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Sunday, 31 March 2013

Senedd Watch - March 2013

  • Several Welsh Ministers took part in events marking St David's Day. First Minister Carwyn Jones visited Barcelona to encourage tourism. Leighton Andrews (Lab, Rhondda) took part in a promotional event in London. Dep. Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, Huw Lewis (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) visited China. Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) visited Los Angeles to promote Wales as a venue for film and TV production, and mark the awarding of a “Hollywood Star” in honour of Richard Burton.
  • Plaid Cymru held their spring conference in Beaumaris, Anglesey. Leader Leanne Wood criticised the education system, saying it had changed from a “watchword of excellence” to a “graveyard of ambition.” She called for the Welsh economy to be (re)built from the “bottom up.” Parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd called for “parity with Scotland”, regardless of the 2014 independence referendum outcome.
  • Llywydd Rosemary Butler (Lab, Newport West) outlined an increase in the number of AMs to 80 in her submission to the second part of the Silk Commission, based on the “unavoidable scale of workload faced by members.”
  • The Welsh Liberal Democrats set out a “Home Rule” vision in their submission to Silk Commission; with devolution of policing, prisons, voting arrangements and energy. The Welsh Conservatives called for the devolution of broadcasting and energy to Wales in their submission, but omitted policing and criminal justice. Conservative MP Glyn Davies contradicted the Welsh Conservative stance by later saying that energy would be devolved “over my dead body” due to opposition to wind farms.
  • The Welsh Government said they would consider legislating for 40% of public appointments to be women. Sports Wales chair Laura McAllister said public appointments were “loaded towards the male experience.” Around 32% of public appointees in Wales are currently women.
  • The Welsh Government launched a consultation on whether laws would be required to combat horse abandonment and “fly grazing” after a spate of incidents across Wales. Deputy Minister for Rural Affairs, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) promised a “zero tolerance approach” to the issue.
  • A BBC Wales investigation found truancy prosecutions in Wales rose by 700% to more than 500 cases between 2007 and 2011. The Welsh Government recently consulted on £120 fines for truancy, but Education Minister Leighton Andrews said fines were “just one aspect of national policy” to reduce truancy.
  • First Minister Carwyn Jones said he might personally “call in” proposals to move neo-natal services to the Wirral from north Wales as Health Minister Lesley Griffiths' (Lab, Wrexham) own constituency would be affected by the changes. On 30th March, he announced that he would look at “another model” of providing acute neo-natal care in north Wales.
  • Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws said her position had “not been undermined” by the Welsh Government's rejection of her proposed standards for Welsh language services in February 2013. A motion passed the Senedd, calling for a timetable for new standards to be issued in 2014.
  • The UK Government's submission to Part II of the Silk Commission rejected “radical changes” to Welsh devolution, but proposed teachers' pay and conditions and rail franchising be devolved due to deregulation in England. They also rejected devolution of policing, criminal justice and large energy projects.
  • The Communities, Equalities & Local Government Committee suggested a new “umbrella” Welsh heritage body – similar to English Heritage - be established in a new report. They also said the Welsh Government should consider the concerns of expert witnesses before proceeding with a merger of Cadw and the Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments.
  • The Assembly's Health & Social Services Committee proposed that Mick Antoniw AM's (Lab, Pontypridd) Asbestos Disease Bill could be expanded in scope to reclaim costs for treating all industrial diseases.
  • Rosemary Butler AM said people in her Newport constituency faced “misery” awaiting further consultation on improvements to the M4 through the city. Welsh Government provisional proposals involve widening the Brynglas Tunnels, which would affect residents living above them.
  • Age Cymru asked the Welsh Government to draw up a policy on social care costs, following proposals to cap costs in England by the UK Government. The Welsh Government said they were “in conversation with key stakeholders” about their own plans.
  • Finance Minister Jane Hutt (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) said UK Government cuts were “too deep and too fast” and “hampered efforts to boost growth.” She also warned that benefit claimants risked missing out financially by lack of internet access, and asked the UK Government to commit more funds.
  • Deputy Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, Huw Lewis, launched the Welsh Government's new regeneration policy. It'll carefully target regeneration funds into fewer projects, and work with existing Communities First areas – in particular coastal towns.
  • Welsh Secretary David Jones MP announced he'll lift a ban on AMs standing in both constituency and regional seats, lengthen Assembly terms to 5 years and ban AMs from being MPs at the same time. Boundary change proposals have also been dropped. Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats described it as “overdue”, while Welsh Labour said the Assembly had not asked for the changes.
  • The Welsh NHS experienced a sudden surge in emergency admissions, which caused significant problems at Welsh A&E departments. The Welsh Government urged the public to “choose well”, while health experts warned that proposed hospital reorganisations could make the situation worse in the future.
  • As a result, Welsh Lib Dem leader, Kirsty Williams, said the Welsh NHS was “teetering in the brink”, while Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) described it as a “perfect storm for a cash-strapped NHS.” On March 28th, half of Wales' A&E consultants wrote to the Health Minister, warning that A&E departments were close to “meltdown” due to overcrowding.
  • The First Minister announced a cabinet reshuffle on March 14th. Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West) was appointed Health Minister, while various other roles were delegated/re-delegated amongst existing Welsh Ministers. On March 18th , the new Health Minister pledged to see through controversial hospital reorganisations, and on March 25th, he warned that some Local Health Boards could miss spending targets.
  • In a speech marking her first anniversary as Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood said the economy was the most important priority for her party. She called for the devolution of the welfare system, improved transport links and announced she would stand in the Rhondda constituency in the 2016 Welsh General Election.
  • Swiss airline, Helvetic Airways, announced they would leave Cardiff Airport due to low demand. The Welsh Conservatives called on the Welsh Government to reconsider their bid to buy the airport, while Eluned Parrott (Lib Dem, South Wales Central) said that this shows, “the size of the turn around the airport's fortunes.” The Institute of Welsh Affairs called for a reappraisal of the Severnside Airport scheme.
  • The value of Welsh exports fell by almost 30% in the final quarter of 2012 – the lowest quarterly figures since 2008. Most of the fall was accounted to falls in steel and petrochemicals output. Shadow Business Minister, Nick Ramsay (Con, Monmouth) described it as “deeply worrying.”
  • Chief Dental Officer, David Thomas, launched the Welsh Government's five year National Oral Health Plan. Although the numbers of children with tooth decay had fallen by 6% on 2007-08, he said the numbers were still “too high” at 41% of children.
  • Business Minister Edwina Hart announced a biosciences hub would be based in Cardiff Bay, as she launched a £100million biosciences fund. One of the first investments was £4million in wound healing research, which has been identified as a “niche speciality”.
  • Ken Skates AM (Lab, Clwyd South) called for local television stations to be scrapped following lack of interest in a Swansea-based station. He suggested the money be used on other media instead.
  • Unemployment in Wales rose by 7,000 in the three months to January 2013 to 125,000 - or 8.4%. Unemployment across the UK rose by 7,000 with falls in job seekers allowance claimants but a big rise in youth unemployment.
  • An extra £104million over the next two years was made available to the Welsh Government as part of the UK Chancellor's 2013 budget. An extra £161million was made available for capital expenditure, however revenue funds were cut by £57million. First Minister Carwyn Jones was derided by the Welsh Conservatives for dabbling in “casino economics” for suggesting the UK borrow more and reverse spending cuts.
  • Mortality statistics for Welsh hospitals were released to the public, and showed 11 hospitals (of 17) had higher than average mortality rates, with 5 of 6 major local health boards having a mortality rate above average overall. Officials described it as a “fire alarm”, while smaller, rural hospitals up for reconfiguration experienced mortality rates lower than larger hospitals.
  • First Minister Carwyn Jones told the Welsh Labour conference that although his party were in a strong position, they shouldn't ignore changing and adapting, including a devolution settlement that would “stand the test of time”. He defended NHS reorganisations, saying that the real threat to the NHS was believing that there was “no need for change”.
  • The McKay Commission recommended that MPs from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could have their roles limited when it comes to legislation that only affects England or EnglandandWales. It's hoped this will help address the “West Lothian Question.”
  • Plaid Cymru warned, via Freedom of Information requests, that homeless people could be put up in bed and breakfast accommodation when a new “bedroom tax” takes effect. Former Minister for Housing, Huw Lewis, promised to end the use of temporary accommodation in 2011, and the numbers of homeless in B&Bs almost reached zero until homelessness began to rise.
  • A Cardiff University study showed Welsh Baccalaureate holders were 15% less likely to attain a higher-grade degree than those without, however they were more likely to be accepted at a Russell Group university. The Welsh Government said they wanted a more rigorous Welsh Bacc. From 2015.
  • A £400million cut to European structural funds for Wales was reduced to £60million following negotiations in Brussels. The First Minister said he was “disappointed” by the outcome, but pleased that a “fairer settlement” had been delivered. Plaid Cymru MEP, Jill Evans, described it as “devastating news” - though the cuts were less severe than feared.
  • The Welsh Government completed a £52million deal to purchase Cardiff Airport on March 27th. The Welsh Conservatives criticised the “1970s nationalisation” of the airport, while both the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru asked to see more detailed plans.
  • Natural Resources and Food Minister, Alun Davies, said that easing pressure on livestock farmers affected by snowfalls during this month was an “urgent priority” and he was co-ordinating efforts with the Chief Veterinary Officer.

