We came together to try to generate a ferocious debate on the future of Wales. The twenty years of devolution have witnessed some real success but have also presented some significant challenges- a loss of resilience in our society and environment, the financial crash and a long decade of austerity. Now a global pandemic is shaking the nation and a climate emergency has been declared. Indeed, Wales itself could be facing an existential crisis.
A new, much more radical approach is needed if the people and communities of Wales are to thrive into the future. We want this debate to focus on people, on need, on more imaginative and radical solutions. The financial consequences of such a change in direction are significant and aren’t being ignored. They should be subjected to the same ferocity. But we don’t want the financial tail to wag the dog of need; solving this is our humane imperative. It is clear there is enough desire and enthusiasm to challenge a failed status-quo that leaves so many of our people and communities behind. This requires a fundamental reset of how we consider society and the economy; of taxation, redistribution and equality in Wales. This is a long overdue debate.
The authors of this think piece come from different backgrounds and have different or no political affiliations. We’re not interested in promoting a political party or apportioning blame for past failings. It’s time to move forward to thinking and acting outside of partisan norms as part of the process of building a better Wales. It means moving on from the confines of a Wales that isn’t waiting for us on the other side of this pandemic. It requires a ‘great reset’ of Wales’s national mission and strategy. To be successful, this must be accompanied by action at all levels – nationally, regionally and locally. It’s always easy to complain of a privileged elite in Wales but this is an opportunity for everyone to join in.
At the Crossroads
The crisis has brought out the best in us – community, solidarity, public service. It has also brought into sharp focus the political and economic weaknesses post devolution. Wales’ still young democracy is facing its steepest challenge yet. The Coronavirus pandemic has been a disaster. Many have died and placed the NHS, local government, third sector and other services under unbearable stress. Many businesses are struggling to survive, and thousands of people are furloughed. Trade unions have worked tirelessly to arrange measures to keep workers safe, to protect their jobs and incomes.
At the same time inequalities widen and as the 2020 floods across Wales show, the perils of climate change grow exponentially. A massive economic emergency is on the horizon with the spectre of mass unemployment looming. The likely impacts for young people across Wales are daunting socially, economically and mentally. The abhorrent and more malignant virus of structural racism has again come into sharp focus and now is a time for action not words. It may be from this calamity that a window of opportunity opens, a sense of a new possible. But this could close quickly. It is an imperative to rethink the shape of our society, economy and polity. A reset is required that recognises the importance of our social capital and the desire of humans to connect.
We have identified 10 priorities for action that we think should be the foundations for moving forward and securing a safe future for our communities. We know there are huge gaps in what follows. It is purely a starting point that recognises that the scale of what’s happening now will transform everything. As such, do what you will with it, modify or (we hope) improve, but at least give it your consideration and take part. Remember to be constructive, respectful and kind or we are part of the problem.
1. A New Resolve
Wales should reject ‘cake and eat it’ economics – Scandinavian levels of public services paid for by US rates of taxation is not a sustainable model. We have to tackle the growing disparities in income and wealth through smarter use of the powers we have – such as the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015. We need to prepare for the fourth industrial revolution and the rapid acceleration of AI and robotics. Wales needs to create a social state able to deal with the profound challenges of an ageing population, immigration and the gig economy.
- Introduce a universal basic income (UBI) to alleviate economic insecurity and socialise the costs of automation.
- Construct a new social contract with the Welsh people that redesigns and redefines the purpose of business and work for regeneration.
- Build on the duties of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act to create the world’s most useful catalogue of the tools and techniques already working elsewhere to deliver transformation.
2. Building the Foundational Economy
Wales needs to move beyond the focus on increasing growth in urban centres and through inward investment. Many SMEs and social businesses will struggle to survive this crisis. We need to work with people in Wales to create cooperative businesses and networks that grow a prosperous, equitable economy. Developing the foundational economy should be the main driver of policy for the next term of the Welsh Parliament. Covid 19’s impact has seen offices and public buildings become museums. The future means working digitally and also working less.
- Support a four-day working week to improve productivity, wellbeing and address the huge problem of overwork that permeates our culture.
