Written evidence from Wales Council for
EVIDENCE TO THE WELSH AFFAIRS COMMITTEE ON THE BETTER
GOVERNANCE FOR WALES WHITE PAPER
1. Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA)
promotes the interests of voluntary organisations, community groups
and volunteering in Wales. It has over 1,500 organisations in
direct membership and is in contact with thousands more through
national and regional voluntary sector networks. There are at
least 30,000 voluntary organisations in Wales, with a combined
income of over £1.02 billion, a workforce of 30,000 employees
and over 1.27 million people volunteer either through voluntary
organisations or informally.
2. WCVA has been actively engaged in debates
around the role of the National Assembly for Wales and its relationship
with the voluntary sector since 1998. Throughout the first term
of the National Assembly we worked closely with the voluntary
sector, the National Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government
in developing the Voluntary Sector Scheme and facilitating the
Voluntary Sector Partnership Council and bi-annual meetings between
each Minister and relevant voluntary sector networks.
3. This close working relationship has continued
into the National Assembly's second term. In addition to continuing
in a facilitating role for Ministerial and Partnership Council
meetings, WCVA engaged with the Independent Commission to review
the Voluntary Sector Scheme. Following the publication of the
Commission's report, WCVA is working in partnership with the Assembly
and other voluntary sector organisations to implement the Report's
4. Following publication of the White Paper,
WCVA held a seminar with Cardiff Law School to inform the sector
of the proposals and to gather feedback. A briefing paper was
prepared which explained the White Paper's proposals, outlined
the implications, opportunities and challenges that could face
the voluntary sector, and invited responses. The briefing paper
was published on WCVA's website and publicised through WCVA's
ebriefing to members. It was also circulated to seminar attendees,
Voluntary Sector Partnership Council members, voluntary organisations,
including County Voluntary Councils, and the Assembly Liaison
group, a network with over 30 voluntary organisations across Wales
whose members work closely with the Assembly.
5. In preparing this response, WCVA has
reflected the views gathered both during its post-White Paper
activities, and during consultations previously undertaken in
preparation for the Richard Commission. WCVA provided written
and oral evidence to the Richard Commission regarding the scope
of the Assembly's powers and in gathering its evidence, WCVA consulted
with voluntary organisations including the Assembly Liaison Group
and nearly 100 organisations across Wales at WCVA's regional policy
events in January 2002. WCVA's evidence reflected the issues raised
by voluntary organisations, which focused on the powers of the
Assembly and its relationship with non-devolved government departments.
WCVA did not receive any views about the electoral arrangements
of the National Assembly for Wales, and therefore did not comment
on this aspect of the Commission's work.
CHAPTER 2: THE
6. The Better Governance for Wales White
Paper describes the way forward for a formal separation between
the Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government to avoid confusion
and improve effective scrutiny. WCVA supports the proposal for
a legal separation between the executive and the legislature.
WCVA believes this will provide clarity and increased understanding
amongst the public and the voluntary sector of how Wales is governed.
7. Further clarity could result from the
renaming of legislature and/or executive to clearly identify each
body after separation. At present there are a variety of terms
in common usage, including: "the National Assembly for Wales"
"the Assembly", "the National Assembly", "Welsh
Assembly Government", "Assembly officials" and
"Assembly parliamentary service". Whilst all of these
names can be accurately related to specific activities and employees
of the corporate body, the similarities between them, and the
lack of consistent application, can cause confusion and misunderstanding.
8. WCVA is content that a new post of Counsel
General should be created to support the Assembly Government,
and that the Civil Service will act exclusively in support of
the Executive. More detail is needed however on the size and remit
of the support for the legislature.
9. The White Paper refers to, but does not
identify "importance legislative functions" which will
be retained by the Assembly legislature after separation. It also
makes reference to "some important kinds of legislative orders",
which will be made, or approved, by the Assembly. Without further
clarification on the types of functions or orders this relates
to, WCVA cannot express a view on the appropriateness of these
10. WCVA supports the proposal that final
approval for major strategic plans, including the Wales Spatial
Plan, will remain with the Assembly. WCVA believes it is vital
that such important and influential strategies have cross-party
support and endorsement. This requirement should be extended to
other major schemes (Sustainable Development, Equality of Opportunity,
the Welsh Language, Environmental, Economic development, and others).
11. One current statutory duty of the Assembly
is the requirement to make a Scheme setting out how it proposes,
in the exercise of its functions, to promote the interests of
relevant voluntary organisations. This has led to the National
Assembly for Wales Voluntary Sector Scheme ("the Scheme").
12. Through the Scheme, the Assembly maintains:
a policy on working in partnership
with the voluntary sector;
arrangements for consulting the voluntary
a policy on volunteering;
a policy on community development;
a Code of Practice for funding the
voluntary sector which is published as a separate document.
13. The Scheme provides the following formal
means of dialogue with the voluntary sector:
The Voluntary Sector Partnership
Council (VSPC), chaired by the Minister with responsibility for
the voluntary sector, and whose membership comprises voluntary
sector members whose appointment is facilitated by WCVA; and Assembly
members, reflecting party balance, appointed by the Assembly;
six-monthly meetings between Ministers
and relevant voluntary sector networks, reports of which should
be provided to the appropriate Assembly subject committees.
14. The current arrangements have a number
of distinctive benefits that it is hoped can be maintained, namely:
the ownership of the Scheme by the
full Assemblythrough its adoption, plenary debate on the
Scheme's annual report, and review following each election;
the membership of the VSPCbringing
together the Assembly Government, Assembly Members (all parties),
and representatives of the voluntary sector;
the respect for the sector's independence,
and its right to determine the membership of the VSPC and representation
at Ministerial meetings and other partnerships and joint working
the role of subject committees in
receiving, and debating if they so wish, reports of the ministerial
the commitment of the Assembly Government,
and its willingness to act positively on issues raised by the
VSPC (for example, to address sector's needs with regard to criminal
records checks); and
the role of the VSPC in scrutinising
Assembly Government compliance with the Scheme.
15. The VSPC has strengthened its scrutiny
role by the creation of the Funding and Compliance sub-committee.
This reflects recommendations by the Independent Commission that
reviewed the Scheme after the 2003 elections, which highlighted
the need for more robust monitoring of the consistent application
of the Scheme across all parts of the Assembly Government and
its public bodies. The sub-committee has created a mechanism to
monitor compliance with the Scheme by the Assembly Government,
ASPBs or third party grant schemes, and to investigate cases of
non-compliance. The involvement of both AMs and the sector's representatives
demonstrates the committee's independence in undertaking its duties.
16. These benefits have contributed to the
practical demonstration of an inclusive Assembly, and have demonstrated
cross-party support for and interest in the work of the sector.
17. In order to maintain and build on these
benefits, it is proposed that the changes to the Government of
Wales Act include the following:
Voluntary Sector Scheme
The current duty of the Assembly to make and
maintain the Voluntary Sector Scheme should become a duty of the
Welsh Assembly Government. The responsible Minister should have
a duty to consult the voluntary sector, including through the
Voluntary Sector Partnership Council, before making, remaking
or revising the Scheme; and to seek the advice of the Voluntary
Sector Partnership Council on the development, implementation
and review of the Scheme. The scope of the Scheme, arrangements
for review and for an annual report for consideration by the legislature
should remain as specified in section 114(4) of the Government
of Wales Act, with the addition of the requirement for each minister
to meet twice a year with the relevant voluntary sector networks.
Voluntary Sector Partnership Council
The Voluntary Sector Partnership Council (VSPC)
should be explicitly identified. The VSPC should be established
by the legislature. Its membership and arrangement for appointing
members should reflect the current arrangementsie it should
be chaired by the responsible minister, the legislature should
appoint Assembly Members reflecting party balance, and WCVA should
facilitate the selection of voluntary sector members. The VSPC
would provide a forum for discussion between the Assembly Government,
the legislature and the voluntary sector; it would advise the
Assembly Government on the development, implementation and review
of the Voluntary Sector Scheme; and provide a mechanism for scrutinising
compliance with the Voluntary Sector Scheme.
18. Voluntary Sector organisations have
specific expertise in their areas of activity. They have a unique
perspective on what is working and what is not working at a local
and grassroots level, and can often provide solid evidence of
need amongst groups or communities. The Assembly's subject committees
have played a welcome and important role in policy development
and review, and this should continue under the new structures.
Provision should be made for Assembly Committees, with advice
from the VSPC, to co-opt or invite to meetings representatives
of relevant voluntary organisations to advise and assist with
their scrutiny and legislative functions.
CHAPTER 3: ENHANCING
Developing the current settlement
19. WCVA supports a change to the drafting
of Parliamentary Bills that will enable the Assembly to exercise
"wider and more permissive powers". Consistency in Parliament's
approach to making provisions for Wales is vital if clarity is
to be brought to the legislative process. This will help civil
society to understand and engage in the consultative and lobbying
Enhancing the current settlement
20. If the proposals for the Orders in Council
approach to enhancing the Assembly's legislative powers are implemented,
there will be scope for voluntary organisations to engage more
actively in the legislative process. This will present opportunities
for the sector to use its expertise and knowledge of need to inform
and advise on the drafting of Orders in Council.
21. This opportunity brings with it a challenge
for civil society and the voluntary sector to raise its game and
develop the abilities and capacity to understand the implications
and possibilities presented by the Orders in Council process.
At present there is a lack of detailed knowledge amongst some
organisations on the devolution settlement and legislative procedures.
The sector will need to support and guidance as it develops its
ability to research, propose and provide evidence to back-up proposals
for Orders in Council, including presenting evidence to Parliament
22. The development of skills and expertise
amongst Assembly members and civil servants will be equally crucial
for a successful transition, to meet the new challenges and opportunities
the enhanced powers will bring.
23. Under the new proposals there will need
to be structured opportunities to allow the voluntary sector and
civil society to engage in the policy-making processes that will
lead to the formulation of Orders in Council. The Assembly Government
will need to provide an open, accessible mechanism for groups
and individuals to present evidence and input into policy development.
This will be especially crucial if the current Committee structure
is lost, a scenario that reinforces the need for the existing
provisions under the Voluntary Sector Scheme to remain.
19 September 2005