THE ‘Bonfire of the Quangos' is a real chance to deliver public services the co-operative way.
By April 2006, Wales will once again experience a fundamental change in the way it's governed. After just six years since the creation of the National Assembly for Wales, Labour's Welsh Assembly Government has embarked on further measures to restore openness and accountability.
Eighteen years of Conservative rule certainly left its mark – major under investment in public services, mass unemployment and a concerted effort to undermine the values of fairness and equality are all, thankfully, a thing of the past. So too, is the way the Tories chose to govern Wales.
Many of those 18 destructive years were characterised by decisions taken by unelected and unaccountable ‘quangos'.
Major decisions on things like job creation and regeneration of our communities were taken without any form of democratic scrutiny or accountability. Rhodri Morgan, the Assembly's First Minister, has finally lit the touch paper and embarked on fundamental change.
By April 2006, the Wales Tourist Board, Welsh Development Agency and ELWa – Wales' three largest spending quangos – will be scrapped and their responsibilities brought under the democratic control of the Welsh Assembly Government.
These mergers offers the opportunity to end the legacy of the Tory past but – more importantly for the Co-operative Movement – the chance to put co-operation at the heart of the Assembly Government.
Given the ability of co-operation to empower people, this change is a golden opportunity for the Welsh Assembly Government to provide more focus in its support and encouragement of the co-operative model.
One of the key points of the Co-operative Assembly manifesto was to advocate a Co-operative and Mutual Strategy Unit.
The unit would ensure consistent policy input and ensure that the co-operative values feed into Assembly policy.
It would also provide a means of monitoring the development of the co-operative and mutual sector in Wales.
This is a sector that has always made a very important contribution to the Welsh economy and the well being of the people living in Wales, but the effect of which has been hidden by the lack of adequate recording mechanisms for co-operative and mutual activity.
It seems inevitable to me that the co-operative model will become more and more important in Wales as future policies are developed in health, education and housing as well as the growth of co-operative enterprises in the mainstream economy.
The philosophy and practice of co-operation grew out of the need for individuals to combine to tackle social disadvantage.
If Wales is to benefit most from this restoration then we must seize this one-off opportunity to ensure that co-operation moves to the heart of how Wales is governed.
• Lorraine Barrett is Labour/Co-operative Assembly Member for Cardiff South and Penarth.