Today’s Senedd Roundup: Welsh-speakers “treated like second-class citizens”

Adam Price. Picture by Plaid Cymru.

Owen Donovan, Senedd Home

First Minister’s Questions

Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr), said that while he has a right to ask questions to the First Minister in Welsh, his father didn’t have a right to ask opticians, pharmacists or dentists questions in Welsh. He also asked about the future of Welsh in higher education, particularly universities based in areas where Welsh was widely spoken.

“Today, a cross-party committee of this Senedd….state that there’s been very little, if any, progress made by the regulations that you’ve just published (due to be put to a vote in the Senedd tomorrow) in terms of giving people in Wales the right to receive health services in the language of their choice. Why, after 84 years, is my father still treated as a second-class citizen?”
– Adam Price AM

The First Minister – a former Health Minister – said it was important to receive services through the medium of Welsh and the regulations were an expansion of such duties. It’s a long-term project and he was heartened that many NHS staff now wear visible signs that they can communicate in Welsh.

As for universities, the First Minister said it was right that the Welsh Government doesn’t interfere with them as they’re independent bodies.

Independence of proposed Citizen Voice Body questioned

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), asked whether health services were meeting the needs of young people. Only two centres for child and adolescent mental health are available in Wales offering just 27 beds. Many patients were now being treated out-of-area; was this acceptable?


The First Minister took a very different view. We don’t need more centres in Wales and the key was to prevent young people ending up in a position of needing high-level mental health services in the first place; some patient’s needs will be so exceptional they should receive specialist care, currently only available in England.

Paul Davies moved on to the Health & Social Care Quality Bill and the proposal to abolish Community Health Councils (CHCs):

“Do you think that now is the right time to be scrapping CHC’s that are trusted by patients and replacing them with citizen voice bodies that might not feel they can be critical of the Welsh Government….as they will be appointed by you, funded by you and then won’t want to be sacked by you?”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

The First Minister told him CHCs were already funded and partly appointed by the Welsh Government, so the replacement body would be no different there. The new body will be “entirely independent of Government” and will operate across health and social care – unlike CHCs.

Wales: Open for Business?

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) returned to the Newport bypass, accusing Labour of breaking a clear manifesto commitment from 2016 to deliver it and quoting CBI as saying the decision to cancel it sent out a message that Wales “was not open for business”.

On the contrary, said the First Minister, adding that business groups were keen to feed ideas into how to solve the problems at Newport:

“I was very pleased to meet with the chief executive of the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Trades Union Congress last week to talk about the decision….They came to say how keen they were to participate in the group that will be established to come up with solutions. I think it’s hard to imagine a greater contrast between the constructive spirit the CBI and others came to that table and the carping tone that we have been offered by the Member again this afternoon.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

British branding at the Royal Welsh show

Committee: Strong Welsh branding needed for food and drink

Environment Committee
Food branding and processing (pdf)
Published: 18th June 2019

“We know from consumer surveys that 8 out of 10 Welsh shoppers would always buy Welsh produce if the price is right. We need to make sure that it is easy to identify and access Welsh produce, both domestically and internationally. The challenges presented by Brexit makes this even more urgent.”
– Committee Chair, Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East)

The Welsh Government needs a new post-Brexit food strategy

The current Welsh Government strategy for the food and drink ends in 2020. The food and drink sector is also one of the four “foundation sectors” within the economic action plan.

There was praise from food producers for the work the Welsh Government were doing in terms of promoting Welsh produce and promoting food tourism. However, some witnesses suggested the Welsh Government has failed to fully implement their strategy or failed to respond adequately to interim reviews. Also, consultation on a new draft strategy has reportedly been put on hold due to Brexit.

The Committee concluded that any new strategy should make connections between different policy areas (such as health) and isn’t solely focused on economic growth. They also said it had to be flexible enough to respond to pressures and opportunities arising from Brexit.

Welsh branding is generally more beneficial to the food and drink sector than British branding

Witnesses told the Committee that Welsh branding was associated with higher quality, “naturalness” and premium prices. Protected food names/geographical indicators are also expected to be retained after Brexit – with a memorandum of understanding that the devolved administrations will be involved in administering the scheme.

Aldi reportedly saw sales of lamb increase by 25% when it switched from British to Welsh branding, while Huw Thomas of Puffin Produce saw sales increase by between 20%-33% when they dropped the Union flag for the Welsh flag.

Research commissioned by the Welsh Government in 2017 found that up to 85% of consumers in Wales saw Welsh produce as “great quality” or “great tasting”, while 78% of shoppers within Wales would buy Welsh if they could. Up to a third of shoppers outside Wales would prefer to see more Welsh produce in stores.

Nonetheless, some witnesses said using British branding may help provide a route into markets where awareness of Wales was limited (i.e. China).

Food processing capacity in Wales needs to be increased

Food processing within Wales was said to potentially add more value to Welsh produce; clear gaps exist, where the primary produce has Welsh origins but is processed, packaged and marketed elsewhere. Witnesses suggested consumers are beginning to grow concerned about where their food comes from/”food miles” and more localised food is likely to become popular, despite processing companies consolidating facilities in England.

