2. Business Statement and Announcement

– in the Senedd at 2:29 pm on 14 May 2024.

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Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 2:29, 14 May 2024

(Translated)

The next item will be the business statement, and I call on the Trefnydd to make that statement. Jane Hutt

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

(Translated)

Thank you, Llywydd. There is one change to this week's business. Later this afternoon, the First Minister will make a statement on Tata Steel. Draft business for the next three weeks is set out on the business statement and announcement, which can be found amongst the meeting papers available to Members electronically. 

Photo of Darren Millar Darren Millar Conservative 2:30, 14 May 2024

Trefnydd, can I call for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for climate change, please, in order that we can receive an update on the Welsh Government's approach to recycling? You'll be aware that the UK Government announced last week its simpler recycling plan, which will enable local authorities and others to take a different approach to recycling, which enables all of the dry recyclables to be co-mingled. Now, this is something that happens still in Denbighshire—part of my constituency—where all of the dry recyclables can go into one bin. It's very simple, it's easy for the public to understand, and it stops all of the bin clutter that we see outside many people's homes, on many streets, and particularly in areas where you've got high densities of population in flats. In addition to that, they're extending the opportunity for businesses to follow that route, as many businesses already do in Wales. Now, Denbighshire had recycling rates—using that system—of 66 per cent in the year 2022-23. That's higher than Gwynedd, Ynys Môn, Wrexham, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil and a whole host of other local authorities that are required to separate their recycling at the kerbside. So, will the Welsh Government consider trying to simplify the recycling system across Wales, so that homes and businesses can co-mingle their dry recyclable waste, still achieve very high recycling rates across the country, but in a much simpler way for them to be able to deploy?

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:31, 14 May 2024

Well, thank you for that important question. This is a question where I'm really pleased to acknowledge—and I'm sure you will do, as you have, Darren—the huge success of Wales, of course, led by the Welsh Government, but as a result of all the partnership working with our local authorities, and, indeed, our communities and citizens. So, we are right at the top of the world league in terms of recycling rates. And, yes, of course, that has meant local authorities learning from each other and taking pace. In my constituency, we don't have co-mingling, and it all works extremely well and very effectively as well. But it is important that we recognise that we have made not just great progress—we've been leaders in terms of recycling in Wales—but also, obviously, others have learnt from us, and that's where we can learn from any developments, but I think learning from us is the way it's happened with recycling. 

(Translated)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (David Rees) took the Chair.

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru 2:32, 14 May 2024

(Translated)

Trefnydd, a number of constituents have contacted me as a result of the announcement by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama that the programme of music, drama and acting lessons for children and young people is likely to come to an end because of the budgetary situation within the college. There is mention in the statement from the college of collaboration with National Music Service Wales on alternative offers, but there is no further detail on that.

I would like to ask, therefore, for an oral or written statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice in terms of this announcement, and for an update on any discussions she's had with the college. With so many children and young people having been affected—many of them in receipt of bursaries—this is something that could have a detrimental impact on them and their development as musicians and actors for the future.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:33, 14 May 2024

Diolch yn fawr, Heledd Fychan, and I'm very aware of this recent announcement and the consultation on proposals to end some of the provision from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in terms of working with young people, which could impact on Saturday music class provision, and also just to recognise that we need to look at this in the context of our national plan for music education. The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama has stated that it remains fully committed to providing opportunities in music for young people and to creating pathways into professional training, and it will be continuing to deliver a number of areas of project work, including weekend immersive workshops in music, the national open youth orchestra residency and holiday courses.

But I think, as I said, it's also recognising that it has to align with our national plan for music education, particularly for learners who want to progress in playing an instrument. And it's a key partner organisation for our national music service, in terms of the national music service's model, and, of course, the college principal is chair of the advisory board to the service. So, obviously, it's an autonomous, independent body, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and it does take its own decisions, but, of course, we then work together to see ways in which they can focus on those links with the national plan for music education and the national music service.

Photo of Paul Davies Paul Davies Conservative 2:35, 14 May 2024

Trefnydd, I'm once again requesting an urgent statement, but, this time, from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, regarding the ongoing situation at Withyhedge landfill site. Now, I heard the First Minister's response to the leader of the opposition earlier, and his replies did not fill me with confidence at all. Now, on Friday afternoon, Public Health Wales issued a statement, saying that odours and emissions from the site could be harmful to people's health and advising people to seek medical advice, which is something my constituents and I have suspected all along. Where has Public Health Wales been until now? There has been a problem at Withyhedge landfill site for months, and now it's looking increasingly likely that the community has been subject to toxic emissions. I've stood up in this Chamber week after week to raise this on behalf of my constituents, and there has been little support from this Government. Well, enough is enough. Welsh Government Cabinet Secretaries cannot stand back and wash their hands of this. There must be an urgent statement outlining exactly what the Welsh Government is going to do to support the community and stop this dangerous operator from harming people even further.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:36, 14 May 2024

