The National Assembly For Wales


Leave a comment

Renting Homes (Wales) Bill: Chair’s blog, 21 May 2015

Christine Chapman, Committee Chair

We have now finished taking oral evidence from witnesses. We are grateful to everyone who has taken the time to assist us in our consideration of the Bill so far – it has been a very interesting process.

In our meeting this week we heard from the Housing Law Practitioners Association. We also questioned the Minister about the Bill for the second and final time. This was an opportunity for us to ask the Minister about the main points that have emerged during our evidence sessions. Finally, we discussed all the evidence we have heard over the course of our inquiry and agreed on the matters to be included in our Stage 1 report. We will now prepare our report, which we will publish by 26 June.

If you missed the meeting or would like to watch it again, you can do so on Senedd.tv:
Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee meeting, 20 May 2015.

Keep an eye on #RentingHomesBill for more updates.

How to get involved and keep up-to date with the Committee’s work


Leave a comment

Chair’s Blog: Renting Homes (Wales) Bill

Christine Chapman in Committee

We are now more than half way through our evidence gathering. We began with a session with the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty, as the Member in charge of the Bill, on 22 April. The following week, on 30 April, we heard from the Law Society, Welsh Tenants, the NUS Cymru and Let Down in Wales.

Last week, on 6 May, the Chartered Institute of Housing, Community Housing Cymru, the WLGA, Cymorth Cymru, Tai Pawb and the Residential Property Tribunal came along to our meeting to share their views on the Bill.

This week, we will be hearing from landlord and letting agent representatives, as well as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Citizens Advice Cymru and Shelter Cymru.

Our evidence gathering will conclude on 20 May, when we’ll hear from the Housing Law Practitioners Association, as well as the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty for the second time.

In addition to the oral evidence heard during our formal committee meetings, in coming to a view on the Bill we will also take into account the 41 responses received to the public consultation, and the range of views and comments that were expressed during the stakeholder event held back in March.

Our next meeting is on Thursday 14 May. You can watch it live on Senedd.tv

How to get involved and keep up-to date with the Committee’s work


Leave a comment

Chair’s blog: Inquiry into New Psychoactive Substances

DavidReesAM

I’m David Rees (@DavidReesAM), Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee.

In September 2014 the Committee started looking into the issue of new psychoactive substances (“NPS”). We have now finished our inquiry and have written a report (PDF, 1MB) making 14 recommendations to the Welsh Government. A shorter summary (PDF, 252KB) is also available.

What are New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)?

NPS are commonly marketed as safer and legal alternatives to illegal drugs, often made in laboratories and sold via the internet or in so-called “head shops” that exist on the high street. They are often referred to as “legal highs”. This marketing is misleading – their side effects can be as serious as those caused by illegal drugs, and they can be as addictive too. Often, they also contain traces of substances that are against the law to sell and take.

Why did we hold this inquiry?

We decided to look into this issue because the use of NPS has grown in Wales, and elsewhere, in recent years. In 2013, 60 deaths in England and Wales involved NPS, 15 per cent higher than the previous year. Members were concerned about the health and social harms caused by NPS, and wanted to shine a light on the steps that need to be taken to allow people to make more informed decisions about their use of NPS.

How did we gather people’s views for this inquiry?

We used a number of different ways to ask people what they think about NPS, including:

  • asking the public to fill in a survey, which 1072 people responded to from across Wales;
  • inviting representatives from key organisations to speak with Members in official meetings at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay;
  • holding focus groups in Merthyr Tydfil and Wrexham to hear directly from frontline staff, and Committee members visited the LOTS project, Forsythia Youth Club, DrugAid and the headquarters of DAN 24/7, Wales’ national substance misuse helpline.

We wrote a blogpost about these visits and have also have published pictures from Wrexham and Merthyr alongside some short videos so you can see what the Committee has been doing:

Health and Social Care Committee focus group on NPSHealth and Social Care Committee focus group

The Committee also used  storify to keep people updated on the inquiry’s progress.

What did people tell the Committee and what have we done about it?

What the Committee was told

  • More needs to be done to increase public awareness of the harms caused by using NPS;
  • the term “legal highs” is really unhelpful. It suggests that using these substances is a safe and legal thing to do. In reality, they are often really harmful and contain illegal substances;
  • the UK Government, which is responsible for drugs policy, should ban the supply of NPS, making “head shops” and market stalls that sell NPS illegal;
  • those using NPS should not be given a criminal record – that could make things even worse for users who are trying to get their lives back on track;
  • not enough is known about how many people are taking NPS and what harms they can cause.

What we said in our report

  • The current drugs education programme in schools should be reviewed urgently to make it better and more consistent across Wales, and to make sure it is delivered by people who are suitably trained and qualified;
  • a national training programme on NPS should be developed for all staff providing public services (e.g. doctors, nurses, police, social workers, prison officers etc);
  • the Welsh Government’s 2015 public awareness campaign on NPS should include targeted information for young people and emphasise that legal does not mean safe;
  • those working in this field, including the media, should stop using the term “legal highs” as it is very misleading;
  • the Welsh Government should encourage the UK Government to move as quickly as possible to implement the suggested ban on the supply of NPS.

To read all 14 of our recommendations please see our report (PDF, 1MB) or the shorter summary (PDF, 252KB) document.

What did the UK and Welsh Governments think about our report?

The Welsh Government’s response (PDF, 295KB) to our report accepts fully all of our recommendations. The UK Government Home Office (PDF, 69KB) has also written to the Committee to note that it welcomes our work and supports each of our 14 recommendations.

What happens next?

Our report will be debated by all Assembly Members on 13 May in the Siambr, the Assembly’s main debating chamber. This will be an opportunity to draw attention to this important topic, and to put questions to the Welsh Government’s Health Minister about what the Welsh Government will do to deliver our recommendations.

I would like to thank everyone who took the time to share their experiences of NPS and their views about what needs to be done to raise public awareness of their harms. Although the Committee itself can only recommend changes rather than being able to make the changes itself, we will continue to put pressure on the Welsh Government and others to deliver the actions set out in our report.

How to get involved and keep up-to date with our work


1 Comment

Guest Blog: Consultation Event to Scrutinise the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill

My name is Claire Blakeway and I am the Vice President for the Heath Park Campus at Cardiff University Students’ Union. On Wednesday the 18th of March, I took part in a consultation event to scrutinise the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill. This involved Assembly Members speaking to a wide range of tenants about their experiences of renting properties from the council, housing association and private landlords. Tenants from different rental areas were put into focus groups which were led by Assembly Members. In my focus group, I was representing the tenancy views of students.

On the whole I agreed with ideas of the new Housing Bill but felt that there needed to be more detail around repair agreements. For example, there needs to be a detailed scheduling timeline in the agreement that outlines how quickly landlords should react to acknowledging and working towards resolving a repair that is reported by a tenant. I feel that currently tenants can be waiting a long time before repairs are addressed, and as result of this they are essentially paying to rent a property that isn’t fully to the standard that they originally rented the property out for. By implementing a repair agreement with specific timelines, both landlords and tenants will know exactly what to expect in the case of a repair and landlords can work to complete a repair in a pre-agreed timeline and thus meet the expectations of their tenant.

Here’s Claire being interviewed after the event:

I also fed my ideas into the focus group around how firmer repercussions need to be implemented for landlords and tenants who breach their contracts. The more serious repercussions are, the more likely it is that contracts will be adhered too and respected.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the focus groups, and it was great to hear AM so interested in the views of students. I look forward to seeing the Housing Bill being released, and hope that my views will be taken on board. Thank you to the Welsh Assembly for inviting me along!

The next step is for the Committee to hear what other people think about the Bill in formal meetings at the Senedd. The first of these meetings takes place on Wednesday morning, where the Committee will talk to the Welsh Government Minister responsible for the Bill, Lesley Griffiths AM. You can watch this meeting live on Senedd TV.

More information about the meeting is available here.


