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Chairs want impact assessment reform

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SIIAs, or Strategic Integrated Impact Assessments, to give them their full name, can affect everyone in Wales.

The Welsh Government publishes SIIAs alongside its draft budgets to show how funding allocations will affect particular services or sections of society.

An SIIA could show the impact a particular health programme is expected to have on young people, or how money dedicated to a work programme will benefit people from poorer areas affected by poverty.

In 2015-16 the Welsh Government consolidated a number of different types of impact assessments into one. An SIIA assesses the impact of budget decisions on:

• Equalities and human rights;
• Children’s rights;
• The Welsh language;
• Climate change;
• Rural proofing;
• Health;
• Biodiversity; and,
• Economic development.

Concerns have been raised in previous years about the quality and detail of impact assessments, which is what prompted a concurrent inquiry by three National Assembly committees.

Among the concerns was a belief that, in some cases, there is a lack of clarity about what has actually been assessed. The Welsh Government also only publishes the results of impact assessments but not the detail from which their conclusions are drawn.

There are further concerns the current process is the ‘wrong way round’, with factors such as children’s rights and equalities appearing to be used as tools to justify spending, rather than demonstrating how those factors influenced decision-making.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee, Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee and the Finance Committee looked at how the Welsh Government plans for future spending and how it assesses the impact of its budgetary decisions.

The Committees jointly concluded that the Welsh Government should go back to fundamental principles. That the focus should be ‘what approach will be most effective’, rather than ‘which element of the assessment is the most important?’

The Committees agreed the Welsh Government needs to be clear about why it conducts an assessment, who uses it and what they hope to understand from it.

They believe for impact assessments to have any value, they must meaningfully inform how funding is allocated to which areas. The Committees did not believe that there was sufficient evidence of this happening at the moment.

The Committees also want to see a transparent account of the negative, as well as the positive impacts of budget allocations, so a full picture can be considered. They stated that honesty about the difficult trade-offs that have to be made is essential for public confidence in decision-making, especially in the current economic climate.

In a joint statement, the three Chairs of the Committees, Lynne Neagle AM, John Griffiths AM and Llyr Gruffydd AM said: “In recent years each of our committees has had something to say about budget impact assessments. We felt the time had come to work together to shine a joint spotlight on this, with a particular focus – given our respective remits – on the impact of budget decisions on equalities, children and young people.

“We believe SIIAs should be used to inform, steer and influence change. We are concerned that they appear to be used currently to reflect or justify decisions which have already been made.

“Furthermore, we are concerned by what appears to be a growing tendency to pass responsibility for impact assessments to local bodies such as health boards or local authorities, for which there is no legislative basis.

“We recognise that assessing the impact of budget discussions is no mean feat, but for impact assessments to have any value, they must meaningfully inform financial allocations – as things stand, it is not clear to us that the way in which they are undertaken delivers that aim.”

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Politics

Pembrokeshire County Council considering ‘Fire-break’ implications

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FOLLOWING the First Minister’s announcement at lunchtime today (Oct 19) of an all-Wales ‘firebreak’ commencing on Friday, Pembrokeshire County Council is currently assessing the impact this will have on its services.

Council Leader, David Simpson, said: “I can provide assurance that detailed planning arrangements both internally, and externally with our partner agencies, are underway to ensure that we are well placed to meet any challenges which may arise.

“We will be issuing further updates over the coming days.”

Councillor Simpson added: “The First Minister has clearly said the ‘firebreak’ has been put in place due to the increasing level of cases across Wales.

“Although the restrictions do not come into force until Friday we all have to act now – early prevention can make a huge difference.”

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Politics

Two week national ‘Firebreak Lockdown’ announced for Wales from 6pm on Friday

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MARK DRAKEFORD, The First Minister of Wales has announced a two week ‘fire break’ lockdown from Friday October 23 at 18:00 HRS, to last until Monday November 9 at 00:01 HRS

Mr Drakeford said: “This firebreak is the shortest we can make it. It must be sharp and deep in order to have the impact we need it to have on the virus.”

All non essential businesses, including tourism businesses will be told to close.

Businesses have been told that they will be given £1000 each automatically to help with the economic impact of the shutdown.

Mr Drakeford added that children will be the priority and that childcare facilities will open as normal. Primary schools will open after half term.

Secondary schools will be closed for a week after half term to help control the virus.

Universities will offer a mixture of face-to-face learning and learning via video link. Students must stay at their university accommodation during the lockdown.

Responding to the Welsh Government’s announcement of a Wales-wide lockdown, Paul Davies MS, the Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament, has called the lockdown “not-proportionate” and is calling on the Welsh Government to be “open and transparent” on the evidence to support a lockdown and if the First Minister is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns every month.

Paul Davies MS said: “Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.

“The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns. This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year. The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

“However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate. The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.

“The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb told The Herald: “The evidence to support an all-Wales lockdown is weak and I am sceptical that this so-called ‘fire-break’ will tackle the situation in those parts of Wales where infection rates have been out of control. The key issue for Welsh Government to address is what will be done differently after the firebreak ends in those parts of Wales where infection rates have spiralled out of control. Otherwise the whole of Wales risks being dragged back into a series of rolling lockdowns.

“As we saw earlier in the year, lockdowns come with huge costs in terms of harm to the economy and to people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. With the Welsh Government asking UK Government to fund this lockdown, I hope that as many businesses as possible get support they need quickly. Pembrokeshire’s hospitality businesses will be hit particularly hard by these latest restrictions and I will be fighting hard again to see that they are protected as the lockdown kicks in.”

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Cardiff and London at loggerheads over who will pay the bill for the Wales-wide lockdown

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THE PLANNED national lockdown for Wales still has many details to finalise before any final announcement of its terms and length.

The major sticking point is money.

During the UK-wide national lockdown from March to July, the Westminster Government picked up the tab for paying Welsh workers’ wages and provided a massive amount of extra funding for business support.

From November 1, the UK government will support eligible businesses by paying two-thirds of each employee’s salary, up to a maximum of £2,100 a month.

Businesses might also be eligible for grant support of up to £3,000 a month to meet other costs.

Devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will receive a total of £1.3bn in increased funding this year to cover similar measures.

Businesses will only be eligible to claim the grant while they are subject to lockdown restrictions.

Council leaders across Wales have expressed their deep concern to Welsh Government ministers about the lack of any detail of what will be done to provide financial support to businesses, particularly those which are not forced to close by lockdown restrictions but close as a knock-on effect of lockdown.

Local authorities, which channelled most business support during the lockdown which began in March, have still not been told by the Welsh Government what help or how much will be available for businesses in that position, let alone how it will be delivered.

The sour relationship between the Welsh Government and Westminster is not likely to help Mark Drakeford’s administration if it looks for fresh funding help from the Treasury to bail it out of the wider economic consequences of a Wales-wide lockdown.

If the Welsh Government tries to go it alone to soften the blow, it faces making significant cuts elsewhere in its budgets.

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