Wales and Whitehall - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents

4  Awareness of the devolution settlement in the Welsh Assembly Government and Whitehall

Current awareness of the devolution settlement

80. Many of our witnesses stressed the need to ensure that ministers and officials in both the UK and Welsh Assembly Governments were fully aware of the devolution settlement, and understood how to make it work effectively. The First Minister, Carwyn Jones AM, summarised the ideal relationship: "My intention, of course, is to work as closely as possible with the Wales Office and, of course, to work as closely as possible with parliamentarians and, indeed, ministers here in London. What is important is that we ensure firstly that we receive information on policy development in sufficient time, policy development that will affect Wales".[108]

81. Some witnesses were sceptical as to how far these aims were being achieved. For Alan Trench of the Constitution Unit, the processes of contact and consultation between the Welsh Assembly Government and Whitehall:

    ... remain reliant on a sequence of ad hoc interactions, usually driven by Whitehall policy priorities, rather than those in Wales (though this has changed somewhat with the existence of Legislative Competence Orders). They are largely at relatively low levels and remain largely informal ...[109]

Sir Jon Shortridge, until 2008 the Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Assembly Government, complained about a "lack of strong leadership" in Whitehall on devolution matters.[110] Whether this observation was a function of inadequate advice or even absence of advice at the time from the Permanent Secretary himself is open to question.

82. Andrew Davies AM, with long service as an Assembly Minister, was in contrast more impressed with the way devolution had been established:

    Certainly my experience overall was very positive. When you consider that devolution was the biggest change in governance in the UK since—taking a benchmark—the introduction of universal suffrage or any other change, the scale of change was truly huge. The way in which it has been managed I think was testimony to the commitment of both the UK Government, Parliament and the Assembly and civil servants in making it work. [...] given the scale of change, I think the whole process has been managed remarkably smoothly.[111]

Mr Davies, however, also gave us a persuasive analysis of the shortcomings of both ministers and civil servants in delivery of the devolution settlement:

    The preoccupation of politicians and civil servants is largely policy-making and they think that policy-making and legislation is the hardest part. Actually it is not. It is leading, managing and delivering services [...] Because of the narrow preoccupation on policy the wider management of relationships is not seen as a priority. [...] There is an obsession on process and compliance with process ...[112]

83. We heard a range of evidence about the awareness of devolution among ministers and civil servants both in the Welsh Assembly Government and in Whitehall. We also heard about the effect of this awareness—and in some cases lack of awareness—on the performance of the bodies involved—at both ends of the M4. A number of problems were indeed common to both Welsh Assembly Government and some departments in Whitehall.

84. According to Welsh Women's Aid (WWA):

    Devolution is a complex area which is not fully understood by Governments, NGOs and other agencies. [...]   WWA has experienced difficulties regarding engagement, including not being invited to key meetings which affect our member groups and their service users, as well as Welsh citizens not being consulted on policies which will affect them.[113]

85. The Wales Council for Voluntary Action had a similar view, urging that responsibilities should be made much clearer:

    Communication between the WAG and Whitehall needs to be improved to ensure that there is clarity over who is responsible for what and exactly how policies will affect Wales. Earlier communication will also allow for any unnecessary confusions or problems to be mitigated including any potential cross-border issues. UK Government consultation documents should clearly state whether they apply to Wales and must take account of WAG policies in related areas.[114]

86. Welsh Women's Aid also expressed concern about the handling of issues that are part-devolved and part non-devolved:

    WWA regularly experiences difficulties resulting from a lack of understanding of devolution, as some policy areas relating to violence against women (VAW) are devolved, some are non-devolved, and some overlap. [...] In some areas relating to VAW, the overlap between Wales and Whitehall and lack of clarity regarding responsibility between the two Governments has sometimes led to a negative impact upon some of our most disadvantaged services users.[115]

87. The Government, in conjunction with the Welsh Assembly Government, needs to make consultation exercises more sensitive to the facts of devolution and the limited resources of key organisations. It should, for instance, not be the responsibility of Welsh interest groups—some of them small voluntary bodies—to work out for themselves whether a policy proposal in a green paper relates to reserved or devolved matters.

