A Stronger Voice for Wales: First Minister to give evidence

16 March 2017

Article by Dr Alys Thomas National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

How an Assembly committee is investigating relations between institutions.

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee  is undertaking an inquiry into inter-institutional working in order:

  • To produce best practice principles for inter-institutional working for constitutional legislation.
  • To reflect and build on the work of other legislatures on inter-institutional working as it relates to broader policy areas.
  • To seek, establish and promote opportunities for inter-parliamentary working, including promotion of citizen engagement.

The inquiry is focusing on two strands: Constitutional Matters and Policy Matters. The Committee is currently looking at Strand I: Constitutional matters. It is reviewing how inter-institutional relations have influenced development of Welsh devolution since the Assembly was set up in 1999. This includes looking at:

  • How intergovernmental mechanisms have impacted on the development of the devolution settlement.
  • How intergovernmental relations have developed and evolved, what worked well and the impact these relations have had on the devolution settlement.
  • How inter-parliamentary relations have evolved, the current state of these relations and how they could be further developed in relation to the development and scrutiny of constitutional legislation.

The Committee has been hearing from key players in the development of devolution in the past 18 years. It has heard from Lord Murphy, who was Secretary of State on two occasions – see our graphic on the Governance of Wales. At the last meeting the Committee heard from Baroness Randerson, who has been a Minister in the Welsh Government and in the Wales Office, and Elfyn Llwyd, former Leader of Plaid Cymru in Westminster. The Committee has also heard evidence from Sir Paul Silk who headed up the Silk Commission which played a part in the most recent devolution Act, the Wales Act 2017.

On Monday 20 March the Committee, as part of #SeneddNewport, is meeting in the University of South Wales, Newport and will be taking evidence from the First Minister, Carwyn Jones AM as part of the inquiry. He will also be questioned about the white paper on Wales leaving the EU, Securing Wales’ Future. The meeting begins at 2.30pm and is open to the public.

The Committee has launched a public consultation to seek views on the inquiry. The deadline for responses is 5 June 2017.

Bright sparks: celebrating Wales’ women in STEM

13 March 2017

Article by Jeni Spragg, National Assembly for Wales, Research Service

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

Image of plasma.

Image from Flickr by Jared Tarbell. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Last week saw people around the world celebrating International Women’s Day, which calls on leaders and individuals to act as champions for gender parity.

Today in the Senedd, the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) campaign is marking the occasion with its Celebration of Talented Women in Wales.

The event will celebrate the contribution of women to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). In attendance will be the patron of WISE, HRH The Princess Royal. The event is sponsored by the Minister for Skills and Science, Julie James AM, one year on from the launch of the Talented Women for a Successful Wales report.

For further information on gender equality indicators in Wales, take a look at this previous blog post.

What is the STEM agenda?

In recent years, much effort has focussed on building a stronger STEM workforce. It is recognised that STEM skills offer opportunities not only for individuals but also to the economy as a whole.

The Welsh Government’s strategy Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: A delivery plan for Wales highlights the importance of the STEM agenda in Wales.

Women in STEM: where are we now?

The STEM agenda seeks to support girls and women to pursue and succeed in STEM careers, as there is still a significant gender imbalance in the STEM workforce.

Last year, the Welsh Government commissioned an independent task group to examine the challenges and opportunities for women in STEM in Wales. The report was led by Professor Julie Williams, Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales, who is one of only three female Chief Scientific Advisors in the UK.

Key figures in the group’s Talented Women for a Successful Wales report include:

  • STEM talent is valuable to the Welsh economy: the engineering sector contributed 27.1% of UK GDP in 2014. Increasing the number of women in STEM could be worth £2bn to the Welsh economy;
  • There is high demand for STEM skills: estimates suggest there is a need to double the number of engineering graduates by 2020. There is a shortfall of around 600 STEM academics in Wales;
  • Women are under-represented throughout the STEM career pipeline: 12% of engineering and technology university students in Wales are female. Less than 10% of UK engineering employees and STEM professionals are female, and women are under-represented in all types of relevant leadership positions; and
  • STEM skills offer opportunities: STEM skills are in high demand and can lead to well-paid jobs. On average, people in STEM professions earn 20% more than in other sectors.

