Have you noticed that its getting increasingly harder to find
a bank, or cashpoint when you need one?
Wales lost 43% of its bank branches between January 2015 and August 2019.
A total of 239 in all.
What’s more, 10% of our free ATMs have disappeared in the last year.
Access to banking and free cash machines in Wales is not a
new concern, however the scale of closures continues to increase at an alarming
You told us in a recent survey how losing your local bank
branch or cashpoint is affecting you, your community and businesses in the
You can see some of the feedback from the survey in the infographic
Urgent action needed
The findings of an inquiry into access to banking in Wales have been published. Calling for urgent action from the Welsh Government to protect our valuable banking network and champion Welsh consumers at a UK level.
If you’d like to read the full report on access to banking in Wales, you can download it here.
In March the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee visited the Basque Country to explore the ways in which civil society and legislation in the Basque Country promotes and enhances language acquisition. These examples of best practice from other countries, similar in size to Wales, will be used to inform the inquiry into ‘Supporting the Welsh Language’.
The key topics the Committee were:
To explore the impact of the partial devolution of broadcasting in the Basque Country, benefits and drawbacks and funding issues.
To examine the effects of the numerous broadcast outlets offered in the Basque language.
To gain greater understanding of language policies and strategies adopted and implemented in the Basque Country, particularly around education, economy and public administration.
How the Basque Government has approached language planning in the region.
To examine the impact and effectiveness of education policies in the region, from early years through to vocational and university education.
Promotion and facilitation of the language in the community and with the private sector.
The balance between language promotion and legislation.
EiTB – Basque TV and Radio Broadcaster
Members visited EiTB (Euskal Irrati Telebista), which is the
publicly funded broadcaster for Basque and Spanish language TV and radio output
in the Basque Country. The visit provided Committee Members with an opportunity
to tour the main offices and broadcasting facilities.
The Committee met with Maite Iturbe, the General Director of EiTB, and Odile Kruzeta, Radio and Editorial Coordination Director. The General Director outlined the background to the organisation and current provision and output offered.
CEIP Educational Centre – Siete Campas Zorrozgoiti Elementary School
Following the visit to EiTB, Members visited a Basque
immersion school in an area of Bilbao called Zorrotza – an area with high
social deprivation, and also home to many of Bilbao’s immigrant population.
Members visited a pre-school classroom, where they were presented with a poster
with a Basque proverb, which had also been translated into Welsh. Members were
then taken to a primary classroom to see how the children learn in the Basque
Royal Basque Language Academy
Members visited the Royal
Basque Language Academy in Bilbao, and met with the Vice-Secretary, Erramun
Osa. The Royal Academy of the Basque Language is the official body responsible
for the Basque language, which includes carrying out research and
standardisation of the language.
On the final day of the visit, Members visited
Vitoria-Gasteiz, the Capital City of the Basque Autonomous Community and seat
of Government. Here, Members met with the Vice-Minister of Linguistic Policy,
Miren Dobaran and Eugenio Jimenez, Director of Centers and Planning.
Members heard that after Franco’s dictatorship ended, some
40 Basque immersion schools opened – the children who attended were
predominantly from those families who continued to speak the Basque language in
the home during the Franco period, even though the language was outlawed.
Members heard that during Franco’s dictatorship, clandestine
schools existed, known as Ikastola, which had helped keep the language alive
during this period.
The provision of Basque language education has been critical
to the survival of the language, and has proven to be the most successful
aspect of Basque language planning. It has been successful both in terms of
volume of activity and numbers of participants involved. It has also received
significant sums of Government funding over the last three decades.
There is a long-term socio-economic plan to increase usage
of Basque in the private sector, and also to develop digital media and
productions in the Basque language.
Before leaving the Basque Country, Members visited the
Basque Parliament. Here, they were greeted by the Basque President, Bakartxo
Tejeria, along with other Members of the Basque Parliament.
All Committee Members signed the book of honour to mark their visit to the Parliament and the President presented the Chair of the Committee with a wood carving of a tree (which is symbolic to the Basque people) to mark the Committee’s visit.
