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.

Implications for Wales of leaving the EU: Assembly Committee published its first report

16 March 2017

Article by Nia Moss, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

This article was originally published on 30 January 2017. It is being reposted ahead of the Plenary debate on 28 March 2017.

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

EU flagsThe Assembly’s External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee (@SeneddEAAL) has published its first report on the Implications for Wales of leaving the EU. The report is divided into two parts.

Part 1 of the report sets out the Committee’s conclusions on the key implications for Wales of leaving the EU. These conclusions are based on a range of seminars and evidence sessions the Committee held with leading experts on a range of key topics including trade, public services, EU funding, higher education and the environment.

Key conclusions include:

  • Given the importance of manufacturing to Wales, the imposition of any tariffs poses a significant risk for this sector, especially for manufacturers that exist within global value chains;
  • There are significant risk to the trade in agricultural products;
  • Without careful consideration, restricting the ability of EU citizens to work in the UK after Brexit will have adverse consequences for many public services, some businesses and future infrastructure projects in Wales.
  • The most urgent issue for the higher education sector in Wales is clarification on the status of EU Citizens working and studying in Wales;
  • The Welsh Government should take a lead in preparing public services for the challenges ahead.

Part 2 of the report focusses on the Welsh Government’s response to the referendum, Wales’ voice in the negotiations and the future of inter-governmental relations in the UK. On this subject the Committee makes six recommendations in addition to drawing a number of key conclusions.

Key recommendations include:

  • That the Welsh Government publishes all the evidence on which it has based its White Paper including details of the scenario modelling that has been done across all sectors.
  • That the Welsh Government provides the Committee with a register of risks across all areas where Brexit will impact upon its activity.
  • That the Welsh Government sets-out the steps it has taken since 24 June 2016 to ensure that the maximum amount of European funding is secured and utilised before Wales exits the EU.
  • That the Welsh Government presses the UK Government for full involvement in shaping its negotiating position and direct participation in those negotiations which involve devolved powers, or issues that affect devolved powers.
  • The Committee also concludes that ‘constitutional appropriateness’ requires the Assembly’s consent through Legislative Consent Motions for key potential Brexit-related Acts of the UK Parliament.
  • The Committee notes that if the Great Repeal Bill encroaches on the devolution settlement it would support the principle of protecting the devolution settlement through the introduction of a Welsh Continuation Bill.

A Continuation Bill would restate the existence in the law of Wales of:

  • all domestic law applicable to Wales made for the purposes of implementing any EU-law obligation/discretion, and
  • all directly applicable/directly effective rights and obligations deriving from EU law

that fall within the Assembly’s competence.

The Committee sets out its hope that the report will act as a point of reference to inform the broader debate in Wales, and beyond, about the UK’s exit from the EU and will be used by other organisations as they begin to consider the implications for Wales.

You can find out more about the work of the Committee and its up-coming work on the Committee website.

School Federation; the solution to the closure of rural schools?

15 March 2017

Article by Joseph Champion, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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

a row of school desks

Image from Pixnio by Amanda Mills. Licensed under Creative Commons.

On 15 November 2016, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, announced her intention to make changes to the School Organisation Code. The primary objective of the changes will be to introduce ‘a presumption against the closure of rural schools’, something which is already in place in Scotland and England.

This presumption can be traced back to one of the education priorities Kirsty Williams, set out to First Minister, Carwyn Jones before joining the Welsh Government. One of the reasons why such a presumption has not been in place in Wales is that there is no official definition of a ‘rural school’ in Wales, which is another thing the Cabinet Secretary wishes to change in the School Organisation Code.

This proposed presumption would mean that

  • Cases to close rural schools must be strong; and that
  • Local authorities [will have] to carry out more rigorous consultation and conscientiously consider all viable alternatives to closure including linking up with other schools, known as federation.

As well as changes to the School Organisation Code, the Cabinet Secretary also committed to making an extra £2.5 million available to the, soon to be defined, rural and small schools from April 2017. This extra funding will be ‘to support schools working together’ and for the

development of federations across all maintained schools and better information and guidance for those considering collaboration and federation.

This might signal a change in direction for Welsh Government policy, which in the past has focused on reducing the number of surplus spaces in schools in Wales. This often meant closing schools which were deemed to have insufficient pupils. As a result of a Written Assembly Question (WAQ) from Conservative Assembly Member, Darren Millar in July 2016, it emerged that the majority of these closures were in ‘rural Wales’.

What is school federation?

Schools in Wales have been able to federate since 2010 and the introduction of the Federation of Maintained Schools and Miscellaneous Amendments (Wales) Regulations 2010. The rules regarding federation were updated through the passing of The Federation of Maintained Schools (Wales) Regulations 2014. The first schools to federate were Michaelston Community College and Glyn Derw High School in Cardiff in 2011.

The Welsh Government’s guidance on federation provides an overview of the term:

The term federation describes a formal and legal agreement by which a number of schools (between two and six) share governance arrangements and have a single governing body. Federations can involve a mix of maintained community and community special schools which are either nursery, primary or secondary schools.

However, under the new 2014 Federation Regulations schools with a faith and/or a trust such as voluntary aided, and voluntary controlled can only federate with schools of the same category or with schools that have a similar charitable trust status and/or religious ethos. Foundation schools will only be able to federate with other foundation schools.

The guidance also notes that there is

no blueprint for federation and the design or operational workings of a federation will depend entirely on the circumstances of the individual schools and the focus or purpose of their wanting to work together.

However, the most important reason for considering federation must be the benefits such an arrangement would bring for children and young people through enhanced educational provision.

Why federation?

A report published by the National College for Teaching and Leadership, entitled ‘A study of the impact of school federation on student outcomes’, indicated that school federation:

  • has a positive impact on student outcomes, although the effect can take two to four years to become apparent;
  • offers greater resources and consequently opportunities for change and the provision of additional services; and
  • provides more opportunities for professional development for staff, often at reduced cost, across the federation, and at times beyond the federation. A federal structure also promotes opportunities for collaboration between schools, which is seen as important in raising standards in Wales.

While all of the above are relevant and desirable outcomes in Wales, there is a further driver for federation, namely the number of surplus places in Welsh schools.

Surplus school places in Wales

The push to reduce surplus places in schools was supported by the previous Welsh Government, which recommended that local authorities have no more than 10% surplus places across all primary and secondary schools in its area. At an individual school level, a significant level of surplus provision is defined as 25% and at least 30 unfilled places.

It supported this push with its 21st Century Schools Programme and its School Organisation Code. The Code noted that it was ‘important that funding for education is cost effective’. The Code also stated that any reorganisation or closure would have to be ‘in the best interests of educational provision in the area.’

In 2012, Estyn published a report entitled How do surplus places affect the resources available for expenditure on improving outcomes for pupils? That report found that

closing a primary school will yield potential savings of £63,500 plus £260 for each surplus place removed. Closing a secondary school will yield potential savings of £113,000 plus £510 for each surplus place removed. [my emphasis]

This combination of factors have been perceived to have contributed to the closure of 157 schools between 2006/7 and 2015/16, primarily, it seems in rural Wales. Despite the closures, the Welsh Local Government Association, in a briefing to its Coordinating Committee, notes that by 2015

There were 19.6% surplus places in the secondary sector and 14.4% in the primary sector, a reduction of 3.2% in the primary sector since 2013. Over 40% of the surplus places in schools were in small schools, which are largely located in rural areas. [my emphasis]

It now seems that the new Welsh Government is going to adapt its approach to surplus places, although we are still waiting for the detail that will underpin this change. Perhaps this detail will emerge with the publication of the, yet to be published, strategy and implementation plan for federation and collaboration in Wales.

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.