Saturday, 3 January 2009

Aspiration and delivery

The renewed speculation about the possibility of a new nuclear power station on Ynys Môn neatly highlights what I see as being two of the main problems with the green jobs strategy published for consultation by the Assembly Government back in November.

At first sight, it's a very good set of proposals, which if they could all be implemented would move Wales forward significantly. It's not bad at second sight, either, but there were two points which left me feeling a degree of concern.

The first is the language used. Or rather it stems from my interpretation of the language used. Like so many good documents which come from the Assembly Government when it comes to issues such as energy and the environment, there are some words which get used a lot. Words like 'promote', 'move towards', 'encourage', and 'inform', as well as my personal favourite, "We will use a sustainable masterplanning approach to set the path towards…" (a masterpiece of saying very little of which Sir Humphrey himself might well be proud).

The problem with these words is that they underline the extent to which the Assembly Government is able to produce good strategies and set worthwhile targets, but has only limited ability to ensure full implementation. Not for the first time, I find myself looking at a very worthwhile policy whose implementation is likely to be limited by the straitjacket under which the National Assembly and the Assembly Government operate.

And not for the first time do I highlight that this is the sort of thing on which the debate about extending the powers of the Assembly should be concentrating. Not on a dry debate about constitutional tinkering, but on giving our elected government the powers they need to implement the excellent strategies which they are currently able to prepare, but not to fully implement.

My second concern is that the document sets out what the Assembly Government wants to promote and encourage, but has little to say on what it will discourage or obstruct. The Government is absolutely right to argue that it should use its economic development powers and grants to promote businesses which are low-carbon and low-waste, but does that mean that they will actually not provide aid and support to businesses which do not meet those criteria?

Not giving financial assistance to initiatives which do not fit the strategy is every bit as important as providing assistance to those that do, if we want to see a real shift in the economic base of Wales - but it's a much harder decision to take. I hope that the Assembly Government will be ready to step up to the mark on that.

To apply these two issues to the specific - building a new nuclear power plant on Ynys Môn is clearly the wrong thing to do if we're serious about the strategy, but the decision lies completely outwith the powers of the Assembly. If they did have the power to prevent it, would that be backed by the political will? That remains a hypothetical question in the case of this specific; but there will be plenty of other specific issues which will test that political will in coming months.

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