88. However no improvements in process will make much difference unless the wider environment is right. Rhodri Morgan AM told us that he believed that "a culture change at ministerial and civil service level" was needed to make things work better between Cardiff and Whitehall.[116] This view was echoed by the First Minister, Carwyn Jones AM, who identified a significant difference between the level of awareness of ministers and officials in both the Assembly Government and Whitehall:

    My experience as a minister has also been that the ministers have been far more aware of the nature of the devolution settlement in Wales and what that entails than officials sometimes are, and I have had experience where I have discussed many matters with ministerial colleagues and they have understood the situation, whereas it is not always the case with officials.[117]

In addition, Rhodri Morgan AM considered that there were significant differences between the ministerial and Civil Service perspectives.[118]

89. Andrew Davies AM was also critical of what he considered to be the lack of a "strategic view" from the Civil Service, right across the board:

    The Civil Service I think generally both at Whitehall and in Wales is not very good at long-term planning; is not strategic in its thinking. It tends to be short-term, and that is both in policymaking and in terms of financial planning. In developing a longer term strategy at an official and political level in terms of relationships, say, between Wales and Whitehall and Westminster and Wales and other devolved administrations, we should have paused and reflected but I think at the time, as I said, the major preoccupation was establishing the legitimacy of the institution.[119]

90. Dr Jim Gallagher of the Ministry of Justice suggested that, in the final analysis, the level of commitment to increasing awareness of devolution in Whitehall and in the Welsh Assembly Government depended on the attitude of Ministers and the political environment more generally. We do not agree. Civil servants cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for awareness of, and sensitivity to, devolution issues in both policy-making and service delivery. Whilst we fully acknowledge the principle of ministerial responsibility we must observe that, practically speaking, Ministers cannot be expected to monitor everything their departments do. We also note the value of strong links between Assembly Ministers and Regional Ministers, who are often closer to local cross-border issues. We return to this issue below.


91. Some of our witnesses were more specifically critical of the level of Whitehall's awareness of the Welsh devolution settlement. Sir Jon Shortridge told us that "awareness of the Welsh devolution settlement in Whitehall remains poor".[120] It is not clear whether that was self-criticism of his own apparent passive role in awareness raising. He complained of problems he had encountered in the management of routine business between Whitehall departments and the Assembly Government, with Whitehall more often to blame but did not seem to recognise that he might have been part of the problem:

    The sorts of issues which emerged early, and I think continue to emerge, are press releases being issued from Whitehall departments which are not making it clear that the policy they are referring to applies to England only; confused policy documents—to take a recent example—a fair chunk of [the policy document] Building Britain's Future is about building England's future. If you were not actually an insider and thinking about devolution and you were just an ordinary member of the public, would you necessarily realise that?[121]

92. The written evidence we received from the Welsh Assembly Government distinguished the different types of risk which are, in their view, present when Whitehall departments are not alert to the needs of Wales and the details of the devolution settlement. Among these were:

·  failing to recognise where a subject is ostensibly non-devolved (such as social security or defence) but impacts on devolved subjects (for example skills, economic development, health, education);

·  broad brush assumptions that where substantial parts of a subject are non-devolved (eg. energy, employment law), all of it is;   

·  assuming that what goes for Scotland goes for Wales;

·  treating the Welsh Assembly Government like another government department; and

·  failing to recognise geographic boundaries: establishing, in respect of non-devolved functions, new administrative structures which do not take account of the existence of Wales as a territory with its own distinct administrative identity.[122]

93. The Wales Office accepted that Whitehall departments could vary in the quality of their handling of questions which touched on devolution: "the level of engagement can vary from department to department and [...] more work can be done in some areas to ensure that devolution is considered at the inception of policy-making rather than later on in the process".[123]

94. The Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, Sir Gus O'Donnell, admitted that he and his colleagues in Whitehall had to "up our game" on devolution. Speaking of departmental performance he said:

    … I think it is patchy. At its best it is very good. There is a group of people that were around when the first settlement was sorted out and who have seen the Government of Wales Act and they are involved in issues where they have to think about Wales all the time. That is a group which probably gets it. What I worry about is those people where it is not part of their everyday work and then suddenly an issue comes up where it is really important to take the devolved arrangements into account and they do not naturally get it right first time. These are sins of forgetfulness really and that is the part where I think we need to up our game.[124]

It might sometimes be a matter of "forgetfulness" as suggested by Sir Gus, but we could reasonably argue that this is a structural Whitehall deficiency or even active obstruction.

95. Sir Gus gave as an example deficiencies in Whitehall's record on Welsh language issues. "I know when it came to Welsh language issues this Committee played a particularly important role in sorting out some tricky issues. That is an area where you did very well and where we need to do better, to be frank, in terms of handling those issues".[125] For instance, the Government gave assurances that Whitehall departments would follow the requirements of the Welsh Language Act 1993 and develop Welsh Language Schemes. Currently only a small number have done so. We recommend that the Cabinet Office oversees the development of Welsh Language Schemes for all government departments.

