Have you noticed that its getting increasingly harder to find
a bank, or cashpoint when you need one?
Wales lost 43% of its bank branches between January 2015 and August 2019.
A total of 239 in all.
What’s more, 10% of our free ATMs have disappeared in the last year.
Access to banking and free cash machines in Wales is not a
new concern, however the scale of closures continues to increase at an alarming
You told us in a recent survey how losing your local bank
branch or cashpoint is affecting you, your community and businesses in the
You can see some of the feedback from the survey in the infographic
Urgent action needed
The findings of an inquiry into access to banking in Wales have been published. Calling for urgent action from the Welsh Government to protect our valuable banking network and champion Welsh consumers at a UK level.
If you’d like to read the full report on access to banking in Wales, you can download it here.
In March the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee visited the Basque Country to explore the ways in which civil society and legislation in the Basque Country promotes and enhances language acquisition. These examples of best practice from other countries, similar in size to Wales, will be used to inform the inquiry into ‘Supporting the Welsh Language’.
The key topics the Committee were:
To explore the impact of the partial devolution of broadcasting in the Basque Country, benefits and drawbacks and funding issues.
To examine the effects of the numerous broadcast outlets offered in the Basque language.
To gain greater understanding of language policies and strategies adopted and implemented in the Basque Country, particularly around education, economy and public administration.
How the Basque Government has approached language planning in the region.
To examine the impact and effectiveness of education policies in the region, from early years through to vocational and university education.
Promotion and facilitation of the language in the community and with the private sector.
The balance between language promotion and legislation.
EiTB – Basque TV and Radio Broadcaster
Members visited EiTB (Euskal Irrati Telebista), which is the
publicly funded broadcaster for Basque and Spanish language TV and radio output
in the Basque Country. The visit provided Committee Members with an opportunity
to tour the main offices and broadcasting facilities.
The Committee met with Maite Iturbe, the General Director of EiTB, and Odile Kruzeta, Radio and Editorial Coordination Director. The General Director outlined the background to the organisation and current provision and output offered.
CEIP Educational Centre – Siete Campas Zorrozgoiti Elementary School
Following the visit to EiTB, Members visited a Basque
immersion school in an area of Bilbao called Zorrotza – an area with high
social deprivation, and also home to many of Bilbao’s immigrant population.
Members visited a pre-school classroom, where they were presented with a poster
with a Basque proverb, which had also been translated into Welsh. Members were
then taken to a primary classroom to see how the children learn in the Basque
Royal Basque Language Academy
Members visited the Royal
Basque Language Academy in Bilbao, and met with the Vice-Secretary, Erramun
Osa. The Royal Academy of the Basque Language is the official body responsible
for the Basque language, which includes carrying out research and
standardisation of the language.
On the final day of the visit, Members visited
Vitoria-Gasteiz, the Capital City of the Basque Autonomous Community and seat
of Government. Here, Members met with the Vice-Minister of Linguistic Policy,
Miren Dobaran and Eugenio Jimenez, Director of Centers and Planning.
Members heard that after Franco’s dictatorship ended, some
40 Basque immersion schools opened – the children who attended were
predominantly from those families who continued to speak the Basque language in
the home during the Franco period, even though the language was outlawed.
Members heard that during Franco’s dictatorship, clandestine
schools existed, known as Ikastola, which had helped keep the language alive
during this period.
The provision of Basque language education has been critical
to the survival of the language, and has proven to be the most successful
aspect of Basque language planning. It has been successful both in terms of
volume of activity and numbers of participants involved. It has also received
significant sums of Government funding over the last three decades.
There is a long-term socio-economic plan to increase usage
of Basque in the private sector, and also to develop digital media and
productions in the Basque language.
Before leaving the Basque Country, Members visited the
Basque Parliament. Here, they were greeted by the Basque President, Bakartxo
Tejeria, along with other Members of the Basque Parliament.
All Committee Members signed the book of honour to mark their visit to the Parliament and the President presented the Chair of the Committee with a wood carving of a tree (which is symbolic to the Basque people) to mark the Committee’s visit.
After the presentation, Members took their place in a
committee meeting room, where a joint session was held with Members of the
European Affairs and External Relations Commission.
During the meeting, Members heard that there had been great effort and investment to promote the language, but that the next step was to increase Basque language use and to mainstream the language across all government bodies, including the health service.
Guest post from Llyr Gruffydd AM, Chair of the Finance Committee – National Assembly for Wales
Almost twenty years after the National Assembly for Wales was founded, Welsh devolution will pass another significant milestone on 6 April.
Income Tax rates decided in Wales will apply to Wales, affecting around two billion pounds of tax collected here each year.
Your income tax rate will remain the same for 2019-20, a decision voted through by the Assembly for the first time in January.
From Saturday 6 April, each band of UK Income Tax will reduce by 10p, and Welsh Rates will be set, one for each band, at 10p.
This means no change overall, though Income Tax could be set higher or lower than that of England in future years by setting different Welsh Rates.
This welcome change brings more accountability to the Welsh Government by tying the amount of money available in their budget more closely to the performance of the Welsh Economy, and the decisions the Welsh Government make.
We don’t need to do anything individually, but if you live in Wales, whether or not your place of work is in Wales, you should have received a letter from HMRC with your new tax code, which now begins with a “C” for Cymru, and may want to check with HMRC that your details are correct if you haven’t.
This may seem a technical change, but I think it worth a moment on Saturday to stop and note the very first Income Tax rates set in Wales in modern times; yet another sign of our growing confidence as a nation.
Llyr Gruffydd is a regional Assembly Member for North Wales. He is currently the Chair of the National Assembly for Wales Finance Committee.
This afternoon, 20 March 2019, the National Assembly will vote to approve the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill. If the Bill is approved, it will go forward for Royal Assent and the provisions will become law in Wales.
The Ombudsman in Wales has a vital role in ensuring any
member of the public who believes they have suffered injustice, hardship or
service failure by a public body is able to make a complaint. The Ombudsman’s
service is free, impartial and independent of the Welsh Government.
The types of complaints the Ombudsman can receive include ambulances
taking too long to arrive; failing to find the right education for children
with additional needs; social housing not being repaired properly, amongst many
The Finance Committee introduced this Bill because we
believe the Ombudsman’s role should be strengthened to improve social justice and
protect the most vulnerable in society. This is particularly pertinent in a
society where the most vulnerable people are often most reliant on public
The Bill will achieve this by making it easier for people to
complain, removing the barrier that a complaint must be in writing. People
should not be discriminated against or put off from complaining. People will be
able to complain orally or through British Sign Language and maybe, in future
through other digital technologies. This will help vulnerable and deprived
members of society.
The Bill will also allow the Ombudsman to start his own
investigations without receiving a formal complaint where there is evidence to
suggest there could be a wider public interest issue. People are often
reluctant or scared to come forward so they can complain anonymously and if the
strict criteria is satisfied the Ombudsman can investigate.
Currently, a person has to make separate complaints to
different organisations for public and private health treatment. The Bill
allows the Ombudsman to consider both the private and public elements, if
without doing so, the Ombudsman is unable to completely investigate the
relevant action by the public service provider. This will be a fairer process
giving answers to whether a person received appropriate medical treatment
throughout the whole of their health care pathway.
The other main change is the Ombudsman can develop a model
complaints handling process for public service bodies. This aims to drive
improvements and help achieve consistency across the public sector.
This Bill represents a significant amount of hard work undertaken over a number
of years and a rigorous scrutiny process by Assembly committees.
I hope the Assembly approves the Bill today; we need a Wales
that provides excellent public services. Should a service fall short of an
individual’s expectations, they will have confidence in the Ombudsman to
investigate and make things right.
Jocelyn Davies, former Chair of the Finance Committee of the Fourth Assembly:
“I started work on extending the powers of the Ombudsman back in the Fourth Assembly. I hope the Bill is passed today as I’m looking forward to a future where we have excellent public services but when things do go wrong, the Ombudsman is able to investigate, bring redress for individuals and make improvements to public services that we can all benefit from.”
If you’d like further information about the Finance Committee, or would like to keep up to date with their work, you can visit the Committee’s webpage.
This week, the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee will hear from the Welsh
Government’s Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething AM, about what work has been done in response to its inquiry last year into perinatal mental health services.
Perinatal mental health refers to the period from the start
of pregnancy to the end of the first year after a baby is born. Perinatal
mental health is about the emotional well-being of pregnant women and their
children, their partners and families.