Projects announced in March include : A £4.4million Youth Entrepreneurship Service, a £90million EU investment in super fast broadband in West Wales & The Valleys, a new masterplan for Cardiff city centre, a £4.6million investment in Velindre NHS trust to provide new radiological treatment for lung cancer, a £40million apprenticeship creation scheme (as part of a budget deal between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru), plans for a £650million tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay and the twinning of a Nordic biomedical science research “village” with Wales.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Local Sovereignty VI - Federalism & Oversight

The case for Devolution/Federalism within Wales

I believe power should be as close to communities as possible – within reason - factoring in things like economies of scale. It would be hypocritical of me to support the devolution of more powers to the Assembly, without supporting devolution downwards too.

Some excessively top-down approaches taken by some Welsh ministers towards areas like education and health are wrong in my opinion. That's either through a panicked over eagerness to interfere and micromanage what should be local affairs, or an accountability vacuum where nobody is clear who's in charge of what or who's answerable to who.

Obviously, I don't consider the United Kingdom a "community" at all, and I only consider myself British in cultural terms, not my nationality. As far as I'm concerned the UK is a pointless middleman getting in between Wales – as a nation-state – and Europe as a loose confederation of 27 (28 from this summer) sovereign states working together at continental level.

But looking at examples around the world, there's definitely room for a looser collection of co-operating regions and communities within Wales without threatening national sovereignty or territorial integrity. Federalism is usually an option for nations that:
  • Are geographically large, or have thinly-spread populations.
  • Have a topography/transport network that prevents efficient travel across land.
  • Have strongly self-identifying "regions" or states.
  • Great regional disparity, or spread, in socio-economic terms.
  • Ethnically and/or linguistically diverse.

Except perhaps ethnic diversity, Wales ticks most of the boxes.

As more powers transfer to the Senedd, more powers could transfer to the provinces. Provinces could eventually evolve to include primary law making powers over areas "devolved to them". You wouldn't expect that much legislation to appear - probably a maximum of five or six Bills a term - but it would give regions and communities a significant arsenal to effect change at regional level.

Could North Wales have a different approach to health services than Gwent? Could Glamorgan completely restructure its school curriculum to suit its own needs? Could Dyfed Powys have the power to make new regulations on things like meat standards alone?

There would be obvious disadvantages, like increasing divergence in policy outline above. So what role would the Senedd play in such a situation?

The role of the Senedd

The Senedd should probably retain a very tight
leash on things - at least in the early days.
(Pic : Urban75)
Obviously, in a post-independence scenario, the Senedd would be taking on responsibilities currently reserved to Westminster like defence, welfare and foreign affairs.

In terms of local government, their role could be that of a hands-off overseer. Control over local government – as a power - should remain a "federal matter" in Cardiff. That would include funding, the format of local taxation, the election system as well as the creation and merger of new municipalities and provinces.

They would still have primacy. They could pass legislation preventing the above scenario of diverging regional policy from happening by ensuring a law applies across the whole of Wales. So the Senedd would be able to pass a law preventing any province from reintroducing prescription charges – for example - as long as the Senedd stumps up the cash to pay for it.

Or, equally, they could pass a law allowing the provinces to decide matters like that for themselves - delegated legislation - which I mentioned in Part IV. So there's flexibility there.

There would still, presumably, be a government minister with the responsibility for local government. Their biggest role would be to help set the annual settlement/block grant and help other ministers to determine what secondary legislation should be delegated to the provinces.

The Seneddwr would ensure that the settlement is fair. However, they wouldn't have to deal with any matters that could be dealt with by municipalities or provinces. They won't have to worry about things like the line-by-line accounting of health services. They'll only have to bring it up in the Senedd if they don't believe the provinces are doing a good enough job of it. So, their role would be more legislative, and they would – effectively – act as a second chamber to the provinces and municipalities.

Creating new provinces and municipalities

This would be decided at national level. The new province/municipality would need to meet the same requirements as any other with regard minimum councillors etc. So they would, ideally, need to have at least 50,000 residents within the new boundaries to become a municipality and significantly more to become a province.

The new municipality/province should probably be subject to local referendum approval in the municipalities/provinces affected by the change.

So, for example, if it were proposed to split Powys - as I outlined it - municipality into Montgomeryshire and Brecon & Radnor, it could have to be approved by electors in both, once all the arrangements for elections, council headquarters etc. had been set in place by the Welsh Government.

Local Government Commissioner

Has the time come for a Senedd-appointed, independent
Local Government Commissioner to draw together several powers?
(Pic : BBC Wales)
An independent Local Government Commissioner could be established, and appointed by the Senedd – similar to that of the Welsh Language Commissioner etc. - to replace the the local authority role of the Public Services Ombudsman.

They could have the power to :
  • Review code of conduct complaints regarding elected members and officials.
  • Handle complaints from members of the public and whistle-blowers relating to local government services that haven't been cleared up satisfactorily.
  • Help the Wales Audit Office audit the non-financial aspects of local government services (i.e governance & service delivery).
  • Review the effectiveness of primary local government legislation, provincial legislation and byelaws.
  • Provide an annual report to the Senedd.
You could probably fold in the role of the Local Government Boundary Commission too – setting the boundaries for municipal councils and provincial assemblies.


Changes on this scale would impact the likes of the WLGA. They would need to rethink their own structures to match the new one. I think they should probably drop all influence on policy, and let individual cantrefi, municipalities and provinces deal with matters relating to national policy on a government-to-government basis.

However, they could set up a "Mayors Association" under its umbrella to act as a national forum for mayors, a "Provincial Assembly Members Association" to act similarly for provincial AMs etc. They could also continue to provide training and support for elected members and local government officials. I think that sort of role could be expanded upon, perhaps involving universities too.

They could also form part of an arbitration services for disputes between varying local authorities, as well as help co-ordinate things like introducing secondary legislation in all provinces at the same time, or collaboration in service delivery.

Election Timetables

Should provincial elections serve as the most important
"mid term" elections in relation to the Senedd?
(Pic : South Wales Argus)
I'm in favour of fixed four year terms, not five as it seems the Conservatives and Lib Dems are. There would be five elections to consider – Senedd, European Parliament, Provincial Assemblies, Municipal Councils and Municipal mayors.

European Parliament elections take place every five years anyway, so it's hard to fit the others around it. Though if another election clashes with a European one, they should probably take place on the same day.

Provincial Assembly elections should take place half-way through a Senedd term, to act as the major "mid term election".

In terms of a six-year "cycle", you could look at:

Year 1 – European Parliament
Year 2 – Senedd
Year 3 – Municipal Councils & Mayors
Year 4 – Provincial Assemblies
Year 5 – No election (window for elected head of state - President or Tywysog(es))
Year 6 – Senedd & European Parliament (same day)

"Westminster" I hear you say. What is this "Westminster?"

National Standards

A Local Government Constitutional Charter

There could be a new template for constitutions and standing orders drawn up and negotiated nationally, and then approved at the first meeting of each new municipal council and provincial assembly.

This would include things relating to declaring interests, employment of relatives, the general rules regarding setting up committees, legal and financial arrangements and management structures. This would mean every council and province would have exactly the same rules as each other. Modifications to the constitution should be applied nationally – probably through negotiation - not on a council by council basis.

Transparency & Open Government

Broadcasting municipal & provincial sessions - Whole council, provincial assembly and committee meetings should be broadcast as standard, with either a full transcription or minutes provided promptly – perhaps within 7 days of a meeting.

Voting records – Voting should be recorded and results revealed in full, including who voted for what as well as abstentions.

Absolute privilege – Councillors and provincial AMs should have absolute privilege relating to anything they say in the chamber or a committee. Perhaps that should extend to any matter relating to their work - including social media and personal websites. That means they can't be sued for defamation under any circumstances. This currently only applies to the Assembly, courts & inquiries, certain public officials and Westminster. It should apply to local councils too.

In my opinion, it could even be extended to the public, or some sort of "public interest clause". Anything put out on public record – for example, modifications to council constitutions in relation to libel actions – should be allowed to be interpreted any way a member of the public wants it to be.

If someone believes that action to be corrupt, they should be able to say so as a qualified privilege under freedom of speech – subject to a right of reply - as a council endorsed that decision.

Modify "commercial sensitivity" – I can understand why things are kept off the record for this reason. However, selective redaction of names, addresses, company names and personal information could be used instead. Replacing company and supplier names with "Company A" for example. Anything involving the use of public funds should be made public as a matter of principle. It's the figures and reasoning behind decisions that matter, not who does it really.

Whistle blowing – This could be done via the Local Government Commissioner, as outlined above, to avoid involving senior council employees in the process to prevent possible harassment, job losses or persecution. It should be open to be used by both employees, elected members and concerned members of the public – dependant on some sort of evidence being provided. Identities of the people involved should be protected until any formal investigation begins. Malicious accusations probably should result in some sort of reprimand.

Other services

Local referenda – I've suggested municipalities and provinces should be able to hold local referenda on issues that fall within their jurisdiction. The problem is that a referendum can be as expensive to hold as an ordinary election. The decision to hold a referendum could be taken exclusively by the relevant legislature/mayor etc., or there could be a way for the public to raise signatures calling for a referendum on a specific issue. Perhaps that should be 10% of the electorate in a province, municipality etc.

Welsh language services – The provinces should operate bilingually as standard in the same way the Senedd does. At municipal level, I think it would be fair to have some leeway, some could even operate with Welsh as the first/working language – like Gwynedd does at the moment.

The real question is the cantrefi. You wouldn't expect full translation services, but the scenario could arise of someone – quite rightly – speaking in Welsh, with attendees or guests not understanding what they're saying.

I think this depends on where you are in Wales. A cantref in Y Fro might only/mainly use Welsh, while a cantref in Monmouthshire might not even translate a website. Again, there's probably room for flexibility, but clerks in areas with a sizable minority of Welsh-speakers (20%+) should probably be employed on the basis of being bilingual, providing ad lib translation when required.

"Fair use" in cantrefi summonses – As I mentioned in Part II, cantrefi could have the power to summons elected representatives to appear before them. There would need to be "fair use" guidelines. Seneddwr and MEPs should probably only be expected to turn up to perhaps one cantref meeting a month, or less, when there's a matter of particular importance discussed. Meanwhile, you would expect local councillors to attend as many as possible, with provincial AMs somewhere in between.

Cantrefi could also be expected to refrain from "badgering" politicians. If they say no, and write a statement instead, that should be good enough.

Management structures

Internal promotion and fast tracking – ....of management roles within local and provincial government. Talented civilian managers should come from within, not be appointed from the outside. Obviously, with directly-elected mayors there would be no point of going through the expense of hiring new chief executives every few years. We should, eventually, expect management-level staff in local government to have some sort of public administration qualification from a Welsh university, or to have gone through some kind of civil service academy. Those with these levels of experience could be fast-tracked into more senior positions.

"One department, one manager" - Local government gives the impression of being top heavy in terms on management-level personnel. You have departments headed by a director. That instantly splits into "service areas" – headed by another manager. That splits into various specialises areas – headed by another manager, supported by line managers. Each of them might be expected to have their own support and administration staffas well as team leaders.

I think this causes confusion about who's actually in charge of what. If some area of local government is important enough to have a director, then they should be the sole manager of that department, only supported by team leaders. Management is important, and good management is even more important. But would you choose one executive assistant director on a six-figure salary, or four newly-qualified social workers?

"Ban the Boss" – Back in 2010, Dr Paul Thomas from Glamorgan University worked with Blaenau Gwent Council's recycling, waste collection and mechanics teams for a BBC Wales documentary where he "got rid" of the managers.

I don't think we'd need to go that far, but is it such a ridiculous suggestion that workers might know more about their job, and might be able to take better working decisions than managers would?

It's ingrained in Welsh culture to want someone else to give the orders. That's what we're used to. It means that good suggestions on working practices might end up being ignored because "managers know better". That's why I would prefer more internal promotions in local government - especially getting front-line staff who show some initiative into management roles - rather than parachuting in "professional managers" who know about management, but perhaps very little about their department brief.

There's a clear difference between good and bad management, and I'm not saying get rid of all managers. You would still need some administrative oversight, and someone who can report to the mayors, committees, provincial governments etc. But those "middle management" roles in local government probably could be replaced with workers taking more decisions for themselves – including things like work schedules, some aspects of procurement and on the fly decision making.

What would each tier of local government represent?

A summary of the whole bloody thing.
It probably would've saved me a lot of time just to post this.
(Click to enlarge)
Cantrefi Self-reliant, autonomous communities. Cantrefi would encourage political participation through direct democracy. They should aim to give communities some sense of ownership and control over their own direction. The broader aim should be for communities to know – through participation in their cantref meetings – that they really can influence both politicians and public officials themselves, as well as help shape and direct some services that directly impact them at neighbourhood/community level.

MunicipalitiesLocal figureheads. This should be a first step onto the ladder for aspiring full-time politicians to allow them to gain political experience. Through directly-elected mayors, you not only can provide much greater visible accountability in the delivery of key local services, but also provide a much leaner management structure. Long-serving, competent mayors could become national leaders at some point, with enough of a track record behind them to perhaps improve delivery at national or provincial level as governors, party leaders or even prime ministers.

ProvincesEconomies of scale, and greater scrutiny in the delivery of key public services. Provinces would provide a democratic legitimacy instead of what are, currently, unelected boards by patronage and appointment. Provinces would take some of the pressure off national-level politicians through delegating powers downwards. Provincial politics would provide a thorough schooling in legislation, budgeting, scrutiny and managing big government departments for those who would one day like to be in the Senedd or European Parliament. It would hopefully improve the quality of legislators and ministers by giving them nowhere to hide, and encouraging them - and parties - to think strategically, not parochially.


I realise it's been a slog wading through all that. This was a brutal, energy-sapping undertaking even by my standards. My brain almost exploded at several points and, as you might expect, my four months of on-off work will inevitably be fruitless. Such is life, I'm used to that anyway. The reason posts like this are so long is so I can cover all the bases and keep contradictions to a minimum.

If my brain hasn't fried, and if I can be bothered to keep going, my next in-depth blogs will be on the press, media and broadcasting for this summer/autumn. Goody. I'll also have a two-part special (as a prelude to Welsh foreign policy in 2014 – shoot me now) in May or June.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to lie down.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Local Sovereignty V - Finance

Someone has to pay for all this. Could there be alternative
ways to collect local taxes, or alternative local taxes themselves?
(Pic : The Telegraph)

Next, it's probably the dullest (ho! ho!), but most important issue – financing local government and issues around fiscal auditing and borrowing.

This is, admittedly, the trickiest part. I can't make any projections for the amounts of money involved (in most cases), I'm just coming up with possible starting points and estimates. It's for someone else with more experience to determine that.

Funding and phasing any reforms

Would reforms as extensive as ones I've outlined -
especially the creation of provinces/provincial
assemblies - require a referendum?
(Pic : BBC Wales)
When local government reforms are approached in the future, what we'll probably end up with are mergers of existing local authorities into 8-12 unitary authorities. So we're probably going to get reorganisation on the cheap without any real reforms to structures, elections and practices.

The cost of establishing everything I've outlined would likely run into tens of millions of pounds – especially the provinces. However, it might not be as bad as I'm making out, it could even lead to some cost savings on a department by department basis.

Everything – down to desk level – would need to be carefully planned and set in place several years before reforms came into effect. That's why I'm suggested setting things like constitutions nationally (Part VI), so it can all come into force at the same time, and all the new authorities would have a rough idea what was required beforehand.

Firstly, any local government reform on this scale would require extensive primary legislation – perhaps even requiring a referendum, as you would be massively altering the constitution. So, all these ideas are largely dependent upon independence or devolution of the correct powers.

In terms of getting things sorted on the ground, in order of precedence:

Making good use of existing buildings and estates should
help reduce the costs of splitting municipalities and creating
provincial governments & assemblies.
(Pic : BBC Wales)
Setting out a new management framework – This would include deciding how many management roles would be required in every department (more on this in Part VI) and where mayors and provincial governments would fit into this.

Transferring assets between cantrefi, municipalities & provinces – Deciding where the legislatures would be based, where provincial government departments would be based and what assets would fall under whose "jurisdiction". For example, if the existing Caerphilly Council split into Caerphilly and Islwyn – Caerphilly municipal council could be based at Ystrad Mynach, while Islwyn at the council offices in Pontllanfraith. There's no real need to go about building new HQs and offices, just making good use of existing property.

Financial and legal arrangements – Tax collection and administration, and formal transfers of things like property, indemnities and debts.

Non-executive staff – Transferring "front line" staff between authorities depending on who's in control of what. Social services staff would transfer to provinces, planning staff to municipalities etc. Where they would be based and who they would report to would be decided beforehand, as stated above. It's likely though that they would continue to be based wherever they are currently. For example, there would still be social services teams based in Bridgend I'd imagine, even if it were controlled by a provincial government based elsewhere. I presume it worked like that with the old county councils.

Democratic services – Preparing services for elected members, including sorting out office equipment, debating chambers, broadcasting equipment etc.

Abolishing associated public bodies – i.e Local Health Boards and transferring their powers to the relevant local authority (in the case of LHBs, Provincial Governments), to come into force following local elections.

First elections – Establishing cantrefi and appointing clerks; municipal, mayoral and provincial elections.

Rebranding, communications and online presence – Self-explanatory.

Maybe there's a few things in there I've missed out too, including sorting things out like Welsh language services. I'll come back to that next time.

The cantrefi would be simple to set up I'd imagine – perhaps via legislation – with costs for running existing community councils passed to them. It might prove cheaper than community councils if you only have to cover venue hire, certain equipment and paying clerks etc. The biggest upfront cost would be the process of getting people to register with the clerk to sort out voting cards.

Taxes & Precepts

Local Government should be responsible for raising some of its income. Now I'm going to go through some of the options that could be used to continue, improve or reform aspects of this.

Property Taxes

Council Tax – Kept how it is, with 9 bands (A-I) based on the value of property. You could have a single council tax rate, with the income split between provinces and municipalities.You would expect the provinces to take a larger chunk due to the increased responsibilities. You would probably expect council tax rates to be set province-wide too.

Here's an example of the sorts of figures you would be dealing with, depending on the split between provinces and municipalities. So if there were a 60:40 split in favour of the province in Glamorgan, based on 2011-12 tax take, the province would get £192.3million and the seven municipalities a combined £130.2million.

Projected Council Tax incomes based on various ratios between
municipalities and provinces.
(Click to enlarge)

Hybrid Council Tax rates for municipalities and provinces
– Provinces would set a rate for Band D, municipalities would set a Band D rate too. They would then combine to a single council tax bill. This would enable much greater flexibility, but without proper co-ordination, you could end up with some council tax bills going through the roof.

Stamp Duty Land Tax - This could be controlled and set at a local level, taking local property prices into consideration rather than catch-all national ones. I loath stamp duty though, and think it should be scrapped, ideally.

Land Value Tax (LVT) – A tax on the value of the land itself, not anything built on it. Health Minister Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West) is probably the most vocal proponent for it in Wales. He quotes a study from Scotland that suggests a LVT of 3.16p per £1 of land would generate enough money to replace both council tax and business rates.

Would a Land Value Tax enourage landowners to develop vacant
and dereleict sites, as well as prevent "land banking"?
(Pic : BBC Wales)

This would be eminently fairer, but I doubt LVT would raise a significant amount of revenues by itself in Wales though. However, it might encourage development of fallow land, effectively eliminate "land banking" and allow the public at large to take advantage of rises in land values as the result of infrastructure/"desirable" development.

Hybrid of LVT & a Property Tax – Would probably raise a similar level of income as council tax and business rates but ease some burdens. Some cities in Pennsylvania use this approach, with a higher rate on land, and a lower rate for whatever's built on it.

Business & Income Taxes

Non Domestic Rates – No change to the current system, with money raised and retained (by the provinces or the Welsh Government) then redistributed back, perhaps with a similar split between provinces and municipalities as I suggested for council tax.

Local Sales Tax
– Set VAT nationally at 15%, then allow provinces to raise and retain an additional rate on top of that, perhaps up to 5%. It might be fairer as it would be based on consumption and ability to pay rather than property values. This would require independence as VAT rates have to be the same within an EU member state.

Local Income Tax
- Long-term phasing out of council tax. The problem with this is that, as discovered in Scotland, it might not raise as much as council tax. Income taxes overall would likely have to be much higher to fill the shortfalls.


Policing and fire services precepts could continue to be set by the provinces. Specific/hypothecated precepts could be raised to fund specific services. For example, municipalities could raise a "leisure precept", provinces a "social services precept". This might give the public a better idea of how money is spent at a local level, but it would limit flexibility.

As I said in Part II, cantrefi could continue to raise funds through a dedicated precept as existing community councils do. The cantrefi treasurer would likely decide what level of precept was needed, as well as how that could be spent, and that would go to the meetings for debate and votes.

If the community decided they, for example, needed to raise £25,000 towards an improved road crossing, the treasurer could propose to raise the equivalent amount on the precept – net of any sort of grants or money carried over. It would be down to attendees to decide whether to approve that or not. The process of drawing up budgets at cantrefi level would likely be a year-round process as a result, which might keep people interested.

Fines and Charges

Could local authorities have much greater flexibility in
setting things like fines, as well as charges for services?
(Pic :
Depending on whose jurisdiction it falls under, I'm in favour of giving local authorities much greater flexibility in setting fines and charges. Municipalities should have the complete freedom to set things like parking fines, car park charges, dog fouling and fly-tipping fines. Provinces could set fines for things like smoking on hospital grounds or hospital car park charges (or even keep them free).

They could set the fines artificially low to generate income as much as discourage behaviour (but that would require more civil enforcement), or they could set them higher to discourage certain behaviours outright. I don't think this should extend to setting prison sentences, but the fines could be unlimited or have a high cap.

As these would count as byelaws or secondary legislation it would be down to the respective legislature to approve/amend and proposals, or even throw them out completely.

Of course, the Senedd could still pass primary legislation to cap charges for things like social care, or still set prescription fees/keep them free, even if health and social care were provincial responsibilities. It would be down to the Senedd to fund those things though, and make up any differences.

Borrowing Powers

Would something like Tax Increment Financing (TIF) enable
borrowing to pay for big developments, whist ensuring that
they remain commercially "deliverable"?
(Pic :
Local authorities already have borrowing powers, something the Welsh Government may not have for several years yet. Maybe now you'll see how small time and ridiculous the Silk Part I recommendations actually were.

I don't think there's any need for major alterations here. "Prudential (unsupported) borrowing" could continue as it is, but expanded to include both municipalities and provinces. "Supported borrowing" – usually led at national level – could also continue, but I would like to see the rules tightened so it can only be spent on significant capital projects.

Maybe there's an argument for giving local authorities a bit more freedom in borrowing – for example, tax increment finance (TIF), where the cost of borrowing is based on future tax revenues that could go up as the result of a capital investment.

For example, a municipality could borrow money to build a new multi-story car park next to a failing shopping centre, and pay off the borrowing through gains in business taxes brought about by extra trade.

Borrowing powers for cantrefi would likely be via "social interest/investment loans" – for example, to help maintain/improve a local business, social enterprise or to help cover the cost of a small capital outlay. It would be sensible to have a stringent cap on the amount of debt cantrefi can carry – probably a low six figure sum, based on the tax base and the population. Any businesses/assets the cantrefi owns would be at risk should they fail to keep up with repayments.

Local government should probably also have more flexibility in moving funds between revenue and capital expenditure.

A Welsh "Barnett Formula"

Only part of local government finance would be raised via taxation – even with the measures outlined above. Budgets for things like health services would need to be transferred from the Senedd as part of a settlement or block grant, which is effectively what happens now  with Local Health Boards.

It would be fair to base the block grants given to provinces on relative need – similar to the formula the Welsh Government already use to determine the annual settlements.

I think it's reasonable that provinces and municipalities also retain a set amount of tax income they raise, only putting up a certain amount for redistribution. That could be between 25-50% for something like business rates, which was one of the recommendations in the recent review.

It's also worth pointing out that the provinces would have multi-billion pound budgets, which might provide flexibility in itself to a certain extent. Glamorgan provinces' budget, for example, one you add finance/block grants for things like policing to health, social services and education could easily be £3-4billion+


Pay ratios linking the lowest paid to the highest paid have
been mooted for the public sector before - but at 14-20:1.
Is that way too high? Should elected members be included?
(Pic : South Wales Argus)
Pay caps

Pay for executives (including mayors and provincial government ministers) should be linked, by ratio, to the lowest paid. Hopefully this would discouraging the practice of executives trying to push through mega-bonuses and pay rises for themselves. It might also encourage the widespread introduction of a "living wage" (~£7 per hour).

In terms of what that ratio should be, you would probably need to base it on responsibilities. Those at national level would deserve to be paid more than those as local level due to the relative demands of the job. So I would suggest an 8:1 ratio for municipalities, 10:1 for provinces and 12:1 for national institutions like the Senedd.

So, for example, the lowest paid employee at a municipality could be earning the equivalent of 37 hours a week at (2012) minimum wage (£11,910). The mayor – as highest paid employee in municipal government – would earn at most £95,280 per annum. Officers working below them would probably be one or two steps down (£71,460-£83,370 per annum).

A provincial governor would probably earn around £119,000 per year, while the Prime Minister of an independent Wales would earn at most £142,920 per annum. (Carwyn Jones' current salary is ~£133,000 per year).

The total cost of executive pay, currently, amongst the 22 chief executives is at least £3.26million, based on an average £148,000 salary. 29 directly-elected mayors earning full whack on what I propose would cost £2.74million in comparison.

However, you also have to factor in that many executive and managerial posts could go through rationalisation of management arrangements. The cost of laying people off in higher-earning positions would likely wipe out any savings here.

Members' pay

Things like this should continue to be decided via a Remuneration Panel. However, with a new system there would be an opportunity to start with a clean slate.

Mayors would be a 24-hour, full-time role. They should be remunerated appropriately and should be the highest paid staff member in the municipalities (as outlined above). That puts their salary at at least £95,000 per year.

Municipal councillors could still be paid a salary. There might even be a case – if there were significantly fewer councillors – of the salary being higher than now, perhaps around the £16,000 mark citing Scotland. This might make being a councillor a more attractive option for younger politicians seeking to gain experience before moving "up the ladder". You could probably include cantrefi clerks in this too. However, there would be no more "senior salaries" as there would no longer be any "senior councillors" – only the mayor.

If there were a minimum of 774 municipal councillors, based on what I'm suggesting, the total cost of their salaries would be at least £12.4million per annum. The current cost of local councillors salaries (£13,175 x 1,264) is around £16.7million.

Provincial Government Commissioners, like mayors, would be a full time role. The Governor should be the highest paid member of provincial staff (earning around £119,000 as outlined above). Commissioners could be a step down – the same as a senior civil servant – and could earn around £83,300 per annum. Based on an average 8 cabinet members in four provinces, the total cost of "executive member" pay would be around £2.8million per year.

Provincial Assembly members, like municipal councillors, could be paid a salary, but it could be higher than a municipal councillor due to the extra responsibilities. They should probably earn at least twice the salary of the lowest paid employee, so around £23,820 per annum. Total cost - £4.2million per annum. So the total cost of the provincial elected members, based on this, would be at least £7million per annum.

It's worth pointing out that there would no longer be things like Local Health Board chairs, executives and independent members – as they would be supplanted by provincial AMs and the Provincial Health Commissioners. Executive/departmental directors would still exist, but there would be justifiably fewer of them (only 4 provinces v 7 regional LHBs).


