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?
Introduce yourself briefly explain the remit of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.
My name is Bethan Sayed, and I chair the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications committee in the National Assembly for Wales.
We scrutinise government ministers in relation to their portfolio. For example, we’ve recently done an investigation into radio in Wales. We’ve looked at the Welsh language and we’ve also looked at the historical environment as well as non-public funding of the Arts.
It’s been good to be able to have a remit that includes communications so that we can look at the broadcasting landscape of Wales and scrutinise that effectively also.
The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications committee has just launched its report on its inquiry into funding for and access to music education in Wales. The topic of this inquiry was chosen through quite an innovative and slightly unusual way. Could you explain the background and what led the Committee to look at this particular issue?
After being on committees for quite some time that, of course Assembly Members have their own ideas and bring ideas for future work to the table, which is valid but it could obviously be based on our own pet subjects.
I thought it would be interesting to go to the public to ask them exactly what type of investigation they would like us to look into what the population wanted us to focus on, and what were the key priority areas.
We did a public poll and it came out that people wanted us to look at music in education the music tuition that people receive in schools and in our communities and how that can be improved and developed.
It was really good to launch this public poll because then people could engage with a committee in a very different way. So I was happy that our committee was the first to try this and perhaps we could do it again to come up with other ideas for the future.
What were the key themes that the inquiry covered?
They were very keen for us to look at music services in schools. We were seeing, constituents coming to our offices saying that there were problems with the funding of this sector. We were seeing that music services by local authorities were being cut.
So we wanted to get to grips with what was important and come up with solutions to see how we could aid the sector.
We didn’t look at the curriculum, because music education in relation to the provision of tutoring was very different to that. That’s something that we could look at in future. But that’s not what we focused on this time.
During the inquiry the Committee heard from a wide range of witnesses and due to your own experiences as a musician this topic must be very close to your heart – Was there anything that came up through the course of the inquiry that was a particular surprise?
When we went to Ysgol Pengam, we found that they were doing very structured work in the rock and pop field, and they were competing in competitions in England, but they weren’t able to do that in Wales and there was no ensemble. There’s an ensemble for the orchestra, here in Wales but no rock and pop ensembles.
So I guess what did surprise me, perhaps because I’ve come from the more classical side, is that there was such an enthusiasm to set up this ensemble so that people who wanted to go into the rock industry or the pop industry could do that through their school structures.
So that was quite enlightening, but also pleasing to see, because orchestras and ensembles is not always going to suit everybody You don’t necessarily have to be able to read music to take part in those types of activities, so it would open up a new avenue.
In relation to funding streams, that didn’t surprise me, because my sister is 18 and she’s attended orchestras, and I know from my interest in this issue that this downward trend of the provision of services was not new.
The report says that music services must be protected, nurtured and accessible to all. The Committee also states that it welcomes the Welsh Government’s Commitment to put creative activity on an equal basis to other areas of learning and experience. Why is music education so important? What are the benefits?
I think a lot of schools get it in relation to music because they understand that it’s a transferable skill – it’s working as a team, it’s discipline, it’s allowing people to be creative and allowing their wellbeing aims to be met. But some schools, unless the head teacher really understands the value of music, then it might not permeate throughout the school.
As somebody who’s played the piano, viola and violin from an early age, I think it has to be seen as something that isn’t niche, that isn’t exclusive, that is accessible – because it can aid you in so many different ways in life.
For example, an orchestra course would allow me to become independent. It would allow me to make new friends. You’ve got to learn to listen to others and to be able to be respectful of others, and so is not all to do with the music that’s on the paper – it’s about how you want to progress as an individual.
People who go into music at a young age can take their skills elsewhere and you will meet doctors, you’ll meet scientists, you’ll meet politicians who have used music in ways in which they can be quite focused on what they want to do in life.
I think we need to encourage more schools to understand that it’s not just this fluffy thing about listening or playing music for an hour a day, it’s about how that can be seen as a core part of the curriculum in every shape and form. I hope that through this report that we can convince people that we can grow and develop music in our schools.
With all those potential benefits it must have been troubling for the Committee to hear some witnesses characterising the position of music in Welsh education as in ‘crisis’. In July 2015, the Welsh Government commissioned a report into music services in Wales – What has been the Committee’s conclusion about the progress made in the 3 years since the publication of that report – is the Welsh Government doing enough to prevent this ‘crisis’ from developing?
It was very troubling to hear people such as Owain Arwel Hughes, a renowned conductor, Tim Rhys-Evans, who conducts Only Men Allowed, say these things, because I don’t believe that they would use the word ‘crisis’ lightly.
It troubles me that Wales is associated with music and song, and they were saying we may not be the land of song anymore if we allow this, music services are being cut, and may even disappear in parts of Wales. In fact, we’ve seen with the national ensembles, less people have been auditioning for them this year so there is that worry.
Also with regard to the report that was commissioned, , I feel that once certain ministers had left – that it wasn’t a priority for some local authorities. I think that’s why we’ve said so clearly in the report that there needs to be a national guidance and national strategy, because you cannot simply rely on local authorities.
I think some people, to be fair, said ‘well perhaps that’s going a bit too far, we don’t want to scaremonger’. But again, sometimes using those types of phrases can actually say ‘well now is the time to make sure that we don’t get to the point where those services don’t exist anymore’. I hope that our support has allowed for that discussion to happen at the right time before more music services are cut or disappear altogether.
The report itself covers 16 recommendations but what’s the most important issue to take from the findings?
Well, we wanted to come up with solutions because, it’s been close to my heart for many, many years. Perhaps there’s a lack of coming together in the past of people from different walks of life in the music service to say, ‘well actually, how can we make this happen and how can we improve on this?’
I welcomed the Welsh Government investment in relation to the endowment fund, in relation to the music amnesty and in relation to putting music on the political agenda again. But without structural change, things are not going to improve. So the most important recommendation for us has been to say that we need to establish a national arm’s length body for music services in Wales. We simply cannot rely anymore on individual local authorities deciding whether they prioritise it or not. We would need to make sure that it was properly funded, and that there would be a regional element to its delivery on a ground level.
At the moment you’re seeing the national ensembles work in a different type of landscape to the work that’s happening on the ground in our communities. It’s called ‘the pyramid’, so you would have the school orchestras, then you would have the community orchestras, then you would have the national ensembles. If you had one national body – they would be identifying young people to come through the system, and that’s what we’re not seeing at the moment.
There was discussion about whether it could be done in a different way, but I think ultimately we came to the conclusion – especially as we were calling for a national music strategy – that one national body to deal with this particular element of the educational workforce would be integral to its future. I think as a committee we want it to be forward looking, we wanted to put a recommendation out there that would challenge people’s minds and that they would look outside the box somewhat to current funding and current structures.
We wouldn’t want to let any of those particular areas get left behind as well. We didn’t want to be too prescriptive but we wanted to put our marker down and say ‘this has to be a national system now’.
To download Hitting the Right Note: Inquiry Into Funding For and Access to Music Education, click here.
For the latest updates from the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, follow @SeneddCWLC on Twitter.
Guest blog by Bethan Sayed AM, Chair of the Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee
In the past ten years, Welsh Government and National Lottery funding for the Arts Council of Wales hasfallen 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.
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
2018 will see new powers being given to Wales, but what difference could it make to you and life in Wales?
On 18 September 1997, the people of Wales voted in favour of the creation of the National Assembly for Wales.
Since then, devolution in Wales has been through a number of changes (with as many different settlements as there have been Welsh rugby grand slams—a particularly successful period for Welsh rugby!).
The Assembly and Welsh Government were formally separated, the Assembly took on primary law-making powers, Legislative Competence Orders came and went, the power to pass Measures became a power to pass Acts, and Wales received powers to raise taxes and borrow money.
On 31 January this year, the Wales Act 2017 received Royal Assent, marking the start of the next phase of Welsh devolution. But what does it mean for Wales?
The introductory text to the Act describes it as “An Act to amend the Government of Wales Act 2006 and the Wales Act 2014 and to make provision about the functions of the Welsh Ministers and about Welsh tribunals; and for connected purposes”. What this means in practice is that the Act:
Includes for the first time a declaration that the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government are permanent parts of the UK’s constitutional and political landscape;
Introduces a new model of devolution: a reserved powers model (similar to that in place in Scotland);
Gives the Welsh Ministers new powers in areas such as energy, planning, roads and harbours;
Gives the Assembly new powers over its own internal, organisational and electoral arrangements;
Establishes the concept of Welsh tribunals and a President of Welsh tribunals.
Clearly the Act will provide the Assembly with greater control over some areas, in particular Assembly elections. However it also reserves control over other policy areas to Westminster including, notably, the legal jurisdiction of Wales.
