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Doom and gloom in 2018?

January 8th 2018

Victoria Winckler reflects on our predictions for the year ahead and what could be done to make 2018 a year for hope.

Our report on what 2018 might bring, published last week, made for uncomfortable reading. We outlined the prospect of a combination of a squeeze on people’s standard of living, severe pressure on public services and huge political uncertainty. There wasn’t much good news there at all.

Thirty people from a wide range of backgrounds got together last Friday, at Jols restaurant in Merthyr Tydfil, to discuss the key findings as well as to network and enjoy a pleasant lunch.  There were some great points raised in discussion, with some common and important themes emerging.

Doom or boom?

Most people who attended agreed that the outlook was tough. Nobody thought the economy would boom or that a magic money tree would be discovered.  The forecast that child poverty could rise to around 40% by 2019-2021 caused particular concern.

Gloomy though it was, some felt that the headlines didn’t capture the reality and diversity of people’s everyday lives. It’s only policy wonks who worry about GVA per head or the educational attainment gap. Everyone else worries about paying bills or how little Dai is doing at school. Point taken.

There was much more discussion about what could be done.

Short on ideas or short on delivery?

There were two distinct schools of thought about solutions.

One is that Wales’ public and third sector bodies are short of innovative ideas.  Disruptive ideas that might affect friends and colleagues or that carried some risk were in especially short supply.

The other is that there are plenty of good ideas but delivery is patchy.  Caution amongst politicians and public officials, small organisations with static management and lack of funds are all barriers.

Whichever is right, there simply isn’t enough change on the ground.

Evidence please!

There was a real desire for more evidence.  And evidence of all kinds for all sorts of reasons too.

To begin with, there are huge gaps in understanding about people’s everyday lives.

The data that is collected has a big impact on how issues are perceived and the solutions that are implemented. Take the example of fuel poverty. Everyone knows that people on low incomes are struggling to afford to keep warm in winter, and the Welsh Government is spending millions on solutions.

  • But do we know how many people live in fuel poverty today? No.
  • Do we know who they are or where they live? No.
  • Do we know if fuel poverty has increased or decreased since the last estimates (2011-12)? No.

The data also tend to focus on the negative rather than the things people love about Wales.  As a result we have a narrative about the valleys which stresses unemployment, deprivation and hopelessess rather than one of opportunity, quality of the environment and hope.

On top of this, there’s not enough data to know how well organisations are doing compared with others.

How can X housing association know if it is good, bad or indifferent at a particular activity unless it can compare itself? Unless there are fair and balanced assessments about performance, it is very difficult for organisations to improve and near impossible to identify and roll-out good practice. In the absence of evidence, it’s the braggards who do best.

This isn’t about league tables but about performance management and improvement.

And then there’s the question of accountability.

There’s a dearth of information about how well public bodies are performing in some areas. Do we know how well Welsh Government employment schemes are performing compared with the Department for Work and Pensions’ schemes? Do we know the student retention rate in our further education colleges? The answer to these and many more questions is  is simple: No.

Without the hard evidence it is extremely difficult for the public and their representatives to hold public bodies to account.

People’s Voice

A third theme was about the importance of ‘voice’. For too long, Wales’ public bodies have got away with token consultation with and token representation of ordinary people. And even then their views are ignored!

People being able to speak out about what matters to them and organisations that are able and willing to listen are the best way of making sure our politics and policies are right. The myriad of structures in place at the moment – think of public service boards for example – almost certainly don’t deliver on this.

This discussion was just a small-scale bringing together of people from a real mix of backgrounds. As one delegate said:

“This was a real meeting of minds … giving us space to say what we really think without fear or favour! We need more of this in Wales.”

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation. The report on what 2018 might hold was funded by the generous donations of our supporters – find out how you can support more like this here

 

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One Response to “Doom and gloom in 2018?”

  1. Huw Lewis 3rd Sector Development Manager GAVO Blaenau Gwent says:

    People’s Voice

    Hi Victoria,
    Just to point out, the approach we have taken as a PSB in Blaenau Gwent has been innovative and very different to the tokenistic ways of the past.
    As a 3rd sector partner, I am encouraged by the way we have gone about engaging with and listening to our residents, community organisations .
    We as a PSB have learnt the lessons of the past and will ensure that the “voice of the people” is heard and will play a vital part in design and delivery of our Well-being plans for the area going forward.
    regards,

    Huw

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