Thursday, 18 October 2018

Jobs today, and tomorrow - the case for a switch to renewables

Speech in the National Assembly on October 17th 2018

The Science is unequivocal. The link between human activity and rising global temperatures is as strong, and as certain, as the link between smoking and cancer, according to American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Paris climate agreement set a target of no more than 2°C global warming above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century, but also an aspirational target of no more than 1.5°C. 

We’re currently on track for more than 3°C global warming by the end of the century.

We’ll likely burn through the rest of the aspirational carbon budget within the next 3 to 10 years and reach 1.5°C of warming by 2040. 

1.5°C doesn’t sound like much, but it translates to more frequent and more extreme weather events, such as storms, heat waves and flooding. The kind of events that have a severe impact on human life. 

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of global warming is the difference between an arctic that is free of ice once per decade, or once per century.

It is the difference between the complete collapse of the world’s coral reefs, or the loss of around 30% of this life sustaining ecosystem.

To avert this potential catastrophe, the world must embark on a determined effort to transition away from fossil fuels as a source of energy.

We can mobilise for War, we can recapitalise global banks with a massive programme of quantitative easing, and so we can recalibrate to mitigate for man-made climate change.

The simple takeaway from the science is that the faster we cut carbon emissions, the less severe the impacts of rising global temperatures.

Thankfully, much of the means of curbing our emissions already exist - we can act now.

This means that a key priority for Wales must be transitioning our energy system to renewable sources.

By energy I mean the electricity we use to light our offices and power our televisions, as well as the energy we will use to power our vehicles and heat our homes.

We must begin, like Germany and Denmark by targeting a decrease in our energy demand - by increasing efficiency and eliminating waste.

We can then start to decarbonise electricity.

The Welsh Government’s target is to produce 70% of our electricity from renewables by 2030. We currently produce just 42% of our electricity from renewables - and we need to move faster. We only have 12 years left to meet our target.

The technologies and means to do this already exist - an as stark as the science might be, there are huge opportunities for Wales.

We can be a leader in the development and deployment of wave and tidal renewables. There are firms in north Wales, and south Wales developing industry leading solutions to the key problems of at-sea renewable deployment.

We need to ensure that we capitalise on our potential in this sector.

Quite unlike the story of wind energy - where Wales was once a world leader that fell behind and lost out on the valuable manufacturing and intellectual property that emerged.

But the most immediate opportunities still lie onshore. In wind and solar, and even biomass. Tried, trusted technologies that are easy to build and maintain, and therefore relatively low cost.

We are close to a point where onshore renewables can operate without subsidy. Ending concerns that green energy will artificially inflate household bills.

The cost for new renewables is now significantly below that for nuclear, and competitive with new gas power stations.

One of the UK's most significant and under utilised wind resources is in rural Wales, but there is only opportunity to build out a small number of projects due to a constrained grid.

The lack of Grid capacity restricts other opportunities too.

At the moment most of rural Wales won’t be able to put in place significant Electric Vehicle charging, renewable heating or even build new employment sites because we can’t transport enough electricity.

We risk isolating the people of rural Wales, and parts of my constituency from changing technology and new opportunities.

It’s reported that storage of more than 1MW capacity can’t be installed in Wales until the latter half of next decade. This capacity is needed to support high generation and use of renewables, and until we sort this I don’t see how we will be able to meet our target of producing 70% of our electricity from renewables by 2030.

And more to the point, if we can’t accelerate this timetable it might be too late to prevent catastrophic global warming.

The new National Infrastructure Commission for Wales should consider grid as a priority, as should the National Development Framework being developed by Welsh Government.

To unlock funding to build this grid, could the public sector, through pension funds and other investment vehicles, invest in the grid?

Instead of maxing out our borrowing capacity on building a mega road which will lock in further emissions increases, built through protected wetlands - which after all are carbon sinks - we should prioritise projects which help us meet our commitments to future generations. And it could help us in the here and now. Enabling renewable energy generation will create a stable, long term economic return for the people of Wales.

So we must also withdraw funding from dirty energy; Welsh Local Government pension funds currently have over £1bn invested in fossil fuels. Money that could be put to far better use supporting a new green economy in Wales.

New research by the Institute of Welsh Affairs suggests that we could create 3,500 jobs just in the Swansea Bay City Region, which includes the Llanelli constituency, by switching to a 100% renewable electricity network. And most of this work would be in long term roles in operation and maintenance.

