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Monday, December 15, 2014

Is Wales getting a worse deal than the other nations?

There is an interesting article in this morning's Western Mail reporting on proposals by Alan Trench, one of the country’s leading constitutional experts. He has published a blueprint for how the different nations of the UK can work together at a time when the constitution is in a state of flux.

Mr. Trench believes that Wales get a “worse” deal than any of the other nations from the loose arrangements that determine how governments work together:

Mr Trench is concerned that UK ministers are in charge of resolving disputes – even when the UK Government is involved in the disagreement. He argues that Whitehall departments do not run the risk of sanctions if they fail to respond to grievances.

In his report, he claims this skews politics in favour of the UK Government and results in less accountability and poorer policies.

Key proposals include:

- Having an “independent and impartial” person or group of people resolve disputes;
- Introducing a more “structured” relationship between the Welsh and UK governments, with the Wales Office and the Minister for Government Business in Cardiff playing a more active role in managing relations.
- The creation of a “dedicated secretariat” for Joint Ministerial Council meetings which would be “independent of any government” and;
- Launching a devolution committee at Westminster to ensure greater coherence.

Mr Trench said: “The UK’s system of managing intergovernmental relations is fundamental to making devolution work, but it is simply not fit for purpose. It fails to recognise the way the UK’s territorial constitution works, and leaves the ball very largely in Whitehall’s court.

“This affects all three devolved governments, but hits Wales worse than the others. The UK Government needs to take a much more engaged approach rather than allowing the situation to drift along, or treat devolved governments as nuisances or adversaries.”

He concludes his report: “Is the UK Government willing to make a series of changes, some minor but some major, and some which will involve a measure of political difficulty or even embarrassment, in order to achieve those outcomes?

“Is the UK Government sufficiently committed to the union, not just in a rhetorical way but in substance, to do what is necessary to make that union function better and to help its citizens understand why they have the structure of government that they do, with some things being done differently across the UK and some things being similar or the same?

“An enhanced approach to intergovernmental relations, which improves the substance of governance but also enables the UK Government to provide symbolic answers to those questions, is a keystone of enabling devolution to work as a sustainable, durable and effective form of democratic government.”

These are all important questions and desperately need to be addressed in any discussion on future constitutional arrangements.
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