An inconvenient truth

Jess Blair says the case for a larger Assembly has to be made beyond Cardiff Bay to the people it will impact.






National Assembly

Having more Assembly Members isn’t necessarily on anyone’s Christmas list but it should be.

Increasing the size of the Assembly has been a topic of discussion within the Bay Bubble for quite some time now. Indeed, ERS Cymru has worked on two reports on the subject; Size Matters and Reshaping the Senedd.

The initial suggestion was however made by the Richard Commission, back in 2004, and shortly we will see the outcome of an Expert Panel on Assembly Reform, Chaired by Professor Laura McAllister.

This is set to be the next step in the debate and likely the most impactful intervention to date, depending on the findings of the panel.

Yet, this isn’t a discussion that should just be had among decision makers themselves. It is vital that people across Wales are able to engage with this conversation. Talking about having more politicians will never be easy or, if we’re honest, particularly popular with voters, which is why the case for more Assembly Members must be made wider than Cardiff Bay.

This is because the issues that are coming as a result of a lack of capacity in the Assembly don’t end in the Senedd, they are increasingly having direct consequences on the people the Assembly is meant to benefit.

Take legislation, for example. The Assembly’s Committee structure is a vital forum for scrutinising legislation, considering the insight of experts on the relevant issue and ultimately ensuring legislation is fit for purpose. With just 44 Assembly Members who sit on Committees (when you exclude the Cabinet, party leaders and the Presiding Officer), AMs can currently be on upto three Committees. While this has improved since the days of AMs leaving their coat in one room while dashing over to check what the other Committee they sat on was up to, an increasing workload has made capacity a clear issue for Committees.

A case in point goes to a current piece of legislation where no full Committee has the space to deal with it. Instead a subcommittee of four AMs will be responsible for this legislation. This surely does not give this Bill the attention it needs to deliver its full potential.

This case isn’t just a one off.

Since 1999 the Assembly has changed immeasurably; more powers, the ability to legislate, and tax raising powers. This change is ongoing. Many of the powers in this year’s Wales Act don’t come into place until next year, we will soon have a budget where Welsh Government will be responsible for raising some of their own revenue, and let’s not get started on what is likely to be a complex transfer of power, legislation, and humungous policy gaps, particularly in areas like agriculture, as a result of Brexit.

I said at the beginning of this piece that we need to look at the real consequences of not having enough AMs to do the job properly and there will undoubtedly be real consequences if we do not have sufficient numbers when these new raft of powers are implemented.

These new powers take the Senedd into the big leagues, and we can’t play without a full team.

 

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Jess Blair is Director of ERS Cymru