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Present

  • Rt. Hon. Mark Drakeford MS
  • Rebecca Evans MS
  • Vaughan Gething MS
  • Lesley Griffiths MS
  • Jane Hutt MS
  • Jeremy Miles MS
  • Eluned Morgan MS
  • Dawn Bowden MS
  • Hannah Blythyn MS
  • Julie Morgan MS
  • Lynne Neagle MS
  • Lee Waters MS

Apologies

  • Julie James MS
  • Mick Antoniw MS

Officials

  • Andrew Goodall, Permanent Secretary
  • Des Clifford, Director General Office of the First Minister
  • Will Whiteley, Deputy Director Cabinet Division
  • Toby Mason, Strategic Communications
  • Jane Runeckles, Special Adviser
  • Madeleine Brindley, Special Adviser
  • Alex Bevan, Special Adviser
  • Daniel Butler, Special Adviser
  • Ian Butler, Special Adviser
  • Kate Edmunds, Special Adviser
  • Sara Faye, Special Adviser
  • Clare Jenkins, Special Adviser
  • Owen John, Special Adviser
  • Andrew Johnson, Special Adviser
  • Tom Woodward, Special Adviser
  • Steffan Bryn, Special Adviser (item 7)
  • Christopher W Morgan, Head of Cabinet Secretariat (minutes)
  • Damian Roche, Cabinet Secretariat
  • Catrin Sully, Cabinet Office
  • Tracey Burke, Director General, Education and Public Services
  • Reg Kilpatrick, Director General, COVID-19 Crisis Coordination
  • Judith Paget, Director General Health
  • Andrew Slade, Director General, Economy, Skills and Natural Resources
  • Neil Buffin, Deputy Director Legal Services
  • Andrew Jeffreys, Director Treasury
  • Andy Fraser, Deputy Director Water and Flood Division
  • Lori Frater, Head Coal Tip Safety Division
  • Owain Lloyd, Director Education Directorate
  • Hannah Wharf, Deputy Director Support for Learners Division

Item 1: Minutes of previous meetings

1.1 Cymeradwyodd y Cabinet gofnodion y 21 Mawrth / Cabinet approved the minutes of 21 March.

Item 2: First Minister’s items

Co-operation Agreement

2.1 The First Minister informed ministers that a special adviser, he had appointed to oversee agreed policy areas within the Co-operation Agreement, would be attending Cabinet for the item on free school meals.

NHS Planned Care Recovery

2.2 The First Minister invited the Minister for Health and Social Services to inform Cabinet about the programme for transforming and modernising planned health care in Wales and for reducing waiting lists, while continuing to deal with COVID-19.

2.3 The plan, which was due to be published after Easter, focussed predominantly on services that had waiting lists and elective treatments. It set out a series of ambitions for the remainder of the Senedd and included a number of objectives designed to meet the needs of the public, modernise services and reduce waiting times. The plan recognised the huge challenge the NHS had in reducing the backlog and the focus would be on bringing waiting times back to pre-pandemic levels by the next Senedd election.

2.4 The objectives were driven by 7 key priorities for action, focussed around patient support and information, service transformation and learning the lessons from the pandemic. There would be a need to increase capacity at local, regional, and national levels, while developing a longer term sustainable service across outpatients, diagnostics and elective care.

2.5 The plan also recognised the integral co-dependencies of other parts of the NHS and Social Care.

2.6 However, the NHS still needed to respond to the pressures of the pandemic, with around 2,800 hospital beds expected to be occupied by COVID-19 patients by the end of April. There was also a need to address delayed transfers of care.

Item 3: Senedd business

3.1 Cabinet considered the contents of the Plenary grid and noted the Deputy Minister for Climate Change would be taking forward the portfolio’s business in the Siambr that week as the Minister was unavailable. Voting time was scheduled for 6:40pm on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Item 4: Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Spring Statement – oral item

4.1 The Minister for Finance and Local Government informed Cabinet the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Spring Statement, delivered the previous Wednesday, had offered some limited support to workers, but there was very little to alleviate the strain of the cost of living crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable households who relied on benefits. There was no further action to reduce energy bills.

