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Hitting the Right Note: Inquiry Into Funding For and Access to Music Education

An interview with Bethan Sayed AM, Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.

Introduce yourself briefly explain the remit of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.

My name is Bethan Sayed, and I chair the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications committee in the National Assembly for Wales.

Bethan Sayed AM, speaking at the report launch event.
Bethan Sayed AM, Chair of the Committee, speaking at the report launch event.

We scrutinise government ministers in relation to their portfolio. For example, we’ve recently done an investigation into radio in Wales. We’ve looked at the Welsh language and we’ve also looked at the historical environment as well as non-public funding of the Arts.

It’s been good to be able to have a remit that includes communications so that we can look at the broadcasting landscape of Wales and scrutinise that effectively also.

The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications committee has just launched its report on its inquiry into funding for and access to music education in Wales. The topic of this inquiry was chosen through quite an innovative and slightly unusual way.  Could you explain the background and what led the Committee to look at this particular issue?

After being on committees for quite some time that, of course Assembly Members have their own ideas and bring ideas for future work to the table, which is valid but it could obviously be based on our own pet subjects.

I thought it would be interesting to go to the public to ask them exactly what type of investigation they would like us to look into what the population wanted us to focus on, and what were the key priority areas.

We did a public poll and it came out that people wanted us to look at music in education the music tuition that people receive in schools and in our communities and how that can be improved and developed.

It was really good to launch this public poll because then people could engage with a committee in a very different way. So I was happy that our committee was the first to try this and perhaps we could do it again to come up with other ideas for the future.

 What were the key themes that the inquiry covered?

They were very keen for us to look at music services in schools. We were seeing, constituents coming to our offices saying that there were problems with the funding of this sector. We were seeing that music services by local authorities were being cut.

So we wanted to get to grips with what was important and come up with solutions to see how we could aid the sector.

We didn’t look at the curriculum, because music education in relation to the provision of tutoring was very different to that. That’s something that we could look at in future. But that’s not what we focused on this time.

During the inquiry the Committee heard from a wide range of witnesses and due to your own experiences as a musician this topic must be very close to your heart – Was there anything that came up through the course of the inquiry that was a particular surprise?

 When we went to Ysgol Pengam, we found that they were doing very structured work in the rock and pop field, and they were competing in competitions in England, but they weren’t able to do that in Wales and there was no ensemble. There’s an ensemble for the orchestra, here in Wales but no rock and pop ensembles.

Maya Morris performing at the event
Maya Morris from Lewis School Pengam performing at the event

So I guess what did surprise me, perhaps because I’ve come from the more classical side, is that there was such an enthusiasm to set up this ensemble so that people who wanted to go into the rock industry or the pop industry could do that through their school structures.

So that was quite enlightening, but also pleasing to see, because orchestras and ensembles is not always going to suit everybody You don’t necessarily have to be able to read music to take part in those types of activities, so it would open up a new avenue.

In relation to funding streams, that didn’t surprise me, because my sister is 18 and she’s attended orchestras, and I know from my interest in this issue that this downward trend of the provision of services was not new.

The report says that music services must be protected, nurtured and accessible to all.  The Committee also states that it welcomes the Welsh Government’s Commitment to put creative activity on an equal basis to other areas of learning and experience.  Why is music education so important? What are the benefits?

I think a lot of schools get it in relation to music because they understand that it’s a transferable skill – it’s working as a team, it’s discipline, it’s allowing people to be creative and allowing their wellbeing aims to be met. But some schools, unless the head teacher really understands the value of music, then it might not permeate throughout the school.

As somebody who’s played the piano, viola and violin from an early age, I think it has to be seen as something that isn’t niche, that isn’t exclusive, that is accessible – because it can aid you in so many different ways in life.

For example, an orchestra course would allow me to become independent. It would allow me to make new friends. You’ve got to learn to listen to others and to be able to be respectful of others, and so is not all to do with the music that’s on the paper – it’s about how you want to progress as an individual.

