Geraint Talfan Davies welcomes the First Minister’s commitment to new thinking
This morning the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, will commit his government to the creation of a Welsh Institute for Public Policy. This is a hugely welcome step, and could yet become an important symbolic act for his own administration. When elected Carwyn Jones pledged that Labour would not govern in a triumphalist or tribal fashion. The creation of a powerful new source of independent thinking could become the most convincing outward sign of that commitment.
When it was first made, in the Labour manifesto at the last Assembly elections, clickonwales set out some of the issues. It is encouraging that the idea has not been kicked into the long grass, and we must hope for further swift progress.
Speaking at an event in Cardiff to launch a forward-looking project entitled, Wales Public Services 2025, he will, according to an advanced press release, express a determination ‘to mobilise the brightest and best thinkers in the service of Wales’.
The text goes on: “My priority is to make sure that Ministers in the Welsh Government, and their civil servants, have easy access to the best possible new thinking from Wales, Europe and beyond.
“I think we need to strengthen the capacity to do this and that is why I’ve committed to developing a Welsh Institute for Public Policy. I’m open to ideas as to how we do this. The Institute should form a bridge between the Welsh Government and the world of research and think tanks, to create a strong network of expertise and insight underpinned by a shared understanding of the problems and opportunities we face in Wales. It should be at arm’s length from Government but strongly connected to it, so that it can challenge thinking and influence delivery at the drawing board stage.
“It should not crowd out the work of the Bevan Institute and the Institute of Welsh Affairs – it is important to acknowledge the good work they do with modest resources. It should focus on impact – through new ways of working, with, dare I say it, fewer reports and more communication, getting the right people together and ensuring effective and relevant links are made.
“So my challenge – to Welsh civic society and the wider community of thinkers and innovators – is to work with us in developing those new ideas.”
As the First Minister implies, some will see a threat to organisations such as our own, and that danger is real. Nevertheless, the IWA welcomes this commitment warmly and will respond eagerly and constructively to his invitation to contribute ideas on what form it should take.
We appreciate his acknowledgement of the good work done by the IWA and the Bevan Foundation and his wish that the work of any new institute should not crowd out the work of either organisation. That said, there will be need to develop some greater clarity about overlapping or complementary roles if the danger is to be avoided.
The announcement comes at a time when the IWA is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Our experience as a voluntary organisation over this quarter century has confirmed the need for a public policy institute with substantial and dependable resources comparable to those enjoyed by similar organisations in other small countries. We have been conscious of that need for more than a decade, having seen at first hand, just as the Assembly was being launched, such useful precedents as Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute – ESRI. That is a useful example of a multi-disciplinary policy institute which, in the First Minister’s words, is ‘at arm’s length from government but strongly connected to it’.
The fact that such an arrangement can now be contemplated is, we hope, a sign of a new maturity in Welsh government. We have no doubt that the best way for governments to demonstrate their appetite for new ideas is to will the means to develop a consistent source of independent new thinking.