Leave a comment

#SeneddWrexham blog: It’s been a busy week in Wrexham!

During the last week of March the National Assembly for Wales held its week-long #SeneddWrexham series of events. Here Lowri Lloyd Williams, the North Wales Outreach Manager runs through the week’s events.

National Assembly for Wales bus

Monday 23 March 2015

Launching #SeneddWrexham, we parked the Assembly bus in the town’s Queens Square, where we had a steady stream of visitors during the day.

Mr Pugh was our first visitor, who stopped by on his way to collect milk for his wife, to raise points around transport in the Wrexham area.  He was concerned about the road surfaces as well as the amount of roadworks on the A55 and its effect on the area. Parking charges was also a point Mr Pugh wanted to raise.

Other issues raised on the bus during the day included broadband speed, raising awareness of the Assembly’s work and health related matters, specifically breast cancer services.

Andrew Atkinson and Alex Jones from Wrexham Business Group also came on the bus to raise points about business rates. They left the following video regarding business rates in the town.

We were also visited on the bus by Dr Helen Paterson, Chief Executive of Wrexham Borough Council and John Gallenders, Chief Executive of AVOW (Association of Voluntary Organisations Wrexham) who encouraged their staff to get involved in #SeneddWrexham.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Day two of #SeneddWrexham and the Assembly bus was back in Queens Square, and the people of Wrexham were still making the most of our presence, and coming to see us with plenty of questions, comments and matters to raise.

Health again was a popular topic with waiting times, cross border services and free prescriptions among the matters raised. Members of the public who raised these were encouraged to contact their Assembly Members to discuss further and look at the work the National Assembly for Wales Health and Social Care committee have done recently.

We were delighted to be joined by Welsh Baccalaureate students from St Christopher’s School, Wrexham during the morning.  They were given a short presentation on the National Assembly for Wales and as part of the Votes@16 consultation we had an interesting debate around lowering the voting age to 16. You can find out more about the consultation here.  They also thought that young people should be given more opportunities to learn about politics and that Assembly Members should commit to having young people shadow them.

St. Christophers School

St Christophers School during their visit to the bus.

We were also visited by Lynn Morris and Yvonne McCarroll from Wrexham Tenants Group who wanted to learn about ways that tenants could get involved and have their say on issues that affect them.  As I work for the Outreach team in North Wales this gave me a really good new contact in the Wrexham area that I can contact when working with the Assembly’s Committees on future consultations.

While some of the team were on the Assembly bus, others were at The Wrexham Foyer talking with members of their Breakfast club.   They were interested to hear about who represents them and how they can have their voice heard. They also talked about the voting process and learned about how they can register to vote. Listen to Courtney and Amy talk about it here:

On Tuesday night we visited young people at The Vic in Wrexham to do a session on what the Assembly is, how many Assembly Members they have and what their job is. Other members of the team were with Dynamic Wrexham holding a similar interactive session.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

The Assembly’s presence in the center of town for #SeneddWrexham continued on Wednesday with the team setting up a pop-up stand at Contact Wrexham on Lord Street.  People took the opportunity to speak to Assembly staff as they visited Wrexham council for other matters.

We also had a presence at the Info Shop in Wrexham on Wednesday to get young people to complete the Vote@16? Consultation.  We met with some really interesting young people who have strong opinions about the topic.  We spent some time with Lacey, 22, from Wrexham, who is against lowering the voting age as there is not enough education for young people and so they don’t know who to vote for.    We also visited BAWSO during the morning to hold a session explaining the areas effecting their life that the Assembly is responsible for, who represents them and how they can raise issues with the Assembly.

BAWSO Session

Participants during the BAWSO session.

The sessions continued for the team on Wednesday afternoon with the team visiting Welsh Women’s Aid in Wrexham to hold two sessions on understanding and engaging with the Assembly.  It was really interesting session with plenty of discussion points raised. Here’s what Alison Hamlington had to say following the session:

Thursday 26 March 2015

#SeneddWrexham continued to pick up pace on Thursday with activities and events all over the town.