The IWA has been carrying out extensive research into what practical steps would be needed to turn Wales into a country that meets all its energy needs from renewable sources. That’s the kind of bold response we need to see to the warning of the Paris agreement. It's all very well us passing symbolic legislation, and being showcased at the UN, its action that counts.

Action for the long-term, that produces tangible benefits in the short term too.

The IWAs research suggests that the economic benefit of refitting housing to higher energy efficiency standards is around £1.6bn over a 15 year period. And because the firms that would carry this work out are locally rooted in the foundational economy, these benefits are likely to be retained in and by our communities.

We already have world leading expertise in sustainable building in our Universities, in our housing associations, and in our private sector, and we should use this to ensure that all new build in Wales meets stringent standards for carbon emissions.

So I’m pleased that the Minister for Housing has announced funding of £4m for an innovative green housing project in Burry Port in my constituency.

Of course, this isn’t just about electricity and heat. It is also about transport.

We must decarbonise our transport system.

The more immediate and effective solution is to break the dependency on private transport, moving people to active travel and public transport.

Getting more people walking and cycling has all sorts of wider benefits to the health and wellbeing of the nation too - it’s a solution that makes sense on all sorts of levels.

As significant and important an innovation as Electric Vehicles are, they aren’t the answer to this problem without a transformed electricity system.

All that said, Welsh Government should set out an ambition to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles in Wales - the UK Government has announced a ban by 2040, with other European countries going much earlier. Let’s set our aspiration higher, and let’s leverage the auto sector we have based in Wales to turn this into an opportunity.

Welsh Government is working on a new Wales Transport Strategy, it must place at its heart the need to decarbonise the transport sector and the need to ensure that the energy we do use for transport comes from renewable sources. Be that electricity, hydrogen, or biofuels.

Wales can use this climate crisis as an opportunity to become a world leader in the deployment of renewable technologies and decarbonisation of the energy system. The timescale is pressing, and we need to act, but there are opportunities to improve the lives of Welsh citizens.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

We need to rethink our approach to the economy

Speech in the National Assembly on October 17th 2018

Preparations are accelerating for a No Deal Brexit. Stockpiling medicine and food is getting the attention of the media, but the reality for the Welsh economy could be far more austere.

Our economic policy has focused on providing support to so-called anchor companies.
Large multinationals with bases in Wales that we have favoured with grants and other financial inducements.

Once barriers start popping up that create costly delays,the judgements made in the global head offices of where to put future investment will quickly disfavour Wales.
As this week’s comments by Ford in Europe signalled, we may soon find that anchors are pulled up.

It seems to me that as part of that we must confront the fact that we cannot continue to give large grants to huge corporations to entice them to stay in our communities when the going gets tough.
The going is already tough, and we are pouring much needed resources into a sieve - watching our investments drained away to tax havens for little lasting return on the ground.

Wales has had great success in pursuing foreign capital, we have record low levels of unemployment. We have record levels of foreign direct investment. Yet, many people are still profoundly disconnected, working in fragile jobs for low wages.
The economy isn’t just about GVA. It’s also about people’s lived experiences and a foundational economy approach allows us to rethink.
Almost half of people in Wales are employed in what we might think of as the foundational economy.

The mundane, everyday part of our economy - the parts delivering basic goods and services in their community: care, food, energy and housing to name just some.
The parts that can’t easily shift when the international economy dips.

This grounded sector has been neglected by policy right across the UK as we’ve focused on the next shiny project, and the next ribbon cutting opportunity. We have to change that.

The purpose of today’s motion, tabled by myself, Vikki Howells, Jenny Rathbone, Hefin David, Adam Price and David Melding is to look again at the central importance of this overlooked sector of the our economy.

From the cross-party buy in to this motion, it is clear there’s an appetite for a new approach.

With my colleague Jenny Rathbone, I recently visited Preston to learn more about their approach to what they call “community wealth building”.

Since the financial crisis, and the failure of a grand new shopping centre that they were relying on to boost Preston, and in the face of continuing austerity, the council have been forced to rethink their approach to economic development.

Their definition of an anchor institution is profoundly different to ours. They use the term to describe institutions that are locally rooted and securely based - the local University, FE college, sixth form college, the County Council, the local housing Association and the police force

Together these anchors spent £750 million a year on purchasing goods and services, but just 5% of it in Preston, and less than 40% in the wider Lancashire area. So some £458 million of public money was leaking out of the Lancashire economy.

As a result of their new approach to harnessing their foundational economy these anchor institutions now use procurement to secure the best social value locally.

