Author: Blog

Securing a Future for Art in Wales

Guest blog by Bethan Sayed AM, Chair of the Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee

Performance art in Cardiff

In the past ten years, Welsh Government and National Lottery funding for the Arts Council of Wales has fallen by almost 10% in real terms, while the Government has called on the sector to reduce its dependence on public expenditure.

As Chair of the Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee and as a Committee, I felt the time was right to hold an inquiry into non-public funding of the arts to determine how feasible the Government’s call is, and to identify practical steps to enable the sector to respond effectively to it.

Art needs funding to support its future, but what can be done to secure it?

The importance of art to a healthy society

The importance of art to society is undeniable.

Art illuminates and enriches our lives, which makes it indispensable to a healthy society. The wide-ranging benefits of art to both society on the whole, and the individual, are now widely recognised. From its economic impact to the benefits it brings to education – the potential for art to enable positive outcomes within society should be recognised, promoted and utilised fully by policy makers.

Recognising the challenges faced by the arts in Wales

What became evident very quickly during the inquiry was that arts organisations in Wales face unique, diverse and very difficult challenges when attempting to raise non-public funding. For example, the small size of many of Wales’s arts organisations, and their distance from large centres of population, make raising non-public revenue difficult.

In particular, the dominance of London and the south east of England, in terms of the proportion of non-public funding awarded within the UK, is startling.

A 2013 study found that contributions made by individuals and businesses to the arts in London accounted for 85% of the overall funding awarded throughout England.  Although Wales was not covered by the study, it’s not thought to be out of sync with the regions of England outside of London.

Until such a disproportionate reality is recognised and addressed it’s impossible to see how the situation in Wales can be adequately improved.

This situation is also compounded by the fact that scale and location are key factors in enabling generation of commercial revenue, making it more difficult for organisations to raise revenue outside of large centres of population.

These distinctly Welsh difficulties illustrate the need for the Welsh Government to back up what they have asked the sector to do with a sufficient level of effective support.

Performance art group

What has the Committee concluded?

We have called on the Government to take action to raise the profile of the arts as a charitable cause and to raise awareness among UK-based trusts and foundations of the excellent arts projects and organisations in Wales.

As it stands, the sector does not have the resources necessary to respond effectively to the Government’s call. A shortage of appropriate skills within the sector was a common theme presented throughout the evidence. This is why we have called on the Welsh Government to establish a source of fundraising expertise for small arts organisations, in an analogous fashion to the support it currently provides for small businesses through its Business Wales service.

As might be expected, we found that larger organisations are more likely to be effective when applying for grants as they have easier access to appropriate skills (for example, to write effective applications). When such a small proportion of the funding available within the UK is awarded outside of London and the south east it’s understandable that competition for the remaining funding is fierce.

In such a climate it’s then little surprise that smaller organisations struggle to compete.

This serves to underline the need for a tailored form of support, one which recognises the differing needs and capabilities of arts organisations throughout Wales.

This is not to say that those within the sector shouldn’t explore every opportunity to increase their non-public income. We also received evidence suggesting that Welsh arts organisations could be more proactive in their approach to applying for funding.

We were excited to hear about the impact of the Welsh Government’s trade mission to China, which included a cultural delegation organised by Wales Arts International. Hijinx, a theatre company that works with learning disabled actors, told us that this trip had opened doors to future international tours and collaboration. This is why we have called for the Welsh Government to commission research on international markets with growth potential for Welsh artists, and, where possible, to include a cultural component on trade missions, alongside a strategy to grow international markets.

What is clear is that if the Welsh Government expect their call for the arts sector to reduce its dependence on public funding to have a tangible impact within the sector – they need to back it up with an appropriate level of tailored and informed support.

You can read the full report and the Committee’s recommendations here.

Follow the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee on Twitter @SeneddCWLC

Celebrating the Assembly’s Commitment to Sustainability for Earth Hour

‘Make a promise for the planet’ is the theme for this year’s Earth Hour, which will take place on Saturday 24 March between 20:30 and 21:30. The Assembly will be taking part in this year’s Earth Hour by switching off the lights in the Senedd, Ty Hywel and Pierhead buildings. Many of our AMs have also made the pledge to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) to support the campaign.

Sustainability is important to us at the Assembly, and we’ve made it our responsibility to reduce our impact on the environment and operate in an environmentally responsible manner in all our activities. Read more about how we’re striving to operate a sustainable Assembly now and in the future.