The Committee launched its report on the findings of the inquiry during Autumn last year, and promised to follow up on the progress the Welsh Government was making with the proposed changes, one year on.
As part of the Committee’s inquiry, the views of those with first-hand experience of the services offered for perinatal mental health in Wales were sought. Their honest, sometimes difficult, stories contributed to shaping the Committee’s recommendations to the Welsh Government.
What we heard
“We all live in different areas and the ways we had to try and get help were all different..”
In order for the Committee to hear a range of experiences of perinatal mental health issues, 30 people from across Wales participated in an event in Cardiff Bay. Those attending were a mixture of mothers, family members and staff working with those affected. They talked about their experiences – what they felt had worked, what they felt could be improved, and what changes they would like to see made to the support available.
“Consistency of care – a midwife with mental health training. A friendly face.”
The main issues
The lack of a Mother and Baby Unit in Wales
Importance of training for healthcare professionals
Inconsistencies in community perinatal mental health service provision
The need to ensure continuity of care
The need to de-stigmatise and normalise the mother’s experience of perinatal mental health conditions
A short video summarising the issues raised during the event can be seen here:
“The video is beautiful and emotional. Thank you. I’m glad I was able to share my experiences to make a difference.”
The timing of the event, taking place early in the inquiry’s process, meant that Committee members could use the experiences and opinions of attendees to shape the inquiry, and to direct the questions towards issues raised by those with first-hand experience.
“Feeling that you were really listened to by the Assembly Members. It made you feel that what you have been through is important to others, but ultimately it makes you feel that something will change for the good. Exciting to know other people are passionate about the same things.”
The issues raised during the event were used during formal meetings with relevant representative bodies and the Welsh Government, and the experiences of a number of the attendees contributed to the Committee’s report: Perinatal mental health in Wales (PDF, 4.7 MB)
What did the Committee recommend?
The Committee made a number of recommendations including more investment in specialist community services, the establishment of Mother and Baby Unit provision closer to home for people across Wales, and ensuring timely access to psychological support for pregnant and postnatal women and their partners.
This blog, published by the Assembly’s Research Service, summarises the Committee’s 27 recommendations, 23 of which were accepted, or accepted in principle, by the Welsh Government: Perinatal Mental Health
“This output makes the anxiety of talking out about my experiences worth it. Even if not all recommendations were accepted, this is still more than we had last year or when I was ill.”
Those who had been part of the original inquiry were asked to comment on the update to inform the Committee’s meeting with the Minister for Health and Social Services this week (10 January 2019), where he will answer questions on the progress the Government has made.
You can watch this session live on Senedd TV, or catch up later.
Your opinions shape our work
We are your Assembly and we represent you.
If you would like to know more about getting involved in the work of the Assembly, visit our website.
The Public Accounts Committee will spend a significant part of the Autumn term undertaking accounts scrutiny for the Welsh Government, National Assembly for Wales Commission, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, and the National Museums Wales.
What is Account Scrutiny?
The annual scrutiny of accounts by the Public Accounts Committee involves the consideration of the accounts and annual reports of different public funded bodies, to consider see whether there are any unusual or unclear items of expenditure of public money. In addition to looking at how these organisations spend money, the Committee also considers how they are run and whether their governance arrangements are appropriate and accountable.
Why do it?
Although this approach can appear a little dull, this is an important piece of work because it ensures that there is scrutiny of how public money is being spent. It also provides an opportunity to hold to account those tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the expenditure of public money.
Accounts and Annual reports not only provide an important snapshot of the financial health of these publicly funded organisations they also tell a story about how the organisation is being run and whether there are robust governance structures and working practices in place or not.
By undertaking this scrutiny annually, the Committee has been able to build a deterrence factor into its work, with organisations responsible for spending our money knowing they could be called before the Committee to face public scrutiny.
Does it work?
The Committee has been doing this work for a number of years now, and generally we have seen an improvement in the information available, and in ensuring that it is more accessible. In particular, many organisations have risen to the challenge of presenting this often complex information in a more understandable format.
In addition to the more general improvements, the Committee has also brought to light a number of areas of concern which have been subject to greater scrutiny and ultimately an improvement in practices – and have generated media coverage such as:
At the beginning of the fifth Assembly, the Committee agreed to consider the accounts and annual report of the Welsh Government and the Assembly Commission annually. It took this decision because the Welsh Government has an annual budget of over £15 billion, which is a significant sum of public money. While the Assembly Commission is the corporate body which provides support for the National Assembly for Wales, and its Members, (so ultimately the Committee) – and so the Committee felt it was important to not sit above scrutiny.