By auditing their 300 most valuable contracts each have been able to redirect spend to local firms - without impacting on cost or quality.
Now 17% of the spending by the local anchor institutions is retained within Preston (up from 5%), and 79% in Lancashire (up from 39%).

This has had demonstrable impact in Preston. An area that was once amongst the most deprived in England is now rising out of the depths.
Where wages in most of the UK have been static for over a decade, in Preston they are increasing.

And a big contribution to that has come from the local anchor institutions - Five of the six are now accredited living wage employers.

We need to be doing the same. Identifying who are the major players in our local economies and asking them to do their bit.

We must be clear to all these institutions across the public and private sector, that building up their local economies will provide them with secure foundation and a lasting future.

For the housing associations, their rents paid; for the health service, lower demand on service caused by poverty; for the police, reducing the causes of crime.

In Wales the public sector spends £5.5bn every year buying in goods and services. We could use that as a direct means of boosting our foundational economy.

This will require a new approach. An approach which is in keeping with the Well-being of Future Generations Act, which as point 3 of our motion points out, offers significant opportunity to allow us to go further than even Preston.

But to do it we need to make changes…
Our public sector will need to be empowered to procure in a way that delivers far more than the lowest price.
Local businesses will need increased support to bid and deliver on public sector contracts; And we’ll need to invest in higher skilled staff in local government with specialist purchasing skills, to drive a change in our approach.

The barriers to do these things are not as high as we’ve convinced ourselves. The Experience in Preston shows that European procurement rules are not the problem that we tell ourselves they are, in fact the leader of the council, Matthew Brown, and his senior officials told me the reforms have been much easier to carry out than they had anticipated.

So Point 2 of our motion calls on the Welsh Government to meet with Preston City Council to discuss lessons that can be learnt.

They stressed to us that their approach is not one that should be applied uniformly: different places have different problems, and potential solutions.
For example, in Islington, where affordable workspace is in short supply the council have invested in bringing buildings back into community ownership to let micro and small sized enterprises rent at below market rates.

In Greater Manchester the Pension Fund has provided £50 million of lending, and equity capital, to SMEs.

In Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise have been a leader in the development of community energy assets. Providing investment in an area overlooked by traditional financing.

In Wales, we have the kernel of a comprehensive approach.

There are signs of a new attitude to purchasing. A review of the National Procurement Service presents the opportunity to move away from a focus on high volume contracts for the lowest price.

Our “Economic Action Plan” commits us to supporting “foundational sectors” - we need to be much clearer about what this means, and the extent to which it means jettisoning the old ways of working. And I was encouraged by what the Cabinet Secretary had to say about his plans for a cross-cutting foundational approach during his most recent appearance at the Economy Committee.

But there is more to do. Point 4 of our motion calls on the Welsh Government to trial a range of different models of adult social care that recognises the importance of a localised foundational approach.

Too often people working in the sector are on low paid, zero hours contracts with no prospects of progression. Large firms are moving into the sector, and extracting significant profits for little return to care users and the public who fund them.

Whilst we have given a million pound to explore foundational approaches in social care, we still give yet larger sums of money to some of the worlds biggest companies to entice them to move or stay here. We need to tip the scales. In social care, and across our economy.

What I learnt in Preston above all else, is that their success is due to focussed leadership and vision. It has been embedded in the working culture of their anchors through the sustained effort of committed figureheads.

A foundational approach to the economy can be our vision, and the Welsh Government can take the lead.

The dawning reality of what Brexit will mean for our economy means we need to do it urgently.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

We need all the talent we can get (International Women's Day speech)

Thank you for giving the honour of speaking at today’s event.

It's the first time I’ve been, and it’s the first time I understand any men have been allowed in, which I think is fab. I'm chuffed to be the first man to speak to this annual event.

It is not for men to stand in the front on days like today, but I do think men should stand side by side - to be allies in the fight for equality.

I am the son of an inspirational woman, the husband of an inspirational woman and the father of an inspirational young girl.

I am a feminist. And I am an optimist - we can bring about change.

They say the past is a foreign country.

And to think that in the lifetimes of many of the people in this room…

Women didn’t have the same rights to finance.

Didn’t have the right to equal pay.

Didn’t have the right to abortion and contraception.

Didn’t have the right to retain your own surname after marriage.

And - right up until the 1990s - didn’t have the right not to be raped by your own husband.

Some of these formal achievements now sound absurd.

It just goes to show that determination can bring about change. Organising can bring about change. Politics can bring about change.

What’s striking about the #MeToo movement, though, is how much more work there is to do.