Nope. Standard class only on the public purse?
(Pic :
Expenses for municipal councillors should be restricted to mileage and sustenance only, with varying rates depending on the size of the municipality (i.e. it's justified to pay councillors in Cardiff less mileage than Powys). However, the municipality could provide services (i.e. office equipment) as a privilege to elected members as long as it's provided to every councillor.

A similar system could operate for provincial AMs too. Provincial AMs shouldn't really need to run a constituency office, so they wouldn't be able to claim for things like support staff. Again, expenses should be restricted to mileage and sustenance.

Elected members with additional responsibilities (i.e chairing committees, presiding officer) should get a top-up to their salaries reflect that, but nothing too extravagant.

In terms of officers and senior elected officials, they should have a wider range of things to claim expenses for - including things like hospitality - but should be expected to be "prudent". That means an expectation to travel by standard class and stay in budget hotels, for example.

Like the Assembly, claimed expenses should be published as standard, with appropriate details provided – perhaps including brief details for the reason for claiming. Hopefully this would discourage...."extravagance."


I think where there are exceptional performances there should be some way to award bonuses. This refers to senior civil servants, not elected members. Those bonuses should be capped – perhaps at 5% of annual salary – and only awarded on the basis that "good things" verifiably happened as a result of their management.

That could be things like a very successful turnaround in poor departmental finances, significantly exceeding expectations in service delivery within their respective department etc. They should never be awarded because it's "expected" or to get around pay freezes. All bonuses should probably be run by the Remuneration Panel to see if they're merited.

For example, no senior civil servant in charge of the Welsh economy over the last 20-30 years should receive a bonus of any kind. However, those in charge of the environment – in particular things like recycling – probably would deserve one.

Local Government Pensions

Some local government jobs are physically demanding
and warrant a lower retirement age. But should early retirement
for office-based workers be scrapped?
(Pic : BBC Wales)
Local Government pensions in England, Wales and Scotland are currently managed by the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). This included councillors as well as local government employees. It's currently said to have around 4.6million members.

It's "opt-in", and recent reforms to it announced by the UK Government are reported to be causing increasing "opt outs" by local government employees as employee and employer contributions are set to increase, making the scheme less attractive.

Currently you can retire at 60, or even 55 in some cases under the scheme. The obvious change here would be to raise it to the state retirement age (68 by 2046). However, you need to remember that some local government work – highways, school canteens, waste management – will be physically demanding and warrant an earlier retirement age (like fire fighters, military and police). So maybe you could allow early retirement – especially to encourage older, longer-serving councillors to move on - or taper payments so they increase with increasing longevity.

So there should be some leeway there, but admittedly I don't know enough to make a proper judgement. It should probably be left the way it is.

One thing I would say though, is that Welsh public sector pension funds in general should – ideally – be invested in Welsh communities. I don't mean white elephants, but things like stakes in growth businesses, energy schemes or investments in things like co-operative housing. Everyone wins – on paper.

The Collective Entrepreneur said that the 8 largest public sector pension funds had up to £6billion under its management. It suggested creating an "All Wales Pension Fund" (presumably public sector). That would have significant clout and could be used like other pension funds around the world to invest in big projects, along the lines of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, for example.

Auditing Local Government Finance

I've said before, that one area of local government scrutiny that's generally at a high standard are budgets. I covered Bridgend's budget last month, and the information provided to councillors and committees to scrutinise was quite detailed. Sadly, that's not the same for the National Assembly (by and large).

One complaint raised by AMs recently is that, on things like the health budget – the largest area of public spending in devolved Wales - they only have one line in the budget documents to scrutinise ("Delivery of Core Services"). All of the micromanagement is done by the Local Health Boards, so you end up with 7-10 different budgets dealt with behind closed doors. AMs are left sucking their thumbs, while the Health Minister can say, "It's a matter for the Local Health Board."

If health services were provided by the provincial governments (Part IV), you would expect provincial AMs to go through health budgets line by line, taking over the role of the existing LHBs. It would all be done on the public record, with a democratic mandate behind it.

So, I don't think there's much of a problem at "municipal" level, the issue is in those unofficial tiers of government between the Senedd and unitary authorities.

Public bodies – including local authorities - already have to submit accounts to the Wales Audit Office (WAO) annually, and that's been strengthened/reformed by the Public Audit Act which is currently awaiting Royal Assent.

This could continue and include cantrefi too. The reduction in the number of public bodies by folding them into the provincial tier of government might make the whole process easier, but I don't think it would make that much of a difference to the structure or running of the WAO at all.

Almost there! The sixth and - you'll be pleased to hear – final part, will look at the constitutional framework, as well as "national standards" (i.e transparency, oversight, role of the Senedd) and what each level of local government would try to represent and engender.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Local Sovereignty IV - The Province

The concept of "regions" isn't new in Wales. However,
arguments over their form and nature often lead to tribalism.
How do you reconcile the two when it comes to local government?
(Pic : The Guardian)

This part will look at government at a regional level, mainly to provide economies of scale in key public services currently provided by 22 smaller unitary authorities.

City Regions & Local Government

Towns like Pontypridd are clearly part of a wider hinterland
surrounding Cardiff. Do they need separate local governments
for areas like education, health and social services?
(Pic : Capita Symonds)
City regions are defined, largely, as areas dominated by one particular urban area, supported by or heavily connected to, smaller settlements outlying it. The obvious city region in Wales would be a "Greater Cardiff" area encompassing Cardiff itself, Newport, the Vale of Glamorgan and most of the south Wales valleys. There's also one around Swansea, encompassing Llanelli, Port Talbot and Neath.

"City region"
has become a buzzword down Cardiff Bay – associated with economic development. Although Business Minister Edwina Hart (Lab, Gower) and various academics have worked on the plans to some extent, I don't think there's been enough consideration given to the political aspects of this.

The problem with treating city regions in isolation (for economic development) is that it leaves vast swathes of the country – poorer, sparsely populated rural areas - outside the loop. Agglomeration (focusing services onto smaller, densely populated areas) is economically sensible, but in Wales it would be a potential disaster. We would risk creating a "them and us" in policy areas like economic development and even extending into transport, culture, and eventually basic public services. It's already starting in health.

Why is this relevant to the debate on local government? Well, one of the main complaints about Welsh local government is too many authorities. But if people are reluctant to lose local control over some things, then we're probably going to have to create a tier of government between national (Welsh) and local (Part III) level to amalgamate "big ticket", "high-spending" services to provide that strategic, regional approach on things like economic development.

It'll also need to be politically accountable to be legitimate, not regional "mega-quangos" like Local Health Boards.

Introducing the Welsh Provinces

Scepticism over Westminster "divide and rule" with
a tier of Welsh regional government is warranted. Could we
borrow something from the Dutch and
Canadians to address it.
(Pic : Wikipedia)
A few months ago, Conservative European Parliament researcher, Iwan Benneyworth, proposed 4 "Regional Parliaments" - based on existing police force areas - each with devolved responsibilities. An appointed independent 30-member "Senate" in Cardiff would act as second chamber for the regions.

This approach effectively neuters the one major "national" political institution – the National Assembly. Wales would – in political entity terms - border on ceaseing to exist, with seemingly total oversight from the Welsh Secretary. Colonial partition then. As we know, the UK has a brilliant historical track record of making that work.

However, within the context of an independent Wales, or confederal UK – with the maintenance of a primary law making "federal" Senedd - I think this would have legs. The concept of devolving functions up from local authorities, but not all the way up to the Assembly, is something that might make political and economic sense.

This could be a case of great minds thinking alike, or we're (more likely) just equally deluded.