96. Some departments were, on the other hand, considered by our witnesses to be doing a generally effective job in dealing with devolution. The Secretary of State for Wales said that "Some departments have set very high standards—I would say the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [...] would probably be at the top of my tree. The Department for Children, Schools and Families is a good performer".[126] But for the First Minister, the quality of Whitehall's knowledge of devolution depended on individual awareness rather than the extent to which departments were experienced in dealing with devolved issues:

    It is also fair to point out that there is a good understanding of devolution in some departments that primarily deal with non-devolved areas, and the Home Office is an example in that regard. So it is not a question of does the Department deal regularly with devolved administrations or not and does that affect their understanding of the Welsh devolution settlement, it does not work that way. Much depends on the interpretation quite often of individual officials in terms of what is devolved and what is not.[127]

97. These problems have arisen in spite of the development of extensive machinery for consultation and co-ordination. The Welsh Assembly Government was critical of Whitehall's record on engagement:

    There are over 100 forums where Welsh Assembly Government and Whitehall officials meet. Despite this and despite 10 years of devolution, there are still many instances of lack of timely consultation on major policy announcements which have implications for Welsh Assembly Government policies and programmes or which leave unclear for audiences what the position is in Wales.[128]

98. Some of our witnesses also testified to failures by Whitehall departments to involve important external interest groups in Wales. The Welsh Local Government Association for example criticised communication with Welsh local authorities:

    Some difficulties can occur when dealing with a non-devolved policy area that nonetheless depends on devolved areas of responsibility for delivery. An example of this would be the development of policy relating to asylum seekers and immigration or migration. Often, policies are developed at Whitehall but will require the active involvement of local authorities in its implementation.[129]

99. Rhodri Morgan AM said it could be difficult for the Assembly Government to trace the source of problems in UK departments and put those problems right. A major reason seemed to be the size and complexity of many departments: "If there was a negative reaction in Whitehall to something that we were doing, or wanted to do, it was quite difficult for us to guess where the problem lay",[130] he told us. But Mr Morgan went so far as to express concern that in some cases both ministers and officials in London had actively obstructed the development of devolution in Wales:

    Lack of awareness is something you can deal with; that is simply a matter of filling in the information gap in Whitehall or Westminster. It is negative awareness that you do not want; in other words, where somebody is watching you like a hawk to try and prevent a development happening that they see as inconvenient for Whitehall or Westminster. Whether that is civil servants doing it off their own bat, or whether it is civil servants doing it with ministerial authority, or whether it is ministers actually saying, 'They have had their Assembly now; that is their lot, they are not having anything else'.[131]

100. Sir Jon Shortridge, speaking of his time as Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Assembly Government up to 2008, suggested that there was a lack of interest in devolution at the highest official level; he could "recall very few occasions when the issue of devolution was discussed at plenary meetings of Permanent Secretaries; perhaps two or three occasions either on a Wednesday meeting or one of our away-days at Sunningdale".[132] Whether this was because Permanent Secretaries from the devolved administrations failed to raise devolution at such gatherings is open to question. The culture of the Civil Service, which can mean frequent job moves within or even between departments, was also seen as a potential weakness. Andrew Davies AM said:

    The organisational memory within the Civil Service can often be lost by people moving on. That is one of the paradoxes I think of the Civil Service—that you have a permanent Civil Service but, nevertheless, its retention of organisational memory, its ability to learn and innovate I think is often not good.[133]

101. Later in this chapter, we propose some solutions to the problems raised by our witnesses.


102. Not all the problems, however, can be laid at the doors of Whitehall departments. The civil servants of the Welsh Assembly Government also have had to learn new ways of doing things in the last ten years. Sir Jon Shortridge was prepared to admit that, with the benefit of hindsight, he would have done things differently: "I think that I would perhaps have made myself more vocal and sought to get [...] issues discussed more regularly at the Permanent Secretaries' group".[134]

103. Alan Trench described the Welsh Assembly Government as a growing and increasingly confident body. The Civil Service in Wales has for instance doubled in size since 1999, and taken on significantly broader responsibilities:

    That is not a great wonder given the dramatic change in its role and its organisation and, from what I have seen also, its self-confidence since 1999. [The Welsh Assembly Government] has moved from being essentially a transmission belt for initiatives and policies largely decided in London to something that is implementing, developing different policies, having had policy development capacity as a result, implementing those policies as well as simply delivering a wide range of public services ...[135]