Not necessarily on formal laws and statutes, but on the more insidious manifestations of gender equality. The daily belittling that women face.

And if this is happening in Hollywood, to these incredibly powerful, confident and successful women, then what hope have you got if you are a woman working in somewhere like Gestamp or Calsoinic in Llanelli. What kind of everyday belittling do they face?

My Mam was a natural leader in a world of men. She had gutsy determination to fight against the idea that she should know her place. Mam took over the swimming club in Ammanford when I was growing up and I remember the tears of frustration as the powerful pool manager and ancient County Councillor tried to keep her in her place. But she fought to succeed.

But you shouldn’t have to be a fighter to succeed here.

I want Llanelli to be a place where every woman and girl has the support and encouragement to reach their own potential.

Not just because that is the right and fair thing to do, but because that’s what’s best for our community.

Coleg Sir Gar - a fabulous college, run by a real visionary head - set out the scale of the challenge in their latest equality strategy.

97% of engineering students are male


94% of hair and beauty students are female, as are 87% of care students.

We are wasting our potential.

And I don't say this with any snobbery, my Dad worked in a care home and my Mam was a hairdresser. These are valuable roles, but we shouldn't be pigeonholing young people into these roles.

If half of our talent is holed up in beauty parlours and care homes - in underpaid and uncertain jobs - we are doing them and us a disservice.

And if we are going to reverse the economic stagnation that this constituency has faced over recent decades, we are going to need all the brains and talent we can get.

Because the challenges coming our way are ferocious. Automation and Artificial Intelligence provide huge opportunities for us, but they also present challenges. Nobody knows for sure but the best estimates are that for every one new job created through technology, three male jobs will be lost. But fives women's jobs will go, because many of the roles that will go in the early stages will be clerical and back office and many of the new jobs will be in STEM areas where women's are appallingly under-represented.

There is a gendered element to the challenge of automation. I'm calling on a weekly basis, with increasing frustration, for the Welsh Government to do more to prepare us for this big change.

For my part, I’m launching Amelia Earhart day this year - on June 18th (which will be the 90th anniversary of this quite literally awesome woman landing on our shores).

And I’ll be inviting 8 year old girls from across the constituency to an action-packed day that I hope will encourage more of them to see themselves as the future fighter pilots, engineers, space-explorers, computer nerds and scientists they have the potential to be.

But we must find new ways, not just of raising the aspirations of girls to go into STEM subjects, but to change what they find when they get there.

Ensuring the environment they meet isn’t one where their research means that little bit less, where their ideas are taken a little less seriously. Where they aren’t accused of being bossy, and instead are praised for being assertive. And where they aren’t just a little more expected to make the tea.

And that’s going to take action from men, just as much as women.

Diolch. It's been a huge honour.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

A Stop-the-Clock moment: Estyn's judgement on our digital shortcomings

Speech in the National Assembly on March 6th 2018

I’m proud to see the annual Estyn report highlight good practice in my constituency. The Bryngwyn \ Glanymor Comprehensive federation in Llanelli and Burry Port, the Cabinet Secretary’s old school, Ysgol Bynea, and Heol Goffa special school in Llanelli are all singled out for good practice.

We have some excellent leadership and practice in Llanelli, and across Wales. But we mustn't soft soap this. Overall there are significant areas for concern in the report - and I’d like to focus in particular on digital learning.

In just under two-thirds of primary schools, there are "important shortcomings in standards of ICT".

This is what Estyn says:

In these schools, and in ‘many secondary schools’ teachers lack knowledge and confidence. There's a lack of a clear vision about ICT from senior leaders. And pupils are not being given the chance to apply skills in relevant contexts.

It goes on:

Across Welsh schools as a whole pupils’ progress in ICT has not kept up the advancements in technology. Pupils do not apply their ICT skills well across the curriculum; ICT skills are often limited to a narrow range of applications.

It adds:

Schools are not auditing the digital competence of their staff to allow them to train and upskill teachers. And nor do initial teacher training centres equip trainee teachers with the skills they need.

We should let this sink in. In just under two-thirds of primary schools, there are "important shortcomings in standards of ICT". And in many secondary schools teachers lack knowledge and confidence.

Ordinarily, this would be headline grabbing news.

I am genuinely alarmed at this. This is a stop-the-clocks moment.

There is much in this annual report to cause concern, but given that we know about how vital digital skills already are, and are becoming more so by the month, this is a deeply worrying account of the way our schools are teaching our young people.

