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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A matter of Trust

This morning's Western Mail reports on comments by the Welsh Government's former Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee in which he made the astonishing claim that UK Ministers do not trust their Welsh counterparts with sensitive information.

I suppose that is fair enough when it comes to highly sensitive state matters but as Sir Jon Shortridge makes clear, it can impact on the business of government here in Wales as well as cause confusion due to the failure of Whitehall civil servants to understand the devolution settlement and the context in which they work.

In his written submission Sir Jon laid out a series of difficulties, both current and ongoing, which he believed were hampering relations between Whitehall and Wales.

They included cases of Whitehall not making it clear in announcements when policies applied to England only and also failing to notify the assembly government of major announcements in advance.

He was particularly critical of last year's launch of the UK Government's flagship set of policy proposals entitled "Building Britain's Future".

He said many of the policies were relevant only to England, but that he believed UK ministers had simply decided to ignore this.

We all have these problems of course within our own political parties but we are addressing it. Surely it is time for Whitehall to wake up to the realities of devolution as well.
Sir John is also quoted as opining that the Welsh Office in Whitehall should wither away. I seem to recall a briefing for Assembly candidates when I raised this possibility with one of Sir John's predecessors. I was slapped down by Mike German for asking an inappropriately political question. I am glad to see that Sir John now feels free to voice the same opinion.
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