Future policies under the spotlight

I've just come from the beautiful wood-panelled council chamber at Cardiff University for the launch of a think-tank called the Public Policy Institute for Wales (PPIW).

Okay, the name may not trip off the tongue and a group of academics in an Ivory Tower may feel removed from the everyday lives of most people on a Monday morning.

But this has the potential at least to be hugely influential.

What we're talking about is a group of academics trying to work out what the impact could be of future Welsh government policies, and then once some of those policies have been introduced, it will be given the job of working out how effective they are in practice.

And rather than putting together reports that gather dust on shelves, the difference now will be that its findings will be used directly by ministers to influence policy.

First Minister Carwyn Jones was at the launch giving his blessing to what was included in his Programme for Government, which is in effect his plan of action.

One example he gave of the work the PPIW could do is establish where to situate Welsh government offices around the world.

It was quite a specific example so I wouldn't be surprised if it lands on the group's in-tray fairly early on.

He said a proper analysis on this subject has never been carried out: "Is it better for example to have one person in Indonesia or an extra person in the Gulf? Which is the most effective in terms of bringing investment into Wales? "

The other important element is how it interacts with the civil service. I was told at the launch that the idea of civil servants having a monopoly on new ideas is long gone and they now have to tap into new ways of thinking.

One thing we don't know is whether the PPIW will largely be given the job of road-testing existing policies, or come up with new imaginative ways of doing things.

In his opening address, Carwyn Jones spoke about devolution creating a laboratory for ideas and policies which can then be embraced by the rest of the UK.

The extent to which Wales has been a lab of good ideas is a matter of huge debate.

There have been free bus passes for the elderly, free prescriptions, the introduction of the foundation phase in our primary schools, the carrier bag charge and the ban on smoking in public places.

These were some of the policies mentioned this morning.

While new policies naturally generate headlines, I suspect the real test of the new body will be to improve the daily grind of delivering existing services.

Carwyn Jones has said in the past it is easy for previous governments to be a "strategy factory", calling instead for more of a focus on delivery.

And of course the body is independent which means that the researchers from the various universities involved could throw up some uncomfortable truths for ministers about the effectiveness of policies which they have either come up with themselves or failed to reform.