Today’s Senedd Roundup: Buy-in from businesses key to improving Welsh language uptake

Picture by Working Word (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the cross-party support within the Assembly for the ambition of the Cymraeg 2050 strategy of reaching one million Welsh speakers in a generation.
  • Recognises that the success of the strategy is dependent on: creating more opportunities for people to use and develop Welsh in the workplace and community; convincing businesses there is commercial advantage in promoting a bilingualism and balancing legislative and non-legislative steps to achieve this; identifying and delivering value-for-money through increased use of Welsh in the workplace rather than the introduction of requirements which do not achieve this.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to update the Senedd every six months on progress made in relation to Cymraeg 2050 and report before the end of 2019 on the effectiveness of its current promotion of the Welsh language to businesses.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to appoint a network of Welsh language business champions to promote the use of the language by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to consider reform of the role of the Welsh Language Commissioner to permit investigations by both Welsh and non-Welsh speakers regarding their language rights.

Accessing the benefits of bilingualism

Shadow Welsh Language Minister, Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), believed that very little has been done by the Welsh Government – through its various strategies – to promote bilingualism amongst small and medium-sized businesses. There’s often goodwill towards the language, but it has to come with incentives – the first-Welsh language “establishment”won’t be seen as a voice that will persuade businesses on bilingualism.

“Business, in my opinion, needs to talk directly to business. That’s why we want to see language champions from within the business world: co-production, transition, learners who know how difficult it is to make progress with the language, and those who understand the bottom line too.”
– Shadow Welsh Language Minister, Suzy Davies AM

On the basis of fairness, there also needed to be non-court based remedies for non-Welsh speakers who may be denied various opportunities.


Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) said the challenge to create and secure 1 million Welsh-speakers by 2050 shouldn’t be over-simplified. It was unfortunate that plans for a new Welsh Language Bill were scrapped, but it reflects the mess the Welsh Government finds itself in with policies and priorities changing with each ministerial appointment. She also believed that enabling non-Welsh-speaking individuals to complain about jobs that require Welsh-speaking skills would be a retrograde step and undermine the whole point of having a Welsh Language Commissioner.

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), mentioned that the number of trainee teachers able to teach in Welsh was at its lowest point in a decade, making it even more difficult to expand Welsh-medium education to meet the 2050 target.

An ambitious, but challenging, strategy

The Welsh Government’s amendment completely reworded the motion, but the Minister of International Affairs & Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan (Lab, Mid & West Wales), didn’t believe this was undermining the Tory motion, but offers a broader picture of what’s happening on the ground – which she went on to list in some detail.

On the core point regarding businesses, however:

“I do think that it’s important that we do underline the fact that we do agree that we need to strike an appropriate balance between regulating and promoting in order to help businesses, particularly small businesses, to be bilingual. Because we know….that it’s not the establishment that’s going to persuade SMEs to engage with using the Welsh language, but they may respond to the fact that bilingual provision can attract more business. We know that that’s true.”
– International Affairs & Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan

The motion was defeated by 33 votes to 11.

Jack Sargeant AM. Photo by National Assembly For Wales licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Labour AM sets out road map for “kinder communities”

This week, it was the turn of Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) to lead a short debate.

“Empathy must be central to what we do”

Jack Sargeant said that despite many references to kinder politics in the Senedd chamber, it was time to turn words into action. Life isn’t a level playing field and empathy had to be central to what politicians do – seeing the world through the eyes of different people.

“We’ve seen a growing sense of isolation, dislocation, insecurity and the erosion of hope, the growth of unkind communities. So, to deal with these issues, we can either beat the fire with fire, using unkind solutions for unkind situations, which will only lead to a greater environment of blame and pain, or we can acknowledge the problems we have and seek to fix them with new solutions, kinder solutions.”
– Jack Sargeant AM

He’s been working with the Carnegie Trust on innovative new ways to promote kindness and wellbeing in everyday life. They found that, in Wales, when people experience kindness, they’re more likely to act the same way towards other people. Some may say that kindness may not work as a political strategy, but they’re wrong. Considering the number of challenges we face, stepping back to think might be the best option.

Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) read the work of the Carnegie Trust and was pleased that Wales was a kinder place than people think. Politicians don’t always get it right and sometimes have to disagree, but there was increased vilification of people with different political and religious beliefs.

