Could do better: the Welsh Government’s Annual Report
What a strange document the Welsh Government’s Annual Report is. An excellent idea, something extraordinary seems to have gone wrong in its delivery. Most telling is that the annual report doesn’t really tell us how well (or otherwise) the Government is doing at all.
Some of the indicators the report uses don’t yet have statistics available, so no progress can be measured. Other indicators have only a year’s worth of data, which similarly tell us nothing about progress, whilst almost all indicators use data that pre-date the Government’s current term. They tell us more about how the Labour-Plaid coalition did than how the current Government is doing. There is very little indeed in the report which relates to the Welsh Government’s performance since May 2011.
So maybe 2013’s report will tell us a bit more?
Or maybe it won’t, because some of the indicators chosen have only a nodding acquaintance with what the Government is trying to achieve. Take the chapter on poverty for example. It starts, quite reasonably, with measures of the proportion of people living on incomes below the poverty threshold and then looks at the proportion of children in severe poverty and the persistence of poverty. So far, so good.
The chapter goes on to look at worklessness and educational attainment. Now, lack of a job and low educational attainment are certainly associated with poverty, but I’m not persuaded that they are useful measures of the government achievements on the subject. And the sense of déjà vu is real, as the indicators have already been used in the education chapter, begging the question of who is responsible and accountable for, for example, the number of young people who are NEET? Is it the Education Minister? Or perhaps the Social Justice Minister as well? But on the grounds that worklessness and low educational attainment are strongly associated with poverty, it’ll do.
Things really go haywire when the Chapter looks at various other statistics which appear to have no relationship with poverty at all, such as child health at the age of 3, the percentage of children which are immunised against MMR, and number of free swims by children and people over 65. Improvement on any of these measures may well be a good thing, but they have little if anything to do with tackling poverty.
And while some of the indicators in the various chapters are direct measures of government action, such as the number of participants on various programmes, many more are indicators of the general state of Wales, over which the government has relatively little control. Quite why a government would want to be held to account for the number of rail journeys, for example, when it doesn’t control the rail network, train operators, stations or ticket prices, the bulk of investment or the thousands of individual decisions about when and how to travel is a mystery.
So, as a progress report, the Welsh Government’s 2012 Annual Report is a strange beast. It tells us very little about how well the current government is doing, although it tells us something about how well the previous one did, how well the UK government did and a lot else besides. If I got a school report like this, I’d be ringing the headteacher wondering why she was telling me about Dai when I want to know about Daisy. If I got a company report like this, I’d be wondering about whether they were on top of their game (and hanging on to my investments like crazy!).
The verdict on the report has to be: could do better. And on the government? Who can tell.
Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation. To find out more about our work and to support more blog posts like this please visit www.bevanfoundation.org
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