- Go beyond city-deals and agglomerative investment models and shift towards a more spatially distributed form of economic planning.
- Develop a Green New Deal for Wales based on the tenet of differential growth that will see some sectors grow rapidly whilst others recede and close down with the aim of creating a net zero-carbon economy in Wales by 2030.
3. An Agile Nation
Wales requires agile organisations. Wales’s public sector is sinking in partnership complexity and bureaucracy. The devolution era has often been characterised by ‘strategy overload” but far less focus on outcomes and delivery. A fundamental change in public services is necessary if Wales is to achieve and sustain a commitment to equity and fairness. Parity of esteem is required with preventative services like social care, housing, leisure & libraries valued as highly as the NHS. It needs communities and business to take shared responsibility for prevention and wellbeing behaviours, supported by revenue funding.
- Wales should lead on creating a National Care Service (NCS), that is locally delivered and extends the NHS’s free-to-all principle to social care.
- Public sector bodies should change their operating models to fit the new environment Post Covid 19. All options should be considered from localised community support hubs to mergers.
- The devolution train must leave “Cardiff station”. Government should be top-down by ensuring radical and resourced policies are in place but also bottom-up by letting go, encouraging innovation and local delivery across North, Mid, West and South Wales.
4. A More Confident Voice
The collective voice of Wales is marginalised and often unheard within a dysfunctional British state that looks broken and needs complete rewiring. Wales is no longer content to be the poor relation to the other nations. Wales is a country brimming with talent which should be vibrant, outward looking and inventive; our values are communal and equalitarian. In this context, it is vital that public services are best delivered within a democratic framework of accountability where people who pay and use services have a real voice shaping their delivery. Wales should call out wasted investment in other parts of the country such as HS2 and expose the enormous imbalances within the UK that are heavily related to the over-centralised national governance system.
- Launch a National Conversation that invites the people of Wales to make an informed decision on their future, whether it be devo-max, federalism or independence.
- Push for Wales to be given greater flexibility to manage its finances. Particularly an ability to borrow for day-to-day spending to give the Welsh Government an important tool to combat the economic impact of the pandemic.
- Support a national campaign against a no-deal Brexit that would create substantial disruption for businesses, workers, farmers and do massive economic damage to an already fragile economy.
5. Re-defining Value
Lowest price in public investment is seldom if ever best. It drives down wages, compromises quality and in extreme cases such as with Grenfell Tower, has tragic outcomes. We need to re-define value unambiguously in longer, more sustainable terms within the framework of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. This needs to be hardwired into legislation, regulation and funding criteria, backed up by enforceable incentives and sanctions. After Brexit devolved governments are likely to have greater freedom to set their own policy objectives for procurement. Community benefit and local employment must be at the forefront.
- Eliminating relative poverty through a focus on creating thriving communities should be the overriding policy objective of Welsh Government in particular the eradication homelessness across Wales post-crisis within two years.
- By 2030 no one should be destitute; less than one in ten of the population in poverty at any one time; and nobody in poverty for more than two years.
- Abandon GVA measurement in favour of wellbeing as the guiding indicator when setting budgets and assessing government policy. Use new metrics to measure inequality, economic insecurity, whether growth is environmentally sustainable and create a better life index.
6. A New Welsh Democracy
Vigorous debate is one of the guardrails of democracy, particularly in a country dominated by one party. Wales should not be afraid of real scrutiny or of speaking truth to power. We must find new ways to make marginal voices heard including those living in poverty, women, people with disabilities and those from BAME backgrounds. We want every young person in Wales to understand how the theory and practice of active citizenship affects their experiences throughout life. We should treat our language as a unique and precious asset –one that belongs to us all whether we speak it or not. The future growth of the Welsh language should be at the heart of this reset.
- Change the Senedd’s voting system to make it fairer and more proportional and increase the number of Members of the Senedd from 60 to 90.
- Protect the Welsh language through education and a system of human rights not quixotic target-setting. Recognise that this is a measure of the capacity of the nation to thrive.
