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Why we can’t lose the conservative principle of localised decision making

In the last few days, the leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament, Paul Davies MS has outlined in a virtual speech to members his intentions to lead a revolution regarding devolution. The speech outlined a desire to deliver change for the people of Wales, with a fresh approach to running the Welsh Government. Yet this revolutionary zeal must not be constrained by acceptance of the existing devolution settlement write Christopher Harries.

This speech builds upon Paul Davies MS conference speech to the party faithful in Llangollen back in March where he intimated a desire to halve the Welsh government from fourteen ministers to just seven. In addition, Paul Davies MS used his conference speech to pledge to cut the cost of politics in Cardiff Bay by imposing a freeze on the Welsh Parliament commission budget and to stop an increase in the number of representatives in Cardiff Bay.

The Welsh media and political establishment in Cardiff Bay have fixated on the reference to Dominic Cummings in the virtual speech delivered to party members, yet they have chosen to largely ignore the merits of the observations drawn by Paul Davies MS. In recent months, Paul Davies MS has expressed a desire to change politics in Cardiff Bay and the culture in the Welsh Government.

If we accept the need for the Welsh Government and culture in Cardiff Bay to change then it follows that we must also consider whether the current devolution settlement is delivering for the people of Wales. On this basis, the current devolution settlement should not be excluded from the revolutionary approach and review advocated by the leader of the Welsh Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament. This consideration is not with the intent of undermining devolution far from it. The current devolution settlement is not the only form that devolution can take, reform can occur that respects the result of the Welsh Devolution referendum in 1997 and 2011. Such consideration and debate on the location of competencies may go some way towards arresting the nation-building in Cardiff Bay in a manner consistent with the conservative principle of truly localising decision making.

Previously I have advocated for the Welsh Conservatives to commit to being an electoral bulwark against devocrat calls for further powers. Paul Davies MS and the Welsh Conservatives are in a position to offer the Welsh electorate real change at the next election. The promised revolution can put an end to the nation-building project in Cardiff Bay, stop the push for further devolution which ultimately contributes to the breakup of the Union and at the same time deliver substantive change to benefit the people of Wales. We must not forget that it was under a Conservative Government in Westminster that reform to the devolution settlement was last made, the reserved powers model with some tax powers that has given the devolved institution powers that are not being used effectively.

It is good to see the Welsh Conservatives embracing a revolutionary spirit to challenge the inertia that has taken hold in Cardiff Bay. Paul Davies has intimated a desire in recent months to do more than simply enact cosmetic changes, and action has been taken to match the rhetoric. In recent days the Shadow Cabinet in Cardiff Bay has been changed to reflect the overhaul alluded to by the leader of the Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament.

Where the revolution that Paul Davies advocates fails to elicit the desired change or outcomes do not improve then the Welsh Conservatives should be open to changes to the existing devolution settlement. Changes to the existing devolution settlement should come in the form of transfer of competencies. Transference of powers should not be seen solely in the context as simply a repatriation of powers to Westminster as part of some plan to roll back devolution. Nor should devolution be seen solely through the prism of a one-way transfer with powers simply being transferred from Westminster to Cardiff Bay.

In line with the revolutionary spirit invoked in his virtual speech, the Welsh Conservatives should consider where powers are to be located to ensure that those powers are utilised in a manner to best deliver for the people of Wales. In some instances, this may indeed involve repatriation to Westminster in others this may involve powers being localized. This approach is a pragmatic approach to devolution rather than driven by ideological concerns and is aimed with the intent of delivering better outcomes for the Welsh public.

In the coming months, the Welsh Conservatives will be unveiling the detail and substance connected to the radical overhaul that has been promised. We must hope that revolutionary zeal and radical stirring promised by Paul Davies MS is not limited in scope or ambition. The opportunity is there for the Welsh Conservatives to transform devolution. After more than twenty years of Labour governance in one form or another, Wales desperately needs change and the Welsh Conservatives are laying the framework for precisely that.

Christopher Harries is the Chairman of Cardiff Central Conservative Association

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