It might be a good idea for England, but not for Wales

Dylan Jones-Evans in his blog yesterday hailed David Cameron's speech on reform as "groundbreaking" saying that we needed smaller and more accountable government.

He thought that this captured the mood "across the country" ... though I'm sure he was thinking of the UK as a whole, rather than of Wales. In fact I doubt very much whether he even thought about Wales, and in particular whether we in Wales might have our own ideas about the way we are governed.


Hardly anyone could doubt that government in the UK is over-centralized, and that devolution of powers from Westminster is a good idea. In that respect the Tories are exactly right. But DJE then wanders off along this line of thought:

For Wales, there are a number of mixed messages. For example, despite the promise of greater devolution from the UK central government, there is no indication that this will be through the existing bodies alone. Indeed, there are a number of statements that will send shivers through the corridors of power in Cardiff Bay.

"Could we let individuals, neighbourhoods and communities take control? How far can we push power down?"

i.e. if local government is going to get more powers, will this mean more devolution downwards to councils from bodies such as the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament? Rather than increased powers from the UK Government to devolved bodies, will we also see further decentralisation from the devolved bodies to local authorities?

I trust DJE to have a better insight into the mind of his party leader than I do. I also note that Glyn Davies seems equally enthusiastic about the shift towards local authorities. So perhaps that is what the Tories have in mind. This might well be the reason why the Tories have point-blank refused to tell anyone except a few chosen party insiders what position they are going to take on primary lawmaking powers for the National Assembly.

I think they won't tell us for the simple reason that they know we won't like the answer. And I think it is no coincidence that taking power from the National Assembly and giving it instead to individual councils is the "solution" advocated by many in True Wales.

This is also, if you remember back to the days of Thatcher, what prompted the Tories to do away with the Greater London Council and give powers to the London Boroughs. Simple divide and rule tactics. No local council is big enough to stand up to the Government in Westminster ... it was a way not of "devolving power downwards" but of giving central Government yet more control. Nothing changes with the Tories.

No, scrub that. Nothing changes with the Tories in Westminster. Tories in Wales, particularly those who I respect for their pro-devolution views (and that includes both Glyn Davies and Dylan Jones-Evans) should be careful about getting sucked into the machine.


Anyway, that's opinion. I want this post to be about facts. In both 2008 and 2009 the BBC's St David's Day poll has asked the asked the same question:

Which level of government do you think SHOULD have most influence over Wales?

Welsh Assembly Government ... 61%
Westminster ... 21%
Local Councils ... 14%
The EU ... 2%

BBC/ICM Poll, 2009

Which level of government do you think SHOULD have most influence over Wales?

Welsh Assembly Government ... 61%
Westminster ... 22%
Local Councils ... 11%
The EU ... 2%

BBC/ICM Poll, 2008

That's clear enough, isn't it?

Good governance is about placing power at the most appropriate level, not necessarily the smallest level. For us in Wales, it is clear that we want our Assembly to have most influence over the way we are governed. That's not to deny the role of local government—in fact I think it should be reformed and enhanced—but to recognize that we think it is not the best level to deal with most things in Wales.

We are a nation of 3m people. That is a good, effective size for much of the decision making that affects our daily lives: for health, education, law and order, energy, transport and the like. 60m is much too large—the Tories are right about that—but local councils with populations of between 56,000 and 307,000 are much too small.

It is up to the people of England to work out what's best for England. But it is surely up to us to decide what levels of government are best for Wales. One size does not fit all.

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment