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18 April 2013

The Silk Commission

The Silk Commission

A conference was held in Cardiff on 17 April to look at the Silk Commission and how changes to the devolution settlement could affect people in Wales, including third sector organisations.

The Silk Commission is an independent body established by then Welsh secretary of state, Cheryl Gillan in 2011 to review the case for the devolution of fiscal powers and for increasing the powers of the National Assembly for Wales

In the conference, an overview was given by people working across a range of sectors – social justice, policing, transport, health, education, energy, equality and economic development – and this provided a fascinating insight into both the complexities and ambiguities of the current devolution arrangements.

The economic development spokesperson, for example, said that Wales was over-governed and under-represented, and that Cardiff Bay often made decisions that were out of sync with the views of small businesses. The social justice spokesperson said that the National Assembly for Wales had some but not all the tools at its disposal in order to fulfil its mandate for social justice. The spokesperson for equality lauded Welsh devolution for the centrality of equality in its work, citing as an example the achievement of having equal numbers of male and female Assembly Members in the second Assembly of 2003. The spokesperson for transport highlighted devolution’s complexity as, although the principle of integrated transport should be relatively straightforward, it was in practice anything but, with both Whitehall and Cardiff Bay sharing responsiblity in varying degrees for trains, buses and highways etc.

The church is probably unique as a third sector organisation in that its work is spread over a wide range of sectors. Much of this in recent years has focussed on social justice and compassion ministries such as foodbanks, Street Pastors, night shelters, debt advice centres and lunch clubs etc. With prominence being given to service delivery, many evangelical Christians have not – with a few notable exceptions – been at the forefront of agitating for constitutional change in the different areas where they have worked. There are many clear evangelical thinkers in Wales but they have not been politically mobilised en masse.

The question of how much more devolution would be good for the church is difficult to say. Certainly in general terms, devolution has brought government closer to the people and it has also provided a political culture whereby Christians can more easily achieve their aims in non-devolved areas such as human trafficking and asylum.

While the growth of compassion ministries has flourished over the past five years and seen that part of the evangelical church in Wales mobilised, EA’s current Manifesto project may see new parts of the church mobilised. The project, which is canvassing the opinions of Christians across 35 topics, will be finished in time for the next National Assembly elections. What has been noted thus far has been the number of people who have engaged with this project and the agreement across the range of subjects.