Author: chrisblogassembly

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

Strengthening our democracy: your chance to have your say

Guest post from Helen Mary Jones, Morgan Academy Deputy Director

The Senedd, Cardiff Bay

At a personal level I should declare an interest.

I served as a member of the National Assembly for 12 years between 1999 and 2011, so I have some strong views about how our Assembly works, and how it could be made more effective.

But this is not about my views. March 12 is just one of many opportunities for everyone in Wales to look at the changes proposed and put their views forward.

There has been quite a lot of coverage in the media about some of the Expert Panel’s proposals, including increasing the number of AMs, changing how we elect them and constituency boundaries to improve representation, and reducing the age at which people can vote to 16.

These are really important issues but I would like to draw attention to two other issues the Consultation addresses.

For the first National Assembly election in 1999 the two largest parties elected, Labour and Plaid Cymru, used different affirmative-action procedures to ensure women were selected in winnable seats.

This wasn’t straightforward for either party to achieve.

The result was a large proportion of women elected, then the Western world’s first gender balanced parliament in 2003.

The resulting balanced Parliaments – which were subject to numerous academic studies – went on both to create a different political atmosphere, with more attempt to work by consensus, and to pay due attention to issues that often fall off the radar, such as the promotion of equality and children’s rights.

Since then we have seen the percentage of women elected to the Assembly decline. The Expert Panel suggests measures to halt this decline, including legislating for gender equality quotas and enabling people to stand for election as a job share. I think this is well worth considering. What do you think?

Then there is the question of who should be eligible to vote.

There has been considerable discussion of the proposal to reduce the voting age to 16. Another interesting proposal has received less attention. At present UK citizens, Commonwealth citizens and citizens of other EU member states who live in Wales are able to vote in Assembly elections. We don’t know of course what the status of EU citizens currently living in Wales will be after Brexit.

One simple way to resolve all the complexities that may arise is just to allow everyone who is legally resident in Wales to vote, in line with the Welsh Government’s proposals for local council elections. This seems fair to me. Everyone who lives here, regardless of their technical citizenship status, has a stake in what happens to Wales. So surely they should have a say in who runs Wales? What do you think?

I’d urge everyone to think about the issues this consultation raises.

This sort of constitutional debate can seem as dry as dust. But in fact this is all about how we get the right people in place to make and scrutinise the right decisions about issues that affect us all; our health service, what our children study in schools, our environment.

This is our chance to contribute to the debate around building a Welsh Parliament that really represents us all and will really work for us all.

Come along on March 12, attend one of the other meetings, go online and respond to the consultation there.

Make your voice heard.


The Morgan Academy is a new public affairs unit established by Swansea University.

Our aim is to take world-class research and use it to inform the development of policy to address the most challenging issues facing Wales and the world today.

We are very proud of our developing partnership with the National Assembly for Wales and we are pleased to be hosting this important event on March 12 to enable citizens of Swansea and the region to have their say on the exciting proposals being put forward by the National Assembly’s Expert Panel to grow and strengthen our democracy here in Wales.

 

Future Senedd Consultation

Public Accounts: Making sure your money is spent wisely by Governments.

Pierhead building at sunset in Cardiff Bay

Without scrutiny of public accounts, tax avoidance such as that by Amazon and Starbucks would not have been brought to light.

It’s not just relevant to officials and auditors, it is important to everyone.

It’s following where and how your taxes are spent.

This is money spent on behalf of everyone, and this happens on a national level through to devolved administrations and regional governments to the local level. In all these instances there are elected politicians deciding how to spend our money, and it is vital that this expenditure is monitored, to ensure it is effective and efficient.

This role has earnt the Westminster Public Accounts Committee the title of ‘the Queen of the Select Committees’, and as Margaret Hodge MP said in correspondence to Gus O’Donell, (the then Head of the UK Civil Service) ‘It is the duty of the Committee to pursue fearlessly the public and taxpayers’ interest whenever and wherever we deem it necessary’.

Without this call to account, recent tax avoidance by major corporations would not have been brought into the public domain, and there may not have been an opportunity to question anybody on the failings of publicly funded projects such as the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales (RIFW).

It had never occurred to me that I might enjoy what at first sight appeared to be very dry audit work, monitoring government spend’  – Dame Margaret Hodge MP

The Senedd in Cardiff Bay

Public Accounts Network Event

The National Assembly for Wales Public Accounts Committee is excited to be hosting the inaugural public accounts network meeting.

Being a member of the Public Accounts Committee is a big responsibility, and, so as a Committee, we all want to ensure we are up to the challenge, and are doing the best we can to ensure your money is being spent responsibly.

On Monday 18th September,  will be bringing together a wide range of people with an interest in public accounts Committees, to learn from each other, develop new skills and share best practice.

There will be representatives from across the UK and further afield, to discuss how we are currently undertaking this important work, and what can be done better.

  • Dame Margaret Hodge MP keynote – What makes an effective public accounts committee? Margaret Hodge will be talking about her five years as Chair of the Westminster Public Accounts Committee, and her pursuit of reconnecting ‘Parliament with people as voters, taxpayers and citizens by giving a voice to the issues that mattered to them’.
  • Panel-led discussion – ‘A working relationship’ – The role of the Auditors in the work of Public Accounts Committees.
    Chair: Anthony Barrett, Assistant Auditor General, Wales Audit Office
  • Academic Case Study –‘Comparative effectiveness of the devolved PACs of the UK’. Helen Foster, FCA, BA(Hons), MPA, FHEA – Lecturer in Accounting – Ulster University Business School
  • The other side of Public Accounts Committee – A witnesses’ perspective
    James Price, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Economy, Skills and Natural Resources Group, Welsh Government

The full agenda can be accessed here: View Agenda

Get Involved

Feel free to send us the questions you want answered ahead of the event on anything related to public accounts, such as:

  • How Public Accounts Committees work?
  • What reports are produced by Auditor Generals or Public Accounts Committees?
  • What techniques and methods should be used to to monitor Government spending?
  • Or any questions would you ask of those responsible for spending your money.