104. But according to Andrew Davies AM this process of development has brought its own problems in respect of liaison with Whitehall: "Very little policy-making went on in the old Welsh Office. Clearly, the big challenge for the Assembly in its first term and a bit was making policy; so it is almost inevitable I think, as the institution grew, new people came in who had not been civil servants and the emphasis was making policy in Wales; maybe those links with Whitehall were attenuated".[136]

105. Capacity constraints can also cause problems with Cardiff's ability to develop policy. Dame Gillian Morgan, the present Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Assembly Government, noted the imbalance between the number of staff available to the Assembly Government and those available to Whitehall departments:

    ... for the whole of the policies that we do around health effectively we have 23 senior civil servants who do the policy work, they manage the implementation, they follow through the performance. The Department of Health has 260 people carrying out relatively similar work. So we have not a capability issue but a capacity issue in the sheer numbers and the sheer seniority of people that we can feed into some of the programmes.[137]

106. Perhaps partly because of the constraints of time and resources, civil servants in Cardiff may sometimes neglect the rest of Wales, according to some of our evidence. Andrew Davies AM voiced concern that there was "a bit of a bunker mentality at Cathays Park", because "for me the jury is still out in terms of the wider engagement of civil servants with wider civil society in Wales. I do feel that civil servants need to get out more and engage more fully, whether it is with local government, the voluntary sector or others".[138] Carwyn Jones AM also urged the Civil Service in Wales not to "become insular in its thinking. It is absolutely essential that we have secondments, not just to Whitehall departments and vice versa but to local government and public bodies and, indeed, to private organisations as well".[139]

107. One potential pressure on the official machine in Cardiff results from the logistics of the Westminster and Whitehall legislative process. Before the changes introduced by the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Assembly Government would be part of the process of discussion in preparing the Queen's Speech. As Carwyn Jones AM told us, "There was a time when we would have been, as it were, via the Wales Office, bidding for space in the Government's legislative programme".[140] Now, Mr Jones said, the Welsh Assembly Government does not get a preview of the Queen's Speech. He noted what was in effect a constitutional shift:   

    ... the Queen's Speech is a matter for the UK Government. Where policies have been worked on so there is a White Paper clearly we would have an input at that stage, or if there is a Green Paper, so we have an idea of what is proposed in terms of policy, but the Government announces the legislative programme of course via Her Majesty, and what we will do is see what the Government programme is and then obviously see if there is any application in terms of legislation, in the same way as our legislative programme is announced in July and that announcement of course is made to the Assembly itself.[141]

108. We were therefore pleased to hear from the Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Assembly Government that part of the change programme is aimed at improving legislative skills, including flexible working to "make available teams with a set of skills around legislation to another department when the LCO moves over there".[142] Dame Gillian also told us how she was working to correct another perceived failing of the Civil Service, by improving the quality and reach of strategic thinking:

    In terms of looking forward, strategic planning and understanding the five-year dimension, because that is one of the opportunities the Civil Service can bring, we have actually brought in a lot more over the last 18 months economic modelling, forecasting and testing out scenarios as part of the way that we work as a senior team at director general and at director level. Every couple of months we have a whole day where we take a theme and just worry it through in terms of what it will mean in ten years for Wales, to check that what we think about this year is actually robust in getting us to where we want to be in the longer term.[143]

109. Despite their modest numbers the quality of civil servants in Wales was said by some of our witnesses to be good. The First Minister noted that:

    The one thing I have noticed over the past ten years is that there are a number of very talented young civil servants now who are working for the Welsh Assembly Government and they are people who would not have gone to the old Wales Office because it did not do very much as far as they were concerned; there was not the opportunity for policy development or the opportunity for them to develop their talents ...[144]

110. It was also seen as important to reinforce Cardiff's links with Whitehall and other UK administrations. One key to this is a self-confident pride in the good work going on in Wales, a belief that the Assembly Government can play a consistently leading role in the United Kingdom. As Dame Gillian put it: "What we have tried to do over the last year is be much more assertive about what we do well, inviting people down, sending material on things when we think we have leading edge stuff, of which there is a lot, and trying to generate a reputation in Whitehall because we do things well not because we just whinge when people forget about us".[145]

111. We welcome Dame Gillian's approach, and we come back to these problems, and offer some solutions to the problems raised by our witnesses, below.

