6. Debate: 'Our Valleys, Our Future: Delivery Plan'

– in the Senedd at on 9 January 2018.

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(Translated)

The following amendments have been selected: amendments 1, 2 and 3 in the name of Paul Davies and amendment 4 in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth.

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour 4:15, 9 January 2018

We now move on to item 6, which is a debate on 'Our Valleys, Our Future: Delivery Plan'. I call on the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services to move the motion—Alun Davies.

(Translated)

NDM6617 Julie James

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

Notes the publication of the Our Valleys, Our Future: Delivery Plan.

(Translated)

Motion moved.

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour 4:15, 9 January 2018

I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Members will be aware that I agreed to bring forward this debate following question sessions before Christmas, when Members sought the opportunity to have a wider and deeper conversation about the Valleys taskforce and the work that the taskforce was leading and undertaking. I'm grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer, for allowing us to table this debate as early as possible in the new year.

I will say at the outset that the Government will be accepting all amendments except amendment 4. Paul Davies, in his amendments, sets out quite clearly, in many ways, many of the challenges facing us in the Valleys of south Wales and many of the challenges facing the people in the communities of the Valleys of south Wales. He does so very clearly and quite eloquently. The purpose of the taskforce, of course, is not simply to rehearse those difficulties and those challenges, but to provide answers to them.

We do not support the amendment tabled by Rhun ap Iorwerth because we do not wish to create a quango in the Valleys of south Wales. We do not wish to create another level or layer of complexity within the geography of public service delivery in the Valleys. What we want to do is ensure that all the resources we have available are focused on delivering, and front-line delivery of, our aims, objectives and ambitions that we have outlined in the last year or so.

The purpose of the taskforce—. And I think it's very important that we clarify the purpose of the taskforce, because I think, in some quarters, there's been some misunderstanding over this. The purpose of the taskforce is to shape and to bring the full weight of Welsh Government resources to bear on the issues facing the Valleys, and the communities and the people of the Valleys of south Wales. The purpose of the taskforce isn't to establish new bureaucracies, or isn't to establish new forms of delivery, but to shape the approach of Government and to use all the power and resources available to Government, to use the resources of people, of expertise, of knowledge, of experience, the resources of finance that we have available to us, but also, and perhaps most critically, the resource of influence and the resource that Government can bring to bear in bringing people together—the power of acting as a catalyst for change, the power of bringing people together to look for solutions to questions that have been facing us for some generations—and then to use that power of Government in order to set out clearly how we wish to address the issues facing us, and to do so in a particular way.

I was very clear 18 months ago, when we established this taskforce, that I wanted it not to be a group of politicians or civil servants meeting in private, almost in secret—a conclave of politicians presenting the awaiting electorate with the answers to all the problems that they hadn't even thought of. What I wanted it to be was a process that involved, and which sought to actively involve, people across the whole of the communities of the Valleys, but also to hardwire accountability into what we were doing. One of the first questions I was asked, and one of the first answers I gave, when we established the taskforce, was to confirm that all our papers will be made public—the agendas, the papers, the presentations, our meetings, would all be put into the public domain. People would be able to understand and to see and to follow our work, to influence our work, to guide our work. 

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour 4:20, 9 January 2018

The plan that we published last summer wasn't a plan for the Valleys, but a plan from the Valleys. It was designed and published as a consequence of conversations that we'd had with people across the whole of the Valleys region. We set clear objectives that were defined by the conversations that we'd had with people. We published a delivery plan in November that sought then to give clear undertakings and to again ensure accountability in what we were doing. We set out in that delivery plan a number of different actions and objectives. We set deadlines, we set targets, we set timelines for the delivery of the objectives and the ambitions that we have set ourselves. In this way, what we are seeking to do is to address some of the fundamental issues facing us in the Valleys in a serious way—not simply to produce reports and public relations exercises, but to address the fundamentals of an economy that has been in decline for too many years, for too many generations, and then to address some of the issues that affect us in our communities and the people who live in those communities.

We've invested time in listening to people from across the Valleys and are working together with people from across the Valleys. And we will continue to work in this way. Let me give this and make this undertaking this afternoon. I will be publishing further plans over the coming months. Each one of these plans will have clear timelines, targets and deadlines attached to them. We will be publishing clear plans for each one of the strategic hubs that we are currently considering and consulting upon, and I will return to the Chamber to make further statements and to lead further debates on all of these issues as the work continues. It is right and proper that the Government doesn't seek to avoid accountability but enables us to be held to account by publishing all the information upon which we take our decisions.

Deputy Presiding Officer, we've had a number of different strong messages from people as we've undertaken this exercise. We have set three clear areas where we will focus our work: first, the need for good quality and sustainable jobs and the opportunity to train so that people in the Valleys will be able to access these jobs, setting an ambitious target of helping 7,000 unemployed or economically inactive people living in the Valleys into work by creating thousands of new, fair, secure and sustainable jobs by 2021. And let me be absolutely clear: when I talk about jobs, we are talking about fair work in the Valleys. All too often we know that there are people in our communities who are struggling to make ends meet, for many of the reasons that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance outlined in the previous debate, but they are working hard day in, day out but not receiving a reward for that hard work. We know that our economy is not working for the many in the Valleys. We will ensure that, in creating work, we will be focusing on fair work in the Valleys, and we will make that a part of everything that we do.