Building bridges and promoting understanding

Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan), believes Wales can and should be a place where we reject all forms of bigotry and prejudice. The Welsh Government is working to build bridges between different communities and has the ambition of becoming a “Nation of Sanctuary”.

While there had long been government support for measures on hate crime and involving the third sector, there were emerging issues which needed addressing such as online bullying and the tone of political debate.

“All politicians have a responsibility to line up to the values and principles that Jack Sargeant has raised today and on many occasions. But I think, finally, I’d say that Jack’s challenge is what he said to the powerful in our society. We have a responsibility, all of us, to speak up. Some of us have the power. We all have powers in our own way, as an agency, but those who have responsibility, as leaders, have got to take that power forward.”
– Deputy Minister without portfolio, Jane Hutt

Photo by Jason Gillman from Pixabay

Minister promises improvements to eye appointment waiting times

Conservative debate: Waiting times to access ophthalmology appointments are too long but can be improved through new targets.

The Motion (Final/Amended Version)

The Senedd:

  • Notes that there are currently 111,000 people living with sight loss in Wales and the number of people with sight loss is predicted to increase by 32% by 2030 and double by 2050.
  • Welcomes the introduction of new performance measures for eye care patients, but regrets that 1 in 3 patients are waiting longer than their target waiting time for ophthalmology appointments.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to: hold health boards to account over their failure to meet eye care waiting time targets; publish and implement the national workforce plan for the whole of the eye care sector; improve analysis of complaints and serious incidents where sight loss has occurred; drive forward implementation of the eye care delivery plan and work with stakeholders across Wales to agree on next steps.

Sight loss costs Welsh economy £268million a year

Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM (Con, Carms. W. & S. Pembs.), outlined the stark figures facing Wales on sight loss (mentioned in the motion), adding that sight loss costs the Welsh economy £268million a year – while the wider cost including health and wellbeing was as much as £1billion. Of course, beyond the money there’s a deeply personal impact.

While treatments for cataracts and glaucoma have improved, clinics have effectively become victims of their own success:

“A government initiative….in the fourth Assembly concerning glaucoma was very successful but led to extra pressure being placed on clinics. And I’ve heard it’s not unusual for patients to be left waiting over four hours when attending their appointments. And it’s not just the waiting time for appointments that were raised, but cancellation of appointments. A freedom of information request to Betsi Cadwaladr highlighted that, over the last five years, that health board has cancelled close to 40,000 ophthalmology appointments; 7,900-odd were in the last financial year.”
– Shadow Health Minister, Angela Burns AM

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) said members of her own family have had experience of long waiting times for ophthalmology clinics dating back to the 1990s. Sight loss can seriously impact a person’s quality of life and dignity and there was a need for common sense too – sending appointment notices to people with sight problems which aren’t accessible to them will make issues surrounding missed appointments worse.

“Last October, the Wales Audit Office reported that NHS Wales follow-up waiting lists have increased substantially with ophthalmology the second-worst of all disciplines. In April, the Welsh Government published the first health board performance data against the new eye care measures for NHS out-patients….the April data showed that not a single health board is yet meeting the new Welsh Government targets.”
– Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales)

Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) raised the impact of staff shortages and an over-reliance on locum doctors to fill vacancies in ophthalmology, while Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) called for direct referrals from high street opticians to specialists – not via a GP.

Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) revealed how some ophthalmology services have been outsourced to private companies, with a company in Preston managing appointments in the Cwm Taf health board.

Not good enough, but improving

“There are people in Wales waiting too long for their initial treatment, and I recognise that is not good enough. However, despite increases in the number of people needing our services, we have seen significant improvements in referral-to-treatment times over recent years. At the end of March 2019, there were 218 people waiting longer than 36 weeks for their first appointment, and that’s the best position since March 2012 and a 93% improvement since the low point of March 2015….”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth)

The Minister went on to say that the new targets are much harder to “massage” and are more honest, while he openly acknowledged that private companies were used to address long waiting lists, saying that if the NHS didn’t make use of resources outside the NHS, waiting times might be longer.

Vote

The motion was carried by 38 votes to 5.

 

A Transport for Wales train. Picture by Jeremy Segrott (CC BY 2.0)

Transport for Wales responsibilities likely to expand in the medium term

Yesterday, AMs discussed the Economy & Infrastructure Committee’s report on the future of Transport for Wales – summary here.

