On the 24th and 25th March, just over two months ahead, the All Wales Convention will be visiting Powys. What it will be doing on the 24th isn’t entirely clear but on the 25th the convention will be gathering evidence from voters, you and I, on whether we think the National Assembly should have full law making powers. This would appear to mean a parliament similar to that of Scotland, and will presumably include the power to vary the tax regime.
Now I have long been in favour of devolved government for Wales within a federal United Kingdom, indeed it was this notion that first attracted me to become a member of the Welsh Liberal Party in the late 1960s. Like many others living in Wales at that time we needed to dilute the power of Westminster over the regions and we sought to ensure that the regions, including of course, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland got a fairer share of central government spending and jobs. However, 40 years on I am less convinced.
Firstly, a federal United Kingdom hasn’t happened and, after the monumental John Prescott cock up over the campaign for a regional assembly in the North East of England a few years ago, a federal United Kingdom looks less likely than ever.
Secondly, although certain government offices have been relocated to the regions, for example, in Wales we have had the DVLC at Swansea and Companies House has moved to Cardiff, these sorts of jobs remain just as much at risk as they were when they were located in London given recent Government and opposition rhetoric on slashing public expenditure. The only difference is that the impact of cutting Government jobs in Wales is much greater than the impact this would have on London and the “home counties”.
Thirdly, there is the performance of the National Assembly itself over the decade or so of its existence. Frankly, I am less than impressed. From the perspective of rural Wales, Cardiff appears to have done very well out of devolution, certainly the transformation of Tiger Bay into Cardiff Bay has regenerated that area beyond all recognition. However, the rest of Wales continues to struggle economically.
Is Wales a more cohesive nation since devolution? I guess the jury is out on this, but here in Powys, because we continue to have to rely on English hospitals for much of our acute care, because our arts venues and organisations are struggling to provide even a modicum of culture given the lack of decent funding, and because our local authority is gradually being forced to succumb to pressure to close schools and cut frontline services because of inadequate support from the Welsh Assembly Government, I detect a groundswell of resentment against further powers for the National Assembly building up. There is now a widespread acceptance of the notion that we are suffering from too much government and that government isn’t delivering, at least, not for the people of Powys.
No doubt all this will be aired on the 25th March and Sir Emyr Jones Parry and his team will be appraised of the feelings of the people of Powys. I may be unduly pessimistic, but I don’t think that there will be much support for further law making powers for Wales. From our perspective, Cardiff is as remote as London and therein lies the problem.