After the presentation, Members took their place in a
committee meeting room, where a joint session was held with Members of the
European Affairs and External Relations Commission.
During the meeting, Members heard that there had been great effort and investment to promote the language, but that the next step was to increase Basque language use and to mainstream the language across all government bodies, including the health service.
Guest post from Llyr Gruffydd AM, Chair of the Finance Committee – National Assembly for Wales
Almost twenty years after the National Assembly for Wales was founded, Welsh devolution will pass another significant milestone on 6 April.
Income Tax rates decided in Wales will apply to Wales, affecting around two billion pounds of tax collected here each year.
Your income tax rate will remain the same for 2019-20, a decision voted through by the Assembly for the first time in January.
From Saturday 6 April, each band of UK Income Tax will reduce by 10p, and Welsh Rates will be set, one for each band, at 10p.
This means no change overall, though Income Tax could be set higher or lower than that of England in future years by setting different Welsh Rates.
This welcome change brings more accountability to the Welsh Government by tying the amount of money available in their budget more closely to the performance of the Welsh Economy, and the decisions the Welsh Government make.
We don’t need to do anything individually, but if you live in Wales, whether or not your place of work is in Wales, you should have received a letter from HMRC with your new tax code, which now begins with a “C” for Cymru, and may want to check with HMRC that your details are correct if you haven’t.
This may seem a technical change, but I think it worth a moment on Saturday to stop and note the very first Income Tax rates set in Wales in modern times; yet another sign of our growing confidence as a nation.
Llyr Gruffydd is a regional Assembly Member for North Wales. He is currently the Chair of the National Assembly for Wales Finance Committee.
This afternoon, 20 March 2019, the National Assembly will vote to approve the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill. If the Bill is approved, it will go forward for Royal Assent and the provisions will become law in Wales.
The Ombudsman in Wales has a vital role in ensuring any
member of the public who believes they have suffered injustice, hardship or
service failure by a public body is able to make a complaint. The Ombudsman’s
service is free, impartial and independent of the Welsh Government.
The types of complaints the Ombudsman can receive include ambulances
taking too long to arrive; failing to find the right education for children
with additional needs; social housing not being repaired properly, amongst many
The Finance Committee introduced this Bill because we
believe the Ombudsman’s role should be strengthened to improve social justice and
protect the most vulnerable in society. This is particularly pertinent in a
society where the most vulnerable people are often most reliant on public
The Bill will achieve this by making it easier for people to
complain, removing the barrier that a complaint must be in writing. People
should not be discriminated against or put off from complaining. People will be
able to complain orally or through British Sign Language and maybe, in future
through other digital technologies. This will help vulnerable and deprived
members of society.
The Bill will also allow the Ombudsman to start his own
investigations without receiving a formal complaint where there is evidence to
suggest there could be a wider public interest issue. People are often
reluctant or scared to come forward so they can complain anonymously and if the
strict criteria is satisfied the Ombudsman can investigate.
Currently, a person has to make separate complaints to
different organisations for public and private health treatment. The Bill
allows the Ombudsman to consider both the private and public elements, if
without doing so, the Ombudsman is unable to completely investigate the
relevant action by the public service provider. This will be a fairer process
giving answers to whether a person received appropriate medical treatment
throughout the whole of their health care pathway.
The other main change is the Ombudsman can develop a model
complaints handling process for public service bodies. This aims to drive
improvements and help achieve consistency across the public sector.
This Bill represents a significant amount of hard work undertaken over a number
of years and a rigorous scrutiny process by Assembly committees.
I hope the Assembly approves the Bill today; we need a Wales
that provides excellent public services. Should a service fall short of an
individual’s expectations, they will have confidence in the Ombudsman to
investigate and make things right.
Jocelyn Davies, former Chair of the Finance Committee of the Fourth Assembly:
“I started work on extending the powers of the Ombudsman back in the Fourth Assembly. I hope the Bill is passed today as I’m looking forward to a future where we have excellent public services but when things do go wrong, the Ombudsman is able to investigate, bring redress for individuals and make improvements to public services that we can all benefit from.”
