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For Britain See Wales: What matters most?

03 Jul 2024 4 minute read
For Britain See Wales

Joe England

‘Come to Wales, we’re very cheap’ is not something this government is prepared to consider’ Mark Drakeford

There is the fundamental question: what do people actually want in their daily lives?

In June 2020 public demonstrations and a 24,000-signature petition caused the local health board to reverse its decision to close the Royal Glamorgan Hospital Accident and Emergency Department at Ynysmaerdy.

The fears and hopes of people affected by the original decision were ignored until it became impossible to do so.

Additional resources were found to keep the Accident and Emergency Department open.

It is an illuminating lesson. Answers to problems should not be handed down from above but discussed and agreed with those who are affected by them and who have to live with the consequences.

It has been the practice in Britain recently for governments to ask people for their opinion on legislation already proposed.

The Welsh Government does so regularly. It is a recognition that neither the man nor the woman in Whitehall, nor even in Cardiff, always knows best.

But it is not the same as asking people what they want.

The Welsh Government and now the Westminster Government have at times asked local authorities what local actions they would recommend. This is a step further but it is still not the same as asking the people.

20mph

A relevant example is the imposition of 20 mph upon vehicles in urban areas. Public reaction is resulting in a modification of the rules in certain areas.

Before the pandemic, the Valley Taskforce did ask people in the Valleys what mattered most to them.

The foremost answers were public services, public transport, open spaces, jobs and the skills to do them, health, and ‘my community’.

In February 2021 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) polled UK residents on how to reduce inequalities. The priorities that people in Wales voted for were: affordable housing 66 per cent, good-paying jobs 55 per cent, investment in high streets and town centres 48 per cent, good public services 43 per cent, and education and skills 41 per cent.

In both cases housing, good jobs and pay, skills, public services, my community/town centres, appear consistently.

Not surprisingly, health is a Valleys’ priority. These are the people’s priorities yet too many in Wales and the UK live without them.

Their provision by Westminster or by Cardiff would be welcome.

Actions will speak louder than all the words spent on constitutional wrangles.

Reform

It is increasingly apparent that in the twenty-first century, reform must come from a process in which the needs of the people are understood and accepted by governments as a basis for action.

Policy decisions should reflect public preferences. The Carnegie UK Trust is clear: ‘Well-being cannot be “done to” people, it has to be done by and with them.’

Citizens’ Assemblies are being used in a variety of countries, Canada, Denmark, Poland, Belgium, Ireland and Scotland among them.

They are the means by which the voice of those directly affected can be heard and, whenever possible, their decisions implemented. Citizens’ Assemblies consist of a cross-section of the public, randomly selected, and usually numbering 50 to 100.

Through study, discussion, argument, and sometimes through questioning experts on the subject being considered, they arrive at a recommendation to the government.

This would really be taking back control.

Joe England was educated at Cyfarthfa Grammar School, Merthyr Tydfil and at the University of Nottingham where he studied Economic and Social History.

He has enjoyed a distinguished career in Higher Education. He has published several books including a critically acclaimed biography of place, Merthyr: The Crucible of Modern Wales.

His new book For Britain See Wales A Possible Future is out now.

For Britain See Wales

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Richard 1
Richard 1
10 days ago

Imbalance in the ownership of land is the oldest and most fundamental of inequalities. Does this book say anything at all about that? If you can tell me “yes” I’ll buy it and read it. If not, why should I bother?

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