Wales’ Parliament has long been under-resourced – it’s time to change that

Jessica Blair, ERS Cymru Director

Posted on the 11th September 2020

With just 60 elected members, Wales’ Parliament has long been under-resourced. But that problem has grown as Wales acquired more responsibilities – without the representatives needed to properly scrutinise legislation. 

Changes to the size of the Welsh Parliament / Senedd Cymru were first mooted officially over 15 years ago, with the publication of the Richard Commission report in 2004. The then-Assembly had far fewer powers – but even then it recognised that Welsh voters were going under-represented, and Wales’ scrutineers were facing burnout. 

Since then, the issue has been part of a wider conversation about how to reform the Senedd, with an Expert Panel in 2017 recommending 80-90 members, elected through the Single Transferable Vote, with strong diversity measures in place.

This Thursday saw the publication of the latest report looking at the future of the Senedd and the need for reform, with the Committee on Senedd Reform publishing their final report. Just as the Expert Panel concluded 3 years ago, the Committee calls for strengthening the capacity of the Senedd, further improving its electoral system, and boosting diversity to reflect Wales.

Write to your MS and tell them you support the Committee on Senedd Reform

A strong case for change

There are so many reasons that reform is desperately needed. The size of the Senedd has been the same since its inception in 1999, but the reality is that devolution has fundamentally changed. We’ve got additional powers now, including those around legislation and taxation. With just 60 members, when you take out government ministers, party leaders and the Llywydd (Presiding Officer), you’re left with just over 40 people to juggle all the scrutiny that’s required.

So this is about investing in scrutiny that will ensure that the Senedd better delivers for people across Wales. The excellent Professor Laura McAllister has said previously that ‘good scrutiny pays for itself’. Indeed, earlier this year Wales’ Auditor General said “Good scrutiny means good legislation, and good legislation pays for itself…a 0.17% annual saving, or improvement in value, in Welsh Government spending (£17.5bn), would pay for 30 extra members.” A stronger Senedd would mean our public services, such as our hospitals, can work more effectively. 

Despite this overwhelming evidence base, it is now more important than ever to keep the pressure up to ensure that these changes happen. That’s because it is now in the hands of the political parties, who will consider whether to include these proposals in their manifestos ahead of next May’s election.

That is why influential organisations, who represent a huge cohort of people across Wales, have joined us in writing to the party leaders of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Conservatives and the Welsh Liberal Democrats, as well as to the First Minister and to the Brexit Party’s former representative on the Committee. The letters, signed by ERS Cymru, Chwarae Teg, Community Housing Cymru, Cymorth Cymru, Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team Wales and WEN Wales, have called for parties to commit to adopting these vital recommendations, to future-proof our Senedd and give voters the representation they need. 

We cannot continue with a Senedd that doesn’t have the capacity to tackle the challenges we face. We need change now.

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