For 2017-18, the Committee will be considering the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Annual Report and Accounts and National Museum Wales. The Committee has previously considered the Accounts and Annual Report of these two organisations. Hopefully, the recommendations by the previous Public Accounts Committee will have helped these organisations to make improvements and there will now be a positive story to tell.
Do you have any questions you would like asked about how these organisations have been run over the last year?
Do you have any concerns about how funds have been allocated?
What question would you ask those responsible for spending public money?
Update on the Bill by the Member in Charge – Simon Thomas AM, Chair of the Finance Committee
On 17 July 2018, the Assembly agreed the Financial Resolution for the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill.
This is a significant milestone for the Bill, as we can now progress to Stage 2 proceedings on the Bill – the disposal of amendments.
As many people who have followed this Bill will know, it represents a significant amount of work undertaken over a number of years by the Finance Committee of this Assembly and the previous Assembly.
The Ombudsman has a crucial role in representing the people of Wales when they have received poor service or been treated unfairly by public services.
Our main policy intent for the Bill, is to:
improve social justice and equal opportunities;
protect the most vulnerable in our society;
drive improvement in public services and complaints-handling.
If the Bill becomes law, it will extend the powers of the Ombudsman and make the role more responsive to the people of Wales.
It will do this by making it easier for people to complain.
The Bill removes the requirement for a complaint to be made in writing. By allowing the Ombudsman to accept oral complaints, it will allow the more vulnerable members of society to engage with the Ombudsman, creating a fairer and equitable Wales.
The Bill includes provision for the Ombudsman to conduct own initiative investigations – this power will enable widespread systematic maladministration or service failure to be addressed coherently. It will allow the Ombudsman to be more responsive allowing the Ombudsman to investigate matters reported anonymously and again strengthen the citizen’s voice.
The Bill aims to drive improvements in public services and in complaint-handling. It will also expand the Ombudsman’s powers to investigate private healthcare providers where patients have commissioned private treatment alongside that provided by the NHS.
The Assembly’s decision to agree the Financial Resolution means the Assembly has now been given authorisation, in principle, to spend money as a consequence of the Bill.
Whilst there are costs associated with the Bill, we believe there is potential for the Bill to realise cost savings to the wider public sector, with the majority of savings likely to come from provisions that drive improvement in public services, such as reduced compensation claims for the bodies in jurisdiction. Hence, wider efficiency gains.
The Assembly is now able to consider detailed amendments to the Bill. As the Member in Charge (and on behalf of the Finance Committee) I will be tabling a number of amendments which I believe will strengthen the Bill.
These amendments have been developed through careful consideration of the recommendations made by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee in its stage 1 report on the Bill. In addition, I’ve had a number of constructive meetings with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to discuss other areas of the Bill to ensure the Welsh Government is able to support the Bill.
Work is currently taking place to draft amendments which will be considered by the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. Once again, I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the drafting and development of this Bill, which has taken another step closer to becoming law.
It is more important than ever that public services deliver for the people of Wales and that the Ombudsman is empowered to ensure that our services are citizen-centred.
Today, the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee launches its report, ‘Work it out: Parenting and employment in Wales’. As part of the Committee’s inquiry into pregnancy, maternity and work in Wales, we sought the views and experiences of people from across Wales. Galvanised by the opportunity to influence change on such an emotive aspect of everyday life, the insights offered by the many women who shared their views and experiences were instrumental in helping the Committee form its recommendations to the Welsh Government.
Impassioned, sometimes distressing, often alarming, but always vitally important, the views shared were key in highlighting the varied experiences of mothers from across Wales.
This was not the time for keeping mum.
The current situation
According to research published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in 2016, 87 per cent of employers in Wales felt it was in the best interests of organisations to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave. However, it also found that 71 per cent of mothers reported negative or discriminatory experiences as a result of having children, 15 per cent reported a financial loss, and 10% even felt forced to leave their job.
The associated impact on the UK economy was highlighted in research published by the UK Government’s Women’s Business Council, which estimated that equalising the employment rates of women and men could grow the UK economy by more than 10 per cent by 2030.
As part of its work, the Committee was keen to gather the views, experiences and ideas on how the Welsh Government should tackle the issues within its control, such as employability support, economic development, the Welsh public sector equality duties, public sector workforces and childcare.
What we heard
“When I was pregnant with my first child, I was working as a cleaner and had to stop working at about 3 months pregnant due to high blood pressure. I wasn’t supported by my employer and they stopped paying me. My boss didn’t believe I was pregnant initially because I hadn’t had my first scan. The matter eventually ended up going to court, and even though I won, I was awarded a really low sum of money because my boss hadn’t been properly recording all the hours I’d worked.”
Focus groups were held with mothers in Cardiff and an online forum was created using Senedd Dialogue – a tool which allows for open and frank discussion where participants can share their views and ideas, anonymously or otherwise. It also allows participants the opportunity to read, rate and comment on other people’s ideas and experiences.
The breadth of views shared – some of which were positive and highlighted areas of good practice by some employers – were reflective of the diversity of participants. Contributions were submitted by mothers from Blaenau Gwent to Carmarthenshire, and from Bridgend to Flintshire. They included young mothers, single mothers, mothers from low-income households – some of whom were employed, some were in part-time work or on zero hour contracts, and others were out of work. For those who were employed, views were shared by mothers working in the public, private and third sectors.
A number of key themes emerged, which informed subsequent evidence sessions as well as the recommendations made to the Welsh Government in the Committee’s report.
Along with gendered assumptions about childcare and widespread discrimination, inflexible workplace structures was a recurring theme cited by many women as a reason why mothers are more likely to be trapped in part-time, low-paid work with fewer opportunities for career progression.
“Part-time or flexible jobs are important for many parents so that they can juggle childcare and work. There is a severe lack of p-t jobs on offer, and the majority are low paid and low skilled. Many people with great skills and careers aren’t able to work because the jobs simply aren’t available.”
The views shared on flexible working informed Committee members’ briefings for formal evidence sessions, which followed the focus groups and conclusion of the online forum. This was best demonstrated during an evidence session at which Anna Whitehouse, otherwise known as Mother Pukka, founder of the eponymous lifestyle website for parents and staunch activist for flexible working, shared her experience and those of her many followers.
What did the Committee recommend?
The Committee made a number of varied and far-reaching recommendations that included reassessing the Welsh Government’s new Childcare Offer, encouraging culture change, ensuring that public bodies, businesses and charities in receipt of public funding take responsibility for eradicating discrimination, and of course, promoting flexible working.
To read all the recommendations made by the Committee, you can access the full report here.
We will await a response from the Welsh Government to the recommendations made, before they are debated during a plenary session. You will be able to watch the session on Senedd TV.
Guest post by David Rowlands AM, Chair of the Assembly’s Petitions Committee.
On Friday 13 July 2018, the National Assembly for Wales’ Petitions Committee released our report on a petition which calls for improved treatment of Type 1 diabetes in children and young people. The petition was submitted by the Baldwin family whose 13-year-old-son Peter tragically died as a result of not being treated effectively for Type 1 diabetes.
The petitioners are seeking better recognition of the symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes among health professionals and the public in order to aid rapid diagnosis and treatment of children and young people with the condition. This is critical because, if left undiagnosed, the condition can rapidly become life threatening. Tragically this was the case with Peter Baldwin.
In particular, the family want to ensure that all GPs have access to finger-prick testing equipment which can provide an immediate indication about whether a child may be diabetic. It is also vital that health professionals are trained to recognise the most common symptoms of Type 1 diabetes – the Four T’s (Toilets, Tiredness, Thirst and Thinner).
Raising awareness with health professionals
There are approximately 1,400 children with diabetes in Wales, the vast majority of which (96%) have Type 1 diabetes.
Through considering the evidence in relation to this petition we discovered that there was a certain amount of, shall we say, non-recognition of the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes among health professionals. In particular there was some evidence that frontline staff were not particularly looking for Type 1 diabetes and that the disease wasn’t really a factor when trying to identify what was wrong with a patient.
The problem is of course, that many of the symptoms associated with type 1 diabetes are also associated with a number of other health problems. This means that when a patient goes to a GP they may be presenting a number of different symptoms that could be associated with Type 1 diabetes, but could also be indicators for other conditions, so the Committee has a certain amount of sympathy with GPs on that basis.