Diolch yn fawr, Paul Davies. You have raised this issue on a number of occasions at the business statement, and, indeed, the First Minister responded in full to the leader of the opposition. We recognise Public Health Wales's response and its statement last week, and, most importantly, recognise the concern amongst the local community and the need for that swift action, because, and it's been described vividly, of what that means for that community and people living alongside it. Now, you will be aware that Natural Resources Wales have increased their presence on site; they are continuing to update the community via their website as activities progress. Enforcement notices have been served on the landfill operator, who has to cover all exposed waste and complete landfill engineering work to contain and collect landfill gas. That's the important outcome we are seeking. And if the landfill operator fails to comply with the final deadline of the notice, NRW will take appropriate enforcement action, in line with their enforcement and prosecution policy. So, again, I can assure the Member, and the Chamber, that NRW is responding, as a priority, to resolve the issue, and we do encourage residents, and, indeed, elected representatives, to continue to report any incidences of odour to them, because that, actually, helps inform the effectiveness of tackling this issue of onsite activity by NRW.

Photo of Jane Dodds Jane Dodds Liberal Democrat 2:38, 14 May 2024

Good afternoon, Trefnydd. I'd like to request, please, a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care regarding the concerning state of dentistry waiting lists across Wales. Some good news from Powys Teaching Health Board in terms of children waiting for an NHS dentist: there has been a significant improvement. The figures now stand at 84 children only waiting for an NHS dentist, but we must remember that that is still 84 children. But the number of adults in Powys waiting for an NHS dentist stands at 4,200, which is a staggering number. One of the issues is this lack of centralised data and a central Wales waiting list. When I raised this issue first with the First Minister, he conceded that there had been delays in rolling out this national unified waiting list, but provided no timeline. So, I was just wondering if I could have an indication from the Cabinet Secretary of when we would have a centralised waiting list for NHS dentists in Wales. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:39, 14 May 2024

(Translated)

Thank you very much, Jane Dodds, for your very important question.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

This is important, and it's helpful that you have acknowledged that there has been action taken, and we see dental services being available to children, reducing those waiting lists, which is where we know the priority will be in terms of meeting children's needs. But, of course, there are adults as well. We have to make sure that we get consistency across Wales in terms of developing dental services. So, you will be aware that the Cabinet Secretary has commissioned Digital Health and Care Wales to develop an all-Wales digital solution, and this leads us to this prospect in terms of centralised waiting lists, an all-Wales solution, and it will provide people wishing to access routine dental care with a single and consistent way to register their interest. The system prototype was due to be completed by the end of the last financial year. I can confirm that the system now is due to be tested from mid July by Powys teaching health board, in your region. So, it will roll out across Wales, once the test has been completed and lessons learned from that process have been implemented. But this is a really positive step forward and, of course, it will benefit—. It's being tested in Powys, but will benefit the whole of Wales in terms of access to dental services.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative 2:40, 14 May 2024

I would like a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice regarding a segment produced by S4C on Rhyl in my constituency that aired back in April. The segment was from a television programme called Hansh, and was intended for viewers to be given an insight into, quote, 'the wild world of strippers', unquote. The segment started with a montage of selectively edited vox pops, with people using  obscene language to denigrate and traduce Rhyl. And I'm no Mary Whitehouse by any stretch and by no means a prude, and I have no issue with the subject of the episode; indeed, every industry deserves representation. But I do think it's disappointing that a public service broadcaster would choose to portray my constituency as seedy, playing into harmful stereotypes about the town that we are working hard to change. I know that S4C is an independent public body, appointed by the UK Government, but, as a Welsh language public service broadcaster, we should have some say over its content and running, particularly when the content insults the people it's attempting to entertain or educate. [Interruption.] So, could the Cabinet Secretary outline the view of the Welsh Government on this particular S4C programme, and outline what representations are made to the channel regarding its content?

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:42, 14 May 2024

Well, I do think, has been echoed around the Chamber, and, as you said, S4C is an independent public broadcaster. I think you've made your views known, and presumably you've conveyed your views to the public broadcaster, and I think that's the appropriate route to take. 

Photo of Delyth Jewell Delyth Jewell Plaid Cymru

The Redhouse building in Merthyr Tydfil has been forced to close its doors. I'd appreciate a statement setting out the importance of keeping venues like this open. The building is vitally important for residents. It was the town hall, more recently it's been an arts centre, but it's also proof of the area's past. It was built at a time when Merthyr was at the centre of world industry, and the area in front of it was the scene of the Merthyr Rising. Surely, there's an intervention that the Government can make here. The venue is owned by a local housing association, but the arts centre it houses is run by a leisure trust. Transferring the business has apparently been stalled because of questions over financial viability. The reason I'd like a Government statement is that something similar happened recently with the Aberfan community centre. Now, that venue's future now looks more secure, in part, I think, because of public anger. But the people of these valleys keep getting things taken from them: their services, their assets, their jobs. There are jobs at the Redhouse at risk right now. So, can a statement, please, acknowledge the importance of keeping these buildings in use for the community, so that they don't turn into relics, they aren't just testament to what we used to be, but that they are protected for our future? 

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:43, 14 May 2024

(Translated)

Thank you for your question. 

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour

These are buildings of our heritage, aren't they? And indeed, I'm not sure about that particular building, but I suspect it has over the years benefited from not only public funding via the local authority and, indeed, Welsh Government, but also from European funding, for which there was a huge programme for regenerating and preserving and refurbishing these buildings. And, of course, when they do provide those services and those facilities, like the arts facility that you describe, that is where community use and access to those services must be protected, if at all possible, but we are in such difficult financial times in terms of public finances. But, of course, there are community asset transfer options. I don't know how much the community and, indeed, management and trustees have accessed services from, for example, the local council for voluntary services, but I think it would be good if you could certainly write to the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice, so that all avenues could be explored on behalf of that facility in your constituency, in your region.

Photo of Laura Anne Jones Laura Anne Jones Conservative 2:45, 14 May 2024

Trefnydd, I would like to request a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice, please. Welsh National Opera is currently engulfed in a crisis that threatens its future as our flagship arts organisation and only full-time opera company here in Wales. Welsh National Opera is the jewel in Wales's crown. It is the largest arts employer, created in the 1940s by a group of doctors, miners and teachers who wished to build a performing ensemble that would live up to our reputation as the land of song. Welsh National Opera currently stands on a precipice, having received cuts from both the arts councils of Wales and England that amount to 25 per cent of its yearly budget. This is clearly completely untenable. Unless further financial help can be found, WNO is going to be forced to make its orchestra and chorus, the beating heart of the company, part time. It's scaling back its touring venues and has already offered voluntary redundancy to the rest of the company. This will result in a loss of vital skills across the organisation. Without increased funding in the short term, WNO will be unable to continue to deliver a substantial offer of opera education and engagement in wellness programmes, providing artistic, community, educational and health benefits across our communities the length and breadth of Wales. The quality and output of Wales's flagship arts organisation will be severely diluted in the UK and beyond. It is crucial that the Cabinet Secretary comes to the Chamber with a statement that informs us of her recent discussions with the UK Government and also eases the current fears and ensures that the long-term future of Welsh National Opera is no longer in doubt. Diolch.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:46, 14 May 2024

Diolch, Laura Anne Jones. This was raised in the business statement, certainly, last week as well. Obviously, there have been high-profile, public questions and concerns raised about Welsh National Opera, which we dearly, dearly treasure. Wales's culture and sport sectors are an integral part of our society and well-being, and they enrich our communities and inspire future generations. We do recognise as a Welsh Government the social, cultural and economic value of the arts sector in Wales, including opera. But, of course, as you know, Welsh Government funding for the arts is channelled through the Arts Council of Wales. With our arm's-length funding principle, the investment review, of course, was an issue for the Arts Council of Wales. We don't interfere with the Arts Council of Wales's funding decisions. So, that's led to very difficult decisions when it comes to funding, but I note that opera is receiving 71 per cent of the total spend on the music sector for 2024-25. But, of course, as you've said and as has been acknowledged, the budget cut from Arts Council England has had an adverse impact as well, and, of course, that has an impact in terms of touring opportunities for Welsh National Opera. I think this is something where we need to take account of what is emerging. Of course, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice is engaging in her role, and recognising that this is something where we need to look at the really dire situation we are in in terms of funding—up to £700 million less in Wales in real terms, of our budget, as a result of UK Government cuts has meant these extremely difficult decisions have emanated.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 2:48, 14 May 2024

(Translated)

Finally, Sam Rowlands.

Photo of Sam Rowlands Sam Rowlands Conservative

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. Trefnydd, I'd like to call for a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for health outlining actions to deal with the recent increase in cases of whooping cough. Currently, we're experiencing a peak year for the infection, with some of the highest rates causing concern in babies under three months old, who are a particularly vulnerable group, and five of those babies have sadly died as a result of the infection so far this year. Recent data published by the UK Health Security Agency showed over 1,300 cases confirmed in March alone, which is deeply concerning. We know some of this cause is linked to fewer children receiving their vaccines. Indeed, around only 93 per cent of children have received their six-in-one vaccinations up until now. I think it would be important for this Senedd to receive an update from the Cabinet Secretary on whooping cough numbers and how the Welsh Government is working to bring down any increases in those numbers and make sure that preventative measures are in place in order to protect people, and in particular babies, here in Wales.

Photo of Jane Hutt Jane Hutt Labour 2:50, 14 May 2024

Well, thank you very much for that question, because it is really important, as the First Minister said earlier on, that we encourage the uptake of vaccination. And, in fact, you've done that very ably this afternoon. He was referring to the measles outbreak in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and that single case in north Wales, which shows that we have got to increase the awareness and uptake of vaccination. And, on whooping cough, I haven't got any details about the prevalence or emergence of whooping cough as an issue in terms of numbers of cases, but I will certainly draw this to the attention of the Cabinet Secretary. But, again, thank you for raising awareness this afternoon in raising this question.

Photo of David Rees David Rees Labour 2:51, 14 May 2024

(Translated)

I thank the Trefnydd.