People who go into music at a young age can take their skills elsewhere and you will meet doctors, you’ll meet scientists, you’ll meet politicians who have used music in ways in which they can be quite focused on what they want to do in life.

I think we need to encourage more schools to understand that it’s not just this fluffy thing about listening or playing music for an hour a day, it’s about how that can be seen as a core part of the curriculum in every shape and form. I hope that through this report that we can convince people that we can grow and develop music in our schools.

With all those potential benefits it must have been troubling for the Committee to hear some witnesses characterising the position of music in Welsh education as in ‘crisis’.  In July 2015, the Welsh Government commissioned a report into music services in Wales – What has been the Committee’s conclusion about the progress made in the 3 years since the publication of that report – is the Welsh Government doing enough to prevent this ‘crisis’ from developing?

It was very troubling to hear people such as Owain Arwel Hughes, a renowned conductor, Tim Rhys-Evans, who conducts Only Men Allowed, say these things, because I don’t believe that they would use the word ‘crisis’ lightly.

The Committee received evidence from Tim Rhys-Evans, founder and director of Only Men Allowed
The Committee received evidence from Tim Rhys-Evans, founder and director of Only Men Allowed

It troubles me that Wales is associated with music and song, and they were saying we may not be the land of song anymore if we allow this, music services are being cut, and may even disappear in parts of Wales. In fact, we’ve seen with the national ensembles, less people have been auditioning for them this year so there is that worry.

Also with regard to the report that was commissioned, , I feel that once certain ministers had left – that it wasn’t a priority for some local authorities. I think that’s why we’ve said so clearly in the report that there needs to be a national guidance and national strategy, because you cannot simply rely on local authorities.

I think some people, to be fair, said ‘well perhaps that’s going a bit too far, we don’t want to scaremonger’. But again, sometimes using those types of phrases can actually say ‘well now is the time to make sure that we don’t get to the point where those services don’t exist anymore’. I hope that our support has allowed for that discussion to happen at the right time before more music services are cut or disappear altogether.

The report itself covers 16 recommendations but what’s the most important issue to take from the findings?

Well, we wanted to come up with solutions because, it’s been close to my heart for many, many years.  Perhaps there’s a lack of coming together in the past of people from different walks of life in the music service to say, ‘well actually, how can we make this happen and how can we improve on this?’

I welcomed the Welsh Government investment in relation to the endowment fund, in relation to the music amnesty and in relation to putting music on the political agenda again. But without structural change, things are not going to improve. So the most important recommendation for us has been to say that we need to establish a national arm’s length body for music services in Wales.  We simply cannot rely anymore on individual local authorities deciding whether they prioritise it or not. We would need to make sure that it was properly funded, and that there would be a regional element to its delivery on a ground level.

At the moment you’re seeing the national ensembles work in a different type of landscape to the work that’s happening on the ground in our communities. It’s called ‘the pyramid’, so you would have the school orchestras, then you would have the community orchestras, then you would have the national ensembles. If you had one national body – they would be identifying young people to come through the system, and that’s what we’re not seeing at the moment.

There was discussion about whether it could be done in a different way, but I think ultimately we came to the conclusion – especially as we were calling for a national music strategy – that one national body to deal with this particular element of the educational workforce would be integral to its future. I think as a committee we want it to be forward looking, we wanted to put a recommendation out there that would challenge people’s minds and that they would look outside the box somewhat to current funding and current structures.

We wouldn’t want to let any of those particular areas get left behind as well. We didn’t want to be too prescriptive but we wanted to put our marker down and say ‘this has to be a national system now’.

To download Hitting the Right Note: Inquiry Into Funding For and Access to Music Education, click here.

For the latest updates from the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, follow @SeneddCWLC on Twitter.

The Welsh Government’s initial funding of the Circuit of Wales: A tale of two halves.

An interview with Adam Price AM, member of the National Assembly for Wales’ Public Accounts Committee.


The Public Accounts Committee has just published its report on the Welsh Government’s initial funding of the Circuit of Wales project. In the report the Committee has said that it’s deeply concerned at how the Circuit of Wales project was approached by the Welsh Government. Can you give an overview of the inquiry and some of the key things that the committee learnt?

