My big, fat Welsh annual report.
- 29 May 2012
- From the section Wales politics
My favourite conversation of the last few weeks was with the inventor who, it turns out, lives on our street. The key, he said, to inventing wonderful things the world can't live without is to ask yourself what the world's biggest problems are and then set yourself a target - solving them.
Obvious but only easy if you know how. Easier too, you'd have to say, if you're working quietly in your back room and no-one knows what you're up to.
If you're the Welsh Government, working with a host of civil servants in front of a squeezed and demanding electorate, it's considerably tougher.
Let's start then with what the government's first annual report, published today, is not.
It is not a series of targets, which if hit, will solve all of Wales' biggest problems.
It is not a series of targets that come the next election, people can measure and judge the government in blunt terms to have succeeded or failed.
It is not a series of targets at all. But it is a document, a big, fat document, that means you, I, charities, other governments, opponents, supporters, patients, teachers, parents, anyone with an axe to grind or a point to make can check whether what the government is doing is helping solve Wales' problems, or whether their intervention is having little or no, effect.
It lacks targets, it doesn't lack detail.
In that detail Labour see genuine transparency and accountability. This is, they believe, a real attempt to come clean about where we stand as a country, not just an attempt to shake off the damaging opposition narrative of Carwyn Jones and his do-nothing government. Around a quarter of the statistics contained in the 660 pages are, we're told, being made public for the first time. The rest may have been available but not in one place, with the one aim of ensuring we can all grasp it. In that detail too the First Minister sees a means of turning the screws of self discipline from within the government on delivery.
In that detail the Conservatives see "tiresome, repetitive" statistics stuck in one place to "make it look as if a lot of activity is going on". In fact, they argue, "it offers Wales nothing new."
Delivery, say Plaid, may be the "watchword" of this government but "we are still watching and we are still waiting". In that detail, say the Liberal Democrats, there is plenty of "repackaging" but few clear cut, measurable targets.
It's a safe enough bet that civil servants weren't falling over themselves to push ministers towards targets, even when this annual report was but a twinkle in the First Ministerial eye. You imagine those same civil servants blanched every so slightly when Carwyn Jones said, back in September that "I want people in 2016 to look at that document and say: judge these people against what they've done, not what they said they'd do, but what they've done."
Targets? No. Indicators? Yes, minister.
It's pretty clear that ministers are realistic enough to know that whatever their actions now, given how intractable many of the issues they face are, it could be a very long time before they bear fruit. No matter which initiative or investment they announce to great headlines now, many of the colour-coded graphs in this report won't take a turn for the better for a decade, perhaps two.
Politics is always a trade off between the long game and the short game, of course, and even worse, they might think, is that it's likely that in a few years' time - with an election around the corner - many of those indicators may still not make happy reading for them.
But they are there. A big fat commitment to delivery or a big fat PR campaign - well that's for you - as Welsh citizens - to decide.