The reputation of the Assembly’s Cross Party Groups is often quite poor but organisations need to take the initiative to maximise their usefulness, writes Matthew O’Grady
If you’ve worked in any form of policy or public affairs role in Wales, you’ve probably been to a Cross Party Group (CPG) meeting. There is a good chance there were sandwiches, coffee and a discussion on a niche but actually quite important point, but a low number of AMs attending and probably little in the way of outcome.
It’s fair to say CPGs haven’t got the best reputation. In my experience, they can easily become a talking shop rather than a method of engagement focused on achieving change.
The Stroke Association facilitates the Cross Party Group on Stroke, Chaired by Dai Lloyd AM. We’ve had some great discussions at meetings over the last few years on topics such as thrombectomy (a game-changing treatment for stroke that’s still not widely available in Wales), staffing at rehab units and access to psychological therapy for stroke survivors. Often a letter is written, the Minister writes back, but nothing much changes as a result. Just a circle of well-intentioned letters and welshcakes.
That is why we decided to do it differently this year. The Cross Party Group has been conducting an inquiry into the Welsh Government’s Stroke Delivery Plan. We’ve held evidence sessions, issued a written call for evidence, collected the opinions of clinicians and are looking forward to launching the report in March.
We’re not the first to conduct an inquiry through a CPG, as doing it this way can help bring that focus and outcome which is otherwise all too often missing from this approach.
Doing this work it has struck me that this is also an opportunity to get stroke survivors fully involved. We have several stroke survivors who come to our CPG meetings regularly, giving their expertise and experience in the issues which are being discussed. We’ve also recently launched a survey of stroke survivors to get their views on how well the Stroke Delivery Plan has been implemented.
As an organisation, ensuring the voice of stroke survivors is heard at the highest level is central to our aims. Enabling these voices to be heard by decision makers isn’t always the easiest, and even when it can happen, it has to be done in a way which is meaningful and genuine rather than tokenistic. CPGs can be a way of achieving this.
By enabling stroke survivors to attend the CPG directly, they are able to give their voice directly to the people that matter. Our CPG is also attended by some of the senior figures in stroke in Wales, such as the Chair of the Stroke Implementation Group and Welsh Government Clinical Lead on Stroke. This means survivors have an opportunity to talk to the people with the ability to lead on changes to services directly.
For stroke survivors, it means genuine chances of engagement with the people that matter. For us, it means we can achieve our aim of enabling those voices to be heard.
CPGs don’t have the best reputation. But approached right, they can offer real opportunities to press for change, and the chance for those we aim to represent to be a part of our work directly, sharing the experience and expertise in a way which has the potential to achieve genuine change.
But this work needs planning, a focus on outcomes and an approach which aims to involve as many of the right people as possible to work towards those shared aims. Otherwise, we’ll just be having more talking shops.
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