Should we have a moratorium on devolution in Wales to concentrate on performance?

Anne Wareham says we should put performance ahead of powers.

We are struggling in Wales to keep up standards of education and healthcare, so isn’t it better to focus on getting them right before we go further?

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I’ve seen the relentless circuit that organisations get into between the centralised and the decentralised. No sooner has an organisation settled into one and discovered the downsides than plans are made to reverse the process, inevitably very expensively. This is then followed by the process once again being reversed as the new problems become plain. Both create great problems but generally it is possible at great expense to do the reversal.

Devolution doesn’t have this flexibility, (except in local government) so we’d better try and chew on what we have, doing our best with the problems of this mouthful before biting off any more.

Not long ago ‘postcode lottery’ was the issue in the media. Now, the media has moved on and it suddenly seems we no longer mind looking longingly at the services and benefits our neighbours get for living on the other side of an arbitrary line. Decentralisation has got a grip. Despite Scotland discussing it all to death and voting to stay part of the larger whole, everyone has begun to take for granted that they didn’t mean it and that devolution is the way forward. Well, there are clear advantages to a central government in decentralisation when cuts have to be made – the pain can be pushed down.

Sadly, anyone given a little power finds they would like a whole lot more and can always find excellent reasons why they should have it. So there’s quite an impetus politically behind decentralising more, even if across Wales, we’re being told that services are better in England.

Wales has its own particular problems: a one party state. Where the only choice is between a left wing nationalist party and a left wing nationalist party, we begin to see arrogance and complacency. Where politicians, national or local, see their seats under threat they do genuinely appear more responsive and thoughtful than those full of the confidence of power under their belts.

But this is unlikely to matter much to the general population. It is easy to create fixed and determined loyalties, even by arbitrarily dividing a group of humans into Group A and Group B. Add in a sense of imbalance and bad feeling and Groups A and B will develop an antipathy which will be hard to ever shift. If Group A’s health service is poor it will still be seen by all Group A members to be ‘our health service’ and the problems overlooked until they come to a bed in your house.

With a London focused but pretty universal media, where England and the British Isles are seen and presented as coterminous, real consciousness about these problems is a long way off. People don’t always realise that a goody offered to the English will never arrive in Wales.

We have been wished into enormous difficulties, some of which are only just beginning to show. Time to grapple with these before we create more.

Anne Wareham is a writer who works for the Telegraph, the Spectator and various garden magazines and is author of ‘The Bad Tempered Gardener’.

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