics and voting.

A number of them expressed a strong desire to have the right to vote from 16 years old. The extension of the vote to 16 year olds during the Scottish Independence Referendum raised expectations amongst young people.

In our research, a number expressed disappointment (and stronger feelings at times) that they did not have the opportunity to vote in the Referendum on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

At the same time, the research confirms that there are higher levels of interest in politics amongst some young people than would be expected, and that they tend to be unsure and lack confidence regarding their levels of understanding of the political process.

Consequently, alongside establishing 16 as the voting age for Assembly elections, we need to increase and formalise the political and citizenship education that our young people receive.

Whilst there are distinctively Welsh arrangements in place in terms of personal and social education and the Welsh Baccalaureate, the research suggests that reforms are needed to better equip young people.

We need citizenship and democracy education that not only provides young people with more information but is high quality by extending opportunities to discuss and debate political topics.

These are essential steps in order to improve the quality of democracy in Wales in the future.

Do join in the discussions.


Information about the Centre for Welsh Politics and Society – WISERD@Aberystwyth

The Centre for Welsh Politics and Society – WISERD@Aberystwyth is an interdisciplinary research centre at Aberystwyth University, which aims to develop our understanding of politics and modern society in the context of a connected world, supporting and undertaking world-class research in the social sciences and contributing to public understanding and policy development in Wales.

We at the Centre for Welsh Politics and Society are delighted to be collaborating with the Assembly Commission on an event in Aberystwyth on 15 March as part of the ‘Creating a Parliament for Wales’ consultation.

The event is being held at 18.00 on Thursday 15 at the Arad Goch Centre, Bath Street, Aberystwyth.

 

Future Senedd Consultation