How we ensure a sustainable Senedd

Heating

Geothermal heating is used to help warm the Senedd.  Water is pumped down 100 meters through 27 bore holes and heated naturally by the earth’s temperature. The water is then pumped back up to help warm the water in our heating system.  This process is supported by a biomass boiler which uses sustainably-sourced timber from around the UK to provide a relatively carbon-neutral fuel source.

During the warmer months the process is reversed. When the water is pumped down the heat is dispersed underground as the earth acts like a heat sink. The cooler water is then pumped back up acting as a coolant for the building.

Rainwater harvesting

The Senedd’s rainwater harvesting system is used in the washrooms and for cleaning the building. This works so well that the building only needs to be supplied with around £40 worth of mains water a month.

Rain water which falls onto the Senedd roof is channelled towards the front of the building, through two pipes and into a tank where it is then filtered through ultra violet (UV) lights. This water is then reused for flushing toilets and washing windows.

You can find more information about our sustainable practices here.

Pledging to reduce plastic use

On 1 October 2011 Wales became the first country in the UK to introduce a requirement to charge on most single-use carrier bags. The reduction in the use of plastics is an important global issue and the Assembly is committed to reducing its use of plastics. We are already making great headway with this, and have already eliminated our use of plastic coffee cups on the Assembly Estate, whilst committing to getting rid of other disposable plastics over the next 6 months wherever possible.

Senedd sustainability takeaways

  • The Senedd was awarded the BREEAM Excellent standard for its environmental credentials at design stage.
  • The Senedd is heated by a combination of ground-source heat pump and sustainably-sourced wood chip, with gas for back-up.
  • The Senedd’s ground-source heat pump includes 27 boreholes drilled 100m into the ground- they allow us to extract some warmth at the end of the summer, and reverse the process to help cool the building in the spring.
  • Rainwater harvesting means the Senedd only needs about £40 worth of mains water to be bought in each month.
  • Operation of the biomass heating system has saved more than 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions being produced since the Senedd was built.
  • The Senedd is naturally-ventilated; the windows open themselves to change the air temperature or provide more oxygen to the rooms.
  • The Senedd’s roof cowl creates a negative air pressure- allowing fresh air to be drawn up through the building- reducing the need for any artificial cooling during warmer months.
  • Replacing a lot of the Senedd’s lights with LEDs in recent years has saved more than 50 tonnes of CO2 being produced.
  • The large amount of glazing and reflective surfaces cuts down on the need for artificial light in the Senedd. Look up when you visit the Neuadd or Oriel areas and you may well see the lights are off during the daytime.
We’ve got rid of disposable coffee cups, and are using renewable energy sources including biomass, a ground-source heat pump, and shortly switching to green tariff electricity.
We are installing electric vehicle charging points this week, and exploring the possibility of an electric pool car.
We have committed to phasing out disposable plastic wherever possible over the next 6 months, and compost all our food waste, including that from events.

Join the conversation this Earth Hour using #EarthHourWales and keep an eye out for the global switch-off at 8.30pm on Saturday 24 March.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the environmental aspects of the Assembly’s work, visit the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee pages or follow the Committee on Twitter @SeneddCCERA.

Minimum Price for Alcohol – Is It The Right Solution?

As part of our committee inquiry into the minimum price for alcohol, we asked young people and members of the homeless community for their views. Among the many insights offered was the possibility that there could be unintended consequences of a minimum price for alcohol.

About the Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill

In October 2017, the Assembly’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee  was asked to consider the details of the Welsh Government’s Public Health (Minimum Price for Alcohol) (Wales) Bill. The Bill proposes to set a minimum price per unit for alcohol in Wales and to make it an offence for alcohol to be sold or supplied below that price.

The Bill aims to protect the health of harmful and hazardous drinkers by increasing the price of cheap, strong alcohol such as white ciders. As part of its work, the Committee wanted to find out whether these changes would affect young people and also whether there could be any unintended consequences arising from the Bill for people who are dependent on alcohol, in particular people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

What did young people and the homeless community tell us?

Focus groups were conducted with youth groups, colleges, universities and organisations supporting the homeless community in Wales. Through these sessions, the Committee heard that higher alcohol prices may have a negative impact on dependent drinkers, and could push some drinkers towards other, more harmful substances.

“You can buy a bottle of vodka for £15 but you can get a pill for £7 – £10, and its effect will last all night”

College student, Conwy

This differed from information the Committee had received earlier in the inquiry, and as a result of the views and opinions shared by young people and the homeless community, the Committee asked for more information about the prices of certain drugs in Wales specifically. They also went to meet users of the alcohol recovery centre, Huggard, in Cardiff, where they were told that higher prices for alcohol would not necessarily deter people, and that they would find alternatives, including turning to drugs such as Spice.

The young people the Committee heard from also felt that, rather than deterring them from buying certain types of alcohol, some would simply make sacrifices elsewhere in their budget or find different ways of accessing the alcohol they usually bought.

“Increasing the price of alcohol won’t change the drinking culture but may lead to more anti-social behaviour like stealing”

College student, Swansea

Some young people also told us that they considered the proposals too extreme and used Australia as an example of somewhere that alcohol couldn’t be served after 10pm, while other suggestions included restricting the amount of alcohol that can be purchased in a day would be more effective than changing the price.

“The government hasn’t really tried any of the alternative ways of tackling the issue.”

University student, Cardiff

What did the Committee recommend?

After speaking to people from the health sector, young people, services supporting dependent drinkers and people who are homeless, amongst other professionals, the Committee agreed that the Bill will help to improve and protect the health of the population in Wales. However, they have raised concerns that the Bill in its current form could have a negative impact on dependent drinkers, and could push some drinkers towards other, more harmful substances. Because of this, the Committee’s report says that they would like to see a minimum price for alcohol as part of a wider package of measures and support services to reduce alcohol dependency and raise awareness of responsible drinking.

Next Steps

The Bill will be debated today in a meeting of the full Assembly before a vote to decide whether it can proceed to the next stage of the Assembly’s law-making process. You can watch the debate on Senedd TV.

You can read the Committee’s full report and the Summary of focus group evidence on the Assembly’s website.

If you would like to know more about getting involved in the work of the Assembly, visit our website, or get in touch with the Outreach team: SeneddOutreach@Assembly.Wales

“A milestone on the road to gender equality, not the finish line” – Joyce Watson AM

Guest Post by Joyce Watson AM

This year we celebrate the centenary of women getting the vote. But not all women: those with property and older than 30. By setting that bar, the 1918 Representation of the People Act deliberately excluded working-class women from voting and put women’s rights below men’s. So as we celebrate the suffragettes’ historic achievement, we also reflect on how every victory for women has been a milestone on the road to gender equality, not the finish line.

The purpose of the Wales, Women and Politics working group is to keep Wales moving forward on that road. There is much to do. On the fundamental issue of political representation, for example: while the Assembly has a good record on gender balance (though, we have slipped back since 2003), it is a mixed picture elsewhere. Before I was elected to the Assembly in 2007, I was a county councillor in Pembrokeshire. At the time, just over one quarter of councillors in Wales were women. Today, not much has changed: 28 percent of councillors in Wales are women. In fact, progress has pretty much flat-lined for 20 years. That is something we must address.

We need more women making more decisions, not least because representative democracy should be just that: representative. But greater diversity also brings about better decisions. For example, right at the start of devolution, in 1999, women Assembly Members like Swansea East’s Val Feld played a pivotal role in securing important equality provisions in the Government of Wales Act. They ensured that every Welsh Budget – every spending commitment – is subject to an equality impact assessment. Tragically, Val passed away in 2001. Her legacy lives on, however, and on Tuesday (6 March), a plaque commemorating Val’s enormous contribution will be unveiled in the Senedd. It is the first Purple Plaque honouring ‘Remarkable Women in Wales’. Hopefully there will be many more.

As well as honouring the women who blazed the trail, International Women’s Day is about looking to the future. That is why I am excited to be taking part in Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales’ 2018 mentoring scheme. The aim is to get more women into public life and politics. From April to December, 25 aspiring women will shadow a mentor, gaining valuable first-hand experience. I look forward to meeting my mentee later this month.

Political representation is not just an issue in Wales, of course. And as the title explains, International Women’s Day is about feminist concerns around the world. Last year, I was elected vice chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians. As female politicians, we work to improve the lives of the more than 1 billion women and girls we represent. Clearly, the barriers and challenges they face vary massively across the Commonwealth. But, alongside political representation, access to health, education and earning power are a prerequisite to equality everywhere.

Joyce Watson AM

Hearing the Voices of Care Experienced Young People

On #Careday18, we thought we would reflect on the recent evidence sessions from our inquiry into Care Experienced Children and Young People. The Public Accounts Committee wanted to hear directly from young people with  experience of care and we were delighted that two groups agreed to talk to us, and share their experiences.

We were particularly keen to hear about:

  • the help and support they received in care;
  • how many Social Workers and placements they had had, and how much, if any, choice they had in these decisions;
  • Whether being in care impacted on their education;
  • Whether they were prepared when it was time to leave care; and
  • What they might change to make going into care better for others

The young people were really open and frank with us about their experiences and gave us plenty of food for thought. The key messages coming out of the sessions were that children need to be at the heart of the system, and that it is essential that care is not something done to young people, but is undertaken with young people.

The need for a constant in the lives of young people

All those that came to talk to the Committee have had a number of placements, some of them too many to recall.  They had also had a number of Social Workers.  We heard that often the decision to change social workers or even placements (their actual homes) for the young people were not discussed with them. One young person told us she found out on the Friday that she was to be moved on the Monday, but that the fosterers had known that she was coming for over a month.  Another told us how she’d  had five changes to her support team in the last month – which meant she’d  had to recount her story on a number of occasions, which was upsetting and traumatic for her.  The need for a constant in the lives of those who are in care is essential, and the right to consultation and communication about their lives should be considered a basic right.

The Impact of being in Care on Education

We heard about the negative impact changing placements had on one young person’s education resulting in her missing around two and a half years of Secondary school. We were also told of the stigmatisation of pupils in care such as one occasion when one of the young people had been caught misbehaving in school with another pupil, and found that the other pupil was punished, and she wasn’t because she was in care.  However, we also heard how one of the young people’s good memories was getting 14 GCSEs A* to C despite suggestions that this would not be possible. The Committee was inspired by what this young person had achieved, but was disheartened that this was beyond what was expected of him. We must ensure as a society that the aspirations we place on young people are the same regardless of who they are. The ambitions of care experienced children are as valid as any other child’s and as such we need to make sure that they are achieved.

Support for those about to leave care

We heard a lot about how there was little in the way of support for those about to leave care – we were told:

“They are quick enough to take us off our parents but not quick enough to help us stand on our own two feet”.

We heard that many young people did not know how to use a washing machine, or budget a food shop when leaving care.

Evidence shows that the transition into adulthood can be more difficult for care leavers than many of their peers of a similar age. In a system where we are expecting this group of young people to go out on their own at 18 (although this is starting to change with the ‘when I am ready’ scheme) such a milestone needs to be a supported process.

Next Steps for the Public Accounts Committee Inquiry

These evidence sessions were a key part of the inquiry to make sure that all the relevant voices were heard. We want to embed the culture of young people being at the heart of making decisions that affect them, and we would not have been able to achieve this without the willingness of these individuals to take time to talk to us, and help our understanding of the issues they face.

The Committee’s inquiry is ongoing and will be spanning the course of the entire fifth assembly, as we are determined to keep this group of children and young people high on the political agenda, until outcomes they deserve are achieved.

As a member of a minority – does your history matter?

 As part of our work to commemorate LGBT History Month, our guest blog comes from Norena Shopland (@NorenaShopland), the author of Forbidden Lives: LGBT Stories from Wales.

When my book Forbidden Lives: LGBT stories from Wales was published at the end of last year, one of the questions I was asked was, why did I write it?

The question wasn’t asked out of prejudice, but a genuine concern about the usefulness of a work that concentrated on a ‘minority within a minority’ with, they believed, a limited audience.

At first glance, they seemed to have a point – Wales is a small country, with just 4.8% of the UK population; and when it comes to history, is it even necessary to define every person or event as specifically English or Welsh? After all, the laws of the UK affect everyone, and everyone has more-or-less the same experiences under those laws.

The same question can be asked of other, larger minorities, who rarely exceed 20% of the population, such as black and Asian, at around 13%. Although we can relate diverse histories in themselves, is it necessary to talk about, for example, Welsh and English black and Asian people as separate entities?

Before answering, perhaps it is helpful to contemplate how you might go about finding individuals in the written record, which in itself can be a daunting task, and something I came across when writing Forbidden Lives. One of the reasons I became interested in my country’s history of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender – about 6-10% of the population depending on whose statistics you accept) was because Welsh people were being used in UK history without any reference to their country of origin. This was particularly noticeable when celebrating LGBT History Month in February, when people like Ivor Novello, the Ladies of Llangollen, Leo Abse, and many others, were being included but within a UK, or more often, English concept.

LGBT history books rarely include an individual’s country of origin, or an index references to Wales or the Welsh – something that is also true of other countries. For example, many LGBT histories will include references to, say, work on sexology done in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century, but Germany per se will not appear in an index. If you wanted to construct a German history from general histories it could not be done.

The Welsh LGBT history conundrum

All this means is that to construct a Welsh LGBT history, it was necessary to search far and wide through many mediums. An added difficulty with regard to Wales, unlike other countries such as Germany, is that Welsh people for much of the nineteenth century and beyond, are often referred to as English.

Anyway, having surmounted various hurdles to put together the lives and events which appear in Forbidden Lives, what about the original question of ‘why go to all this trouble’? After all, some of the people I include already appear in UK histories and, whilst a number of my stories either highlight little known accounts, or are completely new, why can’t they simply be added to a UK history?

Well, they can. But there are far more reaching questions. The book has shown people from Wales have been very influential in shaping LGBT history, such as Wolfenden and the Sexual Offences Act – both of which changed society as a whole. What was it about these Welsh people that caused them to be so influential? In fact, the book has raised a whole series of questions that cannot be covered in detail here, but which concerns different types of experiences than that of England.

We also need to engage more museums, archives, schools and people in LGBT history and to do that we need to have local individuals – the more Welsh LGBT people we can identify the more engagement there will be. More engagement means more understanding of diversity and less discrimination.

So, in the end what was my answer?

Because history and politics aside, they’re rattling good stories – and after all, everyone loves a good story!

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The National Assembly for Wales is committed to promoting LGBT equality. We have been named by Stonewall as the Top Employer in the UK for LGBT people, a Top Trans Employer, and our workplace network has been Highly Commended for their work. If you would like to find out more about our work promoting LGBT equality, please contact our Diversity and Inclusion Team.

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‘Failure as a nation’ to celebrate the contribution of our women – Y Llywydd, Elin Jones AM

This post was originally published on BBC Cymru Fyw on 6 February 2018. View the original post here

I have mixed feelings today.

Mixed in the sense that I still cannot believe that it’s only a century since women had any voice in our democratic process – and even then, we shouldn’t forget that it was only a few women who won the vote in 1918.

It also continues to amaze me that so many women continue to have to protest and fight for equality in politics across the world today.


There have been positive developments of course, and many here in Wales. The principle of ensuring equal opportunities was at the heart of the founding principles of the National Assembly in 1999 and incorporated into the laws and rules of our new democracy.

In 2003, our Assembly was the first legislature in the world to elect the same number of women and men, and although the number of elected women has decreased somewhat since then, the Assembly has consistently included a higher proportion of female members than the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly over the years.

I’m pretty certain that the first woman parliamentary candidate in Wales, Millicent Mackenzie, would be very proud of us.

Millicent established the Suffragettes Branch in Cardiff, and was a candidate for the University of Wales parliamentary seat in 1918.

Much to my embarrassment I only learned about her life recently, which may in some ways reflect our failure as a nation to celebrate the contribution of our women throughout the ages.

Even now, in the era of devolution, are we sure that the contribution of women to the governance of our nation is recorded appropriately?
Yes, we have reasons to celebrate and we must do that more often.

So why do I feel so downbeat about some elements of our political culture today, how it has evolved and the effect that it has on women who work in politics in 2018?

There has certainly been a change in the international political climate, and increasingly, a public narrative is being pushed by some with the specific intention of undermining efforts for equality. I can not, and we should not, forget what happened to Labor MP, Jo Cox, who was murdered in 2016, nor should we ignore the threats of violence against other female politicians – here in Wales and elsewhere.

It is a job which is far from being done, as demonstrated by the other big issue that has dominated our public discourse recently – the cases of harassment, bullying and inappropriate behavior.

Significant work is underway in the National Assembly and in Westminster to ensure that there are appropriate procedures and policies in place to deal with such complaints. Our aim will be to seek and promote respect and dignity in our parliaments, but it is deeply disappointing and frustrating that we have to continue to fight the fight for women today in the twenty first century.

We need to call time on inequality and intimidation.

Enough is enough was the message of the “me too” campaign – a powerful statement of mutual support and resistance from women. The spirit of that campaign and the enthusiasm for securing an equal place for women in our parliament was present in the Senedd some weeks ago during a debate on equality in Welsh politics.

This was an opportunity for both female and male Members to raise their heads and raise awareness of the importance of women’s voice in our national politics.

And that’s what I want to celebrate today – the women who acted positively to counter injustice and prejudice.

In doing so, I want to take the opportunity to thank women of all parties and no party – those who were elected and the candidates who did not succeed – for putting their names on the ballot papers, running for public office and for making a difference in the face of many obstacles.

We need more women on our local and national public platforms, following the example Millicent Mackenzie set a century ago, and realising her aspiration of challenging prejudice with courage to change our political culture and ensure real equality for future generations.

Elin Jones AM, Llywydd of the National Assembly for Wales.