Can Wales afford to not have more AMs? Improving Welsh Government delivery and representation

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A report calling for more Assembly Members has been published this month causing extensive debate within Cardiff Bay and beyond.

The report from the Expert Panel on Assembly Reform entitled: A Parliament that Works for Wales, has recommended a number of reforms aimed at making improvements to the Welsh legislature, particularly as its powers continue to increase.  The headline recommendation is for an increase in the number of AMs from 60  - to 80 or 90, which it is said would give the Assembly greater capacity to pass laws and scrutinise the Welsh Government.

The recommendation comes amid some concerns that AMs are over-stretched and with the Assembly’s powers due to increase including responsibility for Welsh taxes, the calls for more AMs has been welcomed by Pontypridd AM Mick Antoniw, who told BBC Radio Wales: "We have got many assembly members who are working 50, 60, 70 hours [a week]," while Swansea East AM Mike Hedges was reported as saying he "wasn't convinced" by calls for more AMs, and that smaller assembly committees "could achieve the same improvement in scrutiny".

Money is always the leveller and the crux of the debate following the release of the report is the financing of extra AMs, at an annual cost of at least £6m, and we will no doubt hear much about value for money ahead of the Assembly deciding if to implement the changes by the next election.

Other recommendations include:

  • Pair the 40 constituencies to create 20, each with 4 or 5 members.
  • A gender quota system to boost the number of female AMs
  • Allowing two people to stand so they can job-share being an AM
  • Replacing the current ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system with single transferable vote
  • Reducing the age of voting to 16 years

Although it would seem sensible for the Welsh Government to look to make any changes in advance of the next Assembly elections in 2021, it appears Welsh Labour is in no rush to progress any potentially controversial changes in the near future, having stated that it won’t take a decision  before its conference in spring 2019, making it appear unlikely that a 2021 deadline will be met.

Let us start building a coaltion for change – exploring the Deep Place approach to economic renewal

This week saw the Regeneration Skills Collective host a seminar exploring the ‘Deep Place’ approach to sustainable community renewal. 

This research stems from the year-long Tredegar Deep Place study published in 2014 by Dave Adamson and Mark Lang for CREW (Regeneration Wales), looking at the development of more locally focused economic activity and how this could tackle problems of poverty and social exclusion in communities where mainstream economic policy traditionally have no impact.

It was fascinating to hear Dave Adamson explain in detail the work he is currently undertaking in developing the Deep Place approach in Australia, in particular a project in Logan - a satellite city of Brisbane with acute social exclusion and poverty issues.  Here the Deep Place plan is successfully linking into local programmes of social enterprise development and social procurement by local government.  It is also ensuring that the stock transfer of 4,800 homes maximises the local economic development opportunities. 

Adamson’s view is that the social housing sector is well placed to help lead and catalyse a Deep Place approach and establish a localised coalition for change.   Adamson expressed his disappointment at the lack of leadership seen to date from both central and local government within Wales, not necessarily due to a lack of interest, but rather a lack of appropriate resource, structure and leadership. 

The evening saw insightful responses from Calvin Jones (Professor of Economics, Cardiff Business School), Ben Cottam (Head of External Affairs Federation of Small Businesses Wales) and Anna McMorrin (Consultant on poverty and sustainability) who in particular provided an interesting perspective as a former Welsh Government Special Advisor around the structural restrictions and silo working within central government that makes this type of localised, cross portfolio, socioeconomic approach difficult to implement.

The lack of response within Wales to what is undoubtedly a well-considered study offering an alternative solution to an ongoing problem is no doubt disappointing.  However it struck me that really, this all links back to what many would argue is a need for a widespread culture change within society (not just in deprived areas), in terms of encouraging a more sustainable, local and healthier approach and culture to how we consume and live across the whole of Wales (in terms of sustainable energy generation, localised food production, care provision models etc). 

So maybe Welsh Government should not only be looking at Deep Place opportunities in key target regeneration areas, but leading the way to drive forward some of the key themes across Wales (some may argue the Future Generations Act signals the start of this).

The conclusion from the evening was that the opportunity for developing such a vision for Wales needs a serious and proactive response from the public, private and third sectors.  

It is clearly down to all of us who can see the potential of the Deep Place approach to take responsibility and help drive this agenda forward.

To find out more about the study click here to visit the CREW website.