In some senses it’s a report of two halves and I think that probably tells you some of the deeper truths that underlie what we learned from the way that the Welsh Government approached the Circuit of Wales project.

Essentially you’ve got the initial period where the Welsh Government was very positive about the project. The Wales Audit Office original report on the initial funding of the Circuit of Wales and the first section of our report address the sense in which corners were cut. For example concerns by some officials about the purchase of FTR Moto and the way in which those concerns were overridden, and the extent of Ministerial oversight of those decisions.

The general feeling you get is that the policy direction was to support the project and therefore anything that needed to be done in order to achieve that goal was done. And then there’s a kind of reverse gear when you move in to the second half of the report which leads up to the final decision – the third in a series of decisions not to agree the Welsh Government guarantee which was essential to making the project happen. So it’s a kind of a ‘grand old Duke of York’ scenario where the Welsh Government marches its officials up to the top of the hill and then marches them back down again.

Now of course governments, like anyone else, can and do change their mind, but the important thing is that processes are not fixed around the policy. Processes, good governance arrangements, transparency, rules, are all there for a reason – to protect public money and ultimately to protect the reputation of government and probity. That’s really why we have the Public Accounts Committee – to make sure that in the enthusiasm of politicians to achieve whatever policy goal they have, that they don’t cut corners because that leads to bad decision making.

I think what we had in this case is a huge amount of enthusiasm and positivity driving in one direction and then suddenly, for some reason, the political weather changed and then it seems that everything is done to put a spanner in the works.

 

The Welsh Government seemed to focus its decision around a technical accounting issue and the balance sheet configuration. Does the Committee feel the Welsh Government presented the information around the decision not to fund the project in the best manner?

There is a genuine concern that the Government was not as transparent and comprehensive as they could have been in explaining their decision to perform what effectively was a massive U-turn. You have to remember that the Welsh Government remained very positive about the overall nature of the project and it set certain criteria by which it was going to determine its ultimate decision. It came as a shock to most people that the Cabinet rejected this project.

At the time this quite technical issue of whether or not the project would be on balance sheet seemed to be presented as the central plank of the Government’s argument as to why they couldn’t continue, but during the process of this inquiry we teased out that it wasn’t the only issue – there were also questions about the jobs etc. I think there is still an air of mystery as to how a Government, which had spent a lot of public money and huge amounts of officials time over many years, ended up in a position where all of that was turned on its head in presumably in a 20 minute cabinet discussion.

I understand why governments generally don’t want official advice to be published but in this case it raises questions in our mind.

The other thing the report touches upon is, this issue of the balance sheet was always a general issue but the company and its funders thought that it had been resolved. Nobody knew that it was going to basically be the single thing, more than anything else that killed the project off. So why not pick up the phone or why not try and postpone the decision to see if anything could have been done to salvage the project? The company and the Government had upwards of 40 meetings over a period of 12 to 18 months – almost on a weekly basis. So you would have thought that due to the huge amount of private money at risk and a project that, according to proposals could have generated thousands of jobs – why not just delay a week and see whether we can rejig things to get the project over the line.

I think the conclusion you have to come to is that the Welsh Government, for whatever reason, had decided it didn’t want to do this project. When a convenient rationale arrived which could excuse them from backing off they embraced that with open arms and that was the end of it

 

You’ve talked about the importance of governance, communication and transparency – later in the inquiry it transpired that there was no evidence to show that the Minister for Business Enterprise Technology and Science was informed of the agreement to purchase FTA Moto. How concerned were the Committee to hear that Welsh Government Ministers weren’t being kept up to date by officials and why is that important?

