Now that the dust has settled on the Assembly elections, a cabinet selected and portfolios revealed it is clear that things have changed since the last term.
Most of the job titles for the top jobs have changed, but there are some interesting changes and a cause for optimism where active travel is concerned.
Not just a transport issue…
Under the previous government active travel sat solely within the transport minister’s remit. At the time this was Edwina Hart. However, Edwina had far bigger fish to fry, not least because the economy also sat within her portfolio and the challenges of the M4 drew constant attention.
During this time the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act was passed. We’ve had a more detailed dive into the Act already but, put simply it asked public bodies to think more about fixing problems before they occur. In health terms, this means helping people live healthy lives before they need the NHS to fix the problems associated with living an unhealthy life, whether that be from inactivity, poor diet or being exposed to a squalid environment.
One thing we’ve been banging on about for a while and occasionally reminding the Future Generations Commissioner of this at any opportunity, is that active travel covers a multitude of issues and arguably touches on a number of the wellbeing goals set out in the Act. The Commissioner agrees.
Arguably active travel belongs in more than one portfolio. Now, it appears that it actually does. You see, promotion of active travel is now part of the health portfolio. The health minister Vaughan Gething’s title is now Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport, but the sport part has been delegated down to his deputy, Rebecca Evans the Minister for Social Services & Public Health. Her role includes:
- National strategy and policy for community sport, physical activity and active recreation in Wales, including sponsorship of the Sports Council for Wales
- Promotion of walking and cycling, including the Active Travel (Wales) Act
The encouraging part is that Rebecca does appear to cycle, as does her partner who recently took part in the Dragon Ride –that is no mean feat.
So, it seems that we have a cyclist in the Senedd with responsibility for promoting active travel. That’s a good start.
Promotion of active travel is only one part of the equation. Infrastructure is needed too. Edwina Hart’s replacement is Ken Skates, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure.
Ken seems to be a bit of an action man himself. He enjoys swimming, running, hiking and golf. However, his list of policy interests is dripping (Seriously, that’s the best word you could come up with? ED) with wellbeing goals:
Ken’s policy interests include manufacturing, mental health, sport and leisure, eliminating poverty and political economy. His political interests include skills training, tourism, environmental protection, mental health, sport and fitness and social inclusion.
Curiously, Ken also has responsibility for elite sports. There’s room for some cautious optimism here too. Ken’s job will be to make sure active travel fits into the transport network as a whole, particularly with regard to the Metro and beyond.
So far, so good. However, it’s in the hands of local government to deliver the Active Travel Act. The former health minister Mark Drakeford now heads up the Finance and Local Government side of things and apparently it is Mark who has:
Oversight and implementation of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and liaison with the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales
It isn’t clear where Mark Drakeford stands on active travel, but as a former health minister tasked with finding ways to handle a growing obesity and diabetes epidemic, surely he’ll appreciate just what active travel can do for the people of Wales.
Purely putting two and two together here, but if Mark is the liaison with the Future Generations Commissioner and the Future Generations Commissioner sees active travel as something that touches on most of the wellbeing goals, surely we are onto a winner?
Time will tell, we guess. We could be completely wrong, but this is probably one of those rare times when the right people seem to be in the right jobs.
Closer to home, the Council will start consulting on their new cycling strategy over the next few months, so hopefully with a big helping of political will coming down from the top, it’ll trickle down to a half-decent cycling strategy from the council.
We also need to start picking through the new Wales Bill. There’s a section in there about speed limits, but it’s as clear as mud. Hopefully it’ll help pave the way for default 20mph limits, but more on that when we’ve had time to decipher it.