The findings, entitled 'Devolution Dividend' has been compiled by the Campaign for the English Regions (CFER) following a fact-finding visit to Cardiff on 20 February.
CFER chair George Morran said:
'The visit to Cardiff confirmed the scale and range of the changes in Wales. Devolution has made a real difference to lives of people. Whether it's free milk for school children or opening up new railway lines for commuters, free prescriptions or housing for young people coming out of care, the Welsh are doing it differently and in a way that suits them. What has happened in Wales demonstrates that even with a lower level of devolved powers than that of the Scottish parliament, devolution can make a real difference'.
The CFER delegation to Wales questioned civil servants and top policy advisers before going on to meet with the first minister, Rhodri Morgan. CFER believe that the Welsh experience of devolution has many positive lessons for the English regions in the run up to the publication of the government's white paper on regional governance.
CFER vice chair Mary Southcott said: 'Given what we have learned in Wales the fear that the new elected assemblies for the English regions might simply be talking shops is clearly unfounded. As long as we get similar powers to Wales then we can persuade people in our regions that electing their own regional assemblies will make a real difference'.
CFER will be visiting the Scottish parliament in March and will prepare a similar report following that visit.
The Devolution Dividend in Wales - report of the CFER fact finding visit to the Welsh assembly and meeting with Rhodri Morgan on 20 February 2002.
- Student grants re-introduced not only for higher but also for further education through the assembly Learning Grant announced on the 12 February 2002.
- Class sizes are falling below those in England. The Welsh assembly has provided£36m over three years to employ new teachers. In September 2001 only 0.5% of infant classes had over 30 pupils.
- Reduced target setting for schools, and league tables were scrapped on 20 July 2001.
- Schools and local education authorities have been given much more freedom by the assembly compared with England. Much less of their funding is 'ring fenced'.
- Free school milk reintroduced for key stage one pupils from 1 February 2001.
- Social rather than skill based teaching method for early years education have been introduced. This method of teaching reflects the strategy followed by many countries with highly effective education systems.
- The assembly has negotiated an all Wales rail franchise that will greatly assist in the planning of integrated transport, as it is set out in the strategic plan 'The Transport Framework for Wales'
- The assembly has funded the re-opening of two rail lines - Vale of Glamorgan to Bridgend and the Ebbw Vale line. This will improve communications within Wales and move away from all transport routes radiating out from London.
- Wales will have free local bus travel for all pensioners and disabled people from 1 April 2002.
- Prescription charges have been frozen, and abolished for 16-25 year olds and over-60s.
- Dental and eye test fees abolished for some groups including the over-60s.
- The assembly has been able to have direct influence on primary legislation in Westminster. For example they have retained their community health councils, abolished in England.
- The assembly has extended the right to priority housing to new sections of the homeless in Wales including 16 and 17 year olds leaving care homes and ex-service personnel.
Winning for Wales in Europe
- The assembly secured match funding from the treasury required for Objective 1 monies from the European Union.
- All three devolved institutions are represented at the European Union Council of Ministers meetings. English regions are not represented.
- Positive action by the parties and proportional representation ensured an even gender balance in the assembly. 25/60 assembly members are women and 5/8 cabinet ministers are women.
- The assembly is credited with overseeing a much more flexible, humane and effective response to foot and mouth outbreak.
- Quangos have been rationalised. Where new quangos have been established in England they have been democratised in Wales. For example England formed new quangos in the form of the Care Standards Commissions in 2000, whilst Wales established the Care Council for Wales, appointed by and guided by the Welsh assembly. As of next month the quangos will become part of the Government for Wales, operating as agents of the Welsh government.
- The assembly has brought about a transformation to open and transparent decision-making. For example even cabinet papers are posted on the assembly website.
- Welsh assembly has to be more responsive to Welsh public opinion than Whitehall as it is actually based in Wales.
New partnership with Local Government
- Welsh assembly is close enough to local government to develop real partnerships. For example the assembly agreed 24 key target areas with local authorities and then individually negotiated targets with each of the 22 councils. Compare this with England where there is one central government trying to work with over 400 English local councils
Following the Community Health Councils Amendment (Wales) Regulations 2000.
Following the Homelessness (Wales) Regulations 2000 and the Homeless Persons (Priority Need) (Wales) 2001.
Following the Foot and Mouth Disease (Ascertainment of Value) (Wales) Order 2001 and the Foot and Mouth Disease (Amendment) (Wales) Order 2001.
Following The Care Standard Act 2000 (Commencement No. 1) (Wales) Order 2000 and the Care Council for Wales (Appointments Membership and Procedure) Regulations 2001.