The Assembly was at Coleg Cambria all day where students streamed in to take part in the votes@16 consultation where we wanted to hear what 11-25 year olds think about lowering the voting age to 16. We had over 300 consultation questionnaires completed during the day.

Our website, ‘Your Assembly- your say, your way, will be updated regularly to let you know how the conversation’s developing.

In addition we had a filming station set up in the library of Coleg Cambria, where media students interviewed their peers about lowering the voting age to 16.  The students did all the filming themselves, and discussed other matters too including whether enough information about politics is given to young people and whether voting should be mandatory.  You can see these videos through the playlist

The students staged a ‘Your Assembly takeover’, where their content took over our website aimed at young people for the day. You can view photographs from the day in our Flickr Album.

Over in Glyndwr University during the afternoon, the Assembly’s Presiding Officer Dame Rosemary Butler AM met with young people from Wrexham to discuss the Assembly’s Vote@16? national conversation. The event was delivered in partnership with Wrexham Senedd yr Ifanc.

We also managed to squeeze in another two understanding and engaging with staff from Wrexham Council and Caia Park Jigsaw group where we were joined by the Assembly’s Deputy Presiding Officer, David Melding AM.

The day ended with a #SeneddWrexham reception hosted by the Presiding Officer Dame Rosemary Butler AM. It was a successful event with around 70 local people present where we celebrated the work of community champions in the Wrexham area.  To the sound of musicians from Coleg Cambria there was plenty of networking between politicians, leaders of civic and community leaders during the evening.

 

Friday 27 March 2015

The final day of #SeneddWrexham arrived and it was another busy day for the team.

Friday started with our education officers over in Rhosnesni High School where over 150 young people took part in the votes@16? consultation. This was followed by a session with the school council.

Deputy Presiding Officer David Melding AM joined in with the school council meeting where they discussed the issues they had tackled within the school during the past 12 months, including school uniform.

Rhosnesi High School

The school council having their say for votes@16.

After spending the morning on our pop-up stand at Glyndwr University, I spent the afternoon with a group from Hafal in Wrexham delivering the final understanding and engaging workshop of the week.  It was an interactive session with plenty of discussion and we were joined by Aled Roberts AM where he spoke about his role as an Assembly Member.

Hafal Group Presentation

The Hafal group following the presentation.

Meanwhile, over in Glyndwr University members of National Assembly for Wales and Cardiff University staff met with students and hyperlocal bloggers and journalists.  The event was part of the Presiding Officer’s Democratic Deficit initiative, to try and help community journalists around Wales to access information about the Assembly more easily.

The Presiding Officer has pledged to work towards addressing the ‘Democratic Deficit’ caused by large numbers of people in Wales consuming news and current affairs from UK broadcasters and media organisations which often ignore the different public policy landscape in Wales compared to England.

Journalists, including many from the Glyndwr journalism school, had the chance to interview the Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler AM and the Deputy Presiding Officer, David Melding AM. They also attended a press conference style event with Dame Rosemary Butler AM.

We would like to thank everyone who engaged with us during the week for the lovely warm welcome that we had in Wrexham.

It’s was a fantastic week and I know we’ve all had a lot out of the work that we’ve done and hope that you have too.

You can view photographs from the week in our Flickr album .

If you’d like to learn more about the work of the Outreach team in North Wales, then you can contact the Assembly on 0300 200 6565 or contact@assembly.wales.

 


1 Comment

Sharing good practice in scrutiny (3)

Outreach Manager Kevin Davies explains…

Welcome to the third and final blog entry in this series. In my previous blogs I spoke about the challenges of getting a diverse range of people to contribute to committee scrutiny, and then spoke about the different types of things we do at the National Assembly. 

In this entry I’m going to talk about the planning process, which might not be as interesting as the previous blogs, but may be the most important piece in the puzzle. Without proper planning and discussion at an early enough stage, none of what I talked about in the first two blogs would be possible.

Planning and involving the right people at the right time is really important from the get go. A lot of preparation work can be done in advance to give staff internally time to plan, come up with ideas, speak with external experts and contact Assembly Members/Councillors to make sure they are getting the opportunity to shape the type of engagement activity, and in particular which audiences, they want to hear from. At the Assembly we have something called integrated teams (usually made up of a researcher, a committee clerk, legal advisor and communications staff), which basically means that the officials supporting each committee meet every week to discuss current inquiries and work, alongside what’s coming up in the coming weeks and months. It’s not unusual for these integrated teams  to discuss what is on the horizon in the next five to six months. Proper planning means   more flexibility and options at your disposal when it comes to engaging with different groups, organisations and individuals. It’s important that your Communications people are involved at the earliest stage possible to advise and help shape the work, rather that it being an afterthought, or asking them at the end of the process for support on publicising something they haven’t been able to help shape.

Advanced planning will also mean that those groups and organisations you want to help promote the  activity you are planning (be it  an event, survey, the opportunity to be interviewed etc) will have adequate time to do so. It’s important to use the expertise of external groups and organisations when trying to select the appropriate type of engagement method, based on your target audience.

Councils are in a unique position  as they deliver a wide variety of services to different groups of people, covering health, education, transport and the environment to name a few. The people delivering these services are a valuable source of information, and can help you consider  issues and sensitivities relevant to specific groups of people, based on their age, gender, levels of literacy, ethnic backgrounds and so on.

Case Study: Scrutiny of the Cancer Delivery Plan

The National Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee recently looked at how well the Welsh Government was implementing its Cancer Delivery Plan. The Committee wanted to hear directly from patients, so focus groups were arranged across Wales with patient groups, who were then invited to an event in Cardiff to discuss their experiences with Assembly Members. Key to this were the early meetings that the integrated team had do discuss ideas, seeking advice from MacMillan who helped us arrange the patient sessions at an early  stage. Without appropriate planning and those early discussions this  not have been possible, and the Committee would not have heard directly from patients throughout the process.

This is a video was shot after an event held as part of the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry into the implementation of the Welsh Government’s Cancer Delivery Plan:

At the Assembly we have something called integrated teams (usually made up of a researcher, a committee clerk, legal advisor and communications staff), which means that the officials supporting each committee meet every week to discuss current inquiries and work, alongside what’s coming up in the coming weeks and months.

We usually discuss the following questions:

  • Who do you expect to tell you want they think in writing? (written evidence);
  • Who do you think you will be inviting into speak to the committee in official meetings? (oral evidence);
  • Who do you want to hear from that you don’t think will get in touch, and how can we get to them?

The answer to the third question tends to be the groups we target engagement activity towards. This work should not happen independently of Assembly Members/Councillors, they have to be involved in shaping the work you are undertaking. We have found it useful to have some ideas ready to discuss with them after meeting as an integrated team, and having spoken with people in the sector you would like to hear from. The engagement activity needs to resonate with committee members for it to influence the scrutiny process to its fullest effect.

When trying to find the answer to that third point, we aim to give service users the best opportunity possible to take part. In some cases, such as  the inquiry into the  Cancer Delivery Plan  mentioned above, we wanted to hear from service users – the patients – directly.. The term “service user” will differ depending on the issue you are scrutinising. Another one of the National Assembly’s committees, the Finance Committee, looked at the performance of Finance Wales, and wanted to hear directly from businesses who had worked with them, including  those who had had their applications for investment turned down. These are two very different ”service users” and shows how greatly the answer to the third question can change depending on the issue you are looking into.

Here are some pictures and videos form the event held as part of the Finance Committee’s inquiry into Finance Wales:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalassemblyforwales/sets/72157640037729084/

I hope you’ve found this blog series useful, and please get in touch if you want to talk about any of the things in this series in greater detail.


1 Comment

Sharing good practice in scrutiny (2)

Outreach Manager Kevin Davies explains…

Welcome back! My first blog entry set the scene and explained how and why Swansea Council’s Scrutiny Committee came to visit the National Assembly for Wales to discuss ideas around public engagement in scrutiny.

In it I explained that wanted to explore ways of encouraging more people to take part in committee work, be it to help the Assembly scrutinise the work of the Welsh Government, or to help local council scrutinise the work of council leaders. We share the same challenge…sometimes we don’t hear from the variety of people would like to.
To read my first blog entry click here.

In this blog entry I’ll explain how we at the Assembly try to overcome this issue, and reference examples and case studies.

Consultation toolkit

I was really impressed by Swansea Council’s openness to ideas, and their desire to engage the public in the work they do. I appreciated some of the concerns that they had (that I’m sure every other public sector organisation shares) around having the time, effort and resource to do it properly. As a public sector organisation, this is something we at the Assembly also have to consider, and it shapes the types of activity we can offer and deliver.

A few years ago we produced our consultation toolkit (PDF 5.82MB). The toolkit is a list of engagement methods which have been used by the National Assembly and have been evaluated after use, with strengths, weaknesses suggestions of lead in times, costs and other considerations. It lists the different things the Assembly’s Outreach team can deliver when helping committees find more people to take part in a consultation. The toolkit includes a lot of different options, ways of gathering people’s opinions (evidence) including things like focus groups, events, filming video interviews, web-chats and surveys.

Finding people from different backgrounds, and hearing their perspectives helps Assembly Members understand the issues and the impact they have on people’s lives. Better informed Assembly Members (or councillors for that matter) leads to better scrutiny and better policies, so the value of engaging a broader group of people in this process shouldn’t be undervalued.

This video shows Rhun ap Iorwerth AM and Julie James AM talking about taking part in a web-chat with students on the subject of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Skills in Wales as part of committee scrutiny:

This video shows people who took part in video interviews for the Enterprise and Business Committee’s inquiry into youth entrepreneurship:

You might think that doing these things cost a lot of money. Using Google Hangouts to run web-chats is totally free. If you want to film video interviews with people in your area, an iPad will set you back about £200, which you can use to film people in high definition, and you can use an app called iMovie to edit the footage. A survey can be designed, published and promoted for little cost, using Facebook, Twitter and other channels. We have recently been promoting an inquiry into Supply Teaching in Wales through paid promoted Facebook posts which cost us £50 over the course of two weeks. This post (to date) has been shared 117 times and 39 comments made on the post.

Finding participants

Consider is who you see/work with on a day to day basis through the activities/services your organisations provide day to day. At the National Assembly we have communications staff which sees people coming into the Senedd, going into schools, colleges and youth clubs, and community groups across Wales to explain what the Assembly does and how they can get involved. We have used these interactions, things we do on a day-to-day basis, to explain issues  being discussed at the National Assembly at the moment, and provide people with direct opportunities to have their say on these topics.

When we find people to take part in engagement activity for committee consultations, we regularly contact charities, voluntary organisations, representative bodies and community groups. Local councils deliver a wide variety of services to different groups of people so engaging with these existing groups could be a very quick and easy way for councils to broaden the range of people who could contribute to their scrutiny work. Something we tried for the Human Transplantation Bill inquiry was leaving leaflets at GP surgeries, targeting people with specific needs in a specific area.

Feedback

One of the areas that the crew from Swansea Council were really interested in was how we feedback to people who have contributed throughout the process. We showed some examples of how we’ve done this, such as this  .

Committing to feeding back to participants is really important, or you could undo all the good work done during engagement activity by leaving people without updates on what their involvement lead to. At the Assembly we are currently looking at how we communicate with the public, particularly how we communicate the work of committees. As part of this process we will be considering how we keep people informed about the process of an inquiry they have taken part in, and what platforms (be it by using video, Storify or simply an e-mail) we should use when doing this. Piecing together the customer journey seems to be an area both Swansea Council and the National Assembly are looking at at the moment, and hopefully we can work together in doing this. Watch this space.

That seems like a good place to bring this blog entry to a close. The next entry will look at the planning process, and how this work happens behind the scenes at the Assembly to make all of these engagement opportunities possible.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers