22 September 2016
A new programme for government
This week, Wales' first minister Carwyn Jones announced his Programme for Government for the next five years. Taking Wales Forward outlines key priorities and sets out how the Welsh government "will deliver more and better jobs through a fairer economy, improve and reform our public services, and build a united, connected and sustainable Wales". He stressed that no one has a monopoly on good ideas and that in an increasingly diverse and complex nation, it was essential that his government listened to and worked with others.
The announcement was set against the backdrop of ongoing uncertainty and challenges facing Wales as a result of the Brexit vote. Discussions are still ongoing with the UK government to ensure that Wales doesn't lose out financially as a result of the UK's withdrawal from the EU and loss of Wales' European funding.
Tough decisions would have to be made and, despite the positive, optimistic tone of Taking Wales Forward, the first minister was clear that "[w]here we start new programmes to fulfil our pledges, we must stop something else to pay for it."
Among the key points in this programme for government are:
·30 hours' free childcare a week for working parents of three and four year olds, the most generous childcare anywhere in the UK
·A minimum of 100,000 high-quality all-age apprenticeships
·20,000 affordable homes
Transport will play a key role with a commitment to deliver the M4 relief road around Newport, initially proposed in 1991, which supporters believe will significantly improve the south Wales economy.
The South Wales Metro, an integrated transport initiative spanning ten local authorities, will also be created, with the Welsh government securing some funding to make up the shortfall as a result of the loss of EU contributions for the project
The programme was met with general approval – even Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, despite his own criticisms, said that it was "difficult to disagree with many of the commitments". Critics however pointed out that it lacked detail and did not seem much more in substance than Welsh Labour's manifesto. Certainly at 16 pages, it is a quarter of the length of the programme for government published in 2011.
Two areas that Christians and other faith groups will be monitoring are the proposed smacking ban and counter-extremism.
The Welsh government pledged in its manifesto to introduce a "smacking ban" and Taking Wales Forward builds on this, stating that the Welsh Government will "[s]eek cross party support for legislation to end the defence of "reasonable punishment"". Carl Sargeant, cabinet secretary for communities and children, was also pressed on this issue this week in plenary and said that he had "recently met with the Children's Commissioner for Wales and will be engaging with stakeholders, including Assembly Members, as this matter goes forward."
Extremism is briefly mentioned under the Community Safety and Tackling Extremism section where there is a commitment to "[w]ork with the UK Government to tackle extremism, and with partners across Wales to help combat extremism and ensure security."
Faith is not explicitly mentioned in this programme for government but overall there is no sense of an attempt to marginalise the Christian faith. Christians and other faith groups have an established and recognised role in Wales' civil society and it is hoped that this Assembly term will see not only sustained but also increased levels of engagement by Christians with the Welsh Government and the Assembly, likely to cover a range of issues.