Enlarging government’s appetite for new ideas

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.

Geraint Talfan Davies is Chair of the IWA

4 thoughts on “Enlarging government’s appetite for new ideas

  1. I am afraid that this is a wafer-thin and, therefore, flawed analysis of the issue. First, the notion that the British Labour Party in Wales is not tribal and sectarian is so far removed from reality that is is not worthy of consideration. Books could be written on the evidence to the contrary. Current events are not unrelated. This latest wheeze is merely an extension of Labour’s increasing national hegemony in Cardiff Bay. I don’t criticise them for that. I merely marvel at the naivity of those who, in Lenin’s pithy phrase, believe them.

    On the more substantial issue of “independent thinking”, the IWA seems to ignore the mainland European model, which is much more successful in producing policy development in the public interest. It does this through evidence-based research, democratic policy-making and encourages competing ideological approaches. More importantly, it is free from sectarian control and the insidious influences of corporate lobbyists.

    I have no expectations that Labour’s latest initiative will achieve any of those goals. My concern is that it will co-opt and, therefore, neuter genuine creative thinking at a time when the national interest lies in the opposite direction.

  2. Never trust a research group or research institute that has government suppport. Carwyn Jones must be delighted with this Labour body as it will inevitably suck some people in (under the pretence of inclusivity). Labour will then take any ideas gathered and incorporate them into their election manifestos. Independent thinking? Hardly, as this will be operated as an incubator to maintain Labour hegemony. I hope that the IWA and the Bevan Foundation, amongst others, have nothing to do with it. Wales desperately needs genuine ‘blue skies’ thinking rather than a government-bred poodle.

  3. What is the point of having any “radical” thinking, and paid for by taxpayers if the “purchaser” has already restricted the useage of any “radical” thinking. Our new KING is fully committed to the old and tired structures of state domination over provision of services, and even worse the huge overmanning and very highly paid/pensioned positions at top levels. It’s not rocket science to reform local government by cutting 22 down to say 6, a “cull” of voluntary organizations to stop the plethora of anti-poverty organizations costings huge sums, rather than getting money into hands of people who needed it, and devolve as much power as possible to local communities for provision of services for which ALL people who receive them will pay, even the mendicants. The NHS should be reformed by giving “tax breaks” to people to fund own treatment, thereby reducing costs and also making people take out insurance to meet NHS charges for matters as car/rugby/skiing injuries, and also excessive drinking related accidents. I must have saved at least a £Billion so can I expect a cheque in the post??

  4. I have mixed feelings about this. Neither of the current Welsh think-tanks (both of whom I respect) are truly independent, so why a new think-tank created and funded by a one-party government can be seen in any way as independent, is quite beyond me. However, the re-organisation of Welsh public services is crucial to our future and Labour are wise to loosen their blinkers, if not remove them.

    To make any claim of Labour in Wales dropping its tribal nature is in all honesty, a little embarrassing. Tribalism is key to maintaining their core activist base, so any suggestion otherwise does put into question the legitimacy of this new ‘independent’ grouping.

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