We will create seven strategic hubs. We are currently going through a process of leading a series of seminars on all of these hubs so that they reflect the interests and the needs of the areas they serve. There isn't a single template created either in Cardiff Bay or Cathays Park that will be ruthlessly deployed in each one of these places. It will reflect the needs of each individual area. We will seek to use public investment to attract private sector investment, creating jobs and opportunities. We will also ensure that we have the best possible public services. One of the points that has been made to us time and time and time again in meetings right across the whole of the Valleys has been the need for access to high-quality local transport. We can create as many jobs as we like on the M4 corridor, but we will not address the issues of poverty in Treherbert or Tredegar unless we have opportunities for people to work within the Valleys as well as the southern corridors. So, we will invest in training opportunities, we will invest in transport, and we will seek to invest in stimulating economic activities in the Valleys themselves. And the economic Secretary, my friend and colleague Ken Skates, has already made a number of statements on that.

The final area and theme that we will be addressing is that of the community. Very often, we talk about our communities in overly romantic ways, and I'm not one who's known for romance, unfortunately. But let me say this: we need to focus in on what it means to be a community and how we can invest in the lives of people in the Valleys. Like many people, I enjoyed a Christmas and new year break with the family, using the opportunities to walk and to enjoy the environment of the Valleys, and, certainly, when I'm taking my son and my children for walks around the Valleys and the areas and the Brecon Beacons and the rest of it, I'm always telling them about the history of their place and the history of our communities. It is important that what we are able to do is to make people and enable people to feel proud again of the community in which they live. We need to address issues such as littering and fly-tipping, but we also need to invest in the heritage and in the place of the communities of south Wales. I took my son up to Blaenavon, up to Foxhunter's grave, on Boxing Day, and I took him along there and explained to him how this part of the world, where he is rooted and where his family are from, played its part in creating an industrial revolution that created a new world order and created industrialisation across the world—our Valleys, our history, our community, our heritage, and we need to ensure that all of our people are able to access that and then live lives where they are proud of what we are able to achieve and also live in communities where we can be proud of what we are able to achieve. So, I hope the Valleys taskforce will act as a catalyst and help us to achieve many of those objectives, and I look forward to the debate this afternoon.

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour 4:26, 9 January 2018

Thank you. I have selected the four amendments to the motion, and I call on Mark Isherwood to move amendments 1, 2 and 3, tabled in the name of Paul Davies. Mark Isherwood. 

(Translated)

Amendment 1. Paul Davies

Add as new point at end of motion:

Notes with regret that:

a) the value of goods and services produced per head of population (GVA) in the West Wales and the Valleys sub-region is still bottom across the UK, at just 64% of the UK average - with the Gwent Valleys second only to Anglesey as the lowest in the UK;

b) the Bevan Foundation 'Tough Times Ahead? What 2018 might hold for Wales' report states that although UK unemployment is forecast to remain at around 4.3% over the year, 'performance is unlikely to be enough to boost those parts of Wales where unemployment stands well above the UK figure such as Merthyr Tydfil (7.3%) and Blaenau Gwent (6.7%)';

c) the delivery of the Welsh Government’s new Working Wales employability programme has been delayed until April 2019.

Amendment 2. Paul Davies

Add as new point at end of motion:

Calls on the Welsh Government to outline how it will talk, consult, design and deliver its 'Our Valleys, Our Future: Delivery Plan' with people who live and work in the south Wales valleys; the UK Government; and the business and third sectors, as the taskforce’s work progresses.

Amendment 3. Paul Davies

Add as new point at end of motion:

Notes that true engagement with the 'Be The Spark' movement, to create more profitable home-grown businesses that generate wealth and prosperity for the whole of Wales, will require Welsh Government collaboration with a culture that links innovation and entrepreneurship together.

(Translated)

Amendments 1, 2 and 3 moved.

Photo of Mark Isherwood Mark Isherwood Conservative 4:26, 9 January 2018

Diolch. We're pleased to note the publication of this delivery plan and we share both the key priorities identified by the ministerial taskforce for the south Wales Valleys and the Cabinet Secretary's reservations as expressed at the beginning of his speech about the creation of a new delivery body. However, I also move amendment 1, noting, with regret, that the value of goods and services produced per head of population, or GVA, in the west Wales and the Valleys sub-region is still bottom across the UK, at just 64 per cent of the UK average, with the Gwent Valleys second only to Anglesey as the lowest in the UK, that the Bevan Foundation 'Tough Times Ahead? What 2018 might hold for Wales' report states that although UK unemployment is forecast to remain at around 4.3 per cent over the year,

'performance is unlikely to be enough to boost those parts of Wales where unemployment stands well above the UK figure such as Merthyr Tydfil, 7.3 per cent, and Blaenau Gwent, 6.7 per cent' and that the delivery of the Welsh Government’s new Working Wales employability programme has been delayed until April 2019.

Figures published three weeks ago show that, in the eighteenth year of Labour Welsh Government, Wales remained the poorest part of the UK, producing the lowest value of goods and services per head amongst the 12 UK nations and regions, despite billions spent on economic regeneration and anti-poverty programmes. Anglesey remains bottom in the UK, with its GVA falling to 52 per cent of the UK average, and the Gwent Valleys come a close second bottom, at just 56 per cent of the UK average, with the central Valleys at only 63 per cent of the UK average. Then, this month’s Bevan Foundation 'Tough Times Ahead? What 2018 might hold for Wales' report notes that

'there is nothing to be gained by pretending that all is rosy', and, adding to the unemployment figures detailed in our amendment, that performance is also unlikely 

'to help young adults, with more than one in eight 16-24 year olds out of work in Wales as a whole'.

Overall, although unemployment in the UK remains at its lowest level since 1975, Wales’s unemployment rate is 4.7 per cent higher than any other home nation and, compared with a year ago, Wales is the only part of the UK where unemployment has risen, and Wales has the joint highest economic inactivity rates on the island of Britain. However, despite a Welsh Government pledge to introduce a new all-age employability plan for both job-ready individuals and those furthest away from the labour market, its introduction has been deferred for a further year. Despite past calls by the Westminster Welsh Affairs Committee for devolved and non-devolved employability programmes in Wales to work together, the Welsh Government is now lagging behind last month’s Remploy launch in Wales of the UK Government’s Work and Health Programme for people with a health condition or disability, long-term unemployed and voluntary early-access groups such as carers and veterans.

The Welsh Government’s delivery plan refers to working with people in the south Wales Valleys. It states that

'to make this plan a success, the taskforce must bring all the resources of the Welsh Government and its many partners together', that it will

'publish annual updates and monitoring reports against a number of key targets', that

'it has been very important for the taskforce to talk and consult with people who live and work in the South Wales Valleys', and that

'an engagement plan will be published, which will set out how the taskforce will engage and empower people'.

The actions detailed also include working with the Cardiff region and Swansea bay city deals, UK Government, business and the third sector. However, true co-production is required if Welsh Government is not to continue the mistakes of the last 18 years, thereby enabling people and professionals to share power and work in equal partnership, acknowledging that everyone is an expert in their own life, everyone has something to contribute, and that enabling people to support each other builds strong, resilient communities. I therefore move amendment 2.

The plan also refers to working with Be The Spark and I therefore also move amendment 3, noting that

'true engagement with the “Be The Spark” movement, to create more profitable home-grown businesses that generate wealth and prosperity for the whole of Wales, will require Welsh Government collaboration with a culture that links innovation and entrepreneurship together'.

As Be The Spark state,

'big things happen when enterprising and forward-thinking people work together'.

And, as business groups recently told the cross-party group on small shops supporting entrepreneurship inquiry, it’s important that policy makers understand the challenges that business faces. Therefore, I’m pleased to conclude by commending the three amendments to this Assembly and welcoming the Cabinet Secretary’s support for those at the beginning of his contribution. Thank you.

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour 4:31, 9 January 2018

Thank you. I call on Adam Price to move amendment 4 tabled in the name of Rhun ap Iorwerth—Adam. 

(Translated)

Amendment 4. Rhun ap Iorwerth

Add as new points at end of motion:

Recognises the need for strategic investment in all parts of the South Wales Valleys, including the western Valleys.

Believes the Delivery Plan will only be fully achieved with a sufficient level of funding.

Believes an overarching delivery body will be required to monitor, drive forward and implement the Delivery Plan.

(Translated)

Amendment 4 moved.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru 4:30, 9 January 2018

(Translated)

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. May I say at the beginning, in responding to the Cabinet Secretary, that I do wish him well in implementing the laudable aims of this strategy? I don’t doubt his sincerity and his personal commitment to that task.

However, where there is disagreement between us is the degree to which we can expect this strategy to be realised, because one thing that is true is that if we look at the history of the Valleys, going back to the 1930s in the last century, it’s been full of laudable strategies. In every generation, we’ve seen policy statements by the Government of the day, which try to offer redress for the deficiencies of the previous years. You could go back to the very start of the regional policy in the 1930s and Hilary Marquand’s book, South Wales Needs a Plan; it’s still true—that’s the tragedy. I hope that this will be the strategy that will allow those communities that we represent to turn a corner.

But, if we look back over time, the pattern that we see, in quoting Idris Davies, is

'The great dream and the swift disaster'.

We know of the Conservative Government’s scheme at the end of the 1980s, the two Valleys initiatives, but even since devolution, there was a scheme that was just as glossy that was published by the Welsh Labour Government 12 years ago, ‘Turning Heads: A Strategy for the Heads of the Valleys 2020’. Now, they’re excellent words, excellent ideas, and some of them similar to the ideas that are in this scheme—instead of a landscape park for the Valleys, there was a regional park for the Valleys.

We have to ask the question: why do we, every 10, 15 or 20 years have to have a new strategy? We have to have a new taskforce, or whatever we call it, because policy has failed in getting to grips with the deep-rooted structural problems in the Valleys. I understand the point, of course, and I agree with the Cabinet Secretary: nobody wants a quango. But the tragedy of the Valleys is—and we’re talking about a region that includes a population of around 750,000 people—there’s no structural or institutional shape given to it; there’s no regional entity for governance that’s been able to get to grips with the problems of the area.

It’s very similar to the Ruhr region in Germany, which is a very wide-ranging area with millions of people in it, but it also failed to get that unity and consistency with regard to policy, because there are around 53, I believe, local authorities in that area. What they have managed to do in the Ruhr, of course, is: at the turn of the millennium in the year 2000, they did create an economic development body for the Ruhr for the first time, and it’s still in existence today. I think that that’s one of the reasons why the Ruhr has been able to turn a corner: that they have that body—a body, by the way, that is accountable democratically. It’s not a quango; it’s accountable to the 53 towns and cities within the region. But it has been able to not just put together a strategy, but ensure that it has been realised. That’s my concern, truth be told: that we’re going to have the same debate in 10, 15 or 20 years on an excellent strategy, but one that hasn’t been implemented and realised, because the medium wasn’t there to ensure that it could be realised.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour 4:37, 9 January 2018

Whatever we have or haven't done in the past, I think this report provides us with an excellent framework for getting on with doing the things we need to do now. I think in particular I'd like to argue that the innovative housing programme started by Carl Sargeant is a model for achieving all three of the report's priorities for good-quality jobs and the skills to do them, better public services and strengthening local communities.

So, on Friday in Merthyr I had an interesting conversation with the chief executive of Bron Afon housing, who was telling me about the scheme that he was working on with young, single people in Torfaen to design the shared housing that they're going to need as a result of housing benefit no longer paying for people to have individual homes. This is something that students in my constituency have—they have shared housing all over the place—but it is a complete change of culture for people who haven't had the experience of going to university away from home. But this isn't a requirement just for people in Torfaen. It's of course going to be a need for people across Wales to have different types of housing that are going to fit in with the changing landscape in benefits.

