Category: Committees

A Committee visit to the Basque country in pictures

Members of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee with representatives of the Basque Parliament.

Purpose

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 language.

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.

The Vice-Secretary presented the Chair of the Committee with a copy of Linguae Vasconum Primitiae – The first fruits of the Basque language.  The first copy was published in 1545.

Basque Government

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.

The committee met with Maite Alonso, Vice-Minister of Education, Eugenio Jimenez, Director of Centers and Planning, Miren Dobaran, Vice-Minister of Linguistic Policy at the Basque Government.

Basque Parliament

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.

For more on this inquiry, please visit the Committee’s webpage.

Welsh Rates of Income Tax: A ‘siginificant milestone’ in Welsh devolution

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.

Devolved income tax structure

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.

 



Find out more about the work of the Finance Committee on the Committee’s homepage or @SeneddFinance on Twitter.

 

Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill

Guest blog by Llyr Gruffydd, Chair of Finance Committee, National Assembly for Wales . This article first appeared in the Western Mail.

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

Llyr Gruffydd AC/ AM
Llyr Gruffydd AC/ AM

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 other issues.

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 services.

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.

You can also follow the Committee on twitter @SeneddFinance

Perinatal mental health: one year on

Citizen Engagement Team, January 2019

What progress has been made?

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 identified included:

  • 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.”

Assembly Members also referenced the issues raised by those with first-hand experience during the debate in Plenary on 31 January 2018 which you can watch here:
Plenary debate on Perinatal Mental Health report

What happens now?

In its report, the Committee asked the Welsh Government to provide an update on progress by the end of October 2018. You can see the full update from Vaughan Gething, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Services here.

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.

 

 

Accounts Scrutiny – What’s it all about?

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:

Why consider these bodies?

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.

Get Involved

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?

Let us know: @seneddpac / @seneddarchwilio
Seneddpac@assembly.wales

Our Accounts Scrutiny starts on Monday 8 October 2018 when we look at the Accounts and Annual Report of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales and the Assembly Commission.

Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill

Update on the Bill by the Member in Charge – Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee

On 17 July 2018, the Assembly agreed the Financial Resolution for the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill.

This is a significant milestone for the Bill, as we can now progress to Stage 2 proceedings on the Bill – the disposal of amendments.

As many people who have followed this Bill will know, it represents a significant amount of work undertaken over a number of years by the Finance Committee of this Assembly and the previous Assembly.

The Ombudsman has a crucial role in representing the people of Wales when they have received poor service or been treated unfairly by public services.
Our main policy intent for the Bill, is to:

  • improve social justice and equal opportunities;
  • protect the most vulnerable in our society;
  • drive improvement in public services and complaints-handling.

If the Bill becomes law, it will extend the powers of the Ombudsman and make the role more responsive to the people of Wales.

It will do this by making it easier for people to complain.

The Bill removes the requirement for a complaint to be made in writing. By allowing the Ombudsman to accept oral complaints, it will allow the more vulnerable members of society to engage with the Ombudsman, creating a fairer and equitable Wales.

Concerned person making a phonecall

The Bill includes provision for the Ombudsman to conduct own initiative investigations – this power will enable widespread systematic maladministration or service failure to be addressed coherently. It will allow the Ombudsman to be more responsive allowing the Ombudsman to investigate matters reported anonymously and again strengthen the citizen’s voice.

The Bill aims to drive improvements in public services and in complaint-handling. It will also expand the Ombudsman’s powers to investigate private healthcare providers where patients have commissioned private treatment alongside that provided by the NHS.

The Assembly’s decision to agree the Financial Resolution means the Assembly has now been given authorisation, in principle, to spend money as a consequence of the Bill.

Whilst there are costs associated with the Bill, we believe there is potential for the Bill to realise cost savings to the wider public sector, with the majority of savings likely to come from provisions that drive improvement in public services, such as reduced compensation claims for the bodies in jurisdiction. Hence, wider efficiency gains.

Busy hospital ward

The Assembly is now able to consider detailed amendments to the Bill. As the Member in Charge (and on behalf of the Finance Committee) I will be tabling a number of amendments which I believe will strengthen the Bill.

These amendments have been developed through careful consideration of the recommendations made by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in its stage 1 report on the Bill. In addition, I’ve had a number of constructive meetings with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to discuss other areas of the Bill to ensure the Welsh Government is able to support the Bill.

Work is currently taking place to draft amendments which will be considered by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. Once again, I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the drafting and development of this Bill, which has taken another step closer to becoming law.

It is more important than ever that public services deliver for the people of Wales and that the Ombudsman is empowered to ensure that our services are citizen-centred.


For more information please visit the Bill’s webpage

Information of Legislative process

Follow the Committee on Twitter @SeneddFinance

 

Mum’s the word? Parenting and employment in the Land of my Fathers

Today, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee launches its report, ‘Work it out: Parenting and employment in Wales’. As part of the Committee’s inquiry into pregnancy, maternity and work in Wales, we sought the views and experiences of people from across Wales. Galvanised by the opportunity to influence change on such an emotive aspect of everyday life, the insights offered by the many women who shared their views and experiences were instrumental in helping the Committee form its recommendations to the Welsh Government.

Impassioned, sometimes distressing, often alarming, but always vitally important, the views shared were key in highlighting the varied experiences of mothers from across Wales.

This was not the time for keeping mum.

The current situation

According to research published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in 2016, 87 per cent of employers in Wales felt it was in the best interests of organisations to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave. However, it also found that 71 per cent of mothers reported negative or discriminatory experiences as a result of having children, 15 per cent reported a financial loss, and 10% even felt forced to leave their job.

The associated impact on the UK economy was highlighted in research published by the UK Government’s Women’s Business Council, which estimated that equalising the employment rates of women and men could grow the UK economy by more than 10 per cent by 2030.

As part of its work, the Committee was keen to gather the views, experiences and ideas on how the Welsh Government should tackle the issues within its control, such as employability support, economic development, the Welsh public sector equality duties, public sector workforces and childcare.

What we heard

“When I was pregnant with my first child, I was working as a cleaner and had to stop working at about 3 months pregnant due to high blood pressure. I wasn’t supported by my employer and they stopped paying me. My boss didn’t believe I was pregnant initially because I hadn’t had my first scan. The matter eventually ended up going to court, and even though I won, I was awarded a really low sum of money because my boss hadn’t been properly recording all the hours I’d worked.”

  • Mother, Carmarthenshire

Focus groups were held with mothers in Cardiff and an online forum was created using Senedd Dialogue – a tool which allows for open and frank discussion where participants can share their views and ideas, anonymously or otherwise. It also allows participants the opportunity to read, rate and comment on other people’s ideas and experiences.

The breadth of views shared – some of which were positive and highlighted areas of good practice by some employers – were reflective of the diversity of participants. Contributions were submitted by mothers from Blaenau Gwent to Carmarthenshire, and from Bridgend to Flintshire. They included young mothers, single mothers, mothers from low-income households – some of whom were employed, some were in part-time work or on zero hour contracts, and others were out of work. For those who were employed, views were shared by mothers working in the public, private and third sectors.

A number of key themes emerged, which informed subsequent evidence sessions as well as the recommendations made to the Welsh Government in the Committee’s report.

Along with gendered assumptions about childcare and widespread discrimination, inflexible workplace structures was a recurring theme cited by many women as a reason why mothers are more likely to be trapped in part-time, low-paid work with fewer opportunities for career progression.

“Part-time or flexible jobs are important for many parents so that they can juggle childcare and work. There is a severe lack of p-t jobs on offer, and the majority are low paid and low skilled. Many people with great skills and careers aren’t able to work because the jobs simply aren’t available.”

  • Mother, Cardiff

The views shared on flexible working informed Committee members’ briefings for formal evidence sessions, which followed the focus groups and conclusion of the online forum. This was best demonstrated during an evidence session at which Anna Whitehouse, otherwise known as Mother Pukka, founder of the eponymous lifestyle website for parents and staunch activist for flexible working, shared her experience and those of her many followers.

What did the Committee recommend?

The Committee made a number of varied and far-reaching recommendations that included reassessing the Welsh Government’s new Childcare Offer, encouraging culture change, ensuring that public bodies, businesses and charities in receipt of public funding take responsibility for eradicating  discrimination, and of course, promoting flexible working.

To read all the recommendations made by the Committee, you can access the full report here.

What next?

We will await a response from the Welsh Government to the recommendations made, before they are debated during a plenary session. You will be able to watch the session on Senedd TV.

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