Five things the Welsh Government could achieve in the fifth Assembly term

19 May 2016

Inspired by the excellent Daran Hill’s analysis and advice for each political party in the coming weeks, months and years, I seem to be able to only think in fives. 

This Assembly term will be crucial to grow a more productive and higher value economy. To do that it will need to create a workforce which has the right skills, is creative and entrepreneurial and ready to take on the challenges of the 21st Century. My five bits of advice for the new Welsh Government are:

  1. Be bold in setting out a new joined-up strategy for Education, Skills and Employment: We cannot afford for education to begin and end at the classroom. Likewise, ‘skills’ especially ‘higher level skills’ won’t just arrive in Wales without a significant change in approach. We’ve been persuing broadly the same approach for years (supply more qualifications) and not a huge amount has changed. We all have a responsibility to create a culture where gaining knowledge and learning new skills really is a lifelong activity. Government here have an important role to play, but so do individuals, the media, employers, families and communities. For its part, the next Welsh Government need to be much clearer on what the strategic vision is (clue, it should bring together Education, Skills and Employment) and then devolve more responsibility and budget to enable local government and regions to decide what works, AND then give them the flexibility and confidence to deliver it. This might mean a significant culture shift with different approaches in different parts of Wales.
  2. Be mature and proactive in its relationship with the UK Government, particularly the Department for Work and Pensions. The changes to welfare, particularly Universal Credit, the Work and Health Programme, Job Centres and so on present opportunities to do things differently in Wales. Welsh Government should not want to hear DWP proposals, but suggest what works for Wales. Begin with devolution of Work and Health Programme, devising first what we need in Wales. Use your budget for education and skills, as well as European Social Fund (ESF) to maximise the chances of individuals finding meaningful employment.
  3. Decide what the role and purpose of further education (FE) is in Wales, and start allowing provision to young people and adults through a thoughtful analysis of what is required, rather than through a narrow interpretation of current funding methodology. Beef up the Regional Skills Partnerships to allow them to do a better job, devolve budget and responsibility to enable regions to decide what is required and allow them to deliver on it. If RSPs are not the appropriate bodies, then decide what are, but don’t take ages about it.
  4. Deliver a balanced approach to post-compulsory education  – across FE and HE by getting on with implementing the changes put forward by the Hazelkorn and Diamond Reviews as a package. Welsh Government should establish an advisory group on implementation of Hazelkorn and Diamond, engaging key organisations across the sectors to scope out practicalities, supporting DfES to deliver (recognising that Welsh Government doesn’t have the required capacity to do this alone).
  5. Make Communities First work as the key enabling policy to tackle poverty across Wales – and be brave in recognising that cultural shifts require reasonable time to bed in. Everyone recognises that something needs to change, but we are all too afraid to say anything that could be perceived as critical of our most deprived communities. It is absolutely right to have a flagship programme to tackle poverty but it is a mistake to have it sitting separate from other parts of Government / initiatives / policies. It’s about engaging local people and enabling them to do more for themselves – in education that should mean much closer working with community learning, FE, training providers and local employers. Stop unnecessary competition between various Government funded programmes, it’s wasteful and tedious for all involved, especially learners. The new approach needs to respect and understand different people’s strengths and then work together to deliver on that (in a joined up way).
  6. Get on with sorting out local government – notwithstanding their funding challenges the services they provide are crucial. Allow them to be right sometimes, because they can be. They also have more capacity to deliver to the people who need support most than Welsh Government. It’s not all about structures, although important, we can’t wait until 2020 to get joined up services right. 

Whoops that was six, but I couldn’t resist the last one. 

Cerys Furlong is Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute.