The Potential of the Drakeford Era

Kevin Morgan considers how a Drakeford government can make a difference for Wales

Mark Drakeford will be forgiven for thinking that, as baptisms of fire go, he could have had an easier one. Apart from dealing with the noxious effects of Brexit, which involve threats to our economy and our devolution settlement, a Drakeford government will need to address a series of momentous policy challenges.


Everyone will have their own list of policy priorities. My own list would include the following: the need to shift our healthcare services from a treatment culture to a prevention culture, in part by integrating health and social care; the need to boost the supply of affordable housing; the need to put further and higher education funding on a more sustainable footing; the need to decarbonise economy and society; and, in the very short term, the need to resolve the M4 relief road saga.     


Mark Drakeford’s priorities for government were clearly set out in his manifesto for the Labour leadership campaign. Running through all the policy domains was a clear and robust political commitment to social justice. If this was most evident in the chapters on child poverty and looked-after children, the commitment to social justice was also apparent in the chapters on the economy, especially the foundational economy, where the new First Minister signalled his determination to use “every lever we have” to make Wales a more equal, fair and just society.   


Fine words butter no parsnips, so what can a Drakeford government do to realise his vision of 21st century socialism? Let’s take three examples of how a Drakeford government can make a difference.


First, the public sector in Wales spends £6 billion annually on goods, services and works and we urgently need to deploy this money more effectively.  Community benefit clauses should be routinely used to boost skill sets in our most deprived areas. Ethical public procurement should ensure that big firms are not allowed to bully their smaller suppliers through late payment, a problem that destroys some 50,000 firms a year in the UK according to the FSB. The Drakeford manifesto recognised that the public procurement profession needs better skills and higher status if Wales is to tap the potential of the power of purchase.


Second, Mark Drakeford is personally committed to the co-production approach, where government works in concert with its key partners. But co-production needs to begin with the Welsh Government itself, especially within the Cabinet, because to date ministers have been allowed to do their own thing. With a more cohesive administration, the Welsh Government can be a more effective partner for the range of intermediaries with whom it works in the private, public and civil sectors.


Co-production offers a double dividend: it will produce more effective policy outcomes and it will help Welsh Government cope with its horrendous capacity constraints, a problem exacerbated by Brexit. But to tap the potential of co-production, the civil service will need to become less centralist and more porous in working with external partners such as housing associations and universities for example. As Steve Thomas said in his valedictory address, the devolution train needs to leave the Cardiff station.


Thirdly, through all its policies, a Drakeford government needs to do more to ensure that good practice becomes the norm not the exception in the Welsh public sector. Wales is knee-deep in policies with good intentions, but good practice has been a bad traveller. Too often in the past 20 years Welsh Government has treated leaders and laggards the same, with the result that there are no consequences for poor performance, and this is very evident in the field of public procurement for example. A Drakeford government should strongly discriminate in favour of good practice when it dispenses grants and loans.


Will the fourth First Minister inaugurate a new style of politics? My colleague Professor Roger Awan Scully has said that Mark Drakeford is “the clearest example of Corbynism in practice”. But we should be wary of judging new leaders through the prism of the old.


It’s true that Mark Drakeford has aligned himself with Corbyn, especially on Brexit, but it would be wrong to see him merely as a Celtic Corbynista because this suggests that he passively takes his cues from Jeremy Corbyn, when the truth is that he has charted his own brand of socialist policies, not least in prudent healthcare, child poverty and ethical procurement.


Closer to home the comparisons will be with Carwyn Jones, his predecessor. Whereas Carwyn was intellectually inscrutable, Mark’s political philosophy is more readily apparent. I hope and believe he will make the machinery of government more cohesive, more effective and more porous. This will help it to shed its command and control style and adopt a more experimental and interactive style of governance in which it seeks to work in concert with its partners to find joint solutions to common problems in the spirit of co-production.


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Kevin Morgan is Professor of Governance and Development in the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University, where he is also the Dean of Engagement.

2 thoughts on “The Potential of the Drakeford Era

  1. Hi Kevin,

    While I broadly agree with your analysis, I feel compelled to bring up a point of semantics and clarify your use of the term co-production. As the Director of the Co-production Network for Wales, I would respectfully suggest that in some places where you use the term co-production, you mean collaboration.

    Co-production happens when the people who provide and those who receive public services work together, to create improvement in said services – and thus better outcomes for those using them. At the heart of co-production is the sharing of power and of expertise between these two sides of the public service interaction.

    When organisations work in partnership to realise shared objectives, we call it collaboration. If the citizen who would benefit from the outcomes of this work isn’t part of the process, it simply isn’t co-production. Collaboration is important and plays a role within a process of co-production, because to co-produce properly (with their citizens) organisations actually need to collaborate effectively (with each other). But one does not equate the other.

    So yes, Mark Drakeford is personally committed to the co-production approach; but no, that isn’t where government works in concert with its key partners: it’s where services are jointly designed, commissioned, delivered and evaluated with the people who access them.

    Indeed yes, co-production needs to begin with the Welsh Government itself. A better understanding of what it is and when / where to apply this approach, across Welsh Government, would be hugely beneficial to public services across all sectors. Co-production is not a panacea and is best suited to complex social problems that involve human interactions and relationships. We don’t advocate for co-production to be applied indiscriminately in every situation; we aim for proportionate and appropriate use of the approach. (We will certainly keep welcoming and seeking conversations with Welsh Government on this.)

    And I would hope that the Welsh Government can indeed be a more effective partner, not only for the range of intermediaries and external partner organisations with whom it works in the private, public and civil sectors, but also for the citizens of Wales that it exists to serve. Only by doing so will it achieve the double dividend that co-production offers: enabling services to deliver better with less.

  2. I agree with Kevin Moran, in its wide spread reach and coherence over most policy areas, its an impressive manifesto. Even some policy areas which whilst once popular, have since been forgotten, are dusted off . He had already been instrumental in taking a fresh look at the value of Town and Community Councils. Close to my own professional background – he suggests looking at resurrecting a Land Agency and tandem investigations into strengthening CPO Powers and reviewing land-banking practice. There are areas which might be further developed. Whilst the vacant land tax is a start he might also have referred to the much broader Land Value Tax(a radical Welsh liberal policy) as a substitute for the beleaguered Non Domestic Rates .If only as a pilot as he suggestes for the Foundational Economy- all part of a new localism perhaps.

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