Performance, not powers

Initial findings from the IWA Constitutional Convention show performance is a higher priority than powers, but energy policy could offer potential.

The IWA Constitutional Convention ran over eight weeks earlier this year, and looked at a range of themes including the economy, the welfare system and the future of the UK. While we’re still working on our final report, some of our initial findings prove interesting.

The emerging theme of the IWA Convention’s economy phase revealed concerns over existing Welsh Government policies rather than a general clamour for extra powers.

Some of the highest rated ideas shared in the debate called for measures to address the skills young people need to acquire to cope in the future jobs market; or more efforts to take advantage of tourism as a signpost to a better quality of life.

An area of support for enhanced powers did emerge over a target for 100% ‘consumption’ from Wales-based renewable energy sources by 2030, with a massive increase in research, development and business support in the nascent but essential ‘smart grid’ and ‘smart storage’ sectors.

Energy efficiency was also identified as ‘a huge employment creator as well as the cheapest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions’. In addition community energy ‘needs to have far greater support through the planning sector’, according to a popular ‘idea’. In a snapshot poll, some 77% said it is in Wales’ interests to have the power to approve energy projects of up to 350 megawatts in line with recommendations by the Silk Commission for Wales. Contributors included former environment minister Jane Davidson who tweeted #IWAConvention saying she had been arguing for energy powers for Wales for years. “The current system doesn’t work. Wales has a huge natural energy resource.”

One contributor to the debate said: “Emulate the ambition of Denmark and Scotland: As much electricity as Wales uses by 2020 (100% renewable electricity); as much heat and electricity as Wales uses by 2030 (100% renewable heat) and as much transport, heat and electricity – all from renewables sources – as Wales uses by 2040. “For this to happen we need very strong leadership from Welsh Government and all powers over energy. Both of these are currently lacking.”

Another said: “Is it possible that a coalition of Education, SME’s and Government support in Wales could be marshalled behind a single sector? That’s a powerful idea.”

A lively debate concerned what children should learn at school with a warning that 47% of all US jobs were at risk of computerisation. Is Wales prepared for this radical change in employment or unemployment?

“I now employ a ‘google’ workforce, they don’t know everything but they can find it out. Cultivating ambition and a readiness to learn and do well are vital. Young people who are enthusiastic, interested and engaged are infinitely more employable”, said one contributor.

Meanwhile the TUC argued that more employers need to invest in ‘meaningful skills development’. “Many of the jobs ‘which have not yet been created’ are likely to be in high volume, low value areas of employment unless many more employers decide it’s in their interest to invest more.”

In many cases, especially around the economy, there was criticism about particular policies or lack of action rather than a feeling around particular powers. In the cases that devolution of further powers were supported on a series of snapshot polls, a common reason was to increase the accountability of the Welsh Government. Increased accountability was a common call by those who took part in the debate, and there was support for easier availability of economic figures in Wales to enable the public to be able to measure how well policies are working in Wales.

What our initial findings are showing is that the debate is less about powers – with the exception of energy – and more about performance and policy.

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