Sunday, February 03, 2013

Reorganising the way Wales is Governed

Am going to watch The Wales Report tonight (BBC Wales 10.35) - though it does look as if the producers had nothing much of new interest to cover. Which is why they've invited Lord Elis Thomas onto the programme to say pretty much what we all knew he thought already. Though he comes from a 'Plaid Cymru perspective' I always reckon what Dafydd El says is worth pondering on. When short of material, ask Dafydd El for an opinion is an old BBC standby. Asking Richard wyn Jones for his opinion is another BBC Wales standby. And as usual, they've been hyping it up as if its an announcement of great moment. So better watch.

Lets look at what we're told the great man is going to say. 1) That the number of local authorities should be cut to 5-7 from current 22. 2) That number of Welsh MPs should be cut. 3) That number of AMs should be increased. Only thing missing from the 'full set' is that the Wales Office should be abolished along with the Cabinet position of Secretary of State for Wales. Even though these suggestions flow from a Plaid Cymru perspective, I reckon they're worth considering seriously. So let's do it.

There is certainly a case for cutting 22 primary councils to 7. I recall believing that then Labour Assembly Minister, Sue Essex, had this in mind when she proposed strategic regional authorities when she was the responsible Minister - though it was never spelt out. She was careful not to tread on Labour council leader's toes. And I had some 'conditional' sympathy with the idea. When 22 local councils were established in 1994, it was assumed that some would become 'lead authorities' avoiding the need to create 22 all singing/dancing management teams. Didn't happen. We had 22 costly all singing/dancing teams. Though my 'shadow' responsibilities were all-Wales, I took a particular interest in mid-Wales. I could see case for a Mid Wales Authority, (the old DBRW area) with delivery sub-offices in Montgomeryshire, Brecon and Radnor, Ceredigion and Meirionydd. I still can. Always saw it is reinforcing my desire to 'Bring Montgomeryshire Back'.

But I cannot agree that strategic authorities can be based on current Health Board areas. Powys is completely unsustainable, which is why health responsibilities are currently being shared out elsewhere. There is no population base, and no General Hospital. At least Mid Wales would have Bronglais - though I also believe we should consider hospitals in England as being providers of services to Wales as well. Seems that the First Minister now agrees with this, now that he sees the Welsh NHS as on the point of collapse. About time too.

Of course there's a case for reducing number of Welsh MPs, but its not going to happen anytime soon. The Wales Boundary Commission should be asked to consider how a reduction of say 6 seats could be arranged, without insisting that number of voters should be the same - allowing for sparcity, history and geography   I've just opposed the impact of reduction to 30 seats in Wales with equal electorates as unacceptable to mid Wales. And at some stage there will be a case for 80 AMs but not until the National Assembly has genuine fiscal accountability (until it's responsible for raising tax) and I can't see that happening anytime soon either. The Silk report -Part One has been kicked into the long grass as far as I can see. Only thing left is the scrapping of the Wales Office, for which I can also see the case - but I'm not going to support reducing the Wales voice at Westminster - especially when mid Wales seems further away from Cardiff than Westminster. All things considered, I don't think tonight's Wales Report is going to be anything more than an academic exercise going nowhere.

UPDATE - Watched the programme and could have enjoyed talking through Lord Elis Thomas' comments. Particularly liked his idea of reducing size of Second Chamber, and having 5% from Wales. The appointment of another 70 Lords in the near future seems very odd when we're supposed to be looking to reduce cost of Government. Dafydd El suggested 350 peers. I reckon about 500 would be more realistic - as a first step anyway. and he talked much sense about local government. He was squirming when Huw Edwards was pushing him on MP numbers. Suppose he didn't want to cut across Elfyn, Hywel and Jonathon who have been taking a different line. Not so impressed by Richard Wyn Jones though. I agree with his contention that Wales should not have greater representation at Westminster than rest of UK - which means a reduction of 6/7 Welsh MPs - which does not justify his disparaging tone. My own view is that if the Boundary Commission had been allowed greater flexibility it might have happened last week.

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