Here at the National Assembly for Wales, we are always looking at new ways of sharing information in exciting and innovative ways. This year, we started using a product called Slate (made by Adobe) to give summary versions of reports produced by our committees.
Our Slates have been extremely successful – so much so that Adobe have made us a Slate Ambassador!
What is Slate?
Slate is a platform that allows organisations to create and share interactive reports, information and presentations. It has accessible user interfaces and cross platform compatibility, the Assembly has used Slate to share the extensive and complex work of Assembly committees in an informative and easily navigated format.
Following the recent inquiry into Alcohol and Substance Misuse in Wales, the Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee wanted to share their findings. The Assembly used Slate to create a summary of the committee’s work. Using eye catching imagery and informative content, a cross platform report with a friendly user interface was created.
“We have been blown away by the amazing things people like (The National Assembly for Wales) are doing with the tool” – The Slate Web Team
I’m Jocelyn Davies, the Chair of the Finance Committee (@SeneddFinance). This term the Committee are busy working on the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Bill. The Bill was introduced into the Assembly on 13 July 2015 and the Committee has until 27 November 2015 to look at the ‘general principles’ or the main aims of the Bill.
Stakeholder Event: 23 September 2015
Last week the Committee held a very useful and informative stakeholder event at the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay on the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Bill.
The purpose of the event was to give people interested the opportunity to share their views on the Bill with Committee members. The session involved roundtable discussions with participants and Members, and a feedback session at the end.
The Committee was privileged to speak to so many high calibre professionals and hear their views, which will be invaluable for the Committee’s upcoming formal scrutiny sessions with witnesses including HMRC, Revenue Scotland and Natural Resources Wales.
I would like to thank all of those involved in making the event a success, this type of engagement is quite a new approach for the Committee and I personally found it very helpful in terms of understanding the issues and getting a wide range of views in an informal setting. We have produced a note of the meeting if you would like to read it.
How to get involved and keep up-to date
Committee’s homepage for information on current inquiries and legislation the Committee is considering
I’m Jocelyn Davies, the Chair of the Finance Committee (@SeneddFinance). This term the Committee will be busy working on the Tax Collection and Management (Wales) Bill. A Bill is a draft law – once a Bill has been considered and passed by the Assembly it is given Royal Assent by the Queen, then it becomes law. The Bill was introduced into the Assembly on 13 July 2015 and the Committee has until 27 November 2015 to look at the ‘general principles’ or the main aims of the Bill.
Background to the Bill
The UK Government published the Wales Bill in March 2014 and it received Royal Assent in December 2014. The Wales Act 2014 provides the Assembly with the competence to legislate over devolved areas of taxation and provides a clear framework for the policy options with regard to replacement taxes, including tax on transactions involving interests in land and tax on disposals to landfill.
About the Bill
This is a Government Bill and it was introduced by Jane Hutt AM, who is the Minister for Finance and Government Business (known as the Member in Charge). The purpose of the Bill is to put in place the legal framework necessary for the future collection and management of devolved taxes in Wales. In particular, the Bill provides for:
the establishment of the Welsh Revenue Authority (WRA) whose main function will be the collection and management of devolved taxes;
the conferral of appropriate powers and duties on WRA (and corresponding duties and rights on taxpayers and others) in relation to the submission of tax returns and the carrying out of enquiries and assessments so as to enable WRA to identify and collect the appropriate amount of devolved tax due from taxpayers;
comprehensive civil investigation and enforcement powers, including powers allowing WRA to require information and documents and to access and inspect premises and other property;
duties on taxpayers to pay penalties and interest in certain circumstances;
rights for taxpayers to request internal reviews of certain WRA decisions and to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal against such decisions; and
the conferral of criminal enforcement powers on WRA.
The work of the Committee – Stage 1
Stage One involves the consideration of the general principles of a Bill by a Committee, followed by the agreement of the general principles by a vote in Plenary by the Assembly.
It is the Finance Committee’s job to focus on the main purpose of the Bill, rather than looking at the fine detail (which is a matter for later stages). Over the summer the Committee ran a consultation asking interested organisations and individuals to provide written evidence to inform the Committee’s work. Fifteen responses were received and are available to read on our website.
The next part of our work will be to invite representations from interested parties to provide oral evidence to the Committee.
The Committee held its first evidence session on the Bill on 17 September 2015. At this meeting we heard from the Member in Charge, the Minister for Finance and Government Business and we questioned her about the Bill and its main purpose. If you missed the session, you can watch it again on Senedd.TV.
Official committee reports tend to be quite long and include a large amount of evidence received from stakeholders and the Welsh Government. These reports are published on the relevant Assembly committee’s webpage.
The official version of any report is important as it contains all the evidence and recommendations/findings of the committee and it provides transparency.
In an attempt to make the findings of reports more accessible to people who might be interested in the Finance Committee’s work, an at-a-glance report on the inquiry into the Ombudsman’s powers was released alongside the official report. This was designed to be read by flicking through it on a tablet or a phone, or scrolling on a desktop computer.
To make the report more accessible the word count was reduced, the language was simplified, images added, and quotes inserted from Committee meetings to provide the reader with an overview of the Committee’s report.
In this entry I’m going to talk about the planning process, which might not be as interesting as the previous blogs, but may be the most important piece in the puzzle. Without proper planning and discussion at an early enough stage, none of what I talked about in the first two blogs would be possible.
Planning and involving the right people at the right time is really important from the get go. A lot of preparation work can be done in advance to give staff internally time to plan, come up with ideas, speak with external experts and contact Assembly Members/Councillors to make sure they are getting the opportunity to shape the type of engagement activity, and in particular which audiences, they want to hear from. At the Assembly we have something called integrated teams (usually made up of a researcher, a committee clerk, legal advisor and communications staff), which basically means that the officials supporting each committee meet every week to discuss current inquiries and work, alongside what’s coming up in the coming weeks and months. It’s not unusual for these integrated teams to discuss what is on the horizon in the next five to six months. Proper planning means more flexibility and options at your disposal when it comes to engaging with different groups, organisations and individuals. It’s important that your Communications people are involved at the earliest stage possible to advise and help shape the work, rather that it being an afterthought, or asking them at the end of the process for support on publicising something they haven’t been able to help shape.
Advanced planning will also mean that those groups and organisations you want to help promote the activity you are planning (be it an event, survey, the opportunity to be interviewed etc) will have adequate time to do so. It’s important to use the expertise of external groups and organisations when trying to select the appropriate type of engagement method, based on your target audience.
Councils are in a unique position as they deliver a wide variety of services to different groups of people, covering health, education, transport and the environment to name a few. The people delivering these services are a valuable source of information, and can help you consider issues and sensitivities relevant to specific groups of people, based on their age, gender, levels of literacy, ethnic backgrounds and so on.
Case Study: Scrutiny of the Cancer Delivery Plan
The National Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee recently looked at how well the Welsh Government was implementing its Cancer Delivery Plan. The Committee wanted to hear directly from patients, so focus groups were arranged across Wales with patient groups, who were then invited to an event in Cardiff to discuss their experiences with Assembly Members. Key to this were the early meetings that the integrated team had do discuss ideas, seeking advice from MacMillan who helped us arrange the patient sessions at an early stage. Without appropriate planning and those early discussions this not have been possible, and the Committee would not have heard directly from patients throughout the process.
This is a video was shot after an event held as part of the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry into the implementation of the Welsh Government’s Cancer Delivery Plan:
At the Assembly we have something called integrated teams (usually made up of a researcher, a committee clerk, legal advisor and communications staff), which means that the officials supporting each committee meet every week to discuss current inquiries and work, alongside what’s coming up in the coming weeks and months.
We usually discuss the following questions:
Who do you expect to tell you want they think in writing? (written evidence);
Who do you think you will be inviting into speak to the committee in official meetings? (oral evidence);
Who do you want to hear from that you don’t think will get in touch, and how can we get to them?
The answer to the third question tends to be the groups we target engagement activity towards. This work should not happen independently of Assembly Members/Councillors, they have to be involved in shaping the work you are undertaking. We have found it useful to have some ideas ready to discuss with them after meeting as an integrated team, and having spoken with people in the sector you would like to hear from. The engagement activity needs to resonate with committee members for it to influence the scrutiny process to its fullest effect.
When trying to find the answer to that third point, we aim to give service users the best opportunity possible to take part. In some cases, such as the inquiry into the Cancer Delivery Plan mentioned above, we wanted to hear from service users – the patients – directly.. The term “service user” will differ depending on the issue you are scrutinising. Another one of the National Assembly’s committees, the Finance Committee, looked at the performance of Finance Wales, and wanted to hear directly from businesses who had worked with them, including those who had had their applications for investment turned down. These are two very different ”service users” and shows how greatly the answer to the third question can change depending on the issue you are looking into.
Here are some pictures and videos form the event held as part of the Finance Committee’s inquiry into Finance Wales: