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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Bonfire time`

As somebody who supported the establishment of the Welsh Assembly because I wished to see greater democratisation of government in Wales, I have a great deal of sympathy with the merging of Quangos such as the WDA, the Wales Tourist Board and ELWa with the Welsh Assembly Government. However, in his criticism of that move Professor Kevin Morgan has identified an important point.

His first point is most telling. He says that real accountability relies on real scrutiny. A narrow and self-referential scrutiny system based solely on accountability to ministers will create a democratic deficit. Insufficient time and competence to deal with scrutiny within the existing (Assembly) committee system will exacerbate this deficit.

I do not believe that Assembly Committees do not have the competence to scrutinise effectively, in fact I think we are getting better at this particular function every day. What is apparent however is that the three weekly Committee cycle we are operating at present does not offer sufficient time to go into the depth needed in questioning Ministers on the functions of these merged bodies once they are solely responsible for them.

We will no longer have the luxury of spending a day at the Quango's HQ asking questions and looking in detail at a particular aspect of their work nor of summoning the Chair and Chief Executive to a Committee meeting. We will have to do everything through the Minister in a very limited time. If the First Minister really does want to address the democratic deficit then he is going to have to relent and agree to a more realistic cycle of Committee meetings.
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