Securing a fairer framework for devolved powers in Wales
Following 2011’s referendum on the law-making powers of the National Assembly for Wales, the Wales Governance Centre, led by Professor Richard Wyn Jones, analysed constitutional design and identified improved pathways for implementation of devolved powers.
2011’s devolution referendum gave Wales new law-making powers and changed the constitutional make-up of the UK. However, Wales Governance Centre (WGC) researchers analysed constitutional design in Wales and uncovered the instability of the existing Welsh devolution settlement.
Wales Governance Centre researchers provided crucial evidence which underpinned the argument for Wales to move to a ‘reserved powers’ model of devolution. They highlighted problematic areas of the Draft Wales Bill and provided critical recommendations concerning devolved funding arrangements.
UK’s Changing Union
In 2012, the ‘UK’s Changing Union’ project (UKCU) was established as a joint initiative between the Wales Governance Centre, Cymru Yfory/Tomorrow’s Wales and Wales’ leading independent think tank, the Institute of Welsh Affairs.
UKCU influenced the work of the Silk Commission, an independent commission set up by UK Government to make recommendations on the constitutional and financial arrangements for Wales. UKCU also encouraged and facilitated wider civil society participation in the Commission process, and produced research, evidence and recommendations for the future structure of Welsh devolution.
The Draft Wales Bill
The UK Government implemented the Silk Commission’s recommendations via the Wales Act 2014, which focused on finance and the Wales Act 2017, which reshaped the devolution settlement.
While the principle of ‘reserved powers’ was accepted, the initial Draft Wales Bill interpreted the implications of maintaining a single (England and Wales) legal jurisdiction in a particularly restrictive manner. The Wales Governance Centre, in partnership with University College London’s Constitution Unit, produced independent analyses of both the Draft Bill and the preceding White Paper.
The Fiscal Framework
The implementation of both Acts was dependent on the UK and Welsh Government agreeing a fiscal framework. Wales Governance Centre researchers modelled the effects of multiple formulas for implementing fiscal devolution and minimum funding level protections for Wales. This analysis focused on how the Welsh Government’s block grant should be adjusted after tax devolution.
Political and policy impacts
The Centre’s research was influential for key political stakeholders in Wales and the UK and ensured that Wales’ devolution settlement was more sustainable and stable.
The research was impactful in three specific areas
Influencing the recommendations of the Commission on Devolution in Wales (2014)
In 2014, the Silk Commission recommended a new constitutional relationship between Wales and the UK, with the devolved level given legislative powers. Wales Governance Centre research, through the UKCU project was cited as having an “undeniable, clear, manifest and measurable impact” on the report.
UKCU’s recommendation that Wales move to a reserved powers model is reflected in the report’s conclusions. Sir Paul Silk, Chair of the Commission viewed the Wales Governance Centre as “unpaid specialist academic advisors” to test out and get feedback on the Commission’s ideas and emerging conclusions as they were developing. This helped ensure the recommendations reached cross-party consensus.
Strengthening the Wales Act 2017 (2015-2017)
Following the completion of the Silk Commission, the UK Government reviewed the Welsh devolution settlement and published the Draft Wales Bill in October 2015. The Wales Governance Centre research “shone a new and glaring light on the aspects of the Draft Bill that were most problematic and made a compelling case to the UK Government to rethink its approach” according to Glynne Jones, Director of the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales since 2013.
The strength of the concerns raised by the research led to the highly unusual decision to ‘pause’ the draft Bill. Impartial evidence provided by Wales Governance Centre meant that real purchase with relevant UK Government departments was possible and problematic aspects of the Bill were revisited.
The Bill, passed as the Wales Act 2017, “was a marked improvement on the 2015 draft Bill”. It "represents the first time that external, expert opinion has had such a significant impact on the shape of the Welsh devolution settlement”.
Securing a fair financial settlement for Wales (2016-2017)
The implementation of the Wales Act 2017 was contingent on the UK and Welsh Government reaching an agreement on a fiscal framework. During the fiscal framework negotiations, Wales Governance Centre provided advice through formal reports, evidence at Committee sessions, and “frequent informal meetings and discussions to shape the plans for the new fiscal framework and how the Welsh Government’s block grant could be adjusted after tax devolution”.
The final fiscal agreement (December 2016) included recommendations drawn from that work.