IWA Summer Reception: ‘People need the tools to figure it out for themselves’

A picture of the IWA's recent summer reception. Attendees are seated and listening to Bethan Darwin, chair of the IWA. Bethan is wearing a pink and blue dress.

On 13 July, the IWA held its first summer reception since the pandemic, bringing together members and non-members alike.

The evening featured a discussion of the past year in Welsh politics chaired by James Williams (BBC) with panellists Miguela Gonzalez (Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales), Professor Gerry Holtham and Auriol Miller.

The first part of the discussion focused on Welsh institutions. ‘If you were trying to undermine public support for the Senedd, I cannot think of a more effective way to do it’, Professor Holtham warned when discussing plans for a Senedd expansion and a closed list electoral system in Wales.

While he believes expanding the Senedd is necessary with an ‘impeccable’ argument underpinning the decision, he warned ‘the political class haven’t got thr0ugh’ and stressed that decisions need to be better communicated to the electorate in Wales. 

With recent data painting a bleak economic forecast for Wales, Professor Holtham predicted a strong likelihood of a recession in the coming year. ‘The only way to get inflation down after one year is to incur a recession, that’s what the Bank of England now seems ready to do’ explained Holtham. ‘That’s not going to be good for Wales because we are the tail on the dog, and tails don’t wag dogs unfortunately.’ A reminder that the Welsh Government can do little to mitigate, and remains exposed to, economic shocks at the UK level.

People wanted to know more… it’s not that people don’t want to know, it’s just that people need the tools to figure it out for themselves

On the topic of the Constitutional Future of Wales, Miguela Gonzalez argued that maintaining the devolution settlement as it stands is not a viable option for Wales. ‘There are a number of tensions the status quo doesn’t address, intergovernmental relations, the issue of finance… There are lots of issues embedded within the status quo that have to be fixed, but they can’t be fixed by maintaining the system.’ This is a feeling supported by some members of the public, she added: ‘People are unhappy. In our focus groups with people they are unhappy with the lives that they lead. So something has to give, we need to shift the dial somehow.’ 

In her work with the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, Gonzalez explained that a lack of knowledge around the structures of governance in Wales remains a key concern: ‘People don’t talk about the cost of living, it’s almost as if they don’t think the Government has a responsibility in that space. They talk about very local issues, not understanding who’s responsible.’

And here the panel discussion came back to focus on education with the IWA’s Director, Auriol Miller, highlighting the experiences of those involved in the IWA’s Citizens Panel, run jointly with the Open University over the summer of 2022, ‘People wanted to know more… it’s not that people don’t want to know, it’s just that people need the tools to figure it out for themselves.’ 

Finally the discussion opened up to a wide range of questions from our members. We heard concerns regarding the future funding of the cultural arts sector in Wales, to which Professor Holtham highlighted that budgetary pressures continue to constrain Welsh Government’s ability to protect the arts sector.

There was a question about the way that money moves across Wales and whether Wales should retain more of its own assets with the potential devolution of the Crown Estate. Auriol Miller agreed, ‘alongside a focus on governance we also need to talk about power and resources, where they are and who has what levers’.

The discussion also addressed the overrepresentation of women as unpaid carers, the nature and climate emergency and the importance of leadership in Wales.

We look forward to future opportunities to engage with our members and hope to take those discussions further.

Lydia Godden

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