Raising awareness of the devolution settlement

112. Most witnesses agreed on the need to raise awareness of the devolution settlement in Whitehall. Sir Jon Shortridge commented that in the immediate aftermath of the devolution settlement and the establishment of the National Assembly in 1999, a "serious attempt" was made to ensure that Whitehall departments understood the nature of the settlement and the implications for the conduct of government business. However, he went on to say that "following this initial burst of activity, the level of knowledge and understanding diminished rather than grew, and the Civil Service as a whole failed to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the Welsh settlement".[146] However, there appear to be some signs of renewal recently. Dame Gillian Morgan reported that there had been a "sea-change" by the leadership of the Civil Service to improve awareness of devolution in Wales. This was being led by Sir Gus O'Donnell, who had provided leadership "in terms of thinking about devolution and keeping devolution on the agenda".[147] The current situation is one of improvement and engagement, but this needs to be embedded throughout the Civil Service both in Whitehall and in the Welsh Assembly Government. Continued improvement should not be reliant only on individuals.


113. The Ministry of Justice jointly leads on devolution awareness-raising with the Cabinet Office. These include modules run through the National School of Government, the development of e-learning and awareness events.[148] Sir Gus O'Donnell spoke of trying to improve knowledge "at the right stages":

    We have now […] got something called Base Camp where all SCSs [Senior Civil Servants] when they become members of the Senior Civil Service go off on a two-day course. Most recently Sir John Elvidge [Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Executive] was the key Permanent Secretary delivering that and I went to speak to each tranche. One of the things we emphasise is the need to understand the nature of the devolution settlements and how they evolve ...[149]

114. The Wales Office outlined the "ongoing programme of meetings" on which they were leading within the civil service to promote awareness of the devolution settlement, in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government. In addition:

    Building on these meetings the Wales Office, again in partnership with the Welsh Assembly Government, has presented seminars to staff in Whitehall departments promoting devolution awareness and providing advice on how to ensure that work respects the devolution settlement. Two events have been held so far, at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. These events have proved successful with a good turnout and positive feedback from attendees.[150]

Dr Jim Gallagher, Director General of Devolution in the Ministry of Justice, compared the constant effort to improve knowledge to "painting the Forth Road Bridge".[151]

115. Mr Andrew Felton, Head of Constitutional Affairs and External Liaison Team at the Welsh Assembly Government outlined the importance of hosting officials from Whitehall in Cardiff and Welsh Assembly Government offices in Wales for them "to sample and see devolution in action":[152]

    Recently we had devolution strategy officials from the Ministry of Justice come down partly for a day of strategic thinking and how we can move forward but also to come and see First Minister's questions […] Similarly, next week we have the devolution strategy people from BIS coming down and they will hear the Assembly Plenary debate as well as having some strategic review meetings about the relationship going forward, so we have done quite a lot in the last six months.[153]

116. Sir Gus O'Donnell outlined the efforts that were being made with the Permanent Secretaries Group to improve their knowledge. He had held two discussions on the issues with all Permanent Secretaries in recent months and a Permanent Secretaries Group meeting had been held in Cardiff "to actually get the people at the top involved".[154]

117. Other witnesses spoke, for example, of the need to "get the particular features of the Welsh settlement embedded as far as we can in the Whitehall mind-set so at least everybody has a general alertness and understanding".[155] Sir Gus O'Donnell agreed but also argued that it was necessary for the message to filter from the top down. He contended that "if the leaders are not giving this consistent message it will not happen" but recognised it was "necessary but certainly not sufficient" for the managers at permanent secretary level to understand it.[156]


118. Sir Jon Shortridge advanced the case for ensuring that awareness of the devolution settlement was raised and performance improved by "every Department to have someone who would as part of his/her responsibilities be their expert on all Welsh (and probably other) devolution matters".[157] He advocated:

    … someone with sufficient seniority in the organisation or the department who would, as part of their responsibilities, be expected and required to have an up-to-date understanding of the devolution settlement in Wales, the political issues, the substantive issues in Wales, particularly those related to that department's responsibilities, so they would know what the department needs to know …[158]

119. Sir Emyr Jones Parry, Chairman of the All Wales Convention, said that:

    If I take the European Union, for example, every government department used to have an EU department and then over time they said, 'Well why are you introducing this extra level, what we ought to have is mainstream EU knowledge into all bits of a department and then you do not need that department and everybody should be aware of this dimension.' You cannot make everybody aware of all dimensions, but the fallback ought to be that every department ought to have somebody who is alive to the interests of devolution and can if necessary say, 'Hang on a minute.'[159]