What is the Welsh Government doing to support STEM?

By examining examples of best practice, the report includes recommendations grouped into four key themes: education, recruitment, retention and promotion to leadership roles. Together, these recommendations aim to develop and maintain the STEM talent pool, in order to maximise the opportunities for women and for Wales.

The Welsh Government has accepted all 33 recommendations, 2 of which are specifically for the Welsh Government to action. Other recommendations call on employers, educators and individuals to play a role. Today’s celebration in the Senedd will bring some of these partners together.

What else is being done to promote women in STEM?

There is a huge array of STEM initiatives offered by organisations in the public and private sector, including education institutions, professional bodies and businesses.

Initiatives can come in the form of workshops and ‘challenge days’, science fairs, online resources, university taster courses, and projects. There is even an online X Factor-style competition where students vote for their favourite STEM role model.

The STEM Ambassadors scheme brings STEM volunteers, providers and teaching professionals into one network. There are over 30,000 registered STEM ambassadors in the UK, of which over 40% are women. In Wales, the scheme is managed by See Science, whose website contains an index of STEM providers in Wales.

The WISE Campaign, which is running the event in the Senedd today, works to promote STEM careers to girls and women, and to advise organisations. Their People Like Me initiative will be the basis for a workshop for school students at the event.

The Talented Women for a Successful Wales report gives details of some initiatives in Wales. Other examples of women in STEM initiatives include:

  • the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), whose National Women in Engineering Day is set to become international this year;
  • Soapbox Science, who transform public areas into a novel platform for female scientists to speak to the public. Their next event in Cardiff will the on 10 June 2017; and
  • STEM Cymru, who have ‘Girls into STEM’ as one of their project strands.

The Royal Academy’s report The UK STEM education landscape summarises and discusses the range and impact of STEM initiatives in the UK, including those which focus on diversity.

What is it like being a woman in STEM?

I am partway through a PhD in chemical engineering, but currently undertaking a 3-month internship in the Research Service here at the National Assembly.

A career in STEM has so far proved to be a great fit for me, but I would be lying if I said that my gender hadn’t mattered. When picking a university course, I did note the gender ratio. I have sat in meetings where, out of habit, the speaker would address the room as ‘gentlemen’. I’ve worn comically oversized overalls because they are the smallest available.

These minor things tend to make me smile, but I know other women face much bigger barriers. As the report highlights, while discrimination is becoming less of a problem, unconscious bias is still an issue. There are also structural barriers, such as the challenges that arise from family responsibilities and career breaks.

On the other side of the coin, colleagues and peers have suggested that my gender will help me get along in my profession. There is always a balance to be struck between encouraging diversity and creating scepticism that undermines ability.

Each person’s career journey is unique, but the themes in the Talented Women report certainly ring true to me. However, the sector is evolving, and it’s an exciting time to be working in STEM.

The Research Service acknowledges the parliamentary fellowship provided to Jeni Spragg by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which enabled this blog post to be completed.

Wales leads the way on recycling

10 March 2017

Article by Chloe Corbyn, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

Bales of aluminium drinks cans sorted and waiting to be recycled.

Image from Flickr by Scott Mcpherson. Licensed under Creative Commons.

On 28 February the Welsh Government published the latest recycling statistics for Wales, covering July to September 2016. Continuing the upwards trend, the total local authority municipal waste combined reuse/recycling composting rate increased to 62%  for the 12 months ending September 2016, compared to 58% in the previous year.

In the 12 months to the end of September 2016:

  • The local authority with the highest recycling rate was Ceredigion (70%); Blaenau Gwent had the lowest rate (52%);
  • A number of authorities saw significant improvements, most notably Merthyr Tydfil (13% increase) and Flintshire, Wrexham and Powys (each with a 10% increase);
  • One local authority, Cardiff, saw a decline in its recycling performance with a 2% decrease, reporting a 57% recycling rate; and
  • When grouped together, rural authorities continued to have the highest recycling rate.

In comparison, statistics on waste managed by local authorities in England from the UK Government website shows that total recycling rates reached 44% for 2015/16, a decrease on the 45% rate achieved in 2014/15.

Although the recycling figures show good progress for Wales, the total amount of local authority municipal waste generated in Wales increased, with the tonnage rising by 3%from 411 to 425 thousand tonnes (compared to the same quarter of 2015).

Towards Zero Waste

The Welsh Government’s waste strategy, Towards Zero Waste, has set a target of 70% recycling/composting of municipal waste by 2024-25. There are a number of minimum Statutory Recycling Targets for interim years (set in the Waste (Wales) Measure 2010); 58% by 2015-16 and 64% by 2020. In relation to the current target of 58%, according to the latest statistics Cardiff and Blaenau Gwent failed to meet the required standard. Failure to achieve these targets could result in fines of £200 per tonne for every tonne of waste by which the local authority fails, although to date Welsh Government has waived fines for underperforming authorities.

In response to a question in Plenary on 8 March, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs stated that she is currently reviewing the recycling targets in order to make them more ambitious, and that her goal is for Wales to be number 1 in the world for recycling performance.

The ‘Collections Blueprint’

As part of the Welsh Government’s municipal waste plan it published a collections blueprint, which was independently reviewed by Eunomia Research and Consulting in 2016. The blueprint describes the Welsh Government’s recommended approach for collecting waste from households, aiming to deliver higher recycling rates and cost savings. The review found that the blueprint continues to offer clear benefits in terms of cost and material quality as well as its impact on recycling performance.  The Welsh Government’s recommended model for the collection of waste from households includes:

  • Weekly separate collection of dry recyclables via ‘kerbside sort’, with material being collected separately in boxes and/or in re-usable sacks, with two or more boxes provided per household, and recyclables being sorted into separate compartments on the collection vehicle by the collection staff;
  • Weekly separate collection of food waste;
  • The use of modern lightweight, multi-compartment vehicles for a single pass collection of dry recyclables and food waste; and
  • Fortnightly collection of residual waste, from collections with reduced residual waste capacity, where ‘no side waste’ policies are enforced.

Local authorities are not obliged to follow the blueprint, but the Welsh Government recommends adherence in order to achieve maximum recycling rates. There is huge variation across Wales both in terms of recycling practice and in the frequency of collection of residual waste, although the vast majority of local authorities collect recycling on a weekly basis. Some local authorities have moved to 3 weekly refuse collections in order to encourage householders to recycle more, and many have imposed limits on the amount of residual waste that can be put out for collection. This has been met with resistance in a number of areas, with householders objecting to the less frequent collections.

The foundational economy

02 March 2017

Article by Jack Miller, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

Ceiling of the Senedd Chamber

As in the UK, Wales has lost much of its manufacturing base but retains its ‘foundational economy’, argue researchers from the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC). Whilst this ‘mundane’ yet vital area of the economy provides the goods and services essential for citizens’ well-being, they suggest it is ‘pervasively mismanaged’.

On 8 March, Assembly members will discuss the foundational economy during a Debate by Individual Members. This comes within the wider context of the development, by the Welsh Government, of a new economic strategy for Wales later this year. The Committee on the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills will hear from CRESC researcher, Professor Karel Williams, on 15 March to discuss the foundational economy during a session on alternative perspectives on what the strategy might include.

Foundational economy: The basics

The foundational economy is built from the activities which provide the essential goods and services for everyday life, regardless of the social status of consumers. These include, for example, infrastructures; utilities; food processing; retailing and distribution; and health, education and welfare.

