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Opinion

The new Future Generations Commissioner has an opportunity to make a real difference – will he seize it?

26 Mar 2024 7 minute read
Lower Fishguard. Image: Enjoy Travel Group

Siarter Cartrefi

In a recent article, Gwern Gwynfil wrote powerfully on the shortcomings of the Future Generations Act and the Office which represents it. 

The new Future Generations Commissioner, Derek Walker, says he intends to call out public bodies for not meeting the goals of the Act. Likewise, it is in our remit to do the same.

As a grass roots organisation, we are wholly supportive of the Act and the Commissioners office has been instrumental in influencing the debate around some issues.

It has also been supportive of community organisations. We can attest to this.

However, we would like to see more public dialogue around the Act and the office. More scrutiny and more awareness of the Act itself and its vision.

We would like to see a campaign which engages the Welsh public in a discussion about how we meet the goals of the Act.

At the moment, very few people in Wales know anything about this piece of uniquely Welsh legislation.

Essential step

Explaining this Act to the wider population is an essential step if we want wide support for this legislative drive for change and social justice. This would be an interesting exercise.

When Siarter has explained this Act at public events we are often taken aback by incredulous looks.

How can we have such an Act which addresses the fundamental needs of society and yet we have such profound poverty and unfairness at every level of Welsh life?

This is a big question and we are grappling with this ourselves. Invariably  for those  incredulous  citizens who are learning about the Act for the first time, searching and poignant questions  will arise.

Derek Walker, Future Generations Commissioner (C) HUW JOHN, Cardiff [email protected]

We have the Act but where is the Well Being? Where is the cohesion in our communities, the resilience? Where is the fairness, how come with every census the language shows decline?

Siarter too would like to know how we reconcile these contradictions. The upbeat rhetoric from the Well Being of Future Generations Office with the harsh and escalating reality of everyday life…

In Cymru we often hear these contradictions explained away as ‘the Implementation Gap’. This gap is a yawning void where too many people in Cymru live out their lives.

Poverty and lack of opportunity is crippling our society.

The first children born since this Act’s inception are now eight years old, a third of them are growing up in poverty. This one fact alone is damning – it painfully illustrates the uncomfortable contradictions of a small country with a big idea.

Where is the Future Generation Commission in all of this? 

Gwern Gwynfil points a concerned finger at the Cymru Can Report which he sees as problematic, and we suggest symptomatic of too much rhetoric and not enough critical plain speaking. 

Cymru Can is the new Commissioners seven year strategy. To arrive at the report’s central themes, Derek went out to the wider community to hear the concerns and views of Welsh citizens.

The strategy has five main missions for focus: Implementation and Impact, Climate and nature, Health and Well being, culture and Welsh Language and a well being economy. These are important areas for focus, so what’s the problem?

Houses for Sale in Cardiff. Photo via Google

The strategy is conspicuous by the absence of any focus on housing – one of the big issues undermining the delivery of all of the Well Being goals.

This omission is hard to understand. We are experiencing a deep housing crisis in communities across Cymru. The impact is profound, with consequences for both first time buyers and the rental market too.

The economic exclusion of a whole generation of young people from their own communities is manifesting itself in many ways.

Loss

The loss of the Welsh language and culture is one of them, resilience of Welsh communities was always brittle,  but since Covid, communities are buckling.

We cannot begin to address big issues like climate change if our communities are riven through with injustice and inequality. 

As Anthony Slaughter, leader of the Green Party of Wales, said at a conference last year, ’there is no Climate justice without social justice’.

We know that Derek spoke with the housing sector, his team spoke with us at Siarter, so why could such a fundamental issue barely get a mention? We don’t know.

We do know that this helps to create a vacuum around this important issue. The implementation gap is thus a little more assured.

We know that the commissioner and his team recognise that there are fundamental problems in the housing sector, but this does not come across in the Cymru Can report at all.

Siarter perceives this to be a missed opportunity, given how relevant housing is to all 5 themes in the report.

Groundbreaking opportunity

However, this missed opportunity opens the door to a new and groundbreaking opportunity.

Siarter believes that the combined weight of the commissioners for Future Generations, for Cymraeg and Children working together, could help  to consolidate action on housing.

This would be extremely significant and powerful. It would demonstrate how the work of all of them overlaps – the silos are connected. The problems are connected – the solutions are connected too.

Desperate times need radical action – and hearing all three commissioners’ voices loud and clear on housing could help focus politicians efforts to address this urgent issue.

In the meantime we urge a rethink from the Future Generations Commissioner. Housing needs to be at the heart of his seven year strategy.

We need to hear his voice loud and clear on this. Housing must be included as an issue of primary focus, alongside and underpinning the other missions outlined in Cymru Can.

There are many community housing groups who are pulling more than their fair share of weight in addressing the crisis, the third sector is under unprecedented pressure.

We urgently need to hear the combined voices of all three Commissioners voices on this issue. 

“Inaudible”

I know Siarter and others working to address the crisis will continue to help where we can, we can advise, support and encourage.

But Derek must listen to communities and make the commissioner’s voice clear as a bell on this issue, ringing out across all the public offices in Cymru.

At the moment, on the issue of housing, as far as Cymru Can is concerned, Derek’s voice is practically inaudible.

Tenby in Pembrokeshire. Picture by Nessy (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Whilst writing this article we bumped into a young woman from Tenby.

She told us of the impossibility of living a regular life in her hometown. She rents part time as AirBNB properties become available out of season, the rest of the year she lives in a van like many of her friends.

She has also adopted a more unusual strategy to fill the accommodation gap.

Flying to Colombia for a chunk of the year is more affordable and reliable than pitching for temporary and occasional local rents.

How does this meet the Commissioner’s vision for a more sustainable Wales?


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Gwern Gwynfil
Gwern Gwynfil
16 days ago

This raises an awful lot of good points but surely one of the big questions has to be why the various Commissioners aren’t already working hand in glove? One of the benefits of being a small nation is that we do all know each other – working closely together to improve our national outcomes should be easy… Whilst other small nations turn their size to their advantage when it comes to delivery and fashioning effective policy, here in Cymru, we seem to be too scared of our own shadows to stand up and be counted, to emerge into the light… Read more »

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