Category: Committees

The Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister set to meet in Bangor

The Assembly Committee responsible for scrutinising the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, will meet to examine the Welsh Government’s approach to economic development.

First Minister Carwyn Jones AM will be appearing before the Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister from 10.00 until 12.00 on Friday, 14 July in the Management Centre at Bangor University.

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For this meeting the Committee will be focusing on the Welsh Government’s approach to developing the economy in Wales.

The Committee will also discuss other topical issues with the First Minister and would welcome suggestions of issues of major importance in North Wales to raise. If you would like something to be discussed, you can suggest a topic in advance.

The economy in Wales – an overview

Ahead of the development of a new Economic Strategy for Wales later in the year, the Committee will be raising issues of key importance with the First Minister. The strategy is being developed at a point when the Welsh economy faces a number of challenges, some of which are shared with the rest of the UK and some of which are unique to Wales:

  • Wales has the lowest Gross Value Added (GVA – a measure of economic output) per person.  Wales has a lower Gross Value Added (GVA) per person when compared with the other devolved nations and regions of England.
  • Many communities still struggle with the effects of deindustrialisation, and poverty and inequality are persistent challenges.
  • The short and longer-term impacts of Brexit on the economy remain highly uncertain.

Welsh economy: in numbers

The Welsh Government has developed and published a range of high-level indicators to monitor the overall performance of the Welsh economy. The rationale behind this is to reflect the outcomes most important to the people of Wales, and to give a more comprehensive picture than a single indicator can provide.

8 Key Economic indicators

The Welsh Government has made ‘prosperity for all’ a key priority in its Programme for Government 2016-2021. Two sections of this programme contain priorities which are critical to the success of the Welsh economy:

  • Prosperous and secure – including commitments relating to business and enterprise, inward investment, employment, and the rural economy.
  • United and connected – which includes measures to establish a National Infrastructure Commission, improve roads and public transport, improve digital connectivity, and promote a ‘fair’ society.

Continue reading “The Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister set to meet in Bangor”

What’s in your medicine cabinet? The Public Accounts Committee inquiry into Medicines Management

Do you have concerns about the number of items on your repeat prescription?

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Have you experienced difficulties in getting the right medicine from a pharmacist? Have you had any problems while in hospital with incomplete drug charts meaning you got the wrong medicine?

These are some of the issues the Public Accounts Committee have been considering as part of their inquiry into Medicines Management.

With over £800 million spent on medicines and over 79.5 million medicines dispensed in Wales per year, NHS Wales uses medicine on a substantial scale. In the last 10 years there has been a 46% increase in the number of items dispensed, and in the face of this growing demand, Welsh Government is urging prudent prescribing, to optimise people’s medicines so that patients receive the best possible outcomes and so that the NHS gets value for money from medicines.

The Auditor General for Wales published a report on medicines management within primary and secondary care settings, on 15 December 2016. This looked at whether NHS Wales is managing medicines effectively, in primary care, in secondary care and at the interface between primary and secondary care. The report considered health bodies’ corporate arrangements for medicines management, such as strategic and workforce planning, the profile of medicines issues at Boards and committees, and arrangements for monitoring health bodies’ performance in relation to medicines.

The Auditor General concluded that:

  • There was scope to make prescribing safer and more cost effective within primary care;
  • There are medicine related safety risks and inefficiencies when people move in and out of hospital;
  • There are problems in hospitals with medicine storage, gaps in medicine information and frustration at delays in implementing electronic prescribing.

The Committee explored a number of these issues with the Welsh Government at our meeting in March 2017.

The Committee were concerned to find that it had taken so long to introduce electronic prescribing (this was first discussed in 2007, but is not likely to come in until 2023).

Another area the Committee felt could be improved was around developing a central system for very expensive medicines which are not run of the mill rather than each health board holding a store of the medicine.

Of particular concern to the Committee, was repeat prescriptions and whether all the medicines were being used or whether patients end up with stockpiles due to the difficulties of altering the prescription.  This is an issue as money is wasted every day through patients receiving medicines they do not really need and which may not be required. The Government explained to the Committee that this was a ‘tripartite thing’ with the patient, pharmacy and prescriber all having responsibility.

The Committee would be keen to hear your experiences around this, or any other part of medicine management –we would welcome hearing your experiences via twitter @SeneddPAC or by e-mail seneddpac@assembly.wales

Next steps:

The Committee will be taking evidence from Health Boards and Pharmacists to explore how well best practice is being shared and their response to some of the Committee’s concerns.

The full meeting held in March can be watched on Senedd TV and the transcript for the meeting along with all the written evidence received by the Committee to date can be access on the Public Accounts Committee page.  The June meeting will be available on Senedd TV.

The Right to Buy in Wales is changing

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I’m John Griffiths AM (@JGriffithsLab), the Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee.

John Griffiths AM

About the Abolition of the Right to Buy Bill

On 13 March, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, Carl Sargeant AM, introduced the Abolition of the Right to Buy and Associated Rights (Wales) Bill into the Assembly. The Government’s aim for the proposed law is to protect the supply of social housing in Wales by ending all variations of the Right to Buy and the Right to Acquire.

What do the proposed changes mean?

The Right to Buy to buy for tenants of local authorities and registered landlords would be abolished after a period of at least one year after the introduction of the law. By introducing the proposed law, the Welsh Government’s stated aim is to protect the Welsh stock of social housing from reducing further, ensuring it is available to provide safe, secure and affordable housing for people who are unable to access the housing market to buy or rent a home.

Some local authorities, including Flintshire, Carmarthenshire and Anglesey have already suspended the Right to Buy scheme. The proposed law would end the Right to Buy scheme in all local authorities across Wales.

How could the changes affect me?

In making sure that existing tenants are aware of the changes, the proposed law requires the Welsh Government to publish information on its effects before abolition takes place, and social landlords must also in turn provide that information to every affected tenant within two months of the proposed law coming into force. After a waiting period of at least one year after coming into force, all rights will be abolished. This means every affected tenant can still exercise their Right to Buy within that period, but not after.

The Right to Buy across the UK

The Right to Buy and Associated Rights have already been brought to an end by the Scottish Government in Scotland, but a different approach is being taken in England by the UK Government. The UK Government has introduced its own plans to extend the Right to Buy Policy to more homes.

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The work of the Committee

The National Assembly for Wales’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee is a group of eight Assembly Members from across Wales who reflect the political makeup of the Assembly. Our job is to scrutinise decisions of the Welsh Government on matters within our remit to ensure they are in the best interests of Wales and its communities.

As the subject matter of the proposed law falls within the remit of the Committee, we have been asked to look at its ‘general principles’ or main aims. This is called ‘Stage 1’, and we use this part of the process to hear evidence and prepare a report making recommendations to the Welsh Government for changes to the proposed law if necessary. We have until 7 July to do this.

Getting involved

In May, the Committee intends to hold public engagement sessions across Wales to hear tenants’ views about the proposed law and the implications for them. These views will help inform the Committee’s inquiry alongside the written and oral evidence received.

If you are interested in taking part in these sessions, or would like us to visit, please e-mail celyn.cooper@assembly.wales.

A DialogueApp page has also been set up so that you can have your say on the Bill and share some of your ideas on how the Bill could be improved.

Updates

For all the latest information and developments, you can:

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Ministerial Appointments: Pre appointment hearings

Simon Thomas AC/AMSimon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee, made a statement in Plenary on 5th April 2017 on the Committee’s behalf, outlining its experience of their pre appointment hearing for the Chair of the Welsh Revenue Authority.

The Welsh Revenue Authority (WRA) will be established to collect and manage devolved Welsh taxes and will become operational from April 2018. The WRA is non-ministerial department of the Welsh Government. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government believed a pre appointment hearing would be beneficial given the unique status and governance arrangements for the Chair of the WRA.

The Committee felt encouraged by the Cabinet Secretary’s commitment to transparency and accountability in recruiting public appointments, and welcomed the opportunity to help improve this procedure future pre appointment hearings. The Committee recognised the Cabinet Secretary’s commitment to pre-appointment hearings, indeed, the Cabinet Secretary published an article in 2012 where he acknowledged the importance of pre appointment hearings. The Chair recognises that the Cabinet Secretary has taken the first steps to bring the Assembly in line with other parliamentary bodies who already have an established process in relation to pre appointment hearings.

In the Committee Statement the Chair detailed the constructive results the hearing produced; including giving the candidate exposure to parliamentary scrutiny in a public setting, something which an appointee to a post of this level needs to be prepared for.
In the statement, the Chair voiced that, as with any new procedure there is room for improvement. He outlined the Finance Committee’s suggestions for future pre-appointment hearings to include;

  • A statement by the Cabinet Secretary outlining why the Minister/Cabinet Secretary believes the candidate is suitable for the post.
  • Additional reporting time to be factored into the timescales.
  • Establishing a set list of public appointments that require a pre-appointment hearing.
  • The Chair’s vision for pre appointment hearings in the future is for them to strengthen transparency and accountability of ministerial appointments, which will increase public confidence in decisions made by both the Welsh Government and the Assembly.

You can find out more about the Assembly’s Finance Committee by visiting assembly.wales/seneddfinance. You can also follow the committee on Twitter @SeneddFinance.
Continue reading “Ministerial Appointments: Pre appointment hearings”

What can Wales do to address loneliness and isolation?

Figures from Age Cymru show that 75,000 older people in Wales feel lonely or isolated. Almost half of those surveyed said the television or a pet was their main companion.

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The National Assembly’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee has begun an inquiry looking how this issue affects older people in Wales. It will look at what support is available for older people and what more can be done to tackle the issue. The Committee will also look at the extent to which initiatives to combat loneliness and isolation experienced by other groups may also help older people.

There is evidence to suggest that loneliness and isolation can have a significant impact on physical and mental health and may be a cause of depression, sleep issues, stress, and even heart problems.

It’s therefore possible that preventing loneliness and isolation could  reduce the demand and pressure on health and social care services.

Loneliness and isolation are not the same thing – each can be experienced without the other. A person may feel lonely in a crowded room, isolated in a rural community or even vice versa.

The problem of loneliness and isolation has already been recognised by the Minister for Social Services and Public Health as an important public health issue, while the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales has made tackling the problem a priority.

The Welsh Government already has a set of indicators to check its progress towards the achieving its ‘well-being goals’ one of which is to monitor the ‘percentage of people who are lonely’.

The Committee will be looking at this complex subject and the  wide range of services which can have an impact on it such as health, social care and community services, transport and even internet access.

Chair of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, Dai Lloyd AM:

“Isolation and loneliness can affect anyone,  employed or retired, living in a town, city or the countryside.

We already know the issues affect a high number of older people. Tackling the problem could  both help individuals feel better and could also  mean less demand on our health and social care services.

If you or someone you know is, or has been, affected by issues of loneliness or isolation, or you are involved in work to support them, then we would like to hear about your experiences and what ideas you think could help.”

If you would like to contribute to the inquiry you can find more information, including how, on the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee pages on the National Assembly’s website.

The Committee will be holding a Facebook Live session on 25/01 at 17.00 to talk more about the inquiry and invite people to take part.

You can also keep up to date with what the Committee are doing via their Twitter account – @SeneddHealth.

Culture, Welsh Language and Communications – Public decides on future committee inquiry

Over the last couple of months, the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee at the National Assembly for Wales has asked the people of Wales to decide what issues they should be investigating.

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Although Assembly committees regularly involve the public in its work, and have done so using a variety of techniques (including events, focus groups, web-chats, surveys, video interviews, workshops, and crowdsourcing apps), this is the first time an Assembly committee has asked the people of Wales to decide a future committee inquiry.

How they sourced ideas

The chair of the Committee, Bethan Jenkins AM sat down with James Williams from BBC Wales to talk about the newly formed committee on Facebook live, the first time the National Assembly had ever done so. Bethan encouraged people to get in touch, and make suggestions for priority areas.

The Committee invited people to suggest ideas on Facebook, Twitter and by e-mail, and also held an event at the National Eisteddfod to continue the conversation.

What people said

A number of suggestions were received from a mix of organisations, groups and individuals, which were then grouped and presented to the Committee.  The members then cross referenced this public list with the priority areas they had identified in a planning session they had held.

There was a lot of common ground between the Committee members’ priority areas and the public list, including:

  • how the ambition of achieving a million Welsh speakers can be achieved
  • concern at the continuing decline of local media and local news journalism
  • lack of portrayal of Wales on UK broadcast networks
  • the role of Radio in Wales
  • the remit, funding and accountability of S4C

Continue reading “Culture, Welsh Language and Communications – Public decides on future committee inquiry”

Stakeholder event on the establishment of a National Infrastructure Commission for Wales

On 17 November 2016, the Economy Infrastructure and Skills (EIS) Committee invited a wide range of stakeholders to consider some of the key issues around the establishment of a National Infrastructure Commission for Wales (NICW).

The NICW – which will be established next year – is currently subject to a consultation by the Welsh Government to confirm its remit and governance arrangements. The EIS Committee’s work on the NICW is intended to inform and contribute to the consultation.

This piece of work was recommended to the committee by a number of bodies during the Committee’s summer consultation on its future work programme.

