Assembly to debate the general principles of the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill

17 March 2017

Article by Helen Jones, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

Image from Flickr by Adam Levine. Licensed under Creative Commons.

The Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill was laid before the Assembly on 28 November 2016, and introduced in plenary by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government on 29 November 2016. The Assembly will debate the general principles of the Bill on 21 March 2017.

The Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill (LDT) is concerned with establishing the legal, administrative and operational framework to replace Landfill Tax (LfT) in Wales in April 2018. Landfill Tax is currently a UK tax on the disposal of material as waste by way of landfill at landfill sites which are permitted under environmental legislation. The current tax was introduced in 1996 as a key environmental behaviour change driver in encouraging the diversion of waste from landfill, greater recycling, reuse and recovery of waste. Since the tax was introduced it has contributed to a significant reduction in the proportion of waste sent to landfill, and an increase in recycling.

This Bill is the third piece of legislation related to the devolution of tax powers in the Wales Act 2014. The Bill was preceded by the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Act 2016 which established the legal framework necessary for the future collection and management of devolved taxes in Wales and the Land Transaction Tax and Anti avoidance of Devolved Taxes (Wales) Bill, which will replace Stamp Duty Land Tax from April 2018.

Further information on the background to the Bill, an overview of its parts, a summary of financial implications, and a Welsh glossary are provided in the Research Service’s Bill Summary (PDF, 844KB).

The Finance Committee reported (PDF, 1MB) on its Stage One consideration of the general principles of the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill on 10 March 2017.

The Finance Committee’s report sets out a number of recommendations aimed at strengthening the legislation. For example, the Committee would like to see the proposed rates of taxation, a list of qualifying materials and provisions for bad debt relief, included on the face of the Bill.

Whilst the Welsh Government intends to bring forward secondary legislation in relation to some of these provisions, the Committee remains concerned that secondary legislation is not subject to the same amount of scrutiny as a Bill.

The Committee also believes that businesses need certainty when it comes to the application of new tax legislation, and that including such detail in the law itself would help to address concerns.

The Committee heard considerable evidence in relation to the importance of the Landfill Disposals Tax Communities Scheme. The Committee recommend that a Communities Scheme is included on the face of the Bill to show commitment to the scheme going forward, but accept that some of the detail could be specified in regulations.

The Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee considered the appropriateness of the provisions in the Bill about powers to make subordinate legislation. Its report (PDF, 2MB) was also published on 10 March 2017.

Subject to the Assembly agreeing the general principles of the Landfill Disposals Tax (Wales) Bill, the Bill will proceed to Stage Two (detailed Committee consideration of the Bill and any proposed amendments). Stage Two proceedings are expected to be completed by 26 May 2017.

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.

How should the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales work?

14 March 2017

Article by Gareth Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

On 15 March the Assembly will debate the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee’s report on the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales (NICfW).  The Committee found much to agree with when scrutinising the Welsh Government’s proposals, but made 10 recommendations to help ensure that Wales’s current and future infrastructure needs are met.

What is the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, and why did the Committee choose to look at it?

Construction of Pont y Werin, Cardiff

Image from Flickr by Ben Salter. Licensed under Creative Commons.

The compact between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru in May 2016 included a commitment to establish a National Infrastructure Commission in Wales.  The Welsh Government’s proposals for the NICfW are that it will be a non-statutory body that provides independent and expert technical and strategic advice to the Welsh Government on Wales’ long-term infrastructure needs over a 5-30 year period.  This will involve making regular reports to the Welsh Government on economic and environmental infrastructure.  Decision making and infrastructure policy will remain the responsibility of the Welsh Government.

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure has said that his ambitions for the NICfW are to depoliticise contentious infrastructure decisions, and to speed up delivery of key projects.  While in October 2016 the Cabinet Secretary said that he would aim to set the NICfW up by summer 2017, in a written statement on 8 March he said that he now aims for it to be established by the end of 2017.

Scrutiny of the plans to establish NICfW was a key priority of a number of stakeholders who responded to the Committee’s consultation on its priorities held last summer.  Some of the main issues raised by stakeholders included the need for a long-term vision for infrastructure, the role and remit of the NICfW, how it will impact on key projects, learning from international best practice and how it can improve current arrangements for delivering infrastructure.

How did the Committee’s work add to the Welsh Government’s proposals?

