It is over a month now since we heard the tragic news that Carl Sargeant had died. The effect on all who knew him has been devastating, and particularly so for his family and friends.
There are many questions that still need to be addressed about the events leading up to Carl Sargeant’s death, and the various processes established need the space and time to deliver rigorous answers based on facts. As part of our mission – through Click on Wales, our debate series and the welsh agenda – to provide an independent, non-party political space for comment and debate, we will continue to commission and host discussion pieces that scrutinise these processes, drawing and sharing lessons that need to be learned.
However, our focus here is on Carl Sargeant’s professional achievements over the longer term. In this piece, we have invited organisations who worked closely with him to reflect on his record, in particular his unsurpassed legislative achievements within the National Assembly for Wales. Combined, these recollections paint a picture of a man who worked tirelessly to achieve the legislative and policy achievements which he believed could make Wales a better, fairer place to live. They also call for this work to continue, to continue to deliver the ambitions of legislation into practice and so improve people’s lives.
Auriol Miller, IWA
Housing will be at the heart of Carl Sargeant’s legacy in the Assembly, and we saw at Community Housing Cymru’s Annual Conference in November tributes from across the housing sector and from the new Housing Minister reflecting on this. Carl spent two spells covering housing in cabinet, and was warmly welcomed back for his second spell. Both his personality and policies made a big impact on the delivery of affordable homes, innovation in the sector, and important issues like domestic abuse and gender balance on boards.
The Housing Act 2014 was one of three pieces of housing legislation which went through the Assembly between 2011 and 2016, and perhaps the most notable. Legislation can often take a long time to make a real impact, but the 2014 Act has already radically changed housing in a number of ways. As well as opening the door to local authorities building affordable homes once more, it laid the foundations for more co-operative housing and introduced a significant overhaul of the private rented sector through landlord registration, but it was its impact on homelessness which was most newsworthy.
The housing sector in Wales has a proud track record of preventative work, but the shift towards preventing homelessness driven by this Act has the potential to be a game changer, with housing associations at the heart of this work. The early signs have been positive despite some challenging economic circumstances and the impact of welfare reform in this area, and the legislation has inspired action elsewhere. UK Government learnt a lot from our Act, and the Homelessness Reduction Act in England was based largely on the Welsh legislation, something Carl was enormously proud of.
Looking to the future, there are also two pieces of legislation currently making their way through the Assembly which Carl laid, which have the potential to make a big difference to tackling the housing crisis in Wales. It is important that we build on the work Carl did, and the new Housing Minister, Rebecca Evans AM, was right when she said that the best tribute we can pay is to finish the work that he started.
Aaron Hill, Community Housing Cymru
Carl Sargeant played a significant and instrumental part in the Welsh Government’s work to end violence against women, and was rarely seen without a white ribbon on his lapel, a campaign he supported by pledging never to condone, commit or collude with male violence against women. While Carl Sargeant was not the Minister that oversaw the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 progress through the fourth assembly, he played a central role in the early development of this ground-breaking legislation. Carl was the Minister who published the initial white paper proposing the legislation, which has been recognised as ambitious in its scope and broad in its remit. Not all of what was in the white paper came to be part of the final legislation, but Carl Sargeant continued to support the essence of the paper throughout the debates to bring forth the legislation, including asking probing questions of the subsequent Ministers. In his role as Minister for Housing and Regeneration he also worked to ensure that addressing domestic violence was made a priority.
Prior to the Act, in 2010, as Minister for Social Justice and Regeneration, he published the first Wales strategy for tackling violence against women in Wales. The Right to Be Safe strategy set out a clear agenda for the Welsh Government under the UN’s internationally recognised definition of violence against women, bringing the work in Wales to end violence against women in line with global ambitions.
More recently as Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Children, in 2016 Carl Sargeant oversaw the publication of the refreshed national strategy to prevent violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence (VAWDASV), which included a ground-breaking commitment to ensure sustainable funding for specialist services in the third sector in every area of Wales. He worked with the VAWDASV specialist sector and others, on the VAWDASV Advisory Board, to move the agenda of the Act and national strategy towards delivery at a local and regional level.
In September this year, Carl Sargeant spoke at our national event to address adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), about the vital need for governments and services to listen to survivors of abuse and for policy and practice to be informed by survivors’ experiences.
Violence against women is an epidemic in our society grounded in women’s inequality with men, which we need to fundamentally address. In the spirit of ensuring we listen to those who have experienced abuse, we hope that those who have been caught up in the events of the past month, and all of those who have spoken out about abuse and harassment they have suffered will be fully supported as survivors of abuse. We also hope that any learning will be used to help improve policy and practice in future to continue the work to end violence against women in Wales.
Eleri Butler, Welsh Women’s Aid
We worked closely with Carl on two major pieces of legislation: the ground-breaking Well-being of Future Generations Act and the Environment Act.
When Carl came into post, he was the fourth Minister who had worked on the Well-being of Future Generations Act. It was not popular and was not effective. Carl was initially unconvinced about how it would help people. But he listened and responded to our requests for amendments, and once he got behind the legislation he was very effective at getting it through. The result was a truly radical law to ensure that sustainable development is at the heart of Government and public services, which has won global recognition.
The Environment Act is also a bold and innovative piece of legislation. It is the companion piece to the Well-being of Future Generations Act. It is an essential tool to ensure that Act is effectively implemented in terms of our environment. Firstly, it makes a legal duty of the sustainable management of natural resources. This makes Wales one of the few countries globally who have taken such a strong approach. This is essential to ensure our children and grandchildren will have access to the resources they need – such as fresh water, adequate food and enjoyment of nature.
Delivering these Acts means that a radical transformation must take place in the way government and other public bodies actually operate and take decisions. They must give much more weight to the interests of future generations.
Those changes are starting to take hold, but ensuring such challenging change is a task that needs real political leadership, drive and determination. Carl displayed all those qualities. I enjoyed working with him. He was a formidable negotiator and a tough opponent to influence. But he did listen and once he was convinced of the case, he was a very effective operator.
Making a difference to the people and wildlife of Wales now, and for future generations not yet born, is the best tribute we can pay him.
Anne Meikle, Head of WWF Cymru