We talk of a self-improving system. But there’s little sign of improvement when it comes to digital skills. There is criticism due to WG here, and I’ll come to that in a moment, but most of all there’s culpability on the whole school system for its failure to rise to this challenge. The education consortia, Governors, Heads and individual professionals. This is not good enough.

I have raised with the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary the need to equip pupils with coding skills on a number of occasions.

Last June the WG launched Cracking the Code with £1.3 million - spread over  this whole Assembly term - to help develop these skills before the new curriculum is brought in. And a further £930k with Technocamps. Together just over £2m for the whole of Wales over the next three years.

They are also piloting Minecraft for Education to inspire first-time coders with Minecraft Code Builder - and given the enthusiasm my own kids have for mine craft I think this is an excellent initiative, just the sort of things we should be doing.

But this is being run in just 10 schools. There are more than 1,600 schools in Wales and we are running this coding project in just 10 of them.

Again, This is not good enough.

Just as oil fuelled the industrial age, data and digital are fuelling advances of the AI age. There is a reason why China is teaching Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning in their Middle Schools.

We are hugely disadvantaging young people by not giving them the skills and confidence to thrive in this world.

And we are missing a trick by not harnessing advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning in the way we teach. So called EdTech innovations offer the promise of relieving teachers from the tyranny of marking, data tracking, developing differentiated teaching strategies for individual learners.

Teachers can be freed from this to do what they came into the profession to do: to teach.

We should be all over this like a rash. But as Estyn’s, quite frankly, terrifying findings yet again this year show, we are not.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Speech on leak inquiry

Speech to the National Assembly on 28th February 2018

I never wanted to have a role in this story. Carl Sargeant was a valued colleague of
mine and I remain deeply upset about his death.

But as my name has been mentioned I believe I should give my own account.

I am certain in my own mind that the text I received was gossip on the day of a reshuffle. As Andrew RT Davies acknowledged in his speech, there is often chatter around a reshuffle - that’s how I treated the text.

It was not from any official source and, in fact, I didn’t treat it seriously until I saw the statement Carl himself issued later that day.

I didn't pass on what I’d heard to any journalist, but told my colleagues at the first
opportunity of the text message I had received
. And I gave evidence to the Leak
enquiry as requested. As I said I never wanted to have a role in any of this and I believe I acted properly.

There have been calls for me to say who sent me the text message. And I have not done, and will not do so, because I don't wish to contribute to a trail of breadcrumbs which can lead to the identification of any of the people who came forward.

I understand the frustration that more information from the report has not been published.

But I think it is right that the full leak inquiry report will be considered by the independent inquiry.

It will be for Paul Bowen QC to weigh the significance of this all, and judge whether the way this information was handled is relevant to the events that followed.

The Conservatives are pushing for a redacted version of the report to be published. But even a redacted version poses a risk that the anonymity of the complainants will be jeopardised.

And Llywydd, the women have been forgotten in all this.

We will never be able to fairly test their allegations. That is neither fair on them, nor on Carl.

But at the very least let's not make the situation worse by directly, or indirectly, threatening their right to anonymity.

This whole tragedy has become the subject of political game-playing. And I want no part in it.

There are two more inquiries, and an inquest, yet to report. These processes need to be allowed to complete.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Robots are coming - Wales needs a plan for automation

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales on 17th January 2018

"And we will build brutal energy cut into a much better home. It’s a movement toward the beautiful legal scams and better share.

And it was a gingly deal and I don’t think they’re never worth in the middle deal... to be parted to Mexico.

Not the most inspiring opening to a speech, I’ll admit. But what sets this opening apart, is what sets this debate apart….It was written by a robot".

A gimmick carried out by the New Yorker last year. They fed 270,000 words spoken by Donald Trump into a computer program that studies language patterns. It analyzed his word choice and grammar, and learnt how to simulate Trump's speech.

It doesn't totally make sense, but then neither does Trump.

Although I like the term ‘gingly deal’ I don’t think it’s yet part of popular lexicon…

But I opened with it because I wanted to bring the abstract, quickly into the real.

Until now automation and robotics has been largely confined to manufacturing industries, but the exponential growth in the application of artificial intelligence will now hit every industry, every profession. Doctors, accountants, lawyers, translators...Any role that has a repetitive element, is likely to be impacted.

It is estimated that around 700,000 jobs in Wales will be hit by automation. And we need to mobilise to prepare people for the change that is coming.

And it's a big change. Indeed, analysts have compared the impact of artificial intelligence with the arrival of electricity in the late nineteenth and early 20th Century - it’s that big a shift.

