Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Experience desirable

In the latest issue of 'Agenda', Geraint Talfan Davies underlines the extent to which elected members in Wales are drawn from the public rather than the private sector. There's just the barest hint of a suggestion that private sector=good, public sector=bad. But does it really matter? It seems to me that the answer depends on the answer to a question I have asked before - what are MPs and AMs for?

If they are primarily intended to be a representative sample of the population, then the analysis performed by Mr Davies merely reflects the fact that Wales is, to a very large extent, a public sector economy. One may have different views as to whether that is or is not a good thing; but if we want a parliament reflecting wider society, the public sector bias should not surprise us.

If they are there to represent the electorate in their own area, then whether their background is public or private sector would not seem to me to make a vast amount of difference; the question is more one of whether they have the relevant skills to do the job. And if they are there to pass laws, there is no obvious reason why a background in one sector is more appropriate than a background in another.

There is, however, one part of their function where it may make a difference – and that is the business of governing as opposed to legislating or representing. But even then, it's not a public sector background per se which may be questionable; it's more about the type of experience which people have gained - although there are some types of experience more likely to have been gained in the private sector than in the public sector in the economy as it is today.

When ministers are appointed, a number of factors come into account. First ministers and prime ministers need to reward their political allies and supporters; their foes may need to be punished, or if particularly popular, placed into a position where their loyalty is guaranteed. Ability to run a major department is something of a secondary consideration in all of this.

If Mr Davies was challenging whether the background and experience of too many politicians left them ill-equipped to take ministerial office, I think he'd have a much better point. Hapless Hacker may be something of a cliché, but it's a result of a system where the senior civil servants have the experience and ability to run the departments, and politicians struggle to exert any real influence. Lack of comparable experience may well be a significant factor in that regard.

The civil service is an inherently conservative institution, and many public sector organisations are similarly conservative in their approach. If we want government to drive real and deep change (which is surely the starting point for any radical politician), we need ministers who impose their will on their departments.

The current system does manage to produce some of those, but I don't think that they're the norm. Choosing ministers solely from the ranks of the legislature doesn't seem to me as being necessarily the best way to get more of them either.


Spirit of BME said...

The most important qualification and background experiance is not whether you come from Public or Private enviroment ,its have you had Head Office experience.
The public sector in Wales still depend on the crunch issues being decided or directed by the English Parlament and if you are in the private sector and in branch office,again you take your orders from above.
Lawyers I class as public sector as they operate in a restricted industry and create cossy monopolies on non poaching agreements - ghastly people.

julius senn said...

we need more of a balance not just in race or sex terms but in background, private sector people and more of them will add more spice and business experience ,some will have not had the holiday pay culture so this will make them more empathetic to the needs of the people of wales