Water Safety and Drowning Prevention

2. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs – in the Senedd at on 15 May 2024.

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Photo of John Griffiths John Griffiths Labour


6. What steps is the Cabinet Secretary taking to improve water safety and drowning prevention? OQ61111

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 3:03, 15 May 2024

Thank you, John. I was honoured to announce last week a newfound partnership between Water Safety Wales and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. This partnership enhances our combined efforts in reducing water-related accidents, and the Welsh Government has allocated up to £150,000 for 2024-25 to support these endeavours.

Photo of John Griffiths John Griffiths Labour

I was very pleased to sponsor the water safety coalition event in the Pierhead building the other week, and it was very good to have you there to speak, Cabinet Secretary. You will know that the mother of Mark Allen, who tragically drowned in a reservoir in Wales, was there to speak about the importance of having throwlines at reservoirs, lakes and canals as part of improving our water safety. And we also heard that too few children are learning to swim now as part of the primary school swimming programmes.

As well as perhaps addressing those two sets of issues, Cabinet Secretary, might I also mention SARA, which is a volunteer-led lifeboat service operating in and around the Severn estuary and includes the River Usk? As part of improving water safety, they would like to have a new base on the River Usk near the city centre in Newport so they could get into that river more quickly if people were in difficulties in the water. I just wonder if you could tell us how the policies that you're taking forward and the investment that you've mentioned might help them establish that new base, which would be very important in improving safety on the River Usk in the centre of Newport.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 3:05, 15 May 2024

Thank you, John, and thank you for hosting that event last week, because it was truly excellent. It was a real pleasure and a privilege to speak with Leeanne. She, of course, addressed from the main stage in the Pierhead those who were gathered there. I think her work and her campaigning that went to, indeed, the Petitions Committee, as well, has been instrumental in pushing us along and encouraging us to go further and faster. I think we both want to use the floor of this Senedd to thank her for all the work she has done, and she continues to do, because there is no better legacy to Mark Allen's memory than that. This will actually save lives, what has been already achieved.

Part of that is, within this partnership, really practical measures such as enhancing safety measures at high-risk locations with open water and on the coast, improved signage to get the message across, life-saving equipment installation, regular risk assessments at those big water bodies as well, and so on. These are simple but exceptionally important steps in reducing water-related incidents and fatalities. We have too many fatalities. And the other aspects, of course, are what we can do in schools, not just on swimming but on water safety awareness, and also engagement with the local communities themselves, who know these water bodies, to get the message through there about how to look after themselves properly as well.

In respect of SARA and what they can contribute, it's amazing to see how many organisations out there can be part of this. I'd be interested in learning more, John, if you were to drop me a line or have a further conversation with me, and let's talk about how they and others can get involved with this important piece of work. We're approaching that time of year now where many people of all different ages will want to go out. The approach, now, to open-water swimming is interesting, but do it safety and so on. Youngsters, particularly, will want to go out and enjoy themselves in our great outdoors. That's fantastic, but do it safely. Be aware. Know what your limits are and know what you should be doing in the right place and so on. So, I think, working with organisations such as the one you've highlighted today is the way forward, and working with local communities. There's a big job of work to do, but if we save lives over this summer—. We know there are too many fatalities out there, but let's do the very best we can, and this partnership approach is key to it.