I was very interested to hear that this particular project was one of the 46 projects that was awarded money by Carl Sargeant, because I think it's a really exciting example of what we can do, and also what we need to do. Because the housing market is broken and we need to fix it. Therefore, if we're going to intervene in an economy, this is a great opportunity to fix that market. In the past we've had fiscal policies that encouraged people to see houses as investments rather than homes, to the point where the majority of citizens, including those in the Valleys, are unable to afford to buy. Unless we have a very different landscape in the future, they're never going to be able to do so.

In addition, we've got the perfect storm of the sale of council housing that has led to the levels of homelessness and overcrowding that we see across our communities, and we have the private housing sector, which has pursued profits to the exclusion of any commitment to providing value for money, and has delivered the grotesque spectre of Persimmon awarding its senior managers millions of pounds for doing no additional work. So, I think that we should use the innovative housing programme and really seize on the opportunities it creates.

We pick up also on the Farmer report, which is called 'Modernise or Die', which highlights the fact that, in the construction industry workforce, 25 per cent of them are going to be retiring in the next few years and they simply won't be there, and this capacity shrinkage would render the construction industry incapable of delivering the social and physical infrastructure that we need, unless we do something about developing the new skills that are going to be required. 

We've consistently seen underinvestment in training and development by the housing industry sector, and it is entirely new skills that are required with the sort of innovative housing we now need, fit for the twenty-first century, not the same old, same old that we've been producing in the past. So, just as the Valleys has an unwarranted image problem that we need to challenge—the marvellous topography, the clean air, the historic architecture that hasn't suffered the wholesale slaughter of Victorian and Edwardian homes and other buildings, as suffered by much of Cardiff, and these are things that we can seriously build on—so too the construction industry needs to change its image.

It isn't any longer a requirement that you need to have a macho level of physical development. You need to have honed precision skills to develop the consistency that is going to go with the prefabrication of much of the housing sector in fabrication barns, and only the end work is going to be done on site. So, people don't any longer have to work outdoors in all weathers, we can design our housing to fit all those needs. So, I think that this is a great opportunity, and I hope that this is one of the things that the Cabinet Secretary will grasp and see this as a centre of excellence, not just for housing throughout Wales but also to export it to other parts of the United Kingdom and further afield.

Photo of Mohammad Asghar Mohammad Asghar Conservative 4:42, 9 January 2018

The challenges facing our south Wales Valleys communities are considerable and huge. This is the latest of many initiatives to try to break and reverse the cycle of deprivation by addressing the problems of economic inactivity, educational outcomes and public health issues. The Cabinet Secretary has recognised that other programmes, in their words, have fallen by the wayside, so while I welcome the establishment of this task force, it is imperative that it is productive and yields results for this programme.

Everyone in this Chamber supports the aims set out in the 'Our Valleys, Our Future' strategy. It is clear that much of this strategy interlocks with existing Welsh Government programmes. It is vital therefore that the Welsh Government ensures there is cross co-ordination across all concerned departments to drive this strategy forward. Closing the employment gap between the Valleys and the rest of Wales is obviously a key point here. I welcome the Cabinet Secretary's commitment to creating sustainable jobs in the Valleys themselves, rather than simply assisting people to commute to work in Cardiff, Swansea or Newport.

So, with regard to this plan for new strategic hubs in specific areas, I would ask the Cabinet Secretary in his reply to provide more details on what incentives will be offered to attract the vital private sector investment required in the area. I know one of the strategic hubs is planned for Ebbw Vale, focusing on a new automotive technology business park. In February 2017, the Welsh Government announced it was expanding the existing enterprise zone in Ebbw Vale to include three new sites. So, could the Cabinet Secretary inform Members what impact this new strategic hub will have on the Ebbw Vale enterprise zone in future?

The strategy pledges to exploit the job creation potential of major infrastructure investments such as the M4 relief road and the south Wales metro project. The M4 relief road is currently bogged down in a public inquiry and one of his own backbenchers claims the south Wales metro project has been, in his words, set up to fail. It is vital again, therefore, that the Welsh Government delivers these projects. What happens if they do not proceed?

I have commented previously on the lack of people with business experience on this taskforce. It is important that the business community engages closely to provide the training necessary to upskill the workforce. I ask the Cabinet Secretary in his reply for an assurance that there'll be maximum possible engagement with businesses to ensure this strategy delivers the skilled workforce they require. 

The strategy mentions the expansion of tourism to the Valleys as a recognised tourist destination. It is difficult to see how this aim can be achieved, Deputy Presiding Officer, considering the Welsh Government plans to introduce a tourism tax. Perhaps the Cabinet Secretary could let us know if the proposed tourism tax will help or hinder his aim. 

Presiding Officer, we must learn lessons from the Communities First programme, another strategy with the best of intentions, but which failed to deliver significant benefits to our people in south-east Wales. The Welsh—. [Interruption.] No, it is true. You don't live in the area—I travel there for weeks and weeks. I know. It's one of the most beautiful parts we can improve in terms of tourism, and the drive along the A467 is virtually one of the most beautiful roads to drive on, but in the night-time there are not enough lights, there are not enough services there, and actually the uplift of the buildings, which the previous speaker mentioned—the buildings are still there, for hundreds of years, and they are beautiful, but the buildings haven't been uplifted and the place is still the same.

The Welsh Government must set and publish clear targets so that progress towards meeting the goals of 'Our Valleys, Our Future' can be monitored and scrutinised by the Assembly and by the public. I hope this strategy succeeds in delivering its aim and creates the vibrant and thriving Valleys communities we all wish to see. Thank you. 

Photo of Hefin David Hefin David Labour 4:48, 9 January 2018

Those of us who were brought up in a typical Valleys community will know that there is no such thing as a typical Valleys community. I'm from Caerphilly. My constituency is split south and north, and what you would see in the south of Caerphilly is a different kind of community to that which you would see in the north of Caerphilly. But also, those of us who've got friends and relatives who live in different Valleys towns and villages will know that those towns and villages are very different to each other, and have a different set of challenges. 

One of the questions I was going to ask the First Minister on Nick Ramsay's question about bringing enterprise to south-east Wales was going to be about—and I wasn't called, and I don't hold anyone responsible for that, Deputy Presiding Officer—but one of the questions I was going to ask was AerFin is based in Caerphilly. AerFin is a distributor for civil aviation parts, and for two years running has topped the fast growth 50 and it's based in Bedwas. And the question I would ask is: why can't we have more AerFins but based in the likes of Bargoed, Rhymney, Nantyglo, Pontypool? Why can't we see AerFins developing elsewhere? And it is entirely possible but will require the kind of change of culture and dynamic that is encapsulated in this plan. Among those things would be, of course, better transport links, more affordable housing, more employment opportunities, but also ensuring that people like me who grew up in a Valleys community do not want to leave, and want to stay and work and contribute. That's why I've never left my Valleys community and never intend to do so. I did have to find work, though, in Cardiff and I was working in higher education. I managed to stay as well as a county councillor; I've probably mentioned it before in this Chamber. But having worked in higher education representing Valleys communities, I've seen what higher education can do in the communities I came from, and I think those universities that serve the Valleys have a duty to reach out into their hinterland in a way that they haven't thus far, and it's one of the things that I've tried to, and successfully, represented to the Cabinet Secretary. I want to see Cardiff University, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of South Wales proactively going out into these communities to engage with the plan, and I've seen in the delivery partners, higher education is mentioned many times.

They've got a duty to increase part-time study and they've got a duty to increase franchised study in further education institutions. The Cabinet Secretary has, in a previous incarnation, referenced the need to remove the boundaries between further and higher education. But also we need to see our universities engaging with secondary and primary schools. As a senior lecturer, I went to my former primary school and we ran a university day in Glyn-Gaer Primary School, one of the most rewarding things I've done in that profession.

In terms of the strategic hubs, I do have some questions. If they are going to be located in areas that are already prosperous, then their purpose can be self-defeating. One of the questions I've got is: how are those hubs going to link to areas that are in need of growth? So, how, for example, will a hub in Ystrad Mynach reach out to Senghenydd? How will Senghenydd benefit from a strategic hub in Ystrad Mynach? I would be interested to hear more about that, and I think the Cabinet Secretary has bravely and rightly agreed to support the Conservative amendment, which recognises that those further questions require answers and will be answered.

And also the Valleys in general: I talk about the northern Valleys as distinct to those areas close to the M4. A great deal of my constituents who live near that M4 transport corridor do not want to see the further overdevelopment of the area in which they live—that being the Caerphilly basin—and we need to ensure that affordable housing is developed in areas like Bargoed and further north, and moving away from those already congested areas. And the Cabinet Secretary for environment is here, and she will know that I've made those representations to her on many an occasion. Therefore, the strategic hub must enable the latter and guard against the former. If we can improve transport links, then I think that begins to answer those questions.

So, I think it's a very positive plan and one which I support. We can address the issues that I have grown up with and have continued to wrestle with, and I look forward to supporting the Cabinet Secretary and the Ministers in doing so.

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour 4:53, 9 January 2018

Can I first of all take up some of the comments that were made by Adam Price? I agree very much with the points that were made in terms of plan after plan after plan, and this is really the plan now where we have to deliver. I have in my office the 1958 UK Government plan for the development of south Wales, with these beautiful plans and copperplate pictures and so on, and it talks about housing, talks about infrastructure. It talks about many of the things that we're continuing to talk about at this particular moment. Can I concentrate on three areas where I think there are important developments?

The first one is the opportunities we have through procurement. I raised the question earlier this morning with the First Minister about, for example, E-Cycle on the edge of my constituency, an area that is dealing with data cleansing, which actually gets more work in from English public authorities than it does from Welsh public authorities, and across the road from it—it's almost like something from Bruce Almighty—the miles of shelves of records for the Cwm Taf health board being digitised. And you look all around Wales, and you think, 'Well, here is an opportunity to actually create an industry of excellence, employing people in the Valleys, of something that is absolutely needed, where we have a certain amount of control through procurement.' And I know you've agreed to come and visit at some stage in the future, but it seems to me we shouldn't shy away from the creation of public enterprises and so on that can actually create—that we can actually influence.

The second point I want to raise is, of course, the way in which we've used the decentralisation of administration and powers within Wales in order to act as a catalyst. I was very glad that you came to the hub meeting that you launched within Pontypridd in the Pontypridd lido: an example of regeneration and development. But the announcement of Transport for Wales moving into the Taff precinct, where there is a partnership between Welsh Government and the Rhondda Cynon Taf council, for a massive £43 million development, is already beginning to transform the town. In an area where, when you mention regeneration of the town, people's eyes fall to the floor and they say, 'Yes, we've heard this so many times. I'll believe it when I see it', I was very pleased to be there with local councillors, with Owen Smith MP and with the leader of the council Andrew Morgan to actually see the bulldozers moving on site. Already, in Pontypridd, you can see the regeneration and revitalising taking place, as more astute businesses begin to move in, begin to open and so on. There is a town with a hub where there has been a catalyst—the direct result of Welsh Government intervention. Of course, this is nothing new. This is what we used to do in the 1950s and 1960s, where you used central Government resources in order to be catalysts. That's why the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is in Swansea, why the Inland Revenue was in Llanishen and so on and so forth.

Can I raise, then, one other further area on top of that, because the metro is continually mentioned, and, of course, this is probably the most significant capital infrastructure investment that we can make that has transformational potential? We've talked about this so many times, but can I say I still remain to be convinced that we actually have the commitment to the capital investment that is necessary to ensure that it happens? The fact that we need new lines—I've raised many times the need for a new line from Creigiau to Llantrisant, because, at the moment, we have a traffic stranglehold around the Valleys. I wish we had as much focus on that economic stranglehold and the need for structural capital investment in that area as we do have with the focus on the Newport M4 project. I hope we will realise that at some stage in the future. But without that investment, it is doomed to fail, and I have to say merely a perpetuation of the crappy transport system we have, purely with 'metro' written along the side of it, will not be acceptable. It will not achieve the purpose that we actually want, which is something that will stop the process of people having to come down the Valleys but then getting caught in the congestion before they get to Cardiff, but will be moving back into the Valleys—the regeneration, the transformation of those particular communities. So, that is—

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru

I didn't want to break across his flow, and I'm totally in agreement with him, but can I also urge him to reprise the excellent idea that he wrote about five years ago with Mark Barry, which was creating a circle line for the Valleys, which really should be the first priority for the metro, rather than this emphasis, unfortunately, on connection with Cardiff?

Photo of Mick Antoniw Mick Antoniw Labour

Well, listen, absolutely, and it is fundamental to the transformation of the Valleys that we actually start looking—. People can no longer afford to live in the Cardiff area. They are continually moving out, but we want them to move beyond just the Taff vale area into the beautiful areas, the green areas that we now have in the Valleys. And the key to it is transport, and not down into Cardiff, but across the Valleys. And not just for the purpose of work, but also for the purpose of social functions, for cultural functions, for people to communicate and to engage. That is what is transformational. It is absolutely vital, and why it is so vital that we get the commitments for the capital investment in the metro. Thank you.

Photo of Rhianon Passmore Rhianon Passmore Labour

Diolch, Deputy Llywydd. As the Assembly Member for Islwyn, one of the key areas covered by the ministerial taskforce for the south Wales Valleys, may I place on the record my categorical support for the proactive approach of the Welsh Labour Government in supporting the economic development of communities in Islwyn and beyond? It is right that a Labour Government does this. My constituents are keen to see one of the diamonds of Wales's crown jewels of natural landscapes, the Cwmcarn forest drive, restored to its full former glory for the world to enjoy, and I support that drive.

In terms of transport, my constituents are very keen also, as most people are in my constituency, to see a direct train to and from Newport—and that is not to circumnavigate the points that have just been made about the circular route—on the incredibly successful Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line. This would further open Valleys communities and better deliver fair work prospects to all. As attention moves towards the south Wales metro, I have every hope that consideration will be given as to how Crumlin can be further reinvigorated with the possibility of a station. Tourism is important to Islwyn, and so is access to it. Crumlin is a wonderful historic community that contains the Navigation, an iconic, historic site, and a colliery site with industrial heritage.

It is sites such as the Navigation and communities like Cwmcarn that 'Our Valleys, Our Future' speak to and for. I want the Cabinet Secretary to know that his enthusiastic and intelligent approach to this endeavour has my full backing, and it is right that we tackle, unashamedly, areas of Communities First level Wales indices and multiple deprivation indices, and Objective 1 data, and for the many and the few, no matter how some may decry the effort.

Will the Cabinet Secretary outline, when he sums up in this debate, how Islwyn and her communities can directly benefit from the delivery plan, in his view? And would the Cabinet Secretary be willing to meet with me to discuss and address how the people of Islwyn can become fully engaged with the work of the taskforce, as its important mission goes forward in synergy and partnership with the economic strategy for Wales? Diolch.

Photo of Vikki Howells Vikki Howells Labour 5:00, 9 January 2018

I welcome the cross-cutting approach contained within this delivery plan. When I attended the taskforce’s evidence session in Mountain Ash, there was a breadth of ideas from local people about how we can make the Valleys an ever better place to live and work. This diversity is well captured in the delivery plan, which alongside the expected focus on economic improvement, jobs and skills, also takes a holistic approach that places on record considerations on health, well-being, the environment, and the politics of place. The suite of measures the plan contains are well pitched, both to meet the most pressing challenges facing the Valleys in the early twenty-first century, but also to tackle the long-standing, often generational problems still plaguing our communities. For example, Cwm Taf has the highest number of people in Wales taking antidepressants. This is not new; there is no magic-wand solution, but I am glad that tackling this is accorded equal weighting with enhancing economic performance. Accordingly, I would like to offer my congratulations to the Cabinet Secretary for a comprehensive report, and my thanks to the members of the taskforce for their work over the past few months.

Turning to the detail of the report, I welcome the commitment to maximise the creation of green jobs. Much of the historic economic activity associated with the Valleys has had a damaging environmental impact. Going forward, we must make sure that this is not the case again. Indeed, there are specific opportunities in connection with the green economy. RCT council has ambitious plans for a multi-million pound eco-park development at the Bryn Pica waste management facility. The eco-park will turn more rubbish into a resource, collecting and reusing the waste materials produced on site. The council is also in discussion with various other potential tenants, who recycle paint, mattress textiles, nappies and plastics. If successful, this would be the first of its kind in the UK and I hope the Welsh Government will provide all necessary support for this exciting project.

I also welcome the delivery plan’s priority focus on the development of a Valleys landscape park. This will empower the communities in the south Wales Valleys to work with the public sector to maximise sustainable local benefits from their area’s natural resources. I know, also, there have been discussions between Welsh Government officials and the Ynysybwl Regeneration Partnership. The partnership have secured over £1 million from the Big Lottery for a seven-year community project, and best use of local forestry is key to this. For example, in developing facilities and a visitor centre at Daerwynno outdoor pursuits centre, and creating trail and routes through the local forestry. There are real opportunities here, which could be replicated across the Valleys, and will, in turn, offer benefits to health and mental well-being.