Most provisions of the Act will come into force on the day to be specified by the Secretary of State for Wales, known as the Principal Appointed Day, which is the 1 April 2018. The tax raising powers provided by the Wales Act 2014 will come on stream on the same day.
So what changes can we expect as a result of the Wales Act 2017?
Naturally the Welsh Government and Assembly will wish to use new powers gained to legislate to improve the lives of people in Wales. One other possibility is that the Assembly itself might change. In November 2016, the Assembly Commission announced that it would take forward work to explore how the new powers in the Act might be used to reform the Assembly. This was followed by an announcement in June 2017 that, following a public consultation, the Commission would seek to change the name of the Assembly to Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru.
Looking for something to do this weekend? Why not head to Cardiff Bay to visit the Senedd? It’s the last weekend to experience Poppies: Weeping Window, which will leave Cardiff on the 24th September. Get out and about this weekend and take a look at our five reasons to explore the Senedd this weekend.
1. Poppies: Weeping Window
Poppies: Weeping Window has been a sweeping summer highlight in Cardiff Bay, attracting thousands of visitors since it launched on the 8 August. The sculpture, by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, is presented by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War Centenary. The Senedd is the only part of the Poppies Tour where you can experience the sculpture from the inside and the outside, and there is a fantastic supporting exhibition inside the Senedd to learn more about it. The sculpture will be available to view until Sunday, before the sculpture moves to Ulster Museum, Belfast.
2. Women, War, Peace
This exhibition explores the impact of war on women across the world in the hundred years since the First World War. It is a collaboration between the renowned photojournalist, Lee Karen Stow, and the Wales for Peace project. It includes the work of some 300 volunteers from across Wales who in the last two years have been exploring the core question of the Wales for Peace project:
“In the hundred years since the First World War, how has Wales contributed to the search for peace?”
3. The Cardiff Camera Club Annual Exhibition
The Cardiff Camera Club annual exhibition is on show in the Pierhead building until 27 September, a celebration of local amateur photographer talent. It features a wide range of prints taken locally, nationally and internationally, many of which have been successful in competitions, salons and exhibitions. The exhibition should be of interest to all visitors to Cardiff Bay and, hopefully, will inspire many to make even more of their cameras and in this era of digital photography.
4. Take part in the Senedd Trail
Looking for some fun children’s activities to enjoy this weekend? Let them have a go at winning a prize! Explore the Senedd and collect the clues – and find out lots of interesting facts about the building and the National Assembly along the way! Collect a trail card from the Arts and Craft corner, and hand in your completed card at Reception.
5. Enjoy coffee and a cake in the Senedd café
A day of exploring the Bay calls for coffee and cake in the Senedd café. Choose from a range of refreshments and enjoy beautiful views of the Bay through the Senedd windows. Next to the café is the Senedd shop, which showcases a selection of the best of Welsh produce. Whilst we host Poppies: Weeping Window, we have some special items related to the sculpture for sale as a souvenir of your visit.
It is free to enter the Senedd and you can get more information about planning your weekend visit here. Visit the Senedd this weekend and discover more about the home of the National Assembly for Wales.
The National Assembly for Wales returns to the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells from 24 – 27 July with a new programme of events and the chance for the public to meet Assembly Members and staff and find out more about work our work. Based in the Green Pavilion, everyone is welcome to visit our stand to give your views and options on our work.
Taking place throughout the week
On the stand
Whether you’re familiar with our work or not, by the end of your visit to the Assembly stand you’ll have learnt something new about us and what we do. Enjoy a cuppa and learn about your Assembly Members, how they represent you and how you can get in touch with them to air your views and concerns. You can find out more about our current inquiries and upcoming work that may be of interest to you or your community.
While parents put their feet up, children can take part in different games and activities around the stand to help them learn more about what we do. They will be able to find out about making laws and have a go at voting about the hobbies and activities that are important to them. There are also games to play and colouring in for younger visitors.
Tell us what makes you proud of Wales
We’re proud of our country. Our history, our culture, our heroes, our language, our land – our home. Most of all we’re proud to represent you, the people of Wales, and to make decisions and create laws that will shape the future of Welsh life. We want you to tell us what you love most about life in Wales and what makes you proud. Share your views with us on the stand or tell us on Twitter using #myWales.
