Devolution: Not just what we want but why we want it

22 Sep

There’s been a significant amount of debate about further powers being devolved from Westminster to various parts of the UK since the Scottish referendum result.  Personally I am a firm supporter of devolution and think the Welsh Government should have far more responsibility for the policies that shape the lives of the people of Wales.  I also think there needs to be radical reform to the number of representatives at local authority; Welsh Assembly and Westminster to reflect that change in power but that is a debate for another day.

One thing I have felt while hearing the debate on devolution recently is that the case for why devolution needs to take place is not really being made to the public.  There is obviously and inherent argument that fairness and equality should be at the heart of devolution, especially in comparison to what is on offer to other areas of the UK.  However, the technical and political jargon that many, including myself, are guilty of using when having these discussions means nothing to the average person.  Very often we will talk about what powers are needed and when but I’m not sure we necessarily bridge the gap between explaining why and how they will change the everyday lives of the Welsh public on a day-to-day level.

I made this point in reference to the devolution of teachers pay and conditions on last nights ‘The Wales Report’ debate on BBC. (You can watch the whole programme here while it is still available.  My specific point is around 29:15 in).  On this issue there is a relatively strong political consensus in Wales, although not amongst the teaching representatives, to see this power devolved.  It has long been Plaid Cymru’s policy; the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have signed up to it through the acceptance of the Silk Commissions recommendations and more recently the Welsh Government have changed their position to state that they would want it devolved.  There are of course caveats on that consensus around the way in which it would be devolved; how much funding would be attached and timescales etc.  Still, the general agreement is roughly there.  It is a little alarming therefore that there is potentially a huge change to the way teachers are paid and by whom on the horizon and yet the workforce either do not know this could happen, and if they do have little to no understanding as to what the benefits or concerns will be.

This may seem like politician bashing but it certainly is not.  I do believe that when politicians discuss the devolution of powers they must have a clearer narrative around why those powers are needed and what difference they will make in the short, medium and long-term.  However, I also think that job is for everyone.  The education sector for example has to take up the responsibility for explaining what impact the devolution of pay and conditions could have.  In other sectors there must also be a commitment and urgency to have a wider dialogue about how changes will make a difference.

The public in Wales have a desire for further devolution that goes beyond what most of the political parties are arguing for.  There is support for more responsibility to be devolved to Cardiff Bay but that will only be maintained if there is clarity about the implications of what that means.  It is also crucial for holding any future governments to account that we know what devolution will deliver.

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