On procurement, also, there are good examples of local Valleys businesses who already have the kind of well-developed supply chains that we need to look to emulate. For example, Carpet Fit Wales, in Aberdare, uses suppliers based in Swansea, Cardiff and Bridgend. They use a local floor manufacturer based in Caerphilly and have HR, IT, design and garage services all provided within the Cynon Valley. This is the kind of point that we've been taking evidence on in the economy committee, stressing the importance of efficient networks. If we don’t maximise this, while also expecting more from procurement, then I think we'll be missing a trick in the Valleys to both boost performance and achieve wider social objectives.

This takes me on to what I feel still pose the biggest challenges to policy objectives, namely the persistent problems of economic inactivity, low pay and poor skills. There’s a heavy focus on skills in the delivery plan, and I certainly hope that these will bear fruit. Carrying forward the most successful elements of Communities First, like Communities for Work, is also key. Where we can scale up something that is already working, we must be bold in doing so.

To close, I think amendment 2 makes an important point. The delivery plan offers an excellent road map to build, from the bottom up, stronger Valleys communities. However, we must take this as the start of the discussion, and ensure we continue having dialogue not just about Valleys communities, but with them. I know this is something that the Cabinet Secretary will be keen to do, and I look forward to working together with him on this.

Photo of Caroline Jones Caroline Jones UKIP

Diolch, Dirprwy Lywydd. 'Our Valleys, Our Future' is an exciting opportunity to embrace, but the documents are a stark admission that previous programmes, some of which have been initiated by the Welsh Government, have either failed or fallen short. Even the chair of the ministerial taskforce for the south Wales Valleys says in the initial document this summer, and I quote:

'If we are to succeed where other programmes have fallen by the wayside, local communities and local people must be at the heart of the taskforce's work.'

'Our Valleys, Our Future' highlights a point that I regularly hear from my constituents. On page 9, it says that those consulted at the time said that there aren't enough job opportunities within the reach of Valleys communities, that there are too many zero-hours contracts, and too much temporary and agency work. Our coal and steel industries have decreased significantly, manufacturing too, and a lack of alternative is not replacing them. As a person who was born and lived for many years in the Rhondda valley, infrastructure and public transport are such that it is impossible to get from A to B in a reasonable amount of time. This makes it difficult to work outside of these areas. With people having to travel to city for work—Cardiff, Swansea—it's almost impossible if you don't have a car.

Why are we in this situation? I have said in this Chamber many times before that the UK and Wales is not a low-tax environment. In Neath Port Talbot, in my region, council tax rises every year, but council services are in decline. For example, the collection of refuse has now become fortnightly. VAT increases have further stifled consumption and have made life difficult for small businesses. I receive constant complaints from small businesses concerning business rates within my region and the stifling effect that this has on entrepreneurship. It may be that the larger or multinational firms that have a tendency to employ agency staff and locate themselves in major cities can survive this environment, but local, home-grown small businesses—like those in the Valleys—cannot, and it is these local, home-grown small businesses that are most likely to permanently employ local residents.

People taking over a business in Bridgend were amazed to see that collection of waste was a separate payment to business rates. Previously, business rates included this service. Now, it has become, in their words, another add-on, and an expensive one at that, involving several thousands of pounds per annum more on top of their business rates. In response to this situation, the Welsh Government's solution is, bizarrely, to explore even more options to tax people—the discussion about the tourist tax being one of the most recently discussed ideas. Within my region, I have two tourist areas, Gower and Porthcawl, and I am very concerned about this. That idea is contrary to the views of those who work in the industry, including the CEO of the Celtic Manor hotel and some in the British Hospitality Association. So, at one level, the Welsh Government says that it hears local residents' concerns about work uncertainty and the lack of job opportunities and zero-hours contracts, but then another of its arms smothers the best solutions that we have to these concerns by stifling entrepreneurship and small business with more tax.

The same is also true for business rates. We've discussed that topic before in this Chamber and noted that the FSB state that the non-domestic rates system, as it stands, is an unfair and regressive tax that takes no account of a firm's ability to pay. In that debate, not a single Labour backbencher spoke in defence of the Welsh Government. So, again, reform of business rates could revive local businesses and entrepreneurship, and address the concerns of those people in the Valleys. So, can we please, all together, seize this opportunity?

Another method that might help redress the problem of a lack of well-paid jobs in the Valleys would be to place a statutory duty on local councils to promote economic development. This proposal has been endorsed by the FSB. This policy may be preferable to top-down initiatives, as it would enable those who know their local area best to have real input into the kinds of businesses and jobs that they would like to attract there.

In terms of the elements that affect my region of South Wales West, I can say the following: I welcomed the proposal in the summer that part of the focus of the hub in Neath will be on digital and industrial development. Wales cannot function on residential developments alone, and the digital economy may be the key to the jobs of the future. However—

Photo of Caroline Jones Caroline Jones UKIP

Yes. Similarly, tourism and culture developments in my area, at sites in Bridgend, are welcome. I am certainly happy to hear about the town centre development in Neath, but at the same time I am concerned, because, sometimes, when town centres are regenerated, redeveloped—

Photo of Caroline Jones Caroline Jones UKIP

—there are unintended consequences.

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour

Yes, okay. Thank you. I call the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services to reply to the debate. Alun Davies.

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour

I’m grateful to you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I’m also grateful to all the Members who’ve taken part in the debate this afternoon. I think the number of Members wishing to play a part in the debate and the contributions we’ve heard demonstrate the importance of the Government bringing forward these debates to enable us to have a conversation here in the National Assembly about the way in which the Government is responding to all the challenges facing us.