The Welsh Government accepted 6 of the Committee’s recommendations, accepted 3 in principle and rejected 1 recommendation.  So the Committee has influenced the model for the NICfW in the following ways:

  • The preferred candidate for Chair of the NICfW will be scrutinised by an Assembly Committee in a pre-appointment hearing, as was recently done by the Finance Committee for the preferred Chair of the Welsh Revenue Authority.
  • The NICfW will produce a ‘State of the Nation’ report on future Welsh infrastructure needs every three years to detach its work from the political cycle, and will produce an annual report focussing on governance, past and upcoming work. The Welsh Government will respond to all recommendations within 6 months.
  • Its annual remit letter will provide information on how much the Welsh Government expects to be able to spend on infrastructure funding over the longest possible timescale, to give important context to its recommendations.
  • The remit letter will also encourage NICfW to build strong relationships with the UK National Infrastructure Commission and Scottish Futures Trust to maximise effectiveness.
  • Appointments to the NICfW will need to take account of the diversity of communities across Wales, and engagement at regional levels will be set out in its terms of reference.
  • The Welsh Government will explore mechanisms such as the Development Bank to focus on how more private funding can be used to support infrastructure developments.

And what’s still up for debate?

One of the Committee’s key recommendations was that, following its initial establishment, legislation would follow to make the NICfW a statutory body. 

This was influenced by evidence from federal and state level infrastructure advisory bodies in Australia which told the Committee that their status as an authoritative voice on infrastructure had been enhanced by their independent statutory status, and that the benefits of this approach would apply more widely than Australia.

The Chief Executive of the UK National Infrastructure Commission told the Committee that although being a non-statutory body had allowed it to be established more     quickly, there was also a downside since stakeholders perceive it to be less permanent.

The Welsh Government rejected this recommendation, as it does not consider that the role or remit of the NICfW would be enhanced by being on a statutory footing.  However it will consider this as part of a formal review taking place before the end of the Fifth Assembly.

There were also three recommendations which the Welsh Government accepted in principle.  The Committee recommended that the remit of NICfW be extended to include supply of land for strategically significant housing developments and related supporting infrastructure.  While the initial remit of the NICfW will remain as economic and environmental infrastructure, this will be reviewed by the end of the Fifth Assembly.

The Committee also wanted NICfW to be located outside Cardiff, and to share accommodation with another public body to lower costs.  The Welsh Government has said it will consider this, given the need for independence from a range of bodies NICfW will need to work with.

Finally, the Committee considered that NICfW should be considered a public body under the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 to promote collaboration, engagement with the public and independence.  The Welsh Government will ensure that its terms of reference will make sure that NICfW is required to keep to the principles and goals of the Act.  However it will not seek to amend the Act at present.

Welsh Government Second Supplementary Budget 2016-17

03 March 2017

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

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

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government (Mark Drakeford AM) laid the Second Supplementary Budget 2016-17 on 7 February 2017.  This was accompanied by an explanatory note and tables showing departmental allocations.  This supplementary budget amends the First Supplementary Budget 2016-17 approved by the National Assembly in July 2016. The Finance Committee published its report on Scrutiny of the Welsh Government Second Supplementary Budget 2016-2017 on 2 March.

Over two thirds of the revenue allocations in this budget are additional funding to the NHS, including £75.9 million to address forecast overspends by Local Health Boards (£7.5 million of which is in addition to the £68.4 million announced in November 2016), £50 million to mitigate winter pressures, £27 million to fund a shortfall in income from the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme and £16 million to support the launch of the New Treatment Fund

Also, £20 million has been allocated to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales to address financial demands from the recommendations of the Diamond Review, £8.5 million to establish Transport Wales to design and let the rail and South Wales Metro franchises, and £4 million to Tata Steel for skills support.

The main capital allocations are £47 million to support trunk road projects (including £22 million for M4 Route Development), £33.4 million capital grants and loans to deliver economic development priorities and £30 million to support the Programme for Government commitment to build an additional 20,000 affordable homes.

These investments are funded by a mixture of allocations from reserves and funds carried over from the previous financial year, and also takes account of changes in funding from the UK Government.

Changes in overall budget allocations, and in allocation of fiscal revenue and capital expenditure between different Welsh Government departments between the previous Supplementary Budget and this one, are summarised in the accompanying chart.

Assembly to debate Estyn Chief Inspector’s 2015/16 Annual Report

02 March 2017

Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

This is a picture of a red pen.

Image from Flickr by theilr. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

In Plenary on Tuesday (07 March 2017), Assembly Members will debate HM Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales, Meilyr Rowlands’ 2015/16 annual report. The annual report was published on 24 January 2017 and has already been scrutinised by the Children, Young People and Education Committee on 15 February 2017.

Two of the main messages are that standards of provision remain ‘variable’, with the gap between Wales’ best and worst performers ‘still too wide’, and that teaching is currently the ‘weakest aspect’ across most areas of education in Wales. This is all the more stark given the Chief Inspector concurs with most other educational discourse that the standard of teaching is the ‘biggest influence’ on how well children and young people learn.

Variability

The Chief Inspector reports that ‘variability’ within and between schools ‘remains a prominent feature’ of Wales’ education system. Mr Rowlands notes:

In all sectors there are good and excellent providers, including in relatively deprived areas, but the gap between providers that are doing well and those that are not is still too wide.