Sessions and Events
Wednesday 26 July
09.00-10.00 Stronger Voice for Wales Stakeholder Breakfast Event (Constitutional andLegislative Affairs Committee), National Assembly for Wales stand
You don’t have to be a constitutional expert to have your say on constitutional issues. The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee are looking at how Wales works with other parliaments and governments and want to hear from people and organisations who have experience of giving evidence at UK and Welsh levels and what barriers they may have faced. By asking these questions and hearing their experiences, the Committee would be able to recommend the best model of working for the future.
Thursday 27 July
10.30-11.30 Launch of Inquiry into Rethinking Food in Wales (Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee), Food and Drink Hall
What’s your vision for the future of food and drink in Wales and what needs to be done to achieve it? Members of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee will be meeting with stallholders to launch and discuss their new inquiry into rethinking food in Wales. By meeting with food producers and exhibitors the Committee hopes to learn more about how Wales could create an innovative food industry sustaining high quality jobs, and become an internationally renowned destination for food lovers.
We’re looking forward to welcoming you at the Royal Welsh Show. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram throughout the week for the latest Assembly news from the showground.
Do the Right to Buy schemes help tenants access home ownership or negatively impact on local communities? Should they be abolished or suspended?
These are some of the questions tenants from across Wales discussed with us as part of our investigation of the proposed law to abolish the Right to Buy and Associated Rights in Wales.
What is Right to Buy?
The Right to Buy scheme was introduced in the UK in 1980 to allow most council tenants to buy their council home at a discount.
However the Welsh Government has recently proposed changes in law that would end the Right to Buy scheme in Wales.
Their stated aim with this change 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.
We have been examining the Welsh Government’s decision to propose this law to ensure that it is in the best interests of Wales and its communities.
What do the proposed changes mean?
Under the proposed law, The Right to Buy for tenants of local authorities and registered landlords would be abolished after a period of at least one year following the introduction of the law.
Some local authorities, including Flintshire, Carmarthenshire and Anglesey have already suspended the Right to Buy scheme.
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 proposed law would end the Right to Buy scheme in all local authorities across Wales.
Want to know our recommendations to the
Welsh Government on changes to Right to Buy?
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 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.
Alongside a public consultation, a key part of this examination involved engaging and working with tenants from across Wales to help understand what the proposed changes meant for them.
By holding discussions in Cardiff, Newcastle Emlyn, Colwyn Bay, and Ynys Môn, as well as online on Dialogue and Facebook, tenants from across Wales were given an opportunity to participate, discuss and share their views and ideas on the proposed law and whether they felt improvements could be made.
“Council housing should be for those in need” – Tenant, Ynys Môn County Council Tenant Participation Group
There was broad support for the proposed law from tenants and other organisations who gave evidence, and the need to abolish the Right to Buy to to ensure that those in greatest need have access to affordable homes and prevent further loss of social housing.
Having heard all of the evidence, the Committee has agreed that abolishing the right to buy will ensure that existing and new social housing stays within the social housing sector and will be available to be used for its original purpose, namely as a means of providing affordable rented accommodation for those in greatest need.
Impact on eligible tenants and home ownership
The majority of tenants acknowledged the squeeze that people now feel in trying to access the housing market.
The average annual salary in some areas in Wales is less than the minimum salary needed to qualify for Help to Buy schemes and a number of tenants are employed through zero hour contracts.
Tenants in Anglesey said that the average salary of residents was £14,000, which was less than the minimum required to qualify for Help to Buy.
As a result, the Committee believes that it is important to raise awareness and promote understanding of home ownership schemes with tenants before the Abolition of the Right to Buy takes place.
Duty to provide information to tenants
Many tenants expressed their concerns over how this change would be communicated with tenants. There is no detail in the proposed law about how the required information should be communicated to tenants or adapted to meet their varying needs.
As a result, the Committee recommends that the Welsh Government makes the necessary changes in the proposed law to ensure that this information is communicated to tenants in the most appropriate and accessible way to meet their varying needs. The Welsh Government should test the information with tenants before it is finalised to ensure that it is fit for purpose.
“…everything requires access to social media and the net now…anything that happens now quotes a www. resource …people will be uniformed if the information isn’t accessible” – Tenant, TPAS South Wales Network
What are the next steps?
Now that the Committee has given its recommendations to the Welsh Government on how the proposed law can be improved, the Welsh Government will have an opportunity to respond.
Before changes can be made to the proposed law, the Committee’s recommendations will be debated amongst all of the Assembly Members who represent the people of Wales on 18 July 2017.
For all the latest information and developments you can also