On Tuesday 4 October, the Welsh Assembly Government published its £14bn Draft Budget for 2012-2013 and reaffirmed its commitment to develop a national infrastructure plan. The National Assembly for Wales (Senedd) has power to pass legislation in 20 devolved policy areas including Housing, Environment and Highways and Transport. Following the Yes vote in the devolution referendum in March this year, the Senedd no longer needs the agreement of the UK Government before it can pass legislation in these 20 policy areas.
First Minister Carwyn Jones announced the Welsh Assembly Government’s commitment to develop a national infrastructure plan in his Programme for Government on 27 September, and Finance Minister Jane Hutt backed up this commitment in the Draft Budget on 4 October. The national infrastructure plan will be a “strategic, 10 year plan for investment in economic and social infrastructure in Wales to help prioritise allocation of resources, guide investment decisions and provide certainty to the private sector and encourage inward investment.” The Welsh Assembly Government has also committed to “explore innovative, collaborative ways in which the Assembly Government and others such as local authorities and the private sector, can manage assets and raise capital for investment in public service infrastructure.”
PFI in Wales
Although the previous three post-devolution Welsh governments have not favoured private investment in public infrastructure, the commitments outlined in the Programme for Government and Draft Budget will be encouraging for those who see private investment as the only realistic way for Wales to pay for such investment.
In June this year, a report by the Welsh Assembly Research Service identified PFI as one of two options, along with road pricing, for future transport funding in Wales. PFI has already been used, to a degree, on Wales’ roads - for example to fund improvements to part of the A55 in North Wales - and in other sectors such as to fund Bridgend’s Parc Prison, Aberystwyth’s Penweddig School and Wrexham’s Waste Recycling Park.
Welsh Legislative Programme
In July the Welsh Assembly Government set out its 5-year legislative programme and all eyes will now be on the Senedd to see whether, without the scrutiny of Westminster, it can deliver good legislation.
The legislative programme included broad plans for:
- a Highways and Transport Bill that will put a duty on Local Authorities to provide and maintain cycle paths in key areas;
- a Planning Bill that will consolidate existing planning legislation to make planning in Wales more transparent and accessible; and
- an Environment Bill to enhance environmental protection and deliver ecological gains whilst easing the regulatory burden.
The expanding body of Welsh legislation means it will be increasingly important to be aware of divergences from UK legislation in Wales. An awareness of any differences between the Welsh language and English language versions of Welsh legislation may also be needed to avoid slipping up due to diverging interpretations. The Senedd has so far passed 22 Acts and Measures in the 20 devolved policy areas since it was given law-making powers under the Government of Wales Act 2006.