EU nationals were said to make up to 50%+ of the food processing workforce in Wales and around 25% of vets. The Committee was told it’s likely to be extremely difficult to find replacements amongst locals who are reluctant to work in meat processing and abattoirs. Some producers, like Puffin Produce, are moving towards automation.

 

Photograph by Silas Camargo Silão from Pixabay

New law to abolish Community Health Councils 

Health & Social Care (Quality & Engagement) Bill
Introduced by Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth)
Bill (pdf)
Explanatory Memorandum (pdf)

Why intoduce a Health & Social Care Quality Bill?

There’ve been a number of instances in recent years where health boards have caused harm to patients. This is not only through poor quality of services but also not fully taking responsibility for a problem or even not accepting they have one – the most recent high-profile example being the Cwm Taf maternity scandal.

The explanatory memorandum lists a total of 86,474 incidences of “harm” during 2017-18, 25 of which involved the death of a patient and 289 being categorised as “severe”.

There’ve also been criticisms that the bodies attached to each health board which are supposed to represent patient interests – Community Health Councils (CHCs) – haven’t done enough to do that. Meanwhile, various reviews found a lack of public knowledge about what CHCs do, while there’s no equivalent body for people receiving care.

The Lowdown: 3 Key Proposals in the Health & Care Quality Bill

  1. Placing a “duty of candour” on the NHS

The Welsh Government will be able to introduce regulations which will outline when a “duty of candour” applies. In essence, if a patient has been harmed in some way as a direct result of the quality of care they’ve received, the health board in question will have a duty to approach it in an open and honest manner, formally apologise, give a point of contact to the patient (or someone acting on their behalf) and keep appropriate records.

NHS bodies (including primary care providers like GPs, dentists etc.) will have to report annually on how often and under what circumstances the “duty of candour” has been triggered.

  1. Community Health Councils will be abolished and replaced with a Citizen Voice Body

A new national “independent” body will be set up to replace CHCs and represent the interests of patients and people receiving care. It’ll be a corporate body not tied to any single health board and able to make its own arrangements for regional or local structures. The Bill also places a duty on health and care providers to give due regard to any representations from the Citizen Voice Body.

It’ll be funded directly by the Welsh Government and will be made up of a Chair and between 7 to 9 members serving a maximum of two 4-year terms. Members will be appointed by the Welsh Government – likely to lead to accusations that it’s not anywhere near as independent as the Bill suggests.

73 staff are expected to transfer from CHCs to the Citizen Voice Body via TUPE.

  1. Health Boards will be able to (formally) appoint a Vice Chair

Vice Chairs of health boards already exist unofficially to some extent and often fill in for Chairs and alike – but are usually people who do it alongside another role. The Bill will place them on a full legal footing in their own right with the hope it will improve the quality of health board governance.

How much will the Health & Social Care Quality Bill cost?

Between 2020-21 and 2025-16, the Bill’s provisions are expected to cost between £11million and £11.5million in total, with most of that spent in the first two years.

A majority of the costs fall on the Welsh Government, arising due to the establishment and ongoing funding for the Citizen Voice Body, which is expected to cost £6.1million in total over the first five financial years.

The biggest cost to the NHS relates to the new duty of candour (training, awareness etc.), which will cost just over £3.2million in 2020-2, with the ongoing annual cost falling to an estimated £80,300 a year.

The Bill isn’t expected to save any money, though a proper duty of candour could prevent complaints escalating to court level – which could save marginal legal costs.

Mark Reckless and Nigel Farage. PjrNews / Alamy Stock Photo

Review of political group rules to take place before the next Senedd term

The Business Committee – which determines the scheduling and arrangements for Senedd Business – has decided that a review of political groups will be undertaken before the end of the current term (pdf).

Following the establishment of a Brexit Party group, a number of AMs co-signed a letter to the Committee demanding that the rules be changed to prevent regional list members from joining political groups which don’t have prior representation in the Senedd.

Although the co-signatories didn’t want the rules to apply retrospectively, the Committee decided it would raise matters of fairness and undermine the principle that regional list and constituency members are equal. Nonetheless, they’ve agreed that a review of political group membership should take place.

A petition launched by Nation.Cymru’s Dr Ifan Morgan Jones – largely calling for the same thing – received 1,301 signatures and will now be considered further by the Petitions Committee.

A child watching a TV. Picture by Mojzagrebinfo

National Broadcast Archive gets green light

A National Archive for audio and visual material from BBC Wales, ITV Wales/HTV and S4C will go ahead after a £4.7million grant was agreed by the National Lottery.

The archive is being developed by the National Library of Wales and material will be made available for the public at the National Library itself in Aberystwyth as well as four regional hubs

Chief Executive of the National Library, Pedr ap Llwyd, said: “We intend to safeguard this vital source of our nation’s heritage for present and future generations and use it to help establish the first National Broadcast Archive in the UK.”

Deputy Minister for Culture, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) – who had previously been highly sceptical of the value of the Welsh Government’s £1million investment – said it was “an ambitious and nationally-significant project”.

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