The technology writer Luke Dormehl has used the parallel to help us get our heads around the scale of change we are facing. That was a profoundly disruptive change that interrupted the regular biological rhythms of life - electric light allowed people for the first time to create their own schedules for work and play so night and day no longer mattered.

And it unleashed a chain reaction of innovation. The network of wires ushered in a slew of connected devices that created industries and changed lives forever.

It’s that scale of profound change that we are on the cusp of again. Right now we are in the ‘early adopter’ stages of the artificial intelligence revolution, but we can discern an outline shape of the type of change that’s ahead of us.

I was blown away by the robot who is able to cook a meal just by being shown a ‘how to cook’ video on YouTube without any direct human input. Researchers at the University of Maryland did this experiment two years ago. They are now planning on how to use similar deep learning in areas like military repair.

Elon Musk at Tesla thinks a car manufacturing factory without any human workers is within reach. Amazon are trialling a shop without workers, where you are automatically billed when you leave the store.

These are all game-changers. Changing the way we behave - Amazon, Airbnb and Uber all demonstrating how quickly technology can change how we shop, sleep and move from A to B.

And they are up-ending business models in the process. You won’t find the largest global retailer on the High St. The world’s largest accommodation provider doesn’t own a single hotel. And the largest taxi firm doesn’t own a single car.

As the Director of the CBI in Wales points out in an article today in 2004, Blockbuster had 84,000 employees and had revenues of $6bn. In 2016, just 12 years later, Netflix employed 4,500 and made $9bn.

It's called disruptive change for a reason.

And its evolving quickly. The early days of the internet was about tasks - like finding information or listening to music. But now technology is moving to anticipate our needs.

Innovation expert Alec Ross points out that robots used to be stand-alone machines carrying out basic tasks. Now they are connected to the Cloud, and are learning as they go, not just from their own experiences, but because they can be linked to every other similar machine across the world, they learn from each other and adapt in real-time.

He calls it a “quantum leap for the cognitive development of robots.” It’s the equivalent of you and I being able to tap into the combined brain power of every other human on earth to make a decision, and to do so in a split second - imagine how much smarter we’d be, imagine how much better our decisions would be. That’s what’s happening with robots.

It is extraordinary.

And it also terrifying for an economy like ours that has a disproportionate number of jobs that are vulnerable to automation. But this change is unstoppable and we must get our heads round it, and adapt.

I wouldn't swap my digital alarm clock for a knocker-upper. Just as nobody would turn back the clock to a world lit by candlelight. Nor horsepower. So, too, we shouldn’t try to halt automation. We should harness it.

“The graveyards are full of indispensable men”, Charles De Gaulle famously said.

Of course it's human nature to resist change. None of us wants to face up to the fact that our job may be made obsolete.

But it is our responsibility to ensure this wilful blindness is not replicated at a national level.

When Gerry Holtham recently suggested at an IWA event we might get rid of GPs altogether because technology could do their job for them, the professions jumped on him. Both the BMA and the Royal College of Physicians denounced him.

Like the Guilds of craftsmen from days of old - which orchestrated the banishment of William Lee, the inventor of the knitting machine, in 1589 - we must not let their desire to protect their trades stop us from harnessing these changes. “Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects” Queen Elizabeth I told him.

Let’s be clear, the threat of job losses will pale into insignificance to what will happen if we don’t take advantage of the possibilities.

We know there are a shortage of Doctors, and that demand is rising. And public spending is falling. We also know that many of the new technologies are more accurate than humans, and that patients in many cases would prefer to be diagnosed by a machine. So let’s free up overworked medics to do what only they can do, and let’s harness technology.

And this is my plea in this afternoon’s debate. If we face up to the enormity of the change that is upon us, we can use it to improve public services, to free people from dangerous or routine tasks.

But if we hold back there’s a danger that the down-sides of change will dominate the debate, creating a climate of fear.

AToS and other consultancies are as we speak touting themselves around cash-strapped Councils offering to save millions by cutting routine jobs and replacing them with automated processes. If we allow this approach to take hold all talk of automation will be seen by the workforce as a cost-cutting approach.

And it needn’t be. If we harness it we can use new labour-saving devices to free up staff to work on the front line, to improve public services - that’s the debate we need to have. And Government needs to mobilise - right across its whole breadth - to face up to how we can use these new technologies to help tackle the problems we know we face.

In Education - we need to ensure that we’re preparing young people for roles that do not yet exist. And we need to be mindful that many of these changes are coming in the next 10 - 20 years. I don’t know about you, but I still hope to be gainfully employed in my fifties.