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What happened?

Members of the Committee and stakeholders – from the business, environmental and social sectors – discussed three key areas on which the committee is focusing:

  • How should the NICW be established?
    What should be the structure, status, remit and governance arrangements for a National Infrastructure Commission?
  • How should the NICW operate in practice?
    How should it work with the Welsh Government, and what is the nature of the relationship with the UK National Infrastructure Commission?
  • How should the NICW address sustainable development and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act?
    Should the Commission adopt sustainable development as its central organising principle, in line with Welsh Government priorities? How should the Well-being of Future Generations Act affect the work of the Welsh Commission?

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Thanks for the participants

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

“When we consulted with stakeholders over the summer, the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales was a big theme – which is why we as a committee have chosen to make it our first substantial piece of work.

“We are keen to look at international examples of best practice, but also to hear what particular needs we have here in Wales, and how best the Commission might meet them. The Commission will have a big influence on how Wales develops – so we have timed the Committee’s work to feed in to the Welsh Government’s consultation.”

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What happens next?

The Committee took evidence from the construction and engineering sector on 17 November, and heard from the UK Infrastructure Commission, representatives of the city regions, and Minister Ken Skates early in December. It has also written to other infrastructure bodies around the World to gather examples of good practice.

The Committee intends to contribute to the Welsh Government’s consultation (which closes on 9 January) and will publish a report early in the New Year.

Financing the Future – Changes to the way money is raised and spent in Wales

Simon Thomas AC/AMHow can we ensure the Welsh public sector is equipped with the right financial skills? Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Assembly’s Finance Committee, recently spoke at the Wales Audit Office ‘Finance for the Future’ event.

In the ever changing landscape of finance in Wales, it has never been more important to have home grown, talented professionals working collaboratively to effectively scrutinise spending in Wales.

On 1 November I was invited to speak at Finance for the Future 2016, by the Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas. This conference saw the launch of an innovative new scheme to increase skills of the public sector in the field of finance with the aim of providing sustainable public services for the future.

More photos from Finance for the Future 2016 are available on Facebook

I spoke at the conference in my role as Chair of the Finance Committee at the National Assembly for Wales. The Finance Committee is a cross party Committee which is primarily responsible for reporting on spending by the Welsh Government Ministers. We are also responsible for the oversight of the Wales Audit Office and the Auditor General, it was the previous Finance Committee that approved the funding for widening the Financial Trainee Scheme launched at the conference on 1 November 2016.

My speech in full is available to read here:

When talking to the trainees I was keen to stress the changes to fiscal devolution as we enter an important period in Welsh devolution, with the introduction of the first taxes to Wales in 800 years, the role of the Finance Committee in ensuring effective scrutiny and instilling public confidence is even more important. I explained how, as a Committee, we are currently scrutinising the ‘Land Transaction Tax and Anti Avoidance of Devolved Taxes Bill’ which will replace Stamp Duty Land Tax and we are expecting the ‘Landfill Disposal Tax Bill’ shortly.

These two taxes combined with the devolution of a portion of income tax will enable the Welsh Government to raise approximately £3 billion, making a more direct relationship between money raised and spent in Wales.  This change in fiscal power is driving my desire to see us nurture home grown talent to an even greater extent.

During my speech I talked about new obligations surrounding the ‘Well-being of Future Generations Act’. The last Assembly saw the introduction of the Act which aims to make public bodies listed in the Act, such as Health Boards and Local Authorities, think more about:

  • planning for the long-term,
  • working better with people and communities,
  • looking to prevent problems

As the Auditor General has such a key role in the implementation of this Act, I felt it was important to explain the process to the trainees. The Auditor General is required to report on how public bodies have applied the sustainable development principle in the way they set their objectives and the steps they take to meet those objectives. He is required to deliver this report to the National Assembly for Wales at least once in every five year electoral cycle.

With the progression of devolution in Wales, the introduction of the ‘Well-Being of Future Generations Act’ and the ‘Environment Act (Wales) 2016’ the importance of effective scrutiny by talented, home grown professionals can not be underestimated. That is why I am grateful to the Auditor General for not only for inviting me to speak at the conference of financial trainees, but for ensuring the development and progression of this scheme.

You can find out more about the the Assembly’s Finance Committee by visiting assembly.wales/seneddfinance. You can also follow the committee on Twitter – @SeneddFinance.

