Wales politics

UK government risking the Union, says Mark Drakeford

Mark Drakeford
Image caption Mark Drakeford argued the role of Wales Office needs to be "radically rethought"

Government departments in London have not caught up with devolution and risk damaging the Union of the UK, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

But he stopped short of calling for the abolition of the Wales Office, saying it needed "radical" change.

Neither it nor its Scottish equivalent have changed in 20 years of devolution, he will tell an audience in London.

The Wales Office said it remained focused on "ensuring Welsh interests are fully represented at a UK level".

Mr Drakeford's lecture came in the week of the 20th anniversary of the first Welsh Assembly election.

Speaking at the Institute for Government, he said failing to electrify the main railway line to Swansea, build the city's tidal lagoon or secure the new Wylfa nuclear power station on Anglesey show "just how this current system is failing to protect Wales' interests".

"The current culture, institutions and process of governance are not compatible with the long-term health of the Union," Mr Drakeford argued.

"Radical change is needed - the future of devolution and our Union lies in a real acceptance of devolution as a partnership in the governance of the United Kingdom.

"We must seize this opportunity to create it."

Mr Drakeford added: "We need to think about how the Wales Office can help the Welsh Government to conduct orderly relationships with a wide range of government departments rather than being an obstacle to that, rather than being an extra hurdle that you've got to get through.

"We still need a powerful voice for Wales, but it needs to be one that is updated and brought into line with the places that powers now sit."

He said both governments "get on well" but that Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns, who leads the Wales Office, "often tries to interpose himself" between the two administrations.

Image caption Alun Cairns has been Secretary of State for Wales since March 2016

A UK government spokesperson said the Wales Office, officially titled the Office of the Secretary of State for Wales, plays a "crucial part in facilitating and developing Welsh devolution and promoting Wales across the UK and globally".

The spokesperson said: "In recent years some of the department's greatest achievements have included delivering two landmark Wales Acts, agreeing a fiscal framework which guarantees fair funding for Wales for the long term and abolishing tolls on the Severn Crossings."

'No urgency'

A Conservative spokesman said: "It would also be interesting to make comparisons with the lack of progress made in projects such as the Circuit of Wales, the electrification of the Valley lines and the M4 relief road - all the responsibility of the Welsh Government in Cardiff.

"Resources were made available but they have chosen not to take advantage of them."

Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader Liz Saville Roberts accused Mr Drakeford of showing "no real urgency" to "get rid of this secretary of state and his useless department".

"The basic facts of the matter is that we are ruled by an uncaring Conservative Government at one end of the M4 and a lacklustre Labour at the other."

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