I’m also glad that this hasn’t been a debate that we’ve seen in the past, where Members have simply picked up off-the-peg speeches and rehearsed all the challenges facing us, because the people of the Valleys want more than sterile debates about what has been. The people of the Valleys want more than politicians who will simply quote statistic after statistic after statistic without fully understanding those stats or being able to articulate what the future holds as a consequence of facing up to those challenges. All too often—and I think Adam Price explained this very well—what we’ve seen has been public relations launches, with little or no substance and certainly no results and consequences. I think that’s a fair criticism of many of the initiatives that we’ve seen in the past, and I accept that. I would also hope that he'd accept his party’s role in one of those as well.

But let me say this: we need to ensure that we articulate very serious ambitions and objectives and visions for the future of our communities across the whole of the Valleys of south Wales. And that means taking seriously the challenges facing us. Not simply making a speech on a Tuesday afternoon and walking away on Tuesday evening, but recognising what those challenges are and recognising how we then address the fundamental parts of the economy and the communities to enable us to overcome those challenges. What we’ve seen this afternoon in this debate has been a whole range of different initiatives, of different ideas, of different contributions, all of which want to be able to contribute to that positive vision of the future.

I wholly agree with the points that Jenny Rathbone made about housing and the construction industry, and the way in which housing can be used in order to deliver improved standards in quality of living, but also investments in our economy. And the points that Hefin David made about a typical Valleys community are absolutely right. When I speak at meetings—I spoke at a meeting with Huw Irranca in Maesteg town hall, and I think that for three hours we stood and spoke and debated and discussed with people there. I was speaking as somebody from Tredegar, looking at the Valleys from my perspective in Blaenau Gwent and Tredegar, and the perspective, of course, of somebody living in the Llynfi valley or Maesteg is wholly and completely different. And the same debates and discussions that we had have been right across the whole of the Valleys, where people have invested time in talking, debating and discussing what they want to see for their communities. It’s been one of the most enriching experiences of my political lifetime, and it’s something that I will always value. And what I have learned from all of those meetings is probably more important to me than all the different texts that I’ve learned at other times, because what we’ve had is real conversations with people about their homes, their communities, their families, their hopes, their determination to create and recreate the communities for the future.

But we also have to be very, very serious about how we do this, addressing the foundational economy, delivering business support that is agile and flexible, able to look at the businesses that Hefin David quoted in Caerphilly, and also able then to scale up the support that those businesses require to grow and succeed into the future.

In terms of the challenges that Mick Antoniw outlined to us, the conversation we had before Christmas in Pontypridd I think was an example of how I would like to see this Valleys taskforce moving forward, bringing people together, acting as a catalyst, a vision for change, a vision for the future. Certainly, all the points that you made are points that I would want to reiterate as well.

Rhianon, I've taken my children on the Cwmcarn forest drive and I wholly agree with the points that you made. Yes, we can meet and discuss issues around Islwyn in particular, but also let's meet and discuss how your vision about tourism can actually contribute to the whole of the Valleys as well. Because one of the things that I hope we can do is to bring people together from all parts of this Chamber in order to deliver for the future.

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour

I am out of time. With the indulgence of the Deputy Presiding Officer

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour

Briefly, then. Briefly—because it's the new year and I feel quite generous. Briefly.

Photo of Adam Price Adam Price Plaid Cymru

The Valleys strategy published 12 years ago by another A. Davies had a price tag of £1 billion a year. When will we have figures from the Cabinet Secretary as to the additional investment that will be attached to this strategy to deliver on the objectives?

Photo of Alun Davies Alun Davies Labour

The opening speech I made, the opening remarks I made, about the Valleys taskforce were that this is shaping the work of the whole of the Welsh Government, so we're seeing contributions, and the point I was going to close on was the point made by Vikki Howells in terms of the breadth of ideas from Mountain Ash, the need for our plans to be rooted in sustainability and sustainable jobs, and finally the points that she made—and I agree with her very much—on the landscape park. It is my good friend and colleague Lesley Griffiths whose department is leading on that landscape park, and it is her officials who are doing the work on that. The work that's being delivered through the strategic hubs, the meetings that are being discussed elsewhere, are being led by Ken Skates. So, there are Ministers and ministerial responsibilities delivering on these ambitions right across the whole of Government. What we want to move away from, Adam, is the compartmentalisation of the Valleys into one department and one quango. We want the whole of Government to address these issues, and the work that Mick Antoniw described in terms of the metro, of course, will also be led by the economy and transport Secretary.

So, let me finish by saying this: Adam, you quoted Idris Davies, and we've all read Gwalia Deserta at different times in the past, and that of course was a cry of anguish from a community that had been betrayed by a government that didn't care. What I would say to you is this—let me paraphrase Gwyn Alf Williams, and be absolutely clear—our Valleys will succeed if we choose to enable them to live in the future, and we will make and remake our communities because we are committed to those communities, we are from those communities, we are rooted in those communities, and this is a Government that is rooted in the future of those communities. So, we will make and remake a future for all of our communities.

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour 5:18, 9 January 2018

Thank you. The proposal is to agree amendment 1. Does any Member object? No. Therefore amendment 1 is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

(Translated)

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour 5:18, 9 January 2018

The proposal is to agree amendment 2. Does any Member object? No. Therefore amendment 2 is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

(Translated)

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour 5:18, 9 January 2018

The proposal is to agree amendment 3. Does any Member object? Good. Therefore amendment 3 is agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

(Translated)

Amendment agreed in accordance with Standing Order 12.36.

Photo of Ann Jones Ann Jones Labour 5:18, 9 January 2018

The proposal is to agree amendment 4. Does any Member object? [Objection.] Therefore we'll defer voting under this item until voting time.

(Translated)

Voting deferred until voting time.