If you’d like further information about the Finance Committee, or would like to keep up to date with their work, you can visit the Committee’s webpage.
This week, the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee will hear from the Welsh
Government’s Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething AM, about what work has been done in response to its inquiry last year into perinatal mental health services.
Perinatal mental health refers to the period from the start
of pregnancy to the end of the first year after a baby is born. Perinatal
mental health is about the emotional well-being of pregnant women and their
children, their partners and families.
The Committee launched its report on the findings of the inquiry during Autumn last year, and promised to follow up on the progress the Welsh Government was making with the proposed changes, one year on.
As part of the Committee’s inquiry, the views of those with first-hand experience of the services offered for perinatal mental health in Wales were sought. Their honest, sometimes difficult, stories contributed to shaping the Committee’s recommendations to the Welsh Government.
What we heard
“We all live in different areas and the ways we had to try and get help were all different..”
In order for the Committee to hear a range of experiences of perinatal mental health issues, 30 people from across Wales participated in an event in Cardiff Bay. Those attending were a mixture of mothers, family members and staff working with those affected. They talked about their experiences – what they felt had worked, what they felt could be improved, and what changes they would like to see made to the support available.
“Consistency of care – a midwife with mental health training. A friendly face.”
The main issues
The lack of a Mother and Baby Unit in Wales
Importance of training for healthcare professionals
Inconsistencies in community perinatal mental health service provision
The need to ensure continuity of care
The need to de-stigmatise and normalise the mother’s experience of perinatal mental health conditions
A short video summarising the issues raised during the event can be seen here:
“The video is beautiful and emotional. Thank you. I’m glad I was able to share my experiences to make a difference.”
The timing of the event, taking place early in the inquiry’s process, meant that Committee members could use the experiences and opinions of attendees to shape the inquiry, and to direct the questions towards issues raised by those with first-hand experience.
“Feeling that you were really listened to by the Assembly Members. It made you feel that what you have been through is important to others, but ultimately it makes you feel that something will change for the good. Exciting to know other people are passionate about the same things.”
The issues raised during the event were used during formal meetings with relevant representative bodies and the Welsh Government, and the experiences of a number of the attendees contributed to the Committee’s report: Perinatal mental health in Wales (PDF, 4.7 MB)
What did the Committee recommend?
The Committee made a number of recommendations including more investment in specialist community services, the establishment of Mother and Baby Unit provision closer to home for people across Wales, and ensuring timely access to psychological support for pregnant and postnatal women and their partners.
This blog, published by the Assembly’s Research Service, summarises the Committee’s 27 recommendations, 23 of which were accepted, or accepted in principle, by the Welsh Government: Perinatal Mental Health
“This output makes the anxiety of talking out about my experiences worth it. Even if not all recommendations were accepted, this is still more than we had last year or when I was ill.”
Those who had been part of the original inquiry were asked to comment on the update to inform the Committee’s meeting with the Minister for Health and Social Services this week (10 January 2019), where he will answer questions on the progress the Government has made.
You can watch this session live on Senedd TV, or catch up later.
Your opinions shape our work
We are your Assembly and we represent you.
If you would like to know more about getting involved in the work of the Assembly, visit our website.
The Public Accounts Committee will spend a significant part of the Autumn term undertaking accounts scrutiny for the Welsh Government, National Assembly for Wales Commission, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, and the National Museums Wales.
What is Account Scrutiny?
The annual scrutiny of accounts by the Public Accounts Committee involves the consideration of the accounts and annual reports of different public funded bodies, to consider see whether there are any unusual or unclear items of expenditure of public money. In addition to looking at how these organisations spend money, the Committee also considers how they are run and whether their governance arrangements are appropriate and accountable.
Why do it?
Although this approach can appear a little dull, this is an important piece of work because it ensures that there is scrutiny of how public money is being spent. It also provides an opportunity to hold to account those tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the expenditure of public money.
Accounts and Annual reports not only provide an important snapshot of the financial health of these publicly funded organisations they also tell a story about how the organisation is being run and whether there are robust governance structures and working practices in place or not.
By undertaking this scrutiny annually, the Committee has been able to build a deterrence factor into its work, with organisations responsible for spending our money knowing they could be called before the Committee to face public scrutiny.
Does it work?
The Committee has been doing this work for a number of years now, and generally we have seen an improvement in the information available, and in ensuring that it is more accessible. In particular, many organisations have risen to the challenge of presenting this often complex information in a more understandable format.
In addition to the more general improvements, the Committee has also brought to light a number of areas of concern which have been subject to greater scrutiny and ultimately an improvement in practices – and have generated media coverage such as:
At the beginning of the fifth Assembly, the Committee agreed to consider the accounts and annual report of the Welsh Government and the Assembly Commission annually. It took this decision because the Welsh Government has an annual budget of over £15 billion, which is a significant sum of public money. While the Assembly Commission is the corporate body which provides support for the National Assembly for Wales, and its Members, (so ultimately the Committee) – and so the Committee felt it was important to not sit above scrutiny.
For 2017-18, the Committee will be considering the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Annual Report and Accounts and National Museum Wales. The Committee has previously considered the Accounts and Annual Report of these two organisations. Hopefully, the recommendations by the previous Public Accounts Committee will have helped these organisations to make improvements and there will now be a positive story to tell.
Do you have any questions you would like asked about how these organisations have been run over the last year?
Do you have any concerns about how funds have been allocated?
What question would you ask those responsible for spending public money?
Update on the Bill by the Member in Charge – Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee
On 17 July 2018, the Assembly agreed the Financial Resolution for the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill.
This is a significant milestone for the Bill, as we can now progress to Stage 2 proceedings on the Bill – the disposal of amendments.
As many people who have followed this Bill will know, it represents a significant amount of work undertaken over a number of years by the Finance Committee of this Assembly and the previous Assembly.
The Ombudsman has a crucial role in representing the people of Wales when they have received poor service or been treated unfairly by public services.
Our main policy intent for the Bill, is to:
improve social justice and equal opportunities;
protect the most vulnerable in our society;
drive improvement in public services and complaints-handling.
If the Bill becomes law, it will extend the powers of the Ombudsman and make the role more responsive to the people of Wales.
It will do this by making it easier for people to complain.
The Bill removes the requirement for a complaint to be made in writing. By allowing the Ombudsman to accept oral complaints, it will allow the more vulnerable members of society to engage with the Ombudsman, creating a fairer and equitable Wales.
The Bill includes provision for the Ombudsman to conduct own initiative investigations – this power will enable widespread systematic maladministration or service failure to be addressed coherently. It will allow the Ombudsman to be more responsive allowing the Ombudsman to investigate matters reported anonymously and again strengthen the citizen’s voice.
The Bill aims to drive improvements in public services and in complaint-handling. It will also expand the Ombudsman’s powers to investigate private healthcare providers where patients have commissioned private treatment alongside that provided by the NHS.
The Assembly’s decision to agree the Financial Resolution means the Assembly has now been given authorisation, in principle, to spend money as a consequence of the Bill.
Whilst there are costs associated with the Bill, we believe there is potential for the Bill to realise cost savings to the wider public sector, with the majority of savings likely to come from provisions that drive improvement in public services, such as reduced compensation claims for the bodies in jurisdiction. Hence, wider efficiency gains.
The Assembly is now able to consider detailed amendments to the Bill. As the Member in Charge (and on behalf of the Finance Committee) I will be tabling a number of amendments which I believe will strengthen the Bill.
These amendments have been developed through careful consideration of the recommendations made by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in its stage 1 report on the Bill. In addition, I’ve had a number of constructive meetings with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to discuss other areas of the Bill to ensure the Welsh Government is able to support the Bill.
Work is currently taking place to draft amendments which will be considered by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. Once again, I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the drafting and development of this Bill, which has taken another step closer to becoming law.
It is more important than ever that public services deliver for the people of Wales and that the Ombudsman is empowered to ensure that our services are citizen-centred.