They are generally provided by a mixture of the state (directly or through funding outsourced activities); small and medium enterprise (SME) firms; and much larger companies such as privatised utilities or branches of mobile companies such as the major supermarkets, who often originate from outside of Wales.

The importance of the foundational economy to Wales

Unlike manufacturing sectors where production is concentrated in specific areas, the foundational economy is nationally distributed along with population. As expressed by CRESC’s ‘Manifesto for the Foundational Economy’ (PDF, 435KB), in many areas of former heavy industry throughout Europe the foundational is ‘all that is left’. It is thus vital for many people in Wales, not only to provide the goods and services they need but also as an employer.

The report estimated that in 2013, 37.8 per cent of the Welsh workforce were employed in activities that contribute to the foundational economy, compared to 10.3 per cent in manufacturing. In England, 33.2 per cent of the workforce were employed in the foundational economy in the same year. A more recent report by CRESC researchers for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), entitled ‘What Wales Could Be’, suggests that ‘on any count, grounded SMEs and large scale foundational employers account for at least 40 per cent of the Welsh workforce’ (p.32).

Many sectors of the foundational economy are ‘sheltered’; because they are inherently local, international competition is limited and offshoring is difficult. Foundational goods and services are also ‘inelastic’, i.e. demand for these essentials does not change significantly when their prices or consumers’ incomes change. Combined, these effects lead to a greater level of resilience to external economic shocks in the foundational economy than, for example, in manufacturing, whose output can decline markedly during recession.

Challenges for the Welsh foundational economy

CRESC researchers have argued that the provision of foundational goods and services has been overlooked by industrial and economic policy in the UK and Wales, whose focus tends to be on high-tech processes and sectors. These are often technology-intensive, and produce tradeable and exportable goods, yet form a very small part of the Welsh and UK economies. Only three of the Welsh Government’s nine priority sectors for growth – construction, energy and environment and food and farming – produce foundational goods and services.

Moreover, they highlight that the foundational economy is marked by low-tech and low-wage employment, and that this issue is becoming more prevalent. Since 2010, they highlight that sectors such as hospitality and retailing – marked by low pay and part time work – have accounted for more than half the jobs created in the UK private sector.

There is a further issue of ‘occupational segregation’ in these sectors, whereby women are over-represented and hence often stuck in low wage or part-time work. This is a known contributor to the gender pay gap in Wales.

The FSB report highlights some of the specific issues facing foundational sectors in Wales. They suggest that in food, competitive chain supermarkets have captured the profits of food processors and left Welsh dairy and sheep farmers exposed to volatile market prices. In adult care, they continue, well-resourced private enterprises are displacing smaller family-run homes with large, purpose-built accommodation which can satisfy shareholder demand for high rates of return. This, they argue, has contributed towards an increasingly underpaid social care workforce, high local authority spending and worsening quality of care.

Towards a specific focus on the foundational

CRESC researchers call for a radical reframing of the economy that better accounts for the provision of foundational goods and services, considering ‘the multiple identities of citizens as producer, tax payers and consumers’ (p.70). The focus of this message involves moving beyond a key sectors approach to better understanding dynamics within sectors (for example, between firms of different sizes), as well as the behaviour of organisations within these sectors.

Given their significance both as providers and employers, by focusing on the quality of work within foundational sectors they argue that the Welsh Government could gain significant leverage on economic and social outcomes. Specifically, they suggest that the Welsh Government should ‘break with the idea of creating a generic business-friendly environment’, using non-standard policies which are adapted to sectoral characteristics and specific business requirements.

In food, for example, this might involve negotiating with suppliers on formal commitments on sourcing, training and living wages (p.70). Above all, the researchers argue that the Welsh Government should ‘encourage responsible business by promoting continuity of ownership for SMEs and “raising the social ask” of big business organisations in the foundational economy’ (p.7).

The Research Service acknowledges the parliamentary fellowship provided to Jack Miller by the University of Sussex, which enabled this blog post to be completed.