We must think about training for those already in work, too.

In the economy - Ken Skates’ new economic strategy recognises the productivity gains that can be made through encouraging the adoption of automation. But we need to be smart in how we apply this new criteria. Inevitably Government will end up giving financial assistance to make firms more resilient which may lead to some jobs going. But when that happens we must make sure the companies are helping those who are displaced to up-skill - to be redeployed, rather than made redundant.

In finance - the evolution of blockchain technology offers us an opportunity to be totally transparent in how we spend public money.

And in rural Wales - we must seize the opportunities presented by big data to not only transform how we farm and produce food, but also position Wales at the forefront of this emerging precision agriculture industry.

In local government, we must follow the example of other cities that have gone smart - trialling real-time data driven services such as smart-parking, smart-refuse collection and smart-lighting.

There are huge opportunities in healthcare to improve patient care and outcomes:

From therapeutic robots that can help deal with our loneliness crisis; to sensors that can track if people are missing meals or behaviour is becoming more erratic - helping dementia patients remain independent in their own homes for longer; contact lenses capable of measuring glucose levels that can then trigger the injection of insulin via a pain-free patch; and smart hospital machinery that can alert nurses to real-time changes in patient’s vital signs, ensuring that changes in condition are picked up immediately, rather than periodically, and leaving nurses free to focus on other aspects of patient care.

Actually, if we look at the implantable technologies coming our way, these are just the tip of the iceberg.

This is a cross-Government agenda - relevant to every Cabinet Secretary.

These innovations will save money, and they’ll improve the quality of public services.

But these are all examples of technologies that are already out of date - and we haven't adopted them.

Where are we in Wales? We’re not even in the foothills of this.

The NHS is the biggest purchaser of fax machines! And the two reports issued in the last week - the Wales Audit office report on informatics, and yesterday's Parliamentary review, painfully highlight that we are way way behind. The Government needs to be radical here. We not only need new systems, we need new cultures and new leadership to bring about this transformation.

And as technology evolves, people will come to increasingly expect to be able to access the services they need, when and where they need it.

If I can’t see a doctor and Babylon Healthcare is giving me the chance to talk to one online for £25 chances are I’m going to take it.

If we fail to keep pace with public expectation, and private providers step in, it could threaten the very foundations of our public services.

This is a huge challenge for Government, especially since we are fighting on so many other fronts. Local Government is almost paralysed by austerity and central Government by Brexit. And its constraining our ability to respond to a rapidly evolving environment. But our Future Generation Act demands that we face up to these long-term challenges.

Llywydd - Wales needs a plan.

We need a unit in FM’s office dedicated to horizon-scanning new developments and rapidly experimenting with new approaches to benefit public service delivery, and encourage the growth of new industries in the private sector.

I’ll close with a quote from a report by the World Economic Forum - an organisation not known for its alarmist views:

“The individual, organizational, governmental and societal adjustments are not trivial, and everyone will feel their impact. The speed of various aspects of the transition is hard to predict, but it is not difficult to see that the world will function quite differently 10 to 15 years from now. Being prepared to navigate the transition begins with awareness of the shifts to come, and some understanding of their implications.”

Sunday, 17 December 2017

A Metro for the Llanelli area

Speech delivered in the National Assembly on 13th December 2017

Yesterday the Cabinet Secretary told the Assembly that demand for public transport is predicted to grow by 150% in the next 13 years. If that’s correct then it is vital that we make the investment now to ensure that there is attractive alternative to car use in place.

Evidence from the most successful Cities across the world - where public transport is thriving - is that people will use buses and trains if they are easy to use.

Passengers need to be able to turn up and go.

But in many of the communities I represent, people’s experience of public transport is very different. They turn up, and it’s gone.

We’ve got bus services like the L1 from Morfa to Llanelli, which stop at 4pm

If you live in Kidwelly or Trimsaran there are just 3 services a day to Llanelli. And the last bus from Tumble leaves at half past six.

There are just four trains a day from Bynea to Swansea. And if instead you take the number 16 bus it will take nearly two hours - a trip you can make by car in 30 minutes

My constituents have been telling me that when they do take public transport it often turns up late, the heating will have packed up, or buses will only accept exact change.

Now that’s not most people’s experience, but anecdotal evidence like this is commonly cited by people who drive as a reason for not using public transport.

And if they can be persuaded to give it a try, it only takes a couple of bad experiences to put them off for good.

