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And then there were 13...

Liz Silversmith casts her eye over the new Committee line up and notes some new arrivals.

For those in the Welsh political sphere missing in-depth scrutiny sessions, the wait is over! Next week the Assembly will vote on their new Committees, which have undergone a bit of a makeover.

In the Fourth Assembly (2011 – 2016), we had the following subject committees:

·         Children, Young People & Education Committee

·         Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee

·         Enterprise and Business Committee

·         Environment and Sustainability Committee

·         Health and Social Care Committee

In the Fifth Assembly (2016 – 2021), these are the proposed subject committees, to be voted on Tuesday:

·         Children, Young People & Education Committee

·         Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee

·         Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee

·         Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee

·         Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee

·         Health, Social Care and Sport Committee

·         And a Reserve Policy and Legislation Committee

For the Fifth Assembly, the Children, Young People & Education Committee has been retained as is, alongside the slightly adjusted title of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee.

There were complaints that the latter’s workload was heavy in the last couple of years, as it was often too busy scrutinising legislation to conduct many of its own inquiries. Capacity should be freed up with the new Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee. This has been established following calls by AMs to have one which could look at broadcasting specifically. Considering the on-going BBC Charter Renewal and S4C’s review, this will be particularly pertinent over the next year.

The environment-focused one sees the addition of ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Rural Affairs’ to its title; this is a bit more specific than the vague term of ‘sustainability’ but its remit remains the same.

The health-focused committee sees the addition of ‘sport’, making it precisely aligned with the Cabinet Secretary it will be scrutinising the most. In this same vein, the Enterprise and Business Committee appears to have transformed into Economy, Infrastructure and Skills. The former always had a focus on skills but this wasn’t very clear in its title.

It’s a welcome addition to have the Reserve Committee in place, as the Assembly needs a vehicle for a ‘rapid response’ when unexpected issues come up. The Business Committee will be able to refer matters to this.

We can also expect committees to be reduced in size, given that there is one more and the Business Committee found a general consensus on this.

Finally, the specialist committees will remain the same as last term:

·         Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee

·         Committee for the Scrutiny of the First Minister

·         Finance Committee

·         Petitions Committee

·         Public Accounts Committee

·         Standards of Conduct Committee

These have specific functions set out in statute. However, we can expect that after a review of the Petitions Committee last term, there will be some changes on how it functions.

Members of the Finance Committee have already been agreed and we can expect a meeting soon, likely due to its need to quickly start scrutinising the first Supplementary Budget.

In another significant change, Committee Chairs are to be voted on by AMs in a secret ballot, as opposed to appointed by party groups or leaders (which has caused issues in the past). The Business Committee will still make decisions on the party balance of the Chairs, but the Business Managers of each party will likely have their own preferences to feed into the process. 

It’s also interesting to note that the Business Committee determined that sole Liberal Democrat AM, Cabinet Secretary for Education (Kirsty Williams), is still entitled to a committee seat. Whilst, by convention, Welsh Government members do not sit on committees, the Standing Orders do not prevent her from doing so.

Tuesday / Wednesday / Thursday mornings just got a whole lot more exciting…

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