Our report contains 10 recommendations but if we were to highlight what we feel is the most important factor, it would be the training of frontline staff to recognise the NICE guidelines. Health professionals need to be very much aware that when patients are presenting these symptoms it could be an indication of Type 1 diabetes. The consequences of the disease not being detected and treated within a very short period of time can be, as we’ve seen in the very sad case of Peter Baldwin, absolutely tragic.
Turning scrutiny in to action
In the case of this particular petition, now that we’ve published our report and presented it to the Welsh Government that’s as far as we can go for the time being. It’s now down to the Welsh Government to decide what to do next and we would hope that they’ll act on our recommendations
We’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the bravery of the Baldwin family. By bringing this petition forward it meant they had to reenact and remember the very tragic circumstances of their experience quite some time after it actually happening. The Committee has been very supportive of the proposals they brought forward within their petition.
The great thing about the Petitions Committee is that it is a portal for people to get direct access to the Welsh Assembly. That means if people have concerns or issues that they want to bring to us, through the petitions process the issue will be looked at with the considerable scrutiny.
Whilst not every petition will result in a debate in the Chamber, the process of engaging with petitioners, writing to the relevant Cabinet Secretaries, getting the replies, writing to other stakeholders etc means that there’s a great deal that goes on. It might not be immediately obvious to the public in general but I can assure you that the high level of scrutiny is there for any petition that comes before the petitions committee.
Introduce yourself briefly explain the remit of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.
My name is Bethan Sayed, and I chair the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications committee in the National Assembly for Wales.
We scrutinise government ministers in relation to their portfolio. For example, we’ve recently done an investigation into radio in Wales. We’ve looked at the Welsh language and we’ve also looked at the historical environment as well as non-public funding of the Arts.
It’s been good to be able to have a remit that includes communications so that we can look at the broadcasting landscape of Wales and scrutinise that effectively also.
The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications committee has just launched its report on its inquiry into funding for and access to music education in Wales. The topic of this inquiry was chosen through quite an innovative and slightly unusual way. Could you explain the background and what led the Committee to look at this particular issue?
After being on committees for quite some time that, of course Assembly Members have their own ideas and bring ideas for future work to the table, which is valid but it could obviously be based on our own pet subjects.
I thought it would be interesting to go to the public to ask them exactly what type of investigation they would like us to look into what the population wanted us to focus on, and what were the key priority areas.
We did a public poll and it came out that people wanted us to look at music in education the music tuition that people receive in schools and in our communities and how that can be improved and developed.
It was really good to launch this public poll because then people could engage with a committee in a very different way. So I was happy that our committee was the first to try this and perhaps we could do it again to come up with other ideas for the future.
What were the key themes that the inquiry covered?
They were very keen for us to look at music services in schools. We were seeing, constituents coming to our offices saying that there were problems with the funding of this sector. We were seeing that music services by local authorities were being cut.
So we wanted to get to grips with what was important and come up with solutions to see how we could aid the sector.
We didn’t look at the curriculum, because music education in relation to the provision of tutoring was very different to that. That’s something that we could look at in future. But that’s not what we focused on this time.
During the inquiry the Committee heard from a wide range of witnesses and due to your own experiences as a musician this topic must be very close to your heart – Was there anything that came up through the course of the inquiry that was a particular surprise?
When we went to Ysgol Pengam, we found that they were doing very structured work in the rock and pop field, and they were competing in competitions in England, but they weren’t able to do that in Wales and there was no ensemble. There’s an ensemble for the orchestra, here in Wales but no rock and pop ensembles.
So I guess what did surprise me, perhaps because I’ve come from the more classical side, is that there was such an enthusiasm to set up this ensemble so that people who wanted to go into the rock industry or the pop industry could do that through their school structures.
So that was quite enlightening, but also pleasing to see, because orchestras and ensembles is not always going to suit everybody You don’t necessarily have to be able to read music to take part in those types of activities, so it would open up a new avenue.
In relation to funding streams, that didn’t surprise me, because my sister is 18 and she’s attended orchestras, and I know from my interest in this issue that this downward trend of the provision of services was not new.