This is a similar message to last year when the Chief Inspector also highlighted a variability in standards, which he said was ‘one of the most noticeable features of the Welsh education system’. In his 2014/15 report, he also said the gap between the best and worst performers was ‘still too wide’ and ‘needs to be addressed’, implying it is a long-term problem stretching back before then. Indeed, the Chief Inspector reports that the ‘underlying picture’ from inspections in 2015/16 is ‘similar’ to the previous year.

The Chief Inspector told the Children, Education and Young People Committee that one of the main ways this variability can be seen is the level of consistency throughout a school.

People say, ‘Well, which is the greatest problem?’ The reality is that it’s the same problem, because when we say that a school is performing well, or that leadership is strong in a school, or that the education is good in that school, what we’re really saying is that the education, or the leadership, or the school, is consistently good. What makes for [only] adequate provision is that it is inconsistent. So, that inconsistency—. In schools and other providers where we note that they are adequate, there are pockets of good practice but it isn’t consistent throughout the system. That’s what leads to this variability that we see at the system level, that you have variability within those pockets from providers.

Standards of teaching

The quality of teaching is the biggest influence on how well learners learn, but it is the weakest aspect of provision across most areas of education in Wales.

This is how Estyn’s press release reported the publication of its Chief Inspector’s annual report for 2015/16.  It appears to reinforce the need for the reforms that the Welsh Government is making to teachers’ training and professional development.

Indeed, there is a particular focus in the Chief Inspector’s annual report this year on better professional learning and staff development, which the Chief Inspector describes as a ‘structural requirement for improved teaching’. His report includes ten sets of questions for schools, which are designed to aid their support for teachers’ professional learning.

The Chief Inspector reports that just over three quarters of primary schools inspected in 2015/16 had good or better standards of teaching. However, this is true in only a minority of secondary schools. Teaching is excellent in only ‘very few’ primary and secondary schools.

The Welsh Government is reforming the development opportunities on offer to teachers. It is working with ‘Pioneer schools’ towards the establishing of a new single professional learning offer by July 2018, in time for the availability of the new curriculum in September 2018. New professional standards are also being developed along with a revamp of initial teacher education (ITE) programmes (following the Furlong Review) with new ‘transformational’ versions to be introduced in September 2019. The Children, Young People and Education Committee is currently undertaking an Inquiry into Teachers’ Professional Learning and Education.

Other key observations

  • Performance is more polarised at secondary school level than primary school level. More secondary schools have either Excellent or Unsatisfactory performance and prospects for improvement, whereas primary schools tend to be clustered predominantly around the two middle judgements of Good and Adequate. This is a continuing pattern from previous years.
  • There is a growing trend of entering pupils early for exams. Estyn find that it can be beneficial in certain subjects, particularly Mathematics but if applied more broadly to larger cohorts of pupils it can be detrimental. It might help pupils gain C grades and help schools’ Level 2 threshold performance (5 or more GCSEs at grades A*-C) data but Estyn say it has ‘drawbacks’.
  • More able learners do not achieve as well as they should. This suggests the system is not doing enough to enable more able and talented pupils to fulfil their potential. The OECD has observed that Wales has a comparatively inclusive system but does not stretch more able and talented pupils as well as it could.
  • The proportion of pupils achieving 5 GCSEs at grades A*-C has increased from 51.1% in 2012 to 57.9% in 2015 and 60.3% in 2016, although the proportion achieving 5 GCSEs at grades A*-A has reduced from 17.1% in 2012 to 16.6% in 2015 and 15.9% in 2016. (Note that the Welsh Government began using a slightly different statistical method in 2016, measuring the cohort of pupils in Year 11 rather than those aged 15 at the start of the academic year.)
  • The gap between the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals achieving the Level 2 threshold inclusive (5 GCSEs at grades A*-C including Welsh/English and Maths) and other pupils was 31 percentage points in 2016. This is the narrowest the gap has been in ten years.
  • Estyn inspected each regional consortia in 2015/16. The Chief Inspector reports that the consortia do not sufficiently analyse the progress of groups of pupils, including the more able, in enough detail. They are also not doing enough to tackle variability in standards, particularly between secondary schools.
  • The long-term problem of poor performance and outcomes within Pupil Referral units continued in 2015/16. Annual reports over a number of years have highlighted this as an area of concern.

What does Estyn actually look at when it inspects schools and other settings?

Estyn uses a Common Inspection Framework, which was introduced at the start of the current cycle in September 2010. This framework consists of three key questions on ‘how good’ are outcomes, provision, and leadership and management. Estyn then forms two overall judgements about the current performance and prospects for improvement of each setting according to a four-point scale: Excellent; Good; Adequate; Unsatisfactory.

Estyn publishes data on its inspection outcomes. This provides details of all inspection judgements since the start of the current inspection framework cycle in September 2010. This can be filtered by specific sectors.

Tuesday’s Plenary debate (7 March 2017) will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.