Welsh government must be more agile - permanent secretary

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Media caption,

Derek Jones says he wants an organisation that is "restless" to do better

Austerity cuts have affected the Welsh