Written evidence from Citizens Advice
COMMENTS ON THE PROPOSALS INCLUDED IN THE
"BETTER GOVERNANCE FOR WALES" WHITE PAPER
A new Government of Wales Act coming out of
the recommendations in the white paper "Better Governance
for Wales" would presumably repeal all of the measures in
the existing Government of Wales Act 1998. Some of these measures
are of particular interest to charities such as ours and we have
particular comments to make in relation to these measures.
Section 114 of the Government of Wales Act currently
includes the duty to ". . . make a scheme setting out how
it propose, in the exercise of its functions, to promote the interests
of relevant voluntary organisations" and has provided a formal
framework of how it engages with the Voluntary Sector through
the Voluntary Sector Partnership Council (VSPC) and biannual meetings
between Ministers and relevant voluntary sector networks.
We would have concerns over how a new Act would
affect the current relationship and dynamic of these arrangements.
Firstly, we would hope that the formal relationship with Voluntary
Sector Networks through the VSPC would still include the membership
of Assembly Members from all parties and representatives of the
Voluntary Sector. This enables an open dialogue and an opportunity
for scrutiny of WAG policies in relation to the Voluntary Sector.
We have questions about the potential change in the role between
Ministers, as part of the newly constituted Executive of the Assembly,
with the Voluntary Sector.
We would like to ensure that the ownership of
the Voluntary Sector Scheme and its development, particularly
in relation to the funding relationship through the Code of Funding
would remain with the Assembly in terms of adoption in plenary,
resulting in an annual publication and a review following each
election. We would also want to retain the role of the VSPC in
scrutinising the WAG compliance with the Scheme and also the robust
monitoring and review of its implementation and development.
We would strongly advocate maintaining the independence
of the voluntary sector in terms of determining the membership
of the VSPC and its formulation of networks and representatives
to Ministerial meetings.
The WAG already consults widely about changes
it proposes in secondary legislation. We would want this process
to be retained and suggest that the new Act build in a requirement
for this, ie those relevant interest groups/individuals should
always be consulted.
S31 of the 1998 Act requires the Secretary of
State to consult with the Assembly about the Westminster government's
legislative programme. We would want this process to be retained,
although under a new Act, the consultation will presumably be
with the WAG rather than the Assembly. We suggest that charities
such as ours be copied in on this consultation and be given an
opportunity to feed in their own proposals to the WAG in an open
and transparent manner.
S48 and s120 of the 1998 Act build in requirements
for the Assembly to carry out its work and functions so as to
facilitate equality of opportunity. We would want these provisions
to be retained as a minimum and be revisited in terms of the requirements
to address inequalities.
It should be remembered that that voluntary
sector has a duty under charity law to its principles in the delivery
of services, which tie into the aims for placing citizens at the
centre of public services delivery and also in aspiring to equality
and justice for all. Further, it needs to be acknowledged that
the voluntary sector in many cases may go beyond current government
agenda in terms of addressing inequalities and our input will
be useful in this process to challenge and monitor the effectiveness
of public services in Wales.
We would expect the new Act would make stronger
provisions to reflect the principle of addressing inequalities,
particularly given the new culture of placing the citizen at the
centre of public service delivery plans, through the Making the
Connections policy agenda.
The 1998 Act sets out in some detail what committees
should be established and the membership of the committees, whereas
the white paper is proposing that it should be left to the Assembly
to decide on what committees it wants (see paragraphs 2.15 and
We would strongly suggest the role of the regional
committees is maintained and strengthened as it is a very effective
means of having a direct dialogue with WAG Ministers and Assembly
elected representatives on both the agenda subjects and on any
matter raised in the open forum.
We would also strongly suggest that the current
level of access to participate in committee proceedings eg a right
to feed in written comments on any agenda item and to make presentations
and representations to committees is at least maintained and even
enhanced in any new committee structure. This is particularly
important given the proposals to develop the culture of scrutiny
"on traditional parliamentary lines" and to remove the
provision in the Act requiring Ministers to be members of relevant
subject committees. There will be a growing need within the voluntary
sector, as part of the wider lobbying society, to be able to participate
as far as possible in this scrutiny function.
S70 of the 1998 Act requires that most proceedings,
including those of the committees, should be open. This should
be retained and we urge the greatest degree of openness that is
compatible with government business.
The issue of handling publications by the Assembly
as a legislature and from the Welsh Assembly Government is an
issue of openness, ie making things publicly available. In this
respect, s119 of the 1998 Act makes some requirements about publication
and charging for them, but is silent about electronic publication.
The times, and the internet, have moved on since 1998 and we have
made representations about the deficiencies in the usability and
the accessibility of information on the Assembly's website is.
It would be reasonable to require a new Assembly
(a) to maintain a website;
(b) to ensure all documents are promptly
published both in paper and in electronic form;
(c) to publish all legislation and guidance
in its draft as well as the final form; and
(d) to ensure that the website is well-structured
so as to enable documents to be readily located.
The requirement for prompt publication is particularly
important in view of the dilatory way in which some things go
onto the present site.
Citizens Advice across England and Wales has
a mandate to change policy in order to improve the lives of our
clients and population as a whole through policy change. There
are many examples of how evidence from Citizens Advice has informed
and formulated policy change and in turn, legislative change in
Westminster and Cardiff which have an UK-wide impact or a Wales-wide
impact eg statutory tenancy deposit scheme, minimum school uniform
grant, changes to the prescription charges scheme, changes to
credit licensing laws.
The new provisions proposed would need to be
coupled with the guarantee that the Welsh Assembly Government
and the National Assembly as a legislature, has the capacity to
handle its new powers and that the right environment is created
in order to cultivate positive legislative proposals that will
bring real benefit to the people of Wales. This means that eg
Orders in Council and subsequent legislation may need to be drafted
in conjunction with organisations like ourselves and this requires
additional capacity on both sides of the lobbying environment.
We would hope that the office of the Council General will be given
the sufficient resources to cope with the new demands that this
environment will create so that the National Assembly can become
more responsive to the needs of civil society in Wales. We would
also hope that the National Assembly will also be given the sufficient
level of resources to scrutinise this legislative role.