Taking Wales forward?

Jess Blair says the Welsh Government’s Programme for Government fails in parts to offer much needed detail.

The Welsh Government have today published their Programme for Government, ‘Taking Wales Forward’ outlining their priorities and work programme until 2021. In its foreword First Minister Carwyn Jones outlines the Wales “we are determined to build over the coming five years”, one which is “prosperous and secure, healthy and active, ambitious and learning, united and connected”.

This all sounds overwhelmingly positive. Who wouldn’t want to be prosperous and healthy, secure and ambitious?

The problem is that this 16 page document (yes, really!) largely fails to deliver any idea of how all of this will be achieved. While its rhetoric is admirable and ambitious, the devil certainly isn’t in the detail of this document. In fact, as far as detail goes, there is very little.

Key pledges of this Programme for Government include some ambitious policies already in development: 30 hours of free childcare a week for working parents of three to four year olds, creating at least 100,000 high quality apprenticeships and delivering an extra 20,000 affordable homes. Many of these echo the Labour manifesto commitments that the party went into May’s election with.

Yet many of the other policies within the document are vague, with no explanation of how they will actually be delivered. Take for instance the commitment to ‘Promote Green Growth to create sustainable jobs for the future’. There is no ‘how’ or ‘what’ here, let alone any kind of target associated with this commitment. The same goes for the commitment to ‘work with partners to secure a prosperous future for Welsh agriculture, building on our early engagement following the EU referendum’. Under Health we see a commitment to ‘continue to improve access to GP surgeries’ and a pledge to ‘work to ensure good industrial relations in the interests of staff and patients’. Under the ‘Community Assets’ subject heading we see a commitment to ‘Develop a ‘Made in Wales’ approach reflecting Welsh needs and aspirations’. The lack of clarity over what all this actually means is quite alarming.

The problem with the lack of specific commitments in this document isn’t just that it makes it hard to know what the Welsh Government have planned over the next five years, but it also makes it difficult for the Government to effectively be held to account. By having an aspirational and undetailed aim, it’s very easy for Government to say they have met that through little action. If the last Assembly’s watchword was ‘Delivery’ then that is certainly not what is on offer here.

There’s been a lot of talk from the opposition parties today about the size of this document. Yes, 16 pages is remarkably short. The 2011 document (now, incidentally, not available on the Welsh Government website) ran to 51 pages. Yet, the size of the document should not denote its quality. Unfortunately, despite the admirable rhetoric, in this instance it seems to be precisely an indication of the lack of a plan the Welsh Government has to lead Wales over what is likely to be a tumultuous and challenging few years.

We can hope that this is just an initial document and more detailed policy plans will be published over the coming few weeks and months, but if this is the entirety of this new Government’s programme of action then I think there is a real cause for concern over where Wales will be in 2021. 

Jess Blair is the IWA’s Acting Director.

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