The Wales Audit Office supports the Welsh Auditor General as the public sector watchdog for Wales. Their aim is to ensure that the people of Wales know whether public money is being managed wisely and that public bodies in Wales understand how to improve outcomes. Find out more about their work at www.wao.gov.uk

Brexit in Wales – Article 50 and the High Court: What does it mean?

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On 3 November 2016, the High Court of England and Wales decided that the UK Government and the Prime Minister does not have the power to use the prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to start the UK’s exit from the European Union without the consent of Parliament.

What are the prerogative powers?

The UK’s institutions are defined and function on the principle of the “separation of powers”: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.

  • The executive is made up of the Crown and the Government (which includes the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers). Their job is to propose laws and make policies;
  • The legislature is made up of Parliament and all Members who are not a part of the UK Government. Their job is to make sure that the UK Government’s decisions are in the best interest of the UK and its people; and
  • The judiciary is made up of all the judges in the courts of law, including tribunals and magistrates courts. Senior judges are appointed by the Crown (or the Queen).

This principle of the “separation of powers” means that our Government, Parliament and Judges should be functionally independent.

The principle suggests that it’s important for all the powers to be separate to protect against one of these institutions having more control than the others – it’s about keeping them all in check and balanced.

Following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, the UK Government decided that it would trigger the process by using its own prerogative power, which means they wouldn’t need to consult Parliament in the decision-making process. Some argued that the referendum result was enough.

Why was the High Court involved?

Some people felt that by not consulting Parliament and allowing Members of Parliament a opportunity to vote, the UK Government was acting outside of its powers and not allowing Parliament to scrutinise its approach to leaving the EU.

The High Court was asked whether, as a matter of UK constitutional law, the Government is permitted to trigger Article 50 in this way without reference to Parliament.

The High Court ruled that it would be unlawful for the UK Government to trigger article 50 without an Act of Parliament. You can read the full judgment here.

The UK Government have said that they will appeal the High Court decision to the Supreme Court next month.

What are the views of the Welsh Government?

Following the High Court decision, the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones AM restated the Welsh Government’s position:

“The position of the Welsh Government has been consistent throughout – we accept the decision made by the people and will not work against the referendum result,”

“We are working hard to get the best possible exit terms for Wales. However, it is important that votes take place in all four nations to endorse the UK negotiating position.”

The National Assembly for Wales

The National Assembly for Wales’s External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee have been looking at the implications for Wales once the UK leaves the EU. From trade models and international law, the implications for agriculture to research and investment, the Committee have been seeking the views of experts to help them understand the issues Wales could face.

The Committee now want to hear your views on what should be the top priority for Wales before the formal process of exiting the EU. You can submit your views here or keep up to date by following them on Twitter @SeneddEAAL.

Brexit in Wales – Agriculture and Fisheries

Last week, the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee focused their attention on Agriculture and Fisheries and the implications for Wales following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

You can watch the full session on Senedd.TV.

As part of the session, Members and invited experts discussed their views on the priority areas for agriculture and fisheries in the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and the challenges post-withdrawal.

You can follow the discussions on Twitter and Facebook using #BrexitinWales.  To keep up to date on the work of the Committee follow @SeneddEAAL.

Key Issues for Agriculture in Wales

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Policies affecting Welsh farming and its food supply chain are determined largely by the EU through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), food safety and animal welfare legislation and also indirectly by the World Trade Organisation rules.

The CAP is the EU’s mechanism for providing direct support to farmers, for protecting the countryside and for supporting the development of rural areas. The CAP runs for a seven-year period. Under the 2014 – 2020 round Wales receives around €322 million of funding each year in direct payments to farmers in addition to €355m million for its 2014 – 2020 rural development programme.

The Welsh Government is directly responsible for implementing the CAP in Wales (and is required to comply with the various EU Regulations which set the legal framework for the policy). For farmers eligible for the CAP this means the Welsh Government manages the direct payments they receive.

How would the UK withdraw from the CAP? Would it be phased in over time or stop immediately after the UK leaves?

The Welsh agricultural sector is heavily dependent on the current subsidies it receives under the CAP to make a profit. This is particularly the case in upland livestock farms. The Chancellor’s announcement that the UK Government will honour current levels of direct payments to farmers until 2020 has been welcomed by the farming unions.

However, some have called for clarity on how any fund distributed after withdrawal will be allocated to the Welsh Government and subsequently by the Welsh Government to Welsh farmers. Clarity on the levels and types of any funding available after 2020 has also been sought.

Continue reading “Brexit in Wales – Agriculture and Fisheries”