Tweet us your questions using #SeneddPAC (click to Tweet) or email us at seneddpac@assembly.wales

We will then be able to take your questions to the event on 18 September and feed it into the discussions.

Event Booking

Venue: The Pierhead, Cardiff Bay
Date: 18th September 2017
Time: 9:30am – 16:00pm

For anyone interested in the event, there are limited spaces available for the day. To book your space contact:

Seneddpac@assembly.wales

Follow updates during the day on our twitter feed and join the conversation using #SeneddPAC

 

Right to Buy: Here’s what you need to know about proposed changes in Wales

Do the Right to Buy schemes help tenants access home ownership or negatively impact on local communities? Should they be abolished or suspended?

These are some of the questions tenants from across Wales discussed with us as part of our investigation of the proposed law to abolish the Right to Buy and Associated Rights in Wales.

What is Right to Buy?

The Right to Buy scheme was introduced in the UK in 1980 to allow most council tenants to buy their council home at a discount.

However the Welsh Government has recently proposed changes in law that would end the Right to Buy scheme in Wales.

Their stated aim with this change is to protect the Welsh stock of social housing from reducing further, ensuring it is available to provide safe, secure and affordable housing for people who are unable to access the housing market to buy or rent a home.

We have been examining the Welsh Government’s decision to propose this law to ensure that it is in the best interests of Wales and its communities.

What do the proposed changes mean?

Under the proposed law, The Right to Buy for tenants of local authorities and registered landlords would be abolished after a period of at least one year following the introduction of the law.

Some local authorities, including Flintshire, Carmarthenshire and Anglesey have already suspended the Right to Buy scheme.

The Right to Buy and Associated Rights have already been brought to an end by the Scottish Government in Scotland, but a different approach is being taken in England by the UK Government.

The proposed law would end the Right to Buy scheme in all local authorities across Wales.

housing-tenants-in-assembly-wales-meeting


Want to know our recommendations to the
Welsh Government on changes to Right to Buy?

Download the report »


How could the changes affect me?

In making sure that existing tenants are aware of the changes, the proposed law requires the Welsh Government to publish information on its effects before abolition takes place, and social landlords must in turn provide that information to every affected tenant within two months of the proposed law coming into force.

After a waiting period of at least one year after coming into force, all rights will be abolished. This means every affected tenant can still exercise their Right to Buy within that period, but not after.

Your views

Alongside a public consultation, a key part of this examination involved engaging and working with tenants from across Wales to help understand what the proposed changes meant for them.

By holding discussions in Cardiff, Newcastle Emlyn, Colwyn Bay, and Ynys Môn, as well as online on Dialogue and Facebook, tenants from across Wales were given an opportunity to participate, discuss and share their views and ideas on the proposed law and whether they felt improvements could be made.

Council housing should be for those in need” – Tenant, Ynys Môn County Council Tenant Participation Group

There was broad support for the proposed law from tenants and other organisations who gave evidence, and the need to abolish the Right to Buy to to ensure that those in greatest need have access to affordable homes and prevent further loss of social housing.

Having heard all of the evidence, the Committee has agreed that abolishing the right to buy will ensure that existing and new social housing stays within the social housing sector and will be available to be used for its original purpose, namely as a means of providing affordable rented accommodation for those in greatest need.

housing-tenants-at-a-meeting

Impact on eligible tenants and home ownership

The majority of tenants acknowledged the squeeze that people now feel in trying to access the housing market.

The average annual salary in some areas in Wales is less than the minimum salary needed to qualify for Help to Buy schemes and a number of tenants are employed through zero hour contracts.

Tenants in Anglesey said that the average salary of residents was £14,000, which was less than the minimum required to qualify for Help to Buy.

As a result, the Committee believes that it is important to raise awareness and promote understanding of home ownership schemes with tenants before the Abolition of the Right to Buy takes place.

Duty to provide information to tenants

Many tenants expressed their concerns over how this change would be communicated with tenants. There is no detail in the proposed law about how the required information should be communicated to tenants or adapted to meet their varying needs.

As a result, the Committee recommends that the Welsh Government makes the necessary changes in the proposed law to ensure that this information is communicated to tenants in the most appropriate and accessible way to meet their varying needs. The Welsh Government should test the information with tenants before it is finalised to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

“…everything requires access to social media and the net now…anything that happens now quotes a www. resource …people will be uniformed if the information isn’t accessible” – Tenant, TPAS South Wales Network

 

What are the next steps?

Now that the Committee has given its recommendations to the Welsh Government on how the proposed law can be improved, the Welsh Government will have an opportunity to respond.

Before changes can be made to the proposed law, the Committee’s recommendations will be debated amongst all of the Assembly Members who represent the people of Wales on 18 July 2017.

For all the latest information and developments you can also

  • follow the Committee on twitter @SeneddELGC; and
  • visit the Committee homepage on the proposed law.

Abolition-of-the-Right-to-Buy-and-Associated-Rights-Wales-Bill