A New Era for Welsh Public Policy

Democracy Outside of Senedd
Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash
NewsFebruary 9th, 2012

When is a policy institute not a policy institute? When it’s a bridge or a network, at least according to First Minister’s speech to the Public Services 2025 conference earlier today. Outlining his intention to create a Welsh Public Policy Institute, as per the Labour Manifesto, the First Minister made clear he didn’t want to create another organisation but to enable the provision of better advice to Ministers.

The media reaction so far has focussed on the responses of Wales’s two think-tanks, ourselves and the Institute of Welsh Affairs to the proposal, digging for criticism. Ours is simple: we welcome any steps that strengthen policy making, and we’d be pleased to work with such an institute in due course.

But whatever a WPPI looks like, there will still be a need for a policy capacity that is genuinely independent of government, that can question government policy and action, and that can look at not just what the Welsh Government  does but also the UK Government, local government, the private and third sectors.

Moreover, ‘evidence’ is never neutral or value free. Most obviously, the areas of work by a WPPI will reflect the Welsh Government’s priorities.  But these may not be the only issues that matter. Indeed if organisations outside government didn’t campaign for policy change, some issues would never get to be Government priorities in the first place.

It seems to me that the problem in Welsh public policy is not a lack of ideas, but a reluctance of academics to produce policy-relevant research and of public officials to act on the evidence that is available. There needs to be a shift in culture and practice as well as a ‘bridge’ if an institute is to be effective.

So hello and welcome to a new institute, or bridge or network, but it’s definitely not goodbye to existing think-tanks.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation 

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