Tackling Nitrate Pollution in Wales

21 October 2016

Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

Photograph of cows

The Welsh Government is consulting on Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) in Wales. The consultation focuses on measures for reducing water pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. The Welsh Government plans to introduce new Regulations in 2017.


Diffuse water pollution is a significant problem in some parts of Wales. It is caused by many small or scattered sources where pollutants are carried into water bodies by rainwater run-off from urban and rural land. This impacts the ecology of lakes, rivers and coastal waters, the quality of groundwater and the costs of water supplies.

The EU Nitrates Directive (91/676/EC) aims to reduce and prevent water pollution by nitrates from agriculture. Compliance with this Directive also directly impacts on compliance with the Water Framework Directive and Bathing Water Directive. Member States are required to identify surface and groundwater bodies that are, or could be, high in nitrates from agricultural sources. Once such a water body has been identified, all land draining into that water body is designated as a NVZ and an Action Programme of ‘Good Agricultural Practice’ will apply to that area.

While the UK voted to leave the EU in June, the UK must continue to comply with EU legislation until such time as it formally leaves, which currently could be sometime in 2019.

The NVZ Action Programme includes:

  • controlling the dates (closed periods) and conditions under which nitrogen fertiliser and organic materials are spread;
  • having sufficient facilities for storage of manures and slurries;
  • limiting nitrogen fertiliser applications to the crop requirement only;
  • limiting quantities of organic material applied per hectare per year;
  • limiting the total quantity of organic material applied at farm level;
  • controlling the areas where nitrogen fertilisers can be applied;
  • controls on application methods; and
  • preparing plans and keeping adequate farm records.

Water bodies in NVZs must then be monitored every four years for nitrate levels and eutrophication. Eutrophication is where the increase in nitrate or phosphate in the water encourages algae growth, which forms a bloom over the water surface. This prevents sunlight reaching other water plants, which then die. Bacteria break down the dead plants and use up the oxygen in the water so the water body may become lifeless.

The outcome of the NVZ review is used to inform the decision to either continue with discrete NVZ designations or to apply the Action Programme throughout the whole of the Member State or Region (in this case Wales) and also to inform amendments to the measures in the Action Programme. On designation of specific areas of land as NVZs, only landowners within that area must implement the Action Programme measures (with landowners in other areas being subject only to other national baseline standards). If the Action Programme is applied throughout Wales, all landowners in Wales must comply. Conversely if the Action Programme is not applied throughout Wales, NVZs must be designated using specific tests and reviewed every four years.

The Nitrate Pollution Prevention (Wales) Regulations 2013 make provision for implementing and enforcing the Nitrates Directive in Wales. This includes designating NVZs and setting out what farmers with land in NVZs need to do to reduce nitrate pollution. Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is responsible for enforcing the Regulations, including the Action Programmes measures.

The last four yearly NVZ review undertaken by the Welsh Government in 2012 resulted in the designation of 2.4% of the land area of Wales as a NVZ and introduced improved measures in the Action Programme that farms located within NVZs must comply with. Approximately 750 farm holdings are currently subject to pollution controls under the Nitrate Action Programme in Wales.

Rural Development Programme

Compliance with the Nitrates Directive can have costs for farmers in NVZs, for example investment in slurry storage facilities, however, there is currently support available to farmers. Under the Rural Development Plan (RDP) for Wales (2014-2020), eligible farmers can access 80 per cent funding towards nutrient management planning and advice on the NVZ Regulations through Farming Connect. Financial support is also available through the RDP Sustainable Production Grant Scheme to improve resource and business efficiency.

The Welsh Government’s NVZ Consultation

The consultation closes on 23 December 2016 and asks for opinions on:

  • options for future designation of NVZs – a targeted approach to designation of discrete NVZ areas or applying the action programme throughout the whole of Wales.
  • proposals to modify the Action Programme measures implemented within the NVZs.

The consultation states that adopting the targeted approach would mean an increase in the total area designated from 2.4% to approximately 8% which includes those areas newly identified by NRW. The maps on the Welsh Government website show the proposed NVZ areas in Wales and show detail down to field level.

Stakeholder Responses

FUW has urged members to respond to the NVZ consultation warning that a number of the proposals put forward ‘will seriously impact farmers in Wales’:

The FUW remains resolutely against the option to apply the action programme throughout the whole of Wales as this would require all landowners to comply with the NVZ action programme measures.
There is a distinct lack of evidence for a whole territory approach and the difficulties and costs associated with regulatory compliance for farms whose land does not drain into nitrate polluted waters, makes this option both unwarranted and unreasonably excessive.

NFU Cymru is also ‘very much opposed to the proposed designations’ and will be putting forward ‘a firm and robust response to the consultation based on detailed scrutiny of the evidence base underpinning designation’.

Environmental campaigners have argued that the Action Programme is important to prevent water courses from becoming further polluted. RSPB Cymru has stated that (PDF:594 KB) they wish to encourage more sustainable land management that contributes to achieving Water Framework Directive objectives, including more extensive farming systems.

New Publication: Labour Market Briefing

20 October 2016

Article by Gareth Thomas and David Millett National Assembly for Wales Research Service

View this post in Welsh | Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg

This briefing paper (PDF, 963KB) provides a statistical overview of the labour market. Information is included on Assembly constituencies, Wales and UK nations.

We also publish interactive unemployment maps displaying residence based claimant count rates by constituency.

And here’s our infographic summarising the latest labour market figures for Wales:


The Public Health (Wales) Bill as introduced in the Fourth Assembly

20 October 2016

Article by Philippa Watkins, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh


The previous Welsh Government introduced its Public Health (Wales) Bill in June 2015. The Bill set out a series of specific proposals in priority areas of public health policy. It aimed to create social conditions that are conducive to good health and where avoidable harms can be prevented.

The Welsh Government is expected to reintroduce the Public Health Bill in November. It has previously stated that this will be in the form of the previous Bill as amended at stage 3, but without the sections restricting the use of electronic cigarettes in enclosed public places.

The Bill included provision for the following:

Tobacco and nicotine products

  • Restricting the use of nicotine inhaling devices such as electronic cigarettes in enclosed and substantially enclosed public and work places, bringing the use of these devices into line with existing provisions on smoking.
  • Creating a national register of retailers of tobacco and nicotine products.
  • Adding to the offences which contribute to a Restricted Premises Order (RPO). (An RPO prohibits the sale of tobacco products from a premises).
  • Prohibiting the handing over of tobacco or nicotine products to people under the age of 18.

Special procedures

  • Creating a mandatory licensing scheme to regulate practitioners and businesses carrying out ’special procedures’, namely acupuncture, body piercing, electrolysis and tattooing.
  • Introducing a ban on the intimate piercing of people under 16 years old.

Pharmaceutical services

  • Changing the way Health Boards make decisions about pharmaceutical services by making sure these are based on assessments of pharmaceutical need in their areas.

Provision of toilets

  • Requiring local authorities to prepare local toilets strategies for the provision of, and access to, toilets for public use, based on the needs of their communities.

Key changes made at stage 2

Stage 2 was carried out in the Health and Social Care Committee in January and February 2016. A number of amendments were agreed. In addition, the then Minister for Health and Social Services, Mark Drakeford, indicated that the Welsh Government would bring forward, or consider, further amendments in a number of areas at stage 3.

Part 2 Tobacco and nicotine products

Treating tobacco and nicotine inhaling devices differently

In the Bill as introduced, the use of nicotine inhaling devices (NIDs) was placed under the same restriction in public places/workplaces as smoking tobacco cigarettes. The most significant change to this part of the Bill at stage 2 resulted from amendments which set out different approaches for tobacco and for NIDs in terms of restricting their use. This was in response to concerns that treating tobacco and NIDs in the same way could send out a message that they are equally harmful.

**As noted earlier, the provisions restricting the use of nicotine inhaling devices in enclosed public places will not now be brought forward**

Extending the restriction to other, non-enclosed areas

Opposition amendments to place a ban on smoking tobacco in non-enclosed children’s play areas, school grounds, and hospital grounds onto the face of the Bill were not agreed at stage 2. The Minister indicated that he would be willing to consider bringing forward Government amendments at stage 3.

Part 3 Special procedures

The list of special procedures (acupuncture, body piercing, electrolysis, tattooing) on the face of the Bill remained unchanged. Opposition amendments to add branding, scarification, sub-dermal implantation and tongue splitting to the list were not agreed at stage 2. The Minister stated that a greater exploration of the associated risks of harm was needed before considering adding them to the legislation.

The Minister did note an intention to consult early on the principle of adding more procedures to the list shortly after the Bill’s enactment, stating that the consultation will include the above procedures, and also others that were identified during the passage of the Bill so far, such as dermal rolling, colonic irrigation, and wet cupping.

Licensing criteria and conditions

Amendments were passed to add key licensing criteria to the face of the Bill. Applicants would be required to demonstrate knowledge of infection control and first aid in the context of the relevant special procedure. Applicants must also demonstrate knowledge of the duties imposed on them as a person authorised to perform a special procedure.

The mandatory licensing conditions (which control the conduct of practitioners who have received a license) were also amended to include conditions covering proof of age of an individual on whom a special procedure is to be performed, infection control, and first aid. The mandatory licensing conditions, specified in regulations, must also relate to intoxication, to prevent a licence holder from performing a special procedure on an individual who is, or who appears to be, intoxicated by virtue of drink, drugs or any other means.

Level of fine imposed

Amendments were passed to remove the limit on the fine associated with offences in relation to special procedures, amending it from a level 3 to an unlimited fine.

Part 4 Intimate piercing

Tongue piercing

The tongue was added to the list of intimate body parts listed on the face of the Bill in relation to intimate piercing restrictions, due to the associated risk of harm. This means it would be an offence to perform, or make arrangements to perform, a tongue piercing on a person who is under the age of 16 years.

Level of fine imposed

Amendments were passed to remove the limit on the fine associated with the offence of performing, or making arrangements to perform, an intimate piercing on a child from a level 4 to an unlimited fine.

Part 5 Pharmaceutical services

No amendments were agreed to this part of the Bill at stage 2.

Part 6 Provision of toilets

This part of the Bill was amended at stage 2 to require that Welsh Ministers must (rather than ‘may’) issue guidance to support local authorities when developing their local toilets strategies, and to set out in more detail what the guidance must include.

Additionally, the Bill was amended to require local authorities to prepare and publish interim progress statements (as recommended by the Health and Social Care Committee at stage 1). This was a new requirement, and was in addition to the duty on local authorities (in the Bill as introduced) to fully review their strategies no later than one year after the end of an electoral term.

Part 7 Miscellaneous – food hygiene rating offences

The Bill was amended at stage 2 to make a minor technical amendment to the Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Act 2013 so that the receipts from fixed penalty notices for non-compliance with the food hygiene rating scheme must be used by food authorities (primarily local authorities) to enforce the scheme. This will bring the Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Act into line with the provisions of the Public Health (Wales) Bill, under which receipts from fixed penalty notices issued under Chapters 1 and 2 of Part 1 must be used by enforcement authorities to support the new duties imposed on them in these chapters of the Bill.

Health impact assessment

During stage 2, the Welsh Government committed to bring forward a stage 3 amendment to include health impact assessment (HIA) on the face of the Bill. HIA is a process which considers the extent to which the health and well-being of a population may be affected, whether positively or negatively, by a proposed policy, plan or programme.

At stage 1, the Health and Social Care Committee heard from stakeholders that mandatory HIA would provide a mechanism to avoid or minimise negative impacts on the health and well-being of communities, and maximise health benefits where possible. The Committee’s stage 1 report recommended that the Bill be amended to include a requirement to undertake mandatory HIAs when developing certain policies or plans.

Opposition amendments in this area had been tabled at stage 2, but were not moved in light of the commitment given by the Minister.

Key changes made at stage 3

As indicated at stage 2, the Bill was amended at stage 3 by Welsh Government amendments introducing a requirement for public bodies to carry out health impact assessments. The circumstances in which health impact assessments must be undertaken would be specified in regulations.

Welsh Government amendments were agreed which set out additional, non-enclosed areas where smoking and use of nicotine inhaling devices would be restricted, namely school grounds, hospital grounds, and public playgrounds.

Further reading

Key documents relating to the Bill, including Explanatory Memoranda, Committee reports, and transcripts of proceedings can be accessed via the Public Health (Wales) Bill web page

Provisional local government settlement 2017-18 published

19 October 2016

Article by Owen Holzinger and David Millett, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh

Following the Welsh Government Draft Budget for 2017-18 (released on Tuesday 18 October 2016) the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government has today published the Provisional Local Government Settlement 2017-18, this outlines funding for each of Wales’ twenty-two local authorities.

The total settlement is £4.107 billion, which is an increase of £3.8 million (0.1%) when compared to the Final Settlement in 2016-17. This is the first increase in the local government settlement since 2013-14.

The provisional settlement includes increases and decreases in funding for different local authorities. The largest increase is 0.9% in Gwynedd and the largest decrease is -0.5% for five local authorities (Wrexham, Powys, Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen).

The full breakdown of percentage change in funding by local authority is outlined in the below infographic.


This year no authority will experience a decrease of more than -0.5%. Of the five authorities where the funding change equates to -0.5%, four have received top-up funding totalling £2.3 million to ensure they do not experience a reduction beyond -0.5%, allocated as below:

  • Wrexham – £181,000
  • Powys – £1,374,000
  • Merthyr Tydfil – £585,000
  • Blaenau Gwent – £147,000

The Cabinet Secretary’s letter to local authorities, the Local Government Finance Report 2017-18 and the Local Government Revenue and Capital Settlement 2017-18 (Provisional): All Wales – Tables, can be found on the Welsh Government website.

General Capital Funding for local authorities in 2017-18 is £143 million.

Wales and Borders rail franchise: on the right track

19 October 2016

Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Darllenwch yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg | View this post in Welsh


On 12 October the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates, announced four Operator and Development Partner (ODP) bidders for the Wales and Boarders Franchise who have been chosen to progress to the next stage in the selection process.

In November 2014, agreement was reached with the UK Government that powers to award the next Wales and Borders franchise would be transferred to Welsh Ministers. The Welsh Government will become the official rail franchising authority for the Welsh franchise from early next year and preparations have begun for awarding the next franchise, which is due to start in October 2018.

At present, the majority of rail services in Wales are provided under the Wales and Borders franchise operated by Arriva Trains Wales (ATW). The contract was awarded in 2003 and is expected to end in 2018. A franchise agreement (PDF 3.7 MB) sets out the obligations of both ATW and Government. A Joint Parties’ Agreement (PDF 4.89MB) sets out how the Welsh and UK Government’s agreed to divide up responsibility for the franchise when the Welsh Government took over most franchise management obligations in April 2006.

This year, in preparation for the transfer of powers to Wales, the Welsh Government ran a consultation to establish the quality standards the public would wish to see for the next franchise. The 190 responses provided views on areas including reduced overall journey times, increased passenger numbers, reduced costs, capacity improvements, enhanced accessibility, better connectivity and improved punctuality, reliability and quality.

The next step is the procurement of an Operator and Development Partner (ODP) for the next franchise who will also take forward key aspects of the next stage of the metro system.

The selection process for the ODP has begun and is being undertaken by Transport for Wales, a wholly owned, not-for-profit company established by the Welsh Government (detailed below). On 12 October the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates, announced four ODP bidders who have been chosen to progress to the next stage in the selection process. The four pre-qualified ODP bidders (in alphabetical order) are:

  • Abellio Rail Cymru
  • Arriva Rail Wales/Rheilffyrdd Arriva Cymru Limited
  • KeolisAmey
  • MTR Corporation (Cymru) Ltd

Bidders will now progress to the next competitive stage having demonstrated to the Welsh Government ‘a track record and appetite for providing high quality services as well as the financial standing and expertise to ensure delivery’. In his announcement the Cabinet Secretary stated that:

The priorities for the next franchise will include updated rolling stock, reduced journey times and the use of modern technology and approaches to deliver an improved service for passengers across Wales.

Transport for Wales will be publically consulting on proposals in early 2017, subject to that consultation process, it is anticipated that the final ODP contract will be awarded by January 2018.

This process is part of the Welsh Government’s stated ambition to deliver a new not-for-profit rail model similar to the way in which Transport for London manage public transport services. However, it is clear from the list of ODP bidders that, as in London, the companies delivering the services and Metro infrastructure won’t themselves be not-for-profit companies.

Transport for Wales

The relationship between the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales is governed by the following key documents as outlined in Wales Audit Office’s recent publication Welsh Government investment in rail services and infrastructure:

  • A delegation letter issued by the Permanent Secretary gives the Deputy Permanent Secretary for Economy, Skills and Natural Resources additional accounting officer responsibilities.
  • A Management Agreement between the Welsh Government and the company outlines the purpose of the company, its accountabilities and responsibilities.
  • A remit letter from the Welsh Government outlines the key objectives and outputs the company is expected to deliver (published last week).
  • A business plan, produced by the company, sets out the scope, the organisational structure, deliverables, timescales, costs and procurement programme for the Wales and Boarders franchise and south Wales Metro (published last week).

Transport for Wales’s board currently comprises of eight directors, (including the chair): five non-executive directors covering areas such as HR, finance, infrastructure delivery and governance, all of whom are Welsh Government employees; and three executive directors with expertise specific to their area of responsibility. The key objectives set out in the business plan are to:

  • Plan and propose the right mix of skills, experience and knowledge in the organisation required both to deliver franchise competition and in future to manage the franchise;
  • Develop proposals to enable the delivery of a significantly improved transportation system for the South Wales metro;
  • Advise on suitable and effective mechanisms for maximising the long-term efficiency of rail investment in Wales;
  • Advise on options for the next Wales and Borders franchise, so that the design of rail services better supports the Welsh Government’s economic and social ambitions;
  • Advise on investment options in terms of broader transport integration;
  • Assess the practicalities of a range of medium and long-term rail engineering investment options; and
  • To ensure that Welsh Government is fully informed on the progress against each of the KPIs on a quarterly basis.