Category: Committees

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

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.

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

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.

Sharing The Challenges and Opportunities of Working in a Smaller Legislature with the Parliament of Bermuda

On 29th January 2018, a delegation of Members of the Parliament of Bermuda’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and their Clerk, visited the National Assembly for Wales.  This visit was organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) as part of their three year programme aimed at Strengthening Financial Scrutiny across the UK’s Overseas Territories.  CPA UK has formed a consortium with the UK National Audit Office (NAO) and the Government Internal Audit Agency (GIAA) to deliver a three year project of activities to bring together parliamentarians and audit officials from the territories and UK to discuss frameworks for good practice and priorities in public financial management.

Learning from one of the world’s oldest parliaments

The delegation were keen to visit the National Assembly to discuss the shared challenges and opportunities of working in a smaller legislature.  The Parliament of Bermuda, is one of the oldest in the world, established in 1620, and is made up of 36 Members.

We discussed the role of those tasked with supporting PACs in their work.  We were pleased to welcome the Assistant Auditor General, Anthony Barrett, to talk about the relationship between the Wales Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.

The delegation were also interested in how the Committee’s work programme is determined, planned and prioritised and how Committee inquiries are undertaken.  On both sides it was interesting, as well as reassuring, to hear about the shared challenges of holding the Government to account with limited numbers of elected Members to do so.

Discussions also focused on what makes for an effective Public Accounts Committee and the need for Committee consensus, independence and to produce constructive outcomes.

National Assembly for Wales Public Accounts Committee Chair, Nick Ramsay AM, commented:

“We were delighted to welcome the delegation from Bermuda as we recognise the value of exploring international good practice in the parliamentary oversight of public finance.  It has been most insightful to explore the differences and similarities between the approaches of Bermuda and Wales and discussing approaches to maintaining the Public Accounts Committee’s effectiveness while working within a small legislature”.

The visit was very informative for all those attending and contributed to the deepening of the understanding of international good practice in the oversight of public finance.  The visit also contributed to building capacity and confidence of the Bermudan PAC to work more effectively, and it was a privilege for the National Assembly to be part of that.

We hope to have established a long term relationship with the Bermudan PAC and that we will continue to share support and good practice for many years to follow.

 

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

 

Enterprise, Innovation and Skills Committee: One year in – Stakeholder event

A year after its first stakeholder event in July 2016, the Economy Infrastructure and Skills (EIS) Committee invited a wide range of stakeholders back to reflect on the highlights of the year and to consider the Committee’s emerging priorities for next year.

IMG_2254

What happened?

On 19 July 2017, Members of the committee and stakeholders discussed how the committee has delivered its work programme and what we can do to drive things forward, in particular:

  • What were the highlights of the Committee’s first year? And what could the Committee have done better?
  • What the key trends or events over the next 12-18 months?
  • Is the timing right and is anything missing in the Committee’s initial thinking about future work?

Key themes emerging from much of the discussions were the impact of Brexit and the importance of the Welsh Government’s forthcoming economic strategy.

Thanks for the participants

Russell George AM, chair of the EIS Committee, thanked contributors for sharing their expertise. He said:

“A year after we first invited a range of stakeholders to inform us about what we should do as a committee, we wanted to hear what they thought of what we have done. And to see what they thought of some of our emerging ideas for the coming year.

”After today’s discussions, I believe that we are on the right track to develop a work programme which incorporates the views of stakeholders from across the three main strands of our remit – the economy, infrastructure and skills.”

IMG_2255

What happens next?

The clerking team will use the ideas and comments from stakeholders to inform a paper for the Committee to consider in September setting out priorities and inquiries for the coming year.