Will the Minister make a statement on the disposal of public sector property assets?
Minister for Finance and Trefnydd:
The Welsh Government supports the principles of good asset management, including surplus asset disposal processes. Through published guidance such as 'Managing Welsh Public Money' and the continued work on asset collaboration led by Ystadau Cymru, we seek to embed best practice across the Welsh public sector.
Thank you. Best practice is all good in theory. The transformation of public services across Wales has seen the disposal of some property assets. However, considerable estate remains, including the 137 surplus properties owned by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board. The cost of maintaining this estate has now been estimated at £838 million over a 15-year period. Now, when considering that this health board sees the biggest deficit out of Wales, and seven NHS health boards at the end of 2018-19 are also seeing deficits, such expenditure does seem unsustainable and inappropriate. Now, there is a theory—you can correct me if I'm wrong—that if they do sell some of their assets no longer required, money comes back to the central pot here. So, one could argue, in businesses terms, with the health board already now into the fifth term of special measures, perhaps it's not on their main list of their priorities, having to deal with this. What steps can you take as a Welsh Government to work with the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and maybe, just maybe, look at any revenues that come from the disposal of those surplus assets actually going back in some way—not all of it, maybe, but some of it—so that they can actually use the money that is tied up now in those surplus buildings towards better outcomes for the patients in north Wales?
There is a financial limit at which health boards can retain the funds for any assets they dispose of, but above that limit then, the funds do come back to Welsh Government. And I think that's only right in the sense that the Welsh Government will have the overview across the whole of the Welsh public sector, and the Welsh NHS, in order to understand the pressures that are arising at that particular time. However, we have provided access to an online resource, which brings together guidance and advice for public sector estates work. The Ystadau Cymru group is pan-public sector group, working with health boards on encouraging the different public sector bodies to share and learn from their experience. We've got the asset collaboration programme in Wales, and during the last two financial years, funding has been made available to them in order to help drive their asset management improvements. But that also includes data quality, which can identify assets that those organisations can dispose of. But on the basis of what you've said to me today, I will ask the Chair of Ystadau Cymru to have a conversation with Betsi Cadwaladr health board to see if there is more work that they can do and that Welsh Government can do to support them in identifying assets that could be sold.