- Remove the cultural and social roadblocks to real equality. Introduce prescriptive quotas for women and BAME embedded in legislation for the Senedd and local government elections, along with the opportunity for our politicians to job-share.
7. A New Deal for Health, Social Care and Housing
The NHS and social care are two sides of the same coin but social care’s “Cinderella” status relative to health must change. The trauma of living through a pandemic and coping with its aftermath is likely to have a significant impact on people’s wellbeing. It’s also shown that we need to re-think the role housing plays in public health, our economy and environment. We should make green affordable housing our trademark by delivering a massive programme of new social homes and decarbonising existing ones.
- Cover the cost of caring for elderly and disabled people in Wales through a new social care tax/insurance levy.
- Engage people in a national debate about what we need and want from our housing stock now and develop a new Housing Pact that responds. This should include doubling the amount of green affordable social housing through a partnership of Welsh Government, local authorities and housing associations.
- Develop a new deal for Rural Wales to protect communities. For example, differentiate between main homes and holiday homes as two separate types of property for planning purposes with strict controls on properties that can be sold as a holiday home.
8. Sustainable Infrastructure
The Climate Change Emergency was an overdue response to a growing existential threat but must be more than rhetoric. The current crisis has brought a focus to what could be and raised the opportunity for Wales to lead the way. This includes tackling air quality and prioritising sustainable and affordable transport infrastructure for use by all. For the rural economy the priority is to tackle the painfully inadequate broadband connectivity speeds across many rural areas. Public investment should shift from “motorcars, planes and airports” into financing businesses that lead on low carbon technologies and renewable energy.
- Introduce a new Clean Air Act for Wales to curb all types of air pollution and support this with huge capital investment in public transport, walking and cycling routes.
- Implement a massive rollout of rooftop solar across domestic properties, businesses, schools and buildings to “solarise” the whole of Wales.
- Develop community benefit infrastructure such as a new national network of electric charging points (EVs) across Wales.
9. Stewardship of the Environment
Wales has a wealth of natural resources, yet we still largely depend on ‘unclean energy’. Wind and solar are becoming cheaper all the time and we have a real opportunity to lead the world in community-based energy and decarbonising our power system. We should protect the natural beauty of our environment, greatly increase woodlands and support rewilding. This means rethinking how we manage the Welsh uplands if we are to maintain farming and restore nature to support future generations. Dialogue between conservationists, policy makers and farmers is essential to finding a compromise. We should create a much more localised and sustainable food chain, rewarding small producers and making them far more resilient.
- Ringfence £1 billion of the Welsh Government budget to tackle climate change and reprioritise or reallocate, as necessary, scarce public resources in order to achieve more climate compatible national development.
- Exponentially increase woodland creation and new tree cover in Wales to 12,300 acres (5,000 hectares) a year.
- Create a Welsh National Food Service that aims to eliminate food insecurity and tackle the interconnected issues of social isolation and food waste.
10. Education and Skills
A new education curriculum on the horizon should give us a sense of the potential for education to be one of the principal vehicles for generational change. Schools remain the site where radical generational change can best take root and early years education offers the best and most fundamental opportunity to create the foundations for equality and tackle adverse childhood experiences (ACES). Now more than ever, health and wellbeing, physical literacy, personal development and preparation for vocational careers should be at the very heart of our education system.
- Introduce a dedicated education levy, uplifting the profile and status of our teachers. Offer them proper CPD and lifelong learning, upskilling those already in the profession alongside big incentives for new entrants.
- Develop new, more qualitative and diverse qualifications fit for the digital age and pledge that no Welsh child is excluded from a pathway that includes digital literacy and the ability to confidently wrestle with real-world challenges.
- Primary education in Wales must be properly bilingual so that every child emerges at eleven years old being able to understand and communicate in both Welsh and English.
As a basis for discussion, these thirty initial ideas show just how exceptional the opportunity is for Wales to be reset, to create a better future for everyone. These ideas are intended to be the starting point for discussions that will lead to the development of proposals that can be implemented to transform our nation. This is your invitation to become a part of this ferocious debate.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://resetcymru.wordpress.com/2020/06/08/for-wales-by-wales/