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Programme for Government

Lara Stace
Lara Stace

The Welsh Government last week published its Programme for Government, sooner than expected, reflecting what the First Minister described as the need to tackle the challenges facing Wales “with urgency”.

It will have been drafted in-party ahead of the elections. Based clearly on the Welsh Labour Manifesto, Mark Drakeford’s team will have been preparing for post-election multi-party discussion, and it would have formed the basis of the early negotiations. It turns out that those discussions were not necessary, though we may still see amendments to the Programme as stability pacts or budget deals are agreed.

The Programme has been described as an ambitious and radical plan to recovery from the pandemic by Ministers, with climate change at the heart of the work. However, it has faced criticism for the lack of detail within the Programme – it contains positive affirmations and narrative in leaps and bounds, but there is less in the way of ‘how’ and ‘when’.

The Programme is divided into two sections: almost 100 specific areas of activity, where responsibility lies with the First Minister and full Cabinet, and further promises for which portfolio Ministers will take direct responsibility. Although the Welsh Government’s document writes that these two categories will be treated with equal weight, in practice it will mean the first nearly 100 areas will be under supervision from the First Minister – placing an element of priority for these specific cross-government areas.

Those ‘specific areas of activity’ vary in detail from outright pledges to action – such as build 20,000 new low carbon social homes for rent, establish a new medical school in North Wales and deliver a Young Person’s Guarantee – to more general promises about policies – such as ‘seek’ a 30% target for remote working or ‘explore’ reform of the school day and year. Or, indeed, promises to continue existing work, for example on its partnership with the third sector, its Flying Start scheme and continuing funding for the NHS bursary.

The First Minister’s vision for a programme of work with climate at the heart of it has been reflected in the creation of the Climate Change super ministry, which encompasses housing, transport, environment, energy and planning. Minister Julie James MS and her deputy, Lee Waters MS, face a busy a few years to deliver on the two pages of plans for the department (more than double any other department) – in addition to those almost 100 pledges that will require cross-government collaboration.

Although these pledges will be welcome to many, a lack of detail means there is some reluctance in celebrating just yet. There is no clear timeline for the Programme, which presents challenges for scrutiny of the Welsh Government’s plans and for accountability regarding the delivery of these promises. The legislative programme will be published soon, which will provide some welcome details about what will be brought before the Senedd in the next five years. With regards to specific policies, we will need to wait for individual Ministers to publish detailed frameworks or consultations to find out more.

However, it is quite likely that the public document will be transformed behind the scenes into a delivery tracker. The First Minister will have identified the 100 commitments and there will be a reporting process to keep officials (and Ministers) on track. There may be a traffic light system where departments will have to report progress towards delivery on a monthly basis, so that the First Minister and his team at the centre can see what is going well and what might need more oomph to make it happen. The outputs may be publicly reported, as they have been previously, and there may be a small team of officials helping to keep the focus on these commitments as the wider government infrastructure is still focused heavily on pandemic and the recovery.

Plaid Cymru has criticised a lack of targets within the Programme and urged for a quick pace of change, while the Welsh Conservatives have called for more detail about policy pledges. Such a response doesn’t sit very far from previous experience, as the 2016 Programme for Government was met with similar disappointment at the lack of detail – at just 16 pages, compared to 2021-2026’s 17 pages – as was the 2011 Programme, because of a lack of targets. Perhaps after an exhausting election period and potential negotiation between parties, a longing for the full swing of Government means appetite outstrips what can be realistically detailed within a government’s first few months.

For all the challenge and tragedy of the pandemic, it has offered an opportunity to test the waters for the future of working and, to an extent, living – flexible hours, remote working, fewer cars commuting and pumping out emissions, and people rediscovering their local area. It presented a unique chance to ‘reset’, however, the lack of detail in the Programme has caused some consternation about the ability to strike while the iron is hot and create lasting change.

The Programme provides a good impression of the Welsh Government’s direction of travel and confirmation of election pledges is welcome – with its similarity to Welsh Labour’s manifesto due to the party’s success in the Senedd Election and the mandate it has won - but we are still unclear on timelines. 

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