Wales: The State of the State

Welsh devolution took a significant step forward in 2019. As the Government took on powers to adjust income tax rates by up to ten pence in the pound, Wales joined Scotland in a new era of fiscal devolution, autonomy and responsibility. In 2020, the Welsh Assembly will underscore how far Wales has come in its devolution by defining its own name as Senedd Cymru or Welsh Parliament.

Our citizen survey found that the Welsh public stand out from the rest of the UK in their attitudes to public spending. As our chart shows, people in Wales are the most likely to say that government services should be extended, even if that means tax rises.

People in Wales appear to be the UK’s most concerned for the next generation. Some 56 per cent of survey respondents in Wales believe that today’s youth will have a worse life than their parents compared to an average of 45 per across the UK. More encouragingly, perceptions of inequality are the most positive in Wales – it is the only nation in the UK where a higher proportion of the public believe that people have equal opportunities to get ahead in life.

Public sector leaders in Wales told us about challenges they share with the rest of the UK, such as unsustainable levels of demand on the NHS. They also talked about the debate around whether local government in Wales should be restructured to reduce the number of authorities.

Leaders also acknowledged the difficulties in attracting and retaining the right skills for public bodies in Wales. As in the rest of the UK, economic development skills were raised as a specific issue with one senior council figure acknowledging that some councils are in stronger positions than others to secure the right people.

The Welsh Government’s approach to health and social care, as set out in Healthier Wales, appears to be well-received in the sector. One senior figure told us that she is optimistic and Wales is fast getting the building blocks in place for a more sustainable and joined-up approach that engages the NHS and councils alike.

In the words of public sector leaders

"The big issue remains the sustainability of council services. We’ve thrown the kitchen sink at savings but it’s increasingly difficult to deliver more year on year. We’re hopeful for some financial respite but the question is how far it will go. At a national level, the overriding concern is to protect NHS budgets." – Council Chief Executive

"Twenty-two unitary authorities is too many, which means there are too many people in admin and that’s rife across the public sector. The block grant from the UK government gets smaller every year and if we don’t change, services will diminish over time. That’s the elephant in the room." – Director of Non-Departmental Public Body

"Economic development is huge on our agenda. We’re going all out and it’s really positive but I look at other councils in Wales who haven’t got the right people, attitude or politicians." – Council Head of Property

"Social care has gone higher up the agenda since the last State of the State. The Welsh Government’s ‘Healthier Wales’ has recognised that the health and social care systems can’t go on as they are. That’s all really positive. We’re a small nation and we’re getting the right building blocks in place." – Social Care Director

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