Is devolution better for Wales?

 

Has devolution helped improve the lives of the people of Wales?

It's a question we ask ourselves all the time but it's particularly pertinent now for a number of reasons.

First of all, the independence referendum in Scotland is making everyone think about the political make-up of the UK in a way that has not happened before. I'm wary of too many comparisons between Scotland and Wales because frankly the two countries are so different and crucially the two countries' relationships with England are so different but it was always going to have some kind of impact in Wales, we are just not sure what that will be yet.

Secondly, we've just hit the 15 year anniversary since the National Assembly for Wales began its life.

And thirdly, the Welsh government's record in delivering public services is coming under unprecedented scrutiny from politicians at Westminster and from Fleet Street.

Enormous challenges

So all this week we're looking at the areas that affect your lives.

Health accounts for close to half of everything that is spent by the Welsh government so the state of the NHS is inevitably the hottest topic.

Like virtually everywhere else in the western world, Wales is dealing with an ageing population and in certain areas a population with some of the most chronic health problems in the UK.

The challenges are enormous and parts of the NHS in Wales have struggled to cope, particularly in waiting times for treatment.

This has been thrown into focus sharply by some of the statistics comparing Wales with England.

In Wales, for example, around a third of people wait more than two months for an ultrasound scan while in England that figure is less than 1%.

Difficult territory

Health statistics are notoriously complex and the Welsh government points out that in many areas Wales performs just as well, if not better than parts of England. We'll be exploring some of these issues during the week.

Education is probably the area where there is now the biggest difference between Wales and England.

The Welsh government picks up the tab for a big chunk of university tuition fees of students from Wales wherever they choose to study and developments like free schools and academies in England have been rejected here. The latest results in international education league tables called Pisa suggest the reforms in Wales are not working, so we'll be assessing the challenges the system faces.

And when it comes to the economy, which has been difficult territory for Wales following the demise of heavy industry, there is a positive development to reflect upon.

Unemployment levels in Wales are currently around the same as the UK average which historically has not been the case. In fact, on this measure Wales is outperforming areas like the north east of England.

The question is who should take the credit? The Conservative-led government at Westminster or Labour in Cardiff Bay? The debate about who owns the economic recovery is arguably going to be the biggest debate of the lot over the next year.

And then there's the future, the Welsh government is gaining new tax and borrowing powers and there are calls for more powers to be handed over from Westminster in areas like policing and criminal justice.

There are those who say these arguments should be considered separately from the arguments over the record of the Welsh government of the day. And strictly speaking they are right because the constitutional settlement is permanent while a government is temporary.

The problem is I don't think that difference exists in the minds of the public, particularly when you consider how unlikely it is in Wales to have anything other than a Labour-led administration in Cardiff Bay, so inevitably the debate comes back to the record of the Welsh government and that is what we'll be putting under the spotlight this week.

 

 
Nick Servini Article written by Nick Servini Nick Servini Political editor, Wales

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