This article provides an update on the current position regarding the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill. We last blogged on this subject ahead of the Bill’s Stage 1 (general principles) debate in Plenary in June 2017.
12 January 2015
Article by Rhys Iorwerth, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
On Wednesday, 13 January 2016, the First Minister will appear before the Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee to answer questions about the Welsh Government’s funding to support the Welsh language.
The Welsh Government’s draft budget for 2016-17 was published on 8 December 2015. Funding available to promote the Welsh language is due to decrease from £27.2 million in 2015-16 to £25.6 million in 2016-17 – a reduction of 5.9%, or 7.5% in real terms.
In written evidence to the Committee (PDF 611 KB), the First Minister states that the Welsh Government has prioritised funding for “those who need it most”. He stresses that, as a result of the UK Government’s decisions, he has had to “focus resources” on areas where funding will have the “greatest positive impact”.
The First Minister also emphasises that the Welsh Government remains “committed to securing the future of the language”. He claims that “funding alone… does not ensure that the language continues to thrive”, and pledges to work with partner organisations to “secure a strong foundation for the language in the future”.
In papers submitted to the Assembly’s Finance Committee’s consultation on the draft budget, several organisations have criticised the decrease in funding, claiming it indicates a lack of long-term strategic planning for the Welsh language.
Dyfodol i’r Iaith (PDF 340 KB*) points out that the reductions are being made despite cash increases in the Welsh Government’s overall funding. It sees this as evidence that the Welsh language “is less of a priority for the government than it has been previously”.
While the Welsh Government states that it has allocated £1.2 million in the draft budget to “cushion the impact of reductions on Welsh language funding”, Cymdeithas yr Iaith (PDF 727 KB*) questions whether or not this £1.2 million will be “considered as part of the baseline next year in relation to the budget for promoting the Welsh language”.
According to Dathlu’r Gymraeg (PDF 542 KB*), the reductions could have “an extremely detrimental impact on the work being done to promote the Welsh language and would endanger a large number of jobs”. Mentrau Iaith Cymru (PDF 120 KB*) similarly says that it cannot “understand why the Welsh language budget in general has been cut by so much, given the numerous strategies and various policies that need resources to be realised”.
One of those programmes is Bwrw Mlaen/Moving Forward – the Welsh Government’s main strategy to increase the use of the Welsh language (see this blog post for more). The budget line that supports Bwrw Mlaen/Moving Forward will reduce from £5.3 million to £3.9 million in 2016-17 – a decrease of 25.6%.
The funding reductions also apply to the Welsh Language Commissioner’s office. In December 2015, the Commissioner told the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee that a further decrease to her budget would be “disastrous”. In line with other commissioners, her office will face a 10% funding reduction in 2016-17 – this on the back of an 8% decrease in 2015-16 and a 10% decrease in 2014-15. The First Minister has pledged to mitigate (PDF 576 KB*) the reduction with £150,000 of additional funding in this financial year.
The proposed reductions to the Welsh language budget coincide with concerns about the planned 10.6% decrease to the Welsh Books Council’s funding (PDF 254 KB), uncertainty about the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol’s budget, as well as the UK Government’s recent decision to reduce S4C’s funding. Taken together, Dyfodol i’r Iaith suggests the reductions could “unravel much of the fabric that maintains Welsh as a thriving and living language”.
The Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee meeting will give Assembly Members an opportunity to discuss these issues with the First Minister.
* These papers have been submitted to the Finance Committee in Welsh only. Quotes therefore are translations provided by the National Assembly for Wales
1 July 2014
Article by Helen Jones, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
On 2 July 2014 the Finance Committee’s Higher Education Funding report will be debated in Plenary.
Finance Committee’s Inquiry
On 6 March 2013, the National Assembly for Wales’ Finance Committee agreed to conduct an inquiry into higher education (HE) funding in Wales. The inquiry focused on the funding of HEIs in Wales, the financial impact of the Welsh Government’s tuition fee grant policy on HEIs and students in Wales, and whether the Welsh Government is delivering value for money in this area.
The inquiry started taking evidence in July 2013 using a range of engagement methods including a survey with prospective undergraduate students in year 12 and 13 in Wales and first and second year undergraduate students currently studying at HEIs. Assembly Members also participated in web chats with undergraduate students at HEIs in Wales and England and written responses were received and oral evidence taken from a range of witnesses.
During the course of the Finance Committee’s inquiry, several announcements were made.
The Diamond Review
On 18 November 2013, Huw Lewis the Minister for Education and Skills announced a Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance Arrangements in Wales, to be chaired by Professor Sir Ian Diamond. The review is due to produce its first report in the autumn of 2015 and the final report containing recommendations by September 2016. Priorities for the review will include:
- widening access – ensuring that any future system has widening access at its core objective, is progressive and equitable;
- supporting the skill needs of Wales;
- strengthening part-time and postgraduate provision in Wales; and
- long-term financial sustainability
Wales Audit Office Higher Education Finances report
The Wales Audit Office published a report on Higher Education Finances on 21 November 2013. The report stated that the Welsh Government responded quickly to the UK Government’s decision to establish higher tuition fees in England however its appraisal of policy options and potential to consider changes to their assumptions were limited.
The report highlights that the cost of the Tuition Fee Grant for 2012-12 to 2016-17 is now predicted to be higher than forecast in November 2010, increasing by 24 per cent from £653 million to £809 million. The report stated that “the Welsh Government and HEFCW have implemented the new tuition fees policy effectively, although further action is needed on part-time tuition fees, to address weaknesses in processing student finance applications, and to strengthen the regulation of higher education”.
Higher Education Bill
On 19 May 2014, Huw Lewis the Minister for Education and Skills introduced the Higher Education Bill. Previously the Welsh Government had relied on terms and conditions attached to public funding channelled through the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), to regulate the sector. This funding was given to universities by HEFCW for teaching and other activities for example widening access. The primary purpose of the Bill is to establish a legal basis for a revised framework to regulate higher education in Wales.
Finance Committee’s report
In May 2014 the Finance Committee published its report which included 18 recommendations for the Welsh Government to consider under the following themes; HEFCW funding, HE policies in England, the student loan book, the impact on students and student choices, widening access, part-time study, research and post-graduate funding, funding for expensive subjects and Welsh medium provision.
The Welsh Government’s response accepted the majority of the recommendations and stated they would:
- undertake further modelling on student debt to obtain a more complete understanding of the long-term implications;
- work with the Student Loans Company (SLC) to investigate the reasons for non-payment of student loans;
- formally request that the SLC undertake a review of its communication strategy to ensure that information is being communicated effectively; and
- refer consideration of cross border flows, concerns over living costs, widening access, part-time and post-graduate funding to the Diamond Review Panel.