Blurred lines of responsibility

Chair of the Committee, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), stressed the confusion over what Transport for Wales is; it’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Welsh Government yet there was an element of independence. Nonetheless, the teething issues which affected rail services in autumn 2018 seem to have been worked out and he was pleased by TfW’s response to the report.

Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) stressed the importance for ordinary passengers to have their say, while Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) picked up on some of the criticisms aimed at TfWs relations with trade unions:

“….we had to say to them, ‘Look….if you are going to be transferring people to TfW from other bodies, then they need to be clear about what’s happening and they also have to have a role on that board.’ I’m glad to see….that TfW has now engaged with all the trade unions….But it shouldn’t be an afterthought; they should be there from the start as part of the social partnership, and we shouldn’t be seeing that happening again here in Wales.”
– Bethan Sayed AM

“Nobody checked my ticket”

Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) said TfW had to take a greater lead in providing expert skills training and apprenticeships, based on similar programmes in Merseyside and Manchester. David Rowlands AM (BXP, South Wales East) believed there was a potentially bright future if TfW lives up to promises on job creation, apprenticeships and new trains.

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) said there was a “long, long way to go” to properly link bus services and active travel routes to major rail stations, which were often the best means by which to connect more deprived areas. She supported moves towards integrated ticketing and supported a highways role for TfW.

Both Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales and Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) said transport wasn’t been properly factored into new housing developments, meaning they quickly become car-dependent. However, the latter also supported calls for integrated ticketing, for a very different reason to some:

“I took my children on a return journey from Hengoed to Aber….but I bought my ticket using my TfW app. So, I bought my ticket before I left the house. Nobody checked my ticket on the train. There must be technology that would enable the conductor on the train to know whether tickets have been purchased or not….The carriage was full, so the conductor simply wasn’t able to get from one carriage to the other to check my ticket, but I had bought the ticket. But it would be very tempting….to not buy a ticket; human nature.”
– Hefin David AM

Review set to take place on transferring more responsibilities to TfW

Deputy Economy & Transport Minister, Lee Waters (Lab, Llanelli), said the expectations of the public and ways by which they use transport was already changing due to new technology – such as smartphone apps – and an “Uber for buses” is set to be piloted in the Valleys and Wrexham.

TfW was established to provide the expertise and capacity to deliver the government’s policy goals. A review was set to take place regarding TfW’s functions so the Welsh Government can be left to focus on the bigger picture challenges in transport:

“In the medium term, we have instructed officials to plan for the migration of the remaining transport delivery functions, such as highway improvements and operations, from the Welsh Government into TfW. Doing this will leave the Welsh Government free to focus on the policy challenges posed by decarbonisation, air quality, autonomous and electric vehicles and so on to develop a multiterm legislative programme and policy framework that will help us realise the ambitions we have for TfW.”
– Deputy Minister for Economy & Transport, Lee Waters

He also confirmed that, with recently-proposed regional working in local government, transport was likely to be dealt with regionally, with TfW providing a similar expert role for councils as it does to the Welsh Government.

 

Professional body for NHS managers needed due to concerns over consistency

Extra £15million to improve critical care services

£15million will be spent on ten projects across Wales to improve critical care services following the report and recommendations of an expert group.

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) said: “As well as providing additional critical care beds, the funding will deliver improvements in related services such as post-anaesthesia care units, long term ventilation and critical care outreach teams. It will also help address existing workforce issues to meet both the current and expanding capacity.”

Moves to cut the number of children taken into care

The Welsh Government have announced measures to cut the number of children taken into care after an increase of 34% over the last fifteen years. 25% of looked-after children were placed outside their home county and 5% placed outside Wales.

Deputy Minister for Health & Social Services, Julie Morgan (Lab, Cardiff North) told AMs during an oral statement in the chamber that local authorities will be expected to develop plans to reduce the number of children taken into care by around 4% a year for three years.

Shutting M4 junctions “would make life worse for Newport”

Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West) warned that any moves to close junctions on the M4 as part of alternative measures to the cancelled Newport bypass could make life more difficult for Newport residents, leading to more traffic queues and increases in air pollution.

She told BBC Wales: “There’s traffic coming down from other parts of Wales, whether that’s junction 26 which caters for the Cwmbran end, or whether that’s junction 27 which is getting a lot of traffic from Risca.”

Plaid Cymru and Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) have both expressed support for targeted junction closures.

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