120. Under the arrangements envisaged by Sir Jon Shortridge:

    … when a desk officer suddenly discovered that he/she had to deal with a Welsh legislative of policy issues he/she would immediately have someone to turn to for advice. It would be essential for these Departmental 'experts' to spend some time in Wales on a regular basis to build up their knowledge and to establish contacts.[160]

Dr Jim Gallagher Director General of Devolution at the Ministry of Justice admitted that "we have found that an obvious indicator of better performance is a senior champion inside the department for the operation of devolution, which makes sense. All departments have some institutional way of dealing with devolution: a senior champion seems to work best of all".[161]

121. Alan Trench, however, raised questions about the effectiveness of official "champions" in departments where ministerial support and commitment may be lacking. He said:

    In principle devolution experts exist. It is some time since I looked at this in any detail, but when I did in the early 2000s, about 2003-04, what I found was that every department had a departmental contact and, in principle, that person was the devolution expert; and in reality they received circulars and were supposed to pass them on to the relevant individuals; sometimes they did and sometimes they did not. The extent to which they were an engaged departmental devolution expert was very, very limited, with the exceptions I mentioned already of the Foreign Office, MoD and the Home Office.[162]

122. While many witnesses were in favour of devolution experts in relevant departments, they agreed that such a position should be the "fallback" position and should not take the place of general awareness of devolution with government departments. Sir Jon Shortridge himself clarified:

    ... it is not my intention or expectation that this expert will do all the work; the expert will be there to provide assurance that the person doing the work in the department concerned was doing it in an appropriate and properly informed manner.[163]


123. The Cabinet Secretary acknowledged the need to ensure that closer relationships and improved performance were reinforced and consolidated by permanent mechanisms. Both he and the Welsh Assembly Government Permanent Secretary agreed on the importance of secondments between Whitehall and the Welsh Assembly Government. Admitting that neither administration had been as proactive as it could have been in the past, Dame Gillian Morgan stated that they were now looking to have a more systematic approach to secondments.[164]

124. Sir Jon Shortridge agreed on the valuable experience that secondments provided particularly as, after the initial transfer of staff from the Wales Office to the National Assembly for Wales took place in 1999, "civil servants in Cardiff do not have the same degree of experience of operating physically from Whitehall than happened in the old Welsh Office days".[165] He commented that it was important to:

    … maintain a sufficient critical mass of people working in Cardiff who have worked in Whitehall, understand Whitehall ways and have got good contacts built up in Whitehall in that way.[166]

125. The Wales Office has 56 staff.[167] Currently, a third of these are on secondment from the Welsh Assembly Government.[168] Individuals are also on secondments to the Cabinet Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.[169] Dame Gillian Morgan identified that the Welsh Assembly Government was looking at "sending more secondments to departments like the Treasury".[170]

126. Sir Gus O'Donnell expressed disappointment in the number of secondments that had currently taken place from Whitehall to Cathays Park and that:

    I am certainly trying to encourage civil servants in Whitehall to get out and spend some time working in the Welsh Assembly Government because I think it is a really good development experience for them to learn about, particularly the joining up and the different relationships between the Welsh Assembly Government and the rest of the public sector in Wales.[171]

Andrew Davies AM commented that there was a reciprocal lack of interest in Wales in undertaking secondments to Whitehall. Sir Gus O'Donnell and Dame Gillian Morgan identified possible reasons for the small number of secondments undertaken such as the "basic economics of living in London and house prices. It is very expensive and I think that is a negative factor".[172] It was also recognised that there had to be a benefit to a career and, as Alan Trench noted, "if you are going to make secondments attractive to individuals [it needs to be clear] what the gain to their personal career profile is going to be if they go and they spend six months, three years, or whatever it is in Whitehall".[173]

127. Dame Gillian Morgan stated that the Welsh Assembly Government was also eager to make secondments attractive to Scotland, Northern Ireland, Brussels and the wider public sector: She told us that there was "significant interest from people in doing these sorts of secondments":

    We run for our own staff a couple of times a year not a taster but a market-place and at the last one I went to which had our Brussels people coming we had about 60 Welsh Assembly Government civil servants in the room who were being coached in how to apply. It is about that sort of attendance each time so there is significant interest from people in doing these sorts of secondments. [174]

Current review

128. In late 2009, the Permanent Secretaries Management Group commissioned all departments to "examine rigorously their current systems and behaviours in relation to devolution".[175] Sir Gus O'Donnell acknowledged that this was a self-assessment "and that is a strength and a weakness in that what you would ideally want is third party views on how well you think this is being done".[176] When appearing before us, the Cabinet Secretary was not able to provide findings from the review as some departments had not met the end of January deadline. However, he sent an outline of the preliminary findings to us and confirmed that the key themes to emerge surrounded the issues of resources, knowledge, internal communications and training, and relationships with the Welsh Assembly Government.[177] Once the results of the review were known, remedial measures would be put in place to help the departments improve, if necessary. He stated:

    That is the whole purpose of this. Can we identify from that failure what are the issues: is it quality of staff, is it training, is it induction, and then have an action plan to try and improve matters ...[178]

129. We welcome the preliminary work of the review of departmental awareness of devolution. We expect its findings will be discussed by all Permanent Secretaries and looked at collectively and we expect to be informed of what actions are being taken to deal with any deficiencies. We urge both governments to ensure that the Welsh Assembly Government is fully involved in implementing actions arising from the current review of Whitehall's awareness and performance on devolution.

Way forward for the Civil Service

130. It is clear that awareness of the Welsh devolution settlement is not uniform across Whitehall. An attempt was made to educate Whitehall after the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales but after an initial burst of activity, there was no concerted effort to ensure that a satisfactory level of knowledge was maintained. We welcome an acknowledgement of Whitehall's failings in this area and the importance of a concerted training programme. We recommend that devolution awareness should form a core part of the training for all senior civil servants.

131. We recommend that devolution experts, or 'senior champions' are established in relevant departments, and are expected to have an up-to-date understanding of the devolution settlement in Wales. Their role must be clearly defined and they must not be or become a substitute for ministerial support.

132. Secondments provide valuable knowledge and experience to individuals and to the institutions where they are placed. We recommend that a formal mechanism for secondments between Wales and Whitehall and other devolved administrations is established. We believe that it should be seen as a positive benefit to the development of a career in the Civil Service. However this should not detract from efforts to ensure that devolution awareness is mainstreamed throughout the Civil Service.

133. In this context, we would also welcome a more structured approach to secondments and exchanges between the House and the National Assembly. There are good examples of this in the past, from which we as a Committee have benefited. However, such arrangements have been ad hoc. We recommend that the House of Commons authorities seek to establish a programme of secondments and exchanges with the National Assembly for Wales and to make adequate funds available for this to have effect.

134. It is important to avoid failures of organisational memory which are always a danger in a service where staff move on frequently from job to job. This problem was highlighted in the Communities and Local Government Committee's inquiry into the 2009 Departmental Annual Report, which suggests that on average, an official in the department can expect to have been in his or her particular post for just 0.8 years (about 9 months). We believe that this is an example of poor management of service delivery which is wide-spread in Whitehall. The culture needs to change.

135. The Welsh Assembly Government must strive to establish good working relationships with Whitehall and wider civil society in Wales. We have heard criticisms that the Welsh Assembly Government has been inward looking, which is perhaps understandable in the first few years of an institution when it is trying to develop its own policies. However, it must now have the confidence to interact with Whitehall and to highlight areas of good practice with a belief that it can play a consistently leading role in the United Kingdom.

136. The Welsh Assembly Government must develop its long-term strategic thinking in policymaking and financial planning. We endorse the views of Andrew Davies AM that leading, managing and delivering services and the wider management of relationships are crucial rather than seeing policy-making and legislation as the hardest part of the role.

137. Although ministers in both London and Cardiff take the leading roles on devolution, a key official player in making the devolution settlement work is, and will continue to be, the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service. We welcome Sir Gus O'Donnell's leadership in this matter and his clear commitment to making devolution work, as demonstrated for example by the review of departmental arrangements he has put in hand. But more is needed to ensure that continuity is not lost, and we therefore recommend that the Cabinet Secretary should give evidence to this Committee annually, perhaps at the same time as the Committee's autumn evidence session on the Wales Office annual report. This would be an opportunity for the Cabinet Secretary for example to set out what progress has been made in raising awareness of devolution across Whitehall and in the Welsh Assembly Government and to answer questions on the development of the Welsh devolution settlement. We also believe that the Permanent Secretary at the Welsh Assembly Government needs to take a proactive role in explaining developments in Wales to her colleagues across Whitehall. We commend the way that Dame Gillian Morgan has described her role and we recommend that she too should give evidence to the Committee annually in addition to the regular evidence from the First Minister which has become an established part of the Committee's work.

Civil Service Code

138. The Civil Service Code governs the behaviour of civil servants in Wales, England and Scotland.[179] The latest version of the Code was published in 2006. It sets out the duties and responsibilities of all civil servants, whatever their jobs. These are focused on four "core values": integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. Those working in the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly Government and their agencies have their own versions of the Code, which emphasise the accountability of these civil servants to their own ministers rather than ministers of the central UK Government, but are otherwise similar.

139. In its 2009 Report Devolution: A Decade On, the Justice Select Committee concluded that a common Civil Service Code should continue to be observed by all the administrations of Great Britain. It further recommended that "the code should be one of the means by which the details and implications of the devolution settlements are experienced and promulgated, together with the fundamental principles of public service which are a shared inheritance of the whole of the United Kingdom".[180]

140. Since the Government's response to the Justice Select Committee's Report did not address this point,[181] we asked our witnesses whether awareness of the devolution settlements could form part of a revised Civil Service Code in future. Dame Gillian Morgan, Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Assembly Government, noted that supplementary guidance had recently been issued to all civil servants in relation to their duties under the Freedom of Information Act. She thought that universal guidance on devolution should also be promulgated.[182]

141. Other evidence cautioned that, whilst an understanding of devolution was important for civil servants, any guidance should be interpreted flexibility to suit individual circumstances. The Farmers' Union of Wales stated that it "would not wish to see the adoption of a code that undermines current engagement between Welsh departments and stakeholders, through the introduction of bureaucracy and protocols [...] We would therefore advocate a code that allows devolved departments to operate flexibly and maintain and improve relationships, while simultaneously ensuring that devolution is properly recognised by all departments".[183]

142. Sir Gus O'Donnell, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, agreed that the nature of the devolution settlement could affect the job of civil servants wherever they worked, whether in a department, a devolved administration or the agencies of either central or devolved Governments, and that guidance should be issued accordingly:

    ... the question really is how much of that goes in the Code and how much of it goes in other documents. I am anxious not to change the Code every five minutes but, you are right, it is an important matter. When we next come to change it I think we should look at this and come to a decision about that. For me the important point is that people read this and actually act on it ...[184]

143. Civil servants throughout the United Kingdom need to be aware of the implications of devolution for their work which must be seen in the context of its relationship with outside bodies more generally. This principle should be enshrined in core guidance issued to the Civil Service. We welcome the Cabinet Secretary's agreement to consider including an awareness of devolution as part of the Civil Service Code next time it is reviewed.

108   Q 443 Back

109   Ev 127 Back

110   Ev 125  Back

111   Q 176 Back

112   Q 197  Back

113   Ev 158 Back

114   Ev 140 Back

115   Ev 158 Back

116   Q 62 Back

117   Q 449 Back

118   Q 57 Back

119   Q 183 Back

120   Ev 125 Back

121   Q 9 Back

122   Ev 146 Back

123   Ev 129 Back

124   Q 556 Back

125   Q 552 Back

126   Qq 588-589 Back

127   Q 492 Back

128   Ev 146 Back

129   Ev 156 Back

130   Q 60 Back

131   Q 68 Back

132   Q 5 Back

133   Q 178 Back

134   Q 13 Back

135   Q 370 Back

136   Q 179 Back

137   Q 497 Back

138   Q 209 Back

139   Q 493 Back

140   Q 464 Back

141   Q 463 Back

142   Q 497 Back

143   Q 496 Back

144   Q 493 Back

145   Q 502  Back

146   Ev 125 Back

147   Q 503 Back

148   Ev 129 Back

149   Q 560 Back

150   Ev 129 Back

151   Q 114 Back

152   Q 517 Back

153   Q 517 Back

154   Q 560 Back

155   Q 517 Back

156   Q 563 Back

157   Ev 125 Back

158   Q 17 Back

159   Q 255 Back

160   Ev 125 Back

161   Q 136 Back

162   Q 361  Back

163   Q 25 Back

164   Q 514 Back

165   Q 22 Back

166   Q 28 Back

167   Figure for actual staff 2008-09, Wales Office Annual Report 2009, June 2009 Back

168   Q 551 Back

169   Q 551-Q 503 Back

170   Q 514 Back

171   Q 551 Back

172   Q 563 Back

173   Q 364 Back

174   Q 516 Back

175   Ev 129 Back

176   Q 558 Back

177   Ev 164 Back

178   Q 559 Back

179   There is a unified civil service in Wales, Scotland and England. Northern Ireland has a separate service and issues its own civil service code in similar terms. Back

180   Justice Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2008-09, Devolution: A Decade On, HC 529-I, para 87 Back

181   Ministry of Justice, Devolution: A Decade On: Government Response, Cm. 7687, July 2009 Back

182   Q 517 Back

183   Ev 112 Back

184   Q 572 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 26 March 2010