I don't think it would be fair to call them city regions/regions, as the urban areas that make up the cities are rather small. I think a balance would be to call them "provinces" ("talaith"/"taleithiau") – in line with Ireland's ceremonial provinces, Canada or the Netherlands.

In terms of government and political embodiment of the province, I'm going to propose something modelled on the National Assembly that existed from 1999-2006. So it's not strictly a return of two-tier local government, more like devolution within Welsh borders.

Creating Provinces

Templates for a possible tier of regional government.
(Click to enlarge)
There are a few things to keep in mind in deciding how Wales could be divided into regions/provinces.
  • Ensure each province has a similar population (within reason).
  • Keep them few in number to create true economies of scale.
  • Aim to keep the four major urban areas (Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, Wrexham) separate to avoid tribal arguments over political priorities and urban dominance.
  • Use templates that people identify with already – be they cultural or in terms of public services.

There are plenty of existing structures you could use to base them on.
One template I've excluded from this are Assembly electoral regions. I'd like to think those regions would become redundant if there was a move towards wholescale proportional representation at Senedd level anyway.

The four police force areas are the obvious place to start. People recognise them, and they already have a political embodiment via PCCs. The problem is that South Wales is too populous, and you should try and keep Swansea separate from Cardiff. The fire authorities are similar, but 3 might be too few in number and South Wales is still too big.

There are simply too many Local Health Boards to create a proper "middle tier" of government between national and local level. They might be a good template to base fewer unitary authorities on though. The same goes for the twelve NUTS 3 areas.

The transport consortia areas are more logical, and would probably be my preferred template. However, the "Central Wales" area would be too sparsely populated to provide an economy of scale – it would have to be linked in to another region/province somehow.

A "Three Wales Model" (with Pembrokeshire moved to Y Fro) would, as Adam Price mused lately, make cultural sense, but it would be impractical in terms of creating political institutions that could represent as vast swathes of the country as these.

My own proposal

The four proud provinces of Wales?
(Click to enlarge)
Judging by the templates above – and throwing the Assembly electoral regions into the mix – there's clearly justification for creating a "North Wales" and a "Gwent". The problem is dividing the rest of Wales up – namely keeping Swansea and Cardiff separate.

So, I'm going to use the Mid & West Wales Fire Authority borders to create a "Dyfed-Powys" province (including Swansea and Neath Port Talbot), and the rest could become "Glamorgan".

So that's four prospective provinces, with four major urban areas kept separate.

There would be the opportunity to create new provinces at some point too. The obvious examples would be:
  • "Swansea Bay" including Swansea, Llanelli, NPT and Bridgend
  • Central Wales (Ceredigion and Powys)
  • Splitting North Wales into the old Gwynedd & Clwyd
  • A Cardiff province/federal district/Cardiff-Newport
  • A "Valleys" province

Obviously these new provinces would need a new political institution. I'm going to opt for "Provincial Assembly".

Each province could have their own flag/symbols and their own designated HQ based at an existing local government or Welsh Government complex.

I think they should be based outside the largest settlements and as centrally as possible. So, Glamorgan's Provincial Assembly, for example, could be based at the Welsh Government's Merthyr Tydfil offices, or somewhere like Talbot Green.

Provincial Assemblies

Each Provincial Assembly would be modelled on the Senedd – so a unicameral legislature, made up of Provincial Assembly Members (AMs), headed by a Provincial Government.

Powers and Role

A potential headquarters for the North Wales
Provincial Government & Assembly?
(Pic : Wales Online)
  • Strategic Planning – Developing medium-term spatial and land use plans, with input from Cantrefi (Part II), Municipalities (Part III) and the Welsh Government.
  • Health Services – The current role of Local Health Boards and Community Health Councils.
  • Education Services – The current role of Local Education Authorities (not including Universities).
  • Social & Youth Services
  • Environmental Health, Building & Trading Standards
  • Economic Development & Regeneration – Perhaps including more control over things like European funds.
  • Policing – The current role of Police and Crime Commissioners and Police and Crime Panels.
  • Fire & Rescue Services – The current role of Fire Service Authorities.
  • Public Transport – Not including running/regulating railways or airports. I mean bus services and possibly light rail. They could also adopt the role and function of the existing transport consortia, bidding for Welsh Government/Rail Authority funding for transport projects (i.e. a new railway station).
  • Highways – Acting as strategic highways authorities. Perhaps trunk roads within their jurisdiction could be included as well.
  • Emergency Planning – Co-ordinate plans with other bodies at a regional/strategic level.
  • National Parks (where applicable) – The current role of National Parks Authorities

So, all those regional associated bodies that are currently made up of local councillors and other appointed members/executives would be scrapped and folded into the Provincial Assemblies.

Other powers could be devolved to them over time, areas like : tourism, energy, universities, environment etc.

Secondary Legislation

Like the original National Assembly, the Provincial Assemblies could be able to draw up, approve and amend things like :
  • Rules and regulations
  • Orders/Statutory Instruments
  • Legislation delegated to them by the Senedd
Provinces could have powers over secondary legislation
within its areas of competence, deciding how primary
legislation would work in practice.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

So, for example, Provincial Assemblies will be able to set rules and regulations for things like school transport, school meals, term dates (education services), behaviour in hospitals, hospital car park charges (health services) fees and charges for social services (social & youth services) speed limits on indivdual roads (highways) and in any area explicitly "devolved" to them.

Like municipalities, they should be able to hold referenda on issues relating to devolved areas.

However, all primary law making power – Bills and Acts - would remain with the National Assembly, which would, I'm suggesting, be known as the "Senedd" and current AMs as "Seneddwr", which translates as Senator/Parliamentarian.

So, this would be "devolution", not "federalism". However, it could form the foundation to the move to a federal model within Wales post-independence. More on that in Part VI.

How many (provincial) AMs would we need?

This is trickier to answer than that of municipalities. I'd envisage the role of a Provincial Assemblies being similar to that of a "hybrid" federal legislature in the United States. That means it would neither qualify as full-time or part-time.

Due to the nature of the powers "devolved" to the provinces, you would need a minimum level of scrutiny by the legislature. However, there aren't so many powers that you would need more AMs that we currently have in the Senedd.

So I'm going to suggest : 1 Provincial AM per 15,000 people (as a rough guide) but a maximum of 60 AMs per province.

That means, in terms of the four provinces I proposed :
  • Dyfed Powys – 60 AMs (1 : 14,807 people)
  • Glamorgan – 60 AMs (1 : 14,816)
  • North Wales – 46AMs (1 : 14,857)
  • Gwent – 40AMs (1 : 14,419)

So a total of 206 Provincial AMs.


Provincial AMs could be elected by proportional representation in larger, multi-member constituencies (as municipal councillors) - perhaps based on existing Assembly/Westminster constituencies or municipalities themselves.

The number of AMs distributed to each provincial constituency would be based on population. Like municipalities there could be a minimum of 3 AMs in each constituency to ensure an even spread across a province.

What I would suggest though, is that provincial elections could take place at a different time to municipal or Senedd elections, so people realise that the provinces would be a significant, distinct body in themselves.

How could Provincial Assemblies work?

(Click to enlarge)

The leader of the party that would command a majority/confidence in a Provincial Assembly would become the province's "Governor" ("Llywodraethwr"). They would form a Provincial Government, and assign cabinet positions to AMs – who could be from their own party, or as part of a coalition. They could also have the power to bring in outsiders/experts to fill cabinet positions if they so wanted to.

Provincial Government members could be called Commissioners ("Comisiynwyr") to avoid confusion with national "Ministers". So, the cabinet member jointly in charge of, for example, police and fire services could be called a "Public Safety Commissioner for (Province)", health – "Health Commissioner for (Province)" etc.

The number of cabinet positions should be capped. It's hard to tell how many, but presumably between 8 and 10 (including the governor) - with no deputies. This is to ensure  enough AMs to provide proper backbench and committee scrutiny.

Provincial Assemblies could operate
similarly to the Senedd.
(Pic :
The Provincial Assemblies themselves could run similarly to the Senedd. They would appoint a Presiding and Deputy Presiding Officer for plenary meetings and to oversee parliamentary services, as well as appoint AMs to committees (based on party representation).

Committees would have the power to scrutinise every single aspect of the Provincial Government and services provided by the Provincial Government. They would replace the likes of Local Health Boards, Community Health Councils and Police & Crime Panels. Civilian managers running public services in the province and Provincial Commissioners themselves would be answerable to the committees.

Some of those committees would be established by statute (Finance, Conduct & Standards etc.) others would be arranged however the Assembly likes.

The difference between the Provincial Assemblies and Senedd, as I envisage it, is that Provincial Assemblies would, effectively, be a part-time legislature. They would only sit in plenary for perhaps 3 months a year (to debate things like secondary legislation), while committee work would be spread out across the year similarly to local councils.

Many state legislatures in the US are part-time, sitting in shortened
legislative sessions. Could Welsh regional governments do the same?
(Pic :

So, Provincial AMs without a cabinet role – even with remuneration/expenses – would be allowed/expected to hold secondary employment. AMs would still be able to scrutinise and ask questions distantly throughout the year, and the Provincial Assemblies could be recalled on short notice for matters of immediate importance.

Provincial Governments would work all year round – as a full time role - and would liase with both municipal governments/mayors and the National Assembly to collaborate on various cross-cutting issues - for example : the environment, transport, culture, tourism, economic development, emergency planning.

How could services be run?

I listed what services could be run on a regional/provincial level further up. To highlight how I think it could work in practice, I think it's worth using health services as an example.

Local Health Boards and Community Health Councils would be scrapped, and NHS services would be run directly on behalf of the Provincial Government, with political accountability provided via the Provincial Assembly and its relevant committee(s).

A provincial "Health Commissioner" would be in charge of running health services, approving recommendations from NHS managers/directors and answerable to provincial AMs. No more, "it's a matter for the Local Health Board".

Health Services, for example, would be run directly on behalf
of the Provincial Government ,with the Provincial Assemblies
replacing Local Health Boards and Community Health Councils.
There would also be fewer of them.
(Pic : Hywel Dda LHB)
There would still be civilian managers to oversee day-to-day operations, and things like the Ambulance Service would be "devolved" to each province.

Services like the Welsh Blood & Transplantation Service, screening services, public health and Velindre Trust cancer services could remain run either collaboratively by the provinces or as "national" trusts – so no change.

This would mean individual provinces would have much greater flexibility in how they organise and fund health services. If they want to retain a neo-natal unit, or an A&E unit, it would be down to the Provincial Assembly and Provincial Government to fund and justify such a move. Equally the opposite if they decide to downgrade/close facilities. There would also only be four regional health bodies, not 7-10 as there is now.

There would still be a Health Minister in the Senedd, who would set and oversee national health priorities, primary health legislation and provide additional funding for health initiatives (where applicable). However, instead of being bogged down in the minutiae of micromanaging things, they would be able to take a strategic approach, and would work to ensure national standards are being met (i.e. prescription charges [or lack of], clinical excellence, medical education).

The Senedd, or its committees, would still be able to launch its own inquiries, and issues relating to health services would still be raised in the Senedd itself. It's just that instead of LHBs and CHCs, there would be a democratically accountable Provincial Government & Assembly. It would also provide two opportunities for in depth scrutiny – both nationally, via the Senedd; and regionally, via the Provincial Assemblies.

This would be the same for education, policing, social services, strategic planning....etc.

(Fictional) Glamorgan Provincial Election

I'm basing this on the 2011 Welsh General Election regional list votes (SWW, SWC, SWE). Where I've created "new constituencies" that don't conform to existing constituency boundaries I've simply transferred a proportional share of party votes between them based on their respective populations.

Possible constituency arrangement, AMs and
populations within "Glamorgan Province"
(Click to enlarge)

As an experiment, and to replicate electoral regions – ensuring smaller parties have a chance – I'm going to add a twist to this using a "Double D'Hondt Method". I don't know if it has a proper name or not, but it could be compared to the "leveling seats" using in Denmark and Norway. I tried this with the municipal elections in Part III, however it barely changed the results, only the distribution of seats.

Voting could be tallied province wide, and the D'Hondt method used to determine how many seats each party would be entitled too. Party seats would then be distributed based on the strength of the party vote in individual constituencies, once again by using the D'Hondt method.

This would start with the biggest party entitled to a seat (Labour, with 28) and work its way down the parties. Once a constituency has had all its apportioned seats filled, it's eliminated from the process.

Mock election results for Glamorgan
based on 2011 regional list votes (by constituency)
(Click to enlarge)

For example, based on the whole province vote, the Greens are entitled to 3 AMs. Although Cardiff Central and Cardiff West had the most Green votes, because they had their seats filled by other parties in earlier rounds, the Green seats were distributed to constituencies with empty seats (via D'Hondt) based on how well the Greens performed. In this case : Bridgend South, Cardiff South and Cynon Valley.

Precisely who would get elected would depend on the order by which they were placed on the party list in each constituency. This could be decided via open lists or primaries. There could even be a province-wide party list to determine it.

I think the sensible thing to do would be to have "clustered lists". For example, 6-8 Labour candidates covering the two Bridgends, 12 covering all four Cardiff constituencies, etc. #1 on the list would get the first seat in the Cardiff area, #2 the second and so on. This would (hopefully) prevent someone living in Cardiff being elected to represent Merthyr – which would be one of the big paradoxes with this system.

To guarantee a seat, parties would not only have to secure a reasonable share of province-wide votes (unlike simply sitting back in safe seats) but a decent share of the vote in individual constituencies as well. Every single vote really would matter.

For example, under this system, Plaid missed out on a seat in Bridgend South by just 45 votes, while the Lib Dems were less than a hundred votes away – province wide - from knocking the BNP out (to Lib Dem advantage).

AMs could generally be expected to represent the province's interests as much as constituencies. There's no real need for local tribalism with a system like this, and hopefully it would result in a more strategic approach to politics at a regional level.

Of course, STV would have its own dynamics and would probably be more acceptable, but it's hard to make a prediction with that.

As the 2011 regional election results were broken down by constituency, I was easily able to picture the political make up of all four of my proposed provincial assemblies.

Mock election results for all four proposed provinces, based on
2011 regional results and D'Hondt method.
(Click to enlarge)

As you can see, the smaller parties do considerably better than they do at Assembly level. UKIP manage to make a breakthrough in each province, as do the Greens. Unfortunately, the BNP manage to get some AMs too. However, they were outperformed in 2011 by the Socialist Labour party, who also manage to get an AM in each province.

Labour don't achieve a majority anywhere, though they could probably run Glamorgan and Gwent alone as minority governments or with a confidence and supply agreement. There's the prospect of a viable rainbow coalitions in Dyfed Powys and North Wales.

Also, with independence in mind, there's no guarantee that any of these parties would exist as they are today.

Part V will look at possible financial arrangements; including taxes, borrowing, funding from central government and things like pay/remuneration. Booooooorrrrrrrrring.