There is cross-party support to build the Metro systems. Our motion today welcomes the commitment to taking forward the Cardiff and the valleys Metro; the pledge to develop one in Northeast Wales; and for a study of one for the Swansea Bay city region.

I am holding a meeting with businesses in my constituency in Llanelly House on Friday to build support for the Metro in my region, and to get ideas of how to shape it to make things better for the communities I represent.

We quickly need detailed blueprints for all three Metro projects, and for these to be ambitious. Not just good services for the main towns and cities, but to reach out and link-in out-lying communities.

It is crucial too that we design a Metro with the whole journey in mind - door to door. So as well as buses and trains we need to think about how this links with walking and cycling for the journeys to and from stations.

Otherwise we could end up blowing a huge pile of money on a series of massive car parks at each station.

The research shows that people who use public transport walk and cycle more than those who do not because they use active travel at each end. We need to extend that by building in attractive walking and cycling infrastructure - including secure cycle storage - to link the stations with where people live.

The central design principle for all the Metro systems is that we need to make the passenger experience easy and comfortable. Unless we make it attractive to people who are used to travelling in a car of their own we are never going to achieve modal shift.

Right. So far, so familiar

The purpose of today’s debate, however - I hope - is for us to look at Metros differently. To look beyond its transport benefits to its wider regeneration ones too.

By improving transport connections to key settlements we are opening up the potential for bringing other benefits to those areas as well.

When a service improves, or a new station is built, the value of nearby land tends to increase as it becomes a more attractive place to build.

Businesses are drawn in not just to the individual metro station, but to the large urban centres that are now within easy reach at the end of the line - increasing their talent pool exponentially.

And it helps the unemployed, and the under-employed too, by making more jobs accessible - regardless of whether they have a car.

We know that those on the lowest incomes can spend a quarter of their income of running a car to get access to work. Affordable public transport can help remove that barrier to employment.

These potential benefits are well established.

But we’ve misread this potential as being inevitable.

With these new Metro systems - as well as getting the mechanics right - we need to make sure that - from the outset - we build in the additional levers that are needed to ensure that as we upgrade the transport system we lock-in the wider benefits that this investment will create.

For people to take advantage of the new jobs that will be accessible to them, not only do we need to ensure they have the transport means to access these new jobs, but that they have the qualifications, too.

This mustn’t be a broad-brush approach, but a targeted one.

But can I ask the Cabinet Secretary - where is the analysis of what new jobs will be accessible?

And of which specific new employers might be attracted to these communities as a result of a new metro station?

It’s only with this analysis that we can see where the skills gaps are, and how the existing population can be supported to meet these skills gaps - so we aren’t simply importing talent, we’re developing it.

On land prices, if we are to prevent profits falling only to private landlords and homeowners, Transport for Wales must have the power to act as a development corporation - with the ability to capitalise on rising land values in areas close to metro stations - so that they can lever in further funding to expand the metro network.

And in terms of attracting new businesses, what measures are in place to ensure new businesses increase the social value - not just shareholder value?

Will the appearance of a new Tesco metro put existing local businesses at risk? And could alternative approaches boost - rather than undermine - the existing foundational economies.

All of this needs to considered and designed in.

The Welsh Government needs to make sure Transport for Wales has all the tools, and the direction, to design Metro systems that don’t just improve public transport but change the life chances of the people in the areas we represent.

This is not just a project for engineers to play with buses and trains, and Ministers must make sure the different portfolios come together to capture this opportunity.


Metro Debate - 13/12/17

Wednesday 13 December 2017


Lee Waters (Llanelli)
David Melding (South Wales Central)
Nick Ramsay (Monmouth)
David Rees (Aberavon)
Jenny Rathbone (Cardiff Central)
Julie Morgan (Cardiff North)
Mick Antoniw (Pontypridd)
Mike Hedges (Swansea East)
Hefin David (Caerphilly)
Suzy Davies (South Wales West)

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Recognises the importance of a modern public transport network to relieve pressure on Wales’s road network.

2. Notes the evidence that a fully integrated public transport system - including active travel - is needed to provide a practical and attractive alternative to car use.

3. Welcomes the commitment to the first stages of a south Wales metro.

4. Endorses the commitment to develop a vision for a north-east Wales metro, and the allocation of funding for the development of a strategic outline case for a Swansea Bay metro, and calls on the Welsh Government to identify funding for full feasibility studies as a next step.

5. Believes Transport for Wales must have the power to act as a development corporation - with the ability to capitalise on rising land values in areas close to metro stations - in order to lever in further funding to expand the metro network.