4.2 The statement was also silent in terms of incentivising renewable energy generation and building resilience in energy supply to ensure continuity and stable prices for consumers and to provide energy security.

4.3 The Chancellor had set out his vision for a lower tax economy. It followed his assumption that cutting taxes encouraged economic growth, but it was light on substance, and did not recognise the importance of investing in quality public services.

4.4 Following the interventions during the pandemic, the Chancellor appeared to be testing the minimum level of support the UK government could offer to help protect those struggling with the cost of living. This was despite having the financial headroom due to lower borrowing and increased tax revenues.

4.5 Prior to the Spring Statement, the UK government had already been signalling the impact of the invasion of Ukraine on the cost of living and that everyone would need to share the burden.

4.6 However, the UK government had ignored the fact that its decisions on unemployment support, changes to universal credit and increases in taxes on income from April had exacerbated the cost of living crisis.

4.7 The rationale for the Chancellor’s limited package of support appeared primarily ideological. There was also the political driver which suggested he was building up funds to invest and cut taxes prior to the next UK Parliamentary Election.

4.8 Alongside the Spring Statement, the Office for Budget Responsibility had revised down its forecasts for economic growth and revised up the forecast for inflation. The outlook for productivity remained poor and consumer prices were expected to increase further.

4.9 The Welsh Government only received a consequential of £27 million for 2022-23 as a result of the Chancellor’s announcements, mostly as a result of the additional investment in the Household Support Fund. Given the modest amount, it would be added to the reserve given the range of known pressures the Government was already facing, as Welsh Ministers had already announced a package of support more than double the consequential funding received as a result of UK government spending plans.

4.10 However, with prices expected to be higher than when the settlement was announced the previous October, the additional funding available would not go as far as originally envisaged, and overall the budget would be worth around £600 million less over the next 3 years than previously thought.

Item 5: Coal tip safety

5.1 The First Minister introduced the paper, which asked Cabinet to note the summary of proposals for a new management framework for coal tip safety in Wales.

5.2 Since the previous report to Cabinet in December, significant progress had been made and the Law Commission had completed its review of coal tip safety legislation, which had included a public consultation. The report had been published on 24th March.

5.3 The majority of respondents to the consultation favoured a new management regime for disused coal tips and 91% indicated a preference for a single supervisory authority.

5.4 The government was committed to introducing new legislation on Coal Tip Safety. This would introduce a more effective management regime for disused tips.

5.5 The bill was part of a wider package of mechanisms within the Coal Tip Safety Programme. Other mechanisms would include funding to support local authorities to carry out necessary maintenance works and address skills gaps to ensure sufficient capacity and capability to deliver the ongoing inspections and maintenance programmes. In addition, technology would be used to support monitoring and inspection and a long-term reclamation programme would be developed.

5.6 There would also be a new supervisory authority, which would be required to develop a new central asset register of coal tips to ascertain status and record maintenance work requirements. This body would also be responsible for categorising all tips by hazard and potential impact on the local community, along with maintenance requirements and remediation work. There would be 4 categories, with the authority being responsible for those at highest risk. Relevant local authorities would be responsible for category 2 with owners accountable for the remaining two classes of tip.

5.7 Ministers welcomed the paper and put on record their thanks to officials for the significant amount of work undertaken in such a short period of time.

5.8 It was noted there would be a statement to the Senedd the following day on the whole Coal Tip Safety Programme, with the white paper scheduled to be published on 9th May, after the local government elections.

5.9 Cabinet approved the paper.

Item 6: Universal Primary Free School Meals

6.1 The Minister for Education and Welsh Language introduced the paper, which asked Cabinet to note the update on the Programme for Government and Co-operation Agreement commitment on Free School Meals. The intention was to provide a nutritious free school meal to all primary school pupils in Wales during the course of the current Senedd.

6.2 In December the previous year, the government had set out its intention to begin implementation of the policy from September this year, directed towards the youngest children in primary schools. This would continue to be rolled out from September 2023 with the aim of all children in primary schools receiving free school meals by 2024.

6.3 Given the urgent requirement for a clear basis for local authorities to begin their detailed planning a series of scenarios were being explored to provide a strategic steer for partners.

6.4 Cabinet noted the paper.

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