The report says that music services must be protected, nurtured and accessible to all. The Committee also states that it welcomes the Welsh Government’s Commitment to put creative activity on an equal basis to other areas of learning and experience. Why is music education so important? What are the benefits?
I think a lot of schools get it in relation to music because they understand that it’s a transferable skill – it’s working as a team, it’s discipline, it’s allowing people to be creative and allowing their wellbeing aims to be met. But some schools, unless the head teacher really understands the value of music, then it might not permeate throughout the school.
As somebody who’s played the piano, viola and violin from an early age, I think it has to be seen as something that isn’t niche, that isn’t exclusive, that is accessible – because it can aid you in so many different ways in life.
For example, an orchestra course would allow me to become independent. It would allow me to make new friends. You’ve got to learn to listen to others and to be able to be respectful of others, and so is not all to do with the music that’s on the paper – it’s about how you want to progress as an individual.
People who go into music at a young age can take their skills elsewhere and you will meet doctors, you’ll meet scientists, you’ll meet politicians who have used music in ways in which they can be quite focused on what they want to do in life.
I think we need to encourage more schools to understand that it’s not just this fluffy thing about listening or playing music for an hour a day, it’s about how that can be seen as a core part of the curriculum in every shape and form. I hope that through this report that we can convince people that we can grow and develop music in our schools.
With all those potential benefits it must have been troubling for the Committee to hear some witnesses characterising the position of music in Welsh education as in ‘crisis’. In July 2015, the Welsh Government commissioned a report into music services in Wales – What has been the Committee’s conclusion about the progress made in the 3 years since the publication of that report – is the Welsh Government doing enough to prevent this ‘crisis’ from developing?
It was very troubling to hear people such as Owain Arwel Hughes, a renowned conductor, Tim Rhys-Evans, who conducts Only Men Allowed, say these things, because I don’t believe that they would use the word ‘crisis’ lightly.
It troubles me that Wales is associated with music and song, and they were saying we may not be the land of song anymore if we allow this, music services are being cut, and may even disappear in parts of Wales. In fact, we’ve seen with the national ensembles, less people have been auditioning for them this year so there is that worry.
Also with regard to the report that was commissioned, , I feel that once certain ministers had left – that it wasn’t a priority for some local authorities. I think that’s why we’ve said so clearly in the report that there needs to be a national guidance and national strategy, because you cannot simply rely on local authorities.
I think some people, to be fair, said ‘well perhaps that’s going a bit too far, we don’t want to scaremonger’. But again, sometimes using those types of phrases can actually say ‘well now is the time to make sure that we don’t get to the point where those services don’t exist anymore’. I hope that our support has allowed for that discussion to happen at the right time before more music services are cut or disappear altogether.
The report itself covers 16 recommendations but what’s the most important issue to take from the findings?
Well, we wanted to come up with solutions because, it’s been close to my heart for many, many years. Perhaps there’s a lack of coming together in the past of people from different walks of life in the music service to say, ‘well actually, how can we make this happen and how can we improve on this?’
I welcomed the Welsh Government investment in relation to the endowment fund, in relation to the music amnesty and in relation to putting music on the political agenda again. But without structural change, things are not going to improve. So the most important recommendation for us has been to say that we need to establish a national arm’s length body for music services in Wales. We simply cannot rely anymore on individual local authorities deciding whether they prioritise it or not. We would need to make sure that it was properly funded, and that there would be a regional element to its delivery on a ground level.
At the moment you’re seeing the national ensembles work in a different type of landscape to the work that’s happening on the ground in our communities. It’s called ‘the pyramid’, so you would have the school orchestras, then you would have the community orchestras, then you would have the national ensembles. If you had one national body – they would be identifying young people to come through the system, and that’s what we’re not seeing at the moment.
There was discussion about whether it could be done in a different way, but I think ultimately we came to the conclusion – especially as we were calling for a national music strategy – that one national body to deal with this particular element of the educational workforce would be integral to its future. I think as a committee we want it to be forward looking, we wanted to put a recommendation out there that would challenge people’s minds and that they would look outside the box somewhat to current funding and current structures.
We wouldn’t want to let any of those particular areas get left behind as well. We didn’t want to be too prescriptive but we wanted to put our marker down and say ‘this has to be a national system now’.
To download Hitting the Right Note: Inquiry Into Funding For and Access to Music Education, click here.
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