It’s very troubling when we are told that the Minister wasn’t informed of what I think was an unconventional use of this particular grant fund. Because of the close political interest in this project – a high profile project which had high level political commitment during this period from the First Minister down – you would have assumed that the Minister should have and would have been kept informed. I am troubled by the former as no evidence could be found. This is a formula that we often find in tricky situations because the absence of written evidence, e-mails etc. does not necessarily mean that the Minister was not informed. Why can’t the Government categorically say that the Minister was not informed? Why rely on this slightly opaque form of words which leaves a little bit of doubt in your mind as well? The key point is that in circumstances such as this, Ministers should be kept informed particularly when there’s obviously debate amongst officials with some officials warning against a particular course of action.

The principal point is that the maximum amount of transparency is always better for all parties. If the Welsh Government has again been lax in terms of its scrutiny then that doesn’t lead to good decision making. It’s curious because the level of involvement of officers in this project was very high indeed. The only conjecture you can put on it is this story of two halves where essentially officials seem to be convinced that the project had political buy in at a Ministerial level and therefore they became quite invested, in a literal and metaphorical sense, in the project. Therefore the ordinary rigger that would be applied seemed not to be applied because everyone was aiming to get the project over the line. But even where there is political commitment it’s always best to follow due process. And then of course strangely what happens is that everything goes into reverse and then every argument under the sun that could actually be employed to kill the project off, is applied.

It’s very seldom that actually we see those two processes together in one project where you have the Welsh Government effectively bending over backwards to try to help this project be implemented and then everything done in the latter stages to prevent it. It really raises questions about the capacity of the Civil Service to deal with these kind of complex technical large scale infrastructure investment projects or business investment projects, and it also raises issues about the arm’s length principle.

This project became overly politicized. It’s an economic development project and should have been viewed on its merits or demerits. The politics clouded judgment and prevented the proper application of rules of due process and procedures. There was of course a due diligence process conducted but the interpretation of that still came back to the same point – which was a sense that the objective evidence was fixed around the policy. Basically whatever the officials felt the Minister wanted at any point in time seemed to be driving their actions. Once that interpretation changed, everything changed. That isn’t the way you should approach these kinds of project.

 

It’s important to point out that the inquiry focuses on the handling the funding and not on the principle that the circuit avails project itself. Does the Committee feel that the Welsh Government is doing everything it can to maximize the opportunities for investment in Wales?

I think this sorry saga shines a light on how poor we are at these kind of large scale investment projects. It’s a bit of a stereotype, but stereotypes are there usually for a reason, that the wheels of Government move very slowly and here is a project that took 7-8 years to arrive finally at a ‘no’. In business it’s better to have a quick ‘no’ or ‘yes’ decision. The worst thing is what happened in this case which is a seven year long ‘maybe’. Governments need to get better at actually getting to a decision earlier because prolonging decisions does nobody any good. We have to get faster and more agile in decision making. The real danger is the reputation, not just of the Welsh Government, but of Wales as an investment location has been directly harmed by this decision.

We need to build our own capacity in Wales for coming to quick decisions on these large scale investment projects and we should be actively seeking them. We are a country which needs investment. We do not currently have our own financial capacity to the extent that we would like. We don’t want to continue to be in the position that we’re currently in which is that we’re reliant on a relatively small pool of large institutional funds that are based not here in Wales unfortunately, but based in the country next door and principally in the city of London. These institutions talk to each other and what happened on this project will have been seen. I wonder what Aviva are saying to their partners and to their investors and stakeholders about the experience that they had in this case. They haven’t invested that often and actually it’s kind of exceptional that Aviva showed any interest in this kind of project based as it is in the Heads of the Valleys. When we say that we’re open for business as well, this was a terrible experience and it has not reflected well on the Welsh Government and by extension on Wales.

It is no criticism of individuals, it’s always systems that fail. The Welsh Government was out of its depth from the very beginning and we should never allow this kind of thing to happen again.

 

Why is this kind of scrutiny important to the people of Wales?

Good scrutiny ultimately leads to better Government. It’s obviously painful to focus on mistakes but that’s how we learn and learning is the key to innovation. Failure is actually a gift to us from the recent past and is a platform in which we can then can build a better future, and that’s the way that we have to see it.

Scrutiny is not about castigating individuals. It’s about trying to understand why the system is badly designed, why the system is failing and how we can redesign the system so that it can deliver better outcomes than all the individuals within it. Nobody goes to work to do a bad job, people want to do their best. When we fail is when we either design systems that are poorly calibrated to the purpose that they’re meant to achieve or the system design or the framework is there but the culture or the rules within that system are not being implemented. That’s where scrutiny comes in – to identify the problems which hopefully if we can be open, transparent and honest enough about them, means that the future will be better than the past.

 


Read the full report:
The Welsh Government’s initial funding of the Circuit of Wales project (PDF, 719 KB)


 

The Public Accounts Committee is charged with scrutinising the spend of all public money in Wales. The Committee can undertake either their own inquiries or they can follow directions from the Auditor General for Wales and the Audit Office. It’s a pretty big brief as they can look at all aspects of funding including health, education, local authorities and economic development as is the case for their latest report on the Welsh Government’s initial funding of the Circuit of Wales project.
You can download the full report on the Welsh Government’s initial funding of the Circuit of Wales project and out more about the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee at http://www.assembly.wales/SeneddPAC, you can also follow the Committee on Twitter at @SeneddPAC.

The twists and turns of Welsh Government’s decisions on the Circuit of Wales.

An interview with Nick Ramsay, Chair of the National Assembly for Wales’ Public Accounts Committee

The Public Accounts Committee is releasing its report on its inquiry into the Welsh Government’s initial funding of the circuit of Wales project. What led the committee to look at this particular issue?

There was a fair bit of controversy around the original funding of the Circuit of Wales project and there were opinions on both sides as to whether it was a good idea or not.

The Auditor General decided to do his own inquiry into the spending of money and his report came up with a number of concerns and areas that he thought were worthy of greater scrutiny. On the back of that the Public Accounts Committee decided that it was worth looking at the project as well.

The inquiry focused on the handling of the funding and not on the principles of the Circuit of Wales project itself. We thought that had the project gone ahead it would have had great potential for Wales and for economic development. There were certainly aspects that we thought could have produced economic development and provided jobs for people in some of the poorer parts of Wales so we had no issues at all with the basic ideas of the project.

It’s not the role of the Public Accounts Committee to tell the Welsh Government what it should or shouldn’t do. At the end of the day the Government is elected by the people of Wales and they have a number of policy decisions that are for them to take – not for us. However it is the role of the Committee to make sure that when the Welsh Government decides on a certain policy that they are justified in pursuing that policy, that the amount of money the policy is going to cost is efficiently spent and we look at the broader issues surrounding the policy-making decisions that are taken by the civil servants under the Minister’s guidance.

 

What were the key themes that came out of the inquiry?

We were surprised by how the Welsh Government went about delivering the project. It happened over a considerable period of time and we were surprised at the way that the rug was pulled out from under the company’s feet at quite a late stage. This was done on the basis of technical questions rather than the due diligence which the Government is supposed to pursue.

Our inquiry looked at who took the decisions in the Welsh Government at certain points in time and who authorised those decisions – for instance regarding the purchase of FTR (which was a Buckinghamshire based motorcycle company) we couldn’t really find any proper decision making process that governed the spending of that money, on that project, in recent years.

 

The Welsh Government has provided various assurances that lessons have been learnt around the effective management of Welsh public money and the Public Accounts Committee has itself in the past scrutinised several instances where public money has been lost. Now following the Circuit of Wales project where a total of more than £9 million of public money was spent by the Welsh Government before they ended their involvement, does the committee think that the Welsh Government is doing everything it can to make sure these lessons are being learnt and taken on board?

The fact that that scale of public money was spent before the Welsh Government took the decision to end their involvement was a concern. Had the project come to fruition and had there been a benefit at the end, you could have said that money was justified but clearly, as things stand, spending that money wasn’t justified.

We think the Welsh Government has learnt lessons from what’s happened and they’ve given us assurances that in future this sort of situation won’t happen again. We think there needs to be far tighter lines of communication – for instance we found that situations developed where officials couldn’t say whether or not Edwina Hart, the Economy Minister at the time, was aware of funding decisions that were being taken. Now that’s not that that she wasn’t aware but there was no paper trail to prove it. In any organisation you need to have a paper trail that follows the money and in the spending of public money, particularly on this scale, that’s very important.

 

The report itself contains 13 recommendations but what’s the most important area that you think needs to be focused on?

Whenever a project is given the go ahead, in the initial stages there’s a process of what’s called ‘due diligence’ – for example It’s currently happening or will happen over the summer with the M4 relief road. When a public inquiry comes to the Welsh Government, Welsh Government officials will provide a pretty bulky case of due diligence to look at whether or not the project warrants the amount of money being spent on it.

In the case of the Circuit of Wales there was a due diligence process but then when the project was finally declined by the Government they didn’t cite the due diligence, they cited a technical accounting issue. This issue basically said that if the Government provided the company with the scale of the guarantee that they were looking for it would mean that that amount would be on the Government’s balance sheet. This would in turn affect the spend of the Welsh Government on all sorts of other projects because it was such a huge amount. But the Welsh Government would have known that from the start. What we couldn’t understand as a Committee was, why was it that the Heads of the Valleys company was allowed to go on year after year jumping through ever greater hoops when, at the end of the day, the project could never have been viable because of this technical accounting issue.

We couldn’t understand how on the one hand you had due diligence and on the other hand you had an accounting issue – but neither were connected. We think in future the Welsh Government needs to make sure that when they are asking companies to make bids for projects, and for money for projects, that those companies aren’t wasting their time. If something is going to be knocked on the head you need to do it early on rather than waste everyone’s time.

 

Why is this kind of scrutiny important to the people of Wales?

It’s vitally important. I think a lot of people look at the Welsh Assembly and they think it’s like Westminster. People see Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May in Westminster and they think that’s what politics is. Well of course what happens in the Assembly Chamber is important and that gets issues into the media but behind the scenes there’s the day-to-day workings of Government which often doesn’t get any scrutiny.

It’s for cross party groups like the Public Accounts Committee to hold officials to account. Ministers take policy decisions and then Civil Servants come in and carry projects forward. If we don’t do the job of scrutiny then who else will?

The Audit Office and the Auditor General for Wales do a valuable job in highlighting issues initially but it’s the Public Accounts Committee that really looks into the detail of some of these issues and gets it out there into the media so that there is transparent scrutiny. We’re a cross party committee so it’s not a politicised atmosphere where the Government are saying ‘we want to spend this money on a project you don’t want us to do that’, policy is our area and we are here to make sure that public money is well spent.

 


Read the full report:
The Welsh Government’s initial funding of the Circuit of Wales project (PDF, 719 KB)



The Public Accounts Committee is charged with scrutinising the spend of all public money in Wales. The Committee can undertake either their own inquiries or they can follow directions from the Auditor General for Wales and the Audit Office. It’s a pretty big brief as they can look at all aspects of funding including health, education, local authorities and economic development as is the case for their latest report on the Welsh Government’s initial funding of the Circuit of Wales project.

You can download the full report on the Welsh Government’s initial funding of the Circuit of Wales project and out more about the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee at http://www.assembly.wales/SeneddPAC, you can also follow the Committee on Twitter at @SeneddPAC.

Wales needs a step-change in emotional and mental health support for Children and Young People.

An interview with Lynne Neagle, Chair of the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee.

The Committee is launching its report on the step-change needed in emotional and mental health support for children and young people in Wales. Why did the Committee choose to look at this issue at this time?

We know that mental health is a huge issue for young people, that 1 in 10 young people will have mental health problems and that most of those mental health problems start at a relatively young age in their teenage years.

It’s the biggest area of concern raised with the Children’s Commissioner, it’s also a big area of concern that’s raised with services like the ChildLine helpline and it was also an issue that featured very strongly when we asked stakeholders to share their priorities with us.

What were the Committee’s main aims for the inquiry?

They were twofold: We wanted to revisit the work of our predecessor committee which did a major piece of work on Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services back in 2014.

That led to the Welsh Government investing a significant amount of extra money in these specialist services, so we wanted to see whether progress had been made.

We also then wanted to look specifically at what work is being done around the need to build emotional resilience in our young people with a particular focus on early intervention and prevention – a lot of our inquiry has looked at whether that work is underway and how effective it has been.

What are the Committee’s main findings from this report?

It’s a big report with some 27 recommendations, but we’ve made one key recommendation that we think is the most important – that much more needs to be done in terms of early intervention and building our children and young people’s emotional resilience.

We believe that schools and education are absolutely key to that.

Due to the reform of the new curriculum we’ve got a once in a generation opportunity to actually embed learning about emotional resilience into our schools. But it’s not just about the curriculum – it’s also about making sure that everyone who comes into contact with young people understands the importance of emotional resilience and feels comfortable and able to talk to young people about it.

We think it’s crucial that health services work closely with schools to help support this step-change – teachers cannot be expected to shoulder this on their own,

Were any of the findings a surprise?

Personally, I expected the need for early intervention to be a key theme but what was notable was how strongly that came across, and from how many different stakeholders.

These varied from third sector organisations like the Samaritans to the police who, during the course of the inquiry, called for the curriculum to include mental health.

I think that has been the standout issue and unless we get that aspect right, a lot of the other pieces aren’t going to work.


Children and adolescent mental health services

Tackling emotional and mental health issues among children
and young people must now be a national priority.

Read more >


In 2014, a predecessor Committee was told that too many children and young people were being incorrectly referred to specialist mental health services and that they needed to be helped in other parts of the system. 4 years on has that situation changed?

There have been some improvements but I think it is still the case that too many young people are being referred inappropriately.

That is a symptom of the fact that we haven’t got early intervention services right.

If the earlier services aren’t there then people will still fight for a referral to specialist CAMHS (children and adolescent mental health services). So although there’s been progress I don’t think that progress has been strong enough.

Whilst the education system is key to making improvements in this area, we are also very concerned about primary mental health care – we came to the conclusion that the improvements in that area that we should have seen by now have simply not emerged.

We don’t think this is acceptable.

In terms of the Welsh Government, in 2015 they established the ‘Together for Children and Young People Programme’ to improve emotional and mental health services for children and young people in Wales. Is the Committee confident that the Welsh Government is doing everything it can in this area?

Obviously the programme is very welcome. It’s introduced a focus on specialist CAMHS and extra resources, which are very welcome.

But I don’t think the focus on early intervention and universal resilience has been sufficient at all. It was meant to be a clear workstream within the programme and I don’t think we’ve seen the progress that we should have seen in that area.

The other area where I would have liked to have seen more progress is primary mental health care services for children and young people.

We were told that it’s going to be a focus for the programme in the next few months – my question then would be, why hasn’t it been in there as a key feature for the last three years?

What is the Committee hoping to see following the publication of this report?

We’ve made one key recommendation and 27 other detailed recommendations. Given the evidence that underpins them, we expect the Government to give them very serious consideration and we’re obviously hoping that it will accept all of them.

As important as the early intervention work is, it is also vital that young people who need a specialist service get that specialist service in a timely way.

As such, our intention is to follow up on every one of those recommendations very vigorously.

We are going to be returning to this issue on an ongoing basis and continuing to scrutinise the Welsh Government‘s progress in this area because it’s something that we absolutely have to get right. The report says we’ve got to see a step change.

I don’t want to be sitting in committees five years from now hearing yet again that mental health services for children and young people aren’t good enough – we have got to get this right this time.

Get the report

Read the full report and find out more about the work of the Children, Young People and Education Committee via the National Assembly for Wales’ website. You can also follow the committee on Twitter @SeneddCYPE.


If you want to talk to someone about your emotional well-being and mental health, you can contact:
Meic Cymru on 080880 23456 or text on 84001 or through their online messaging service

Or C.A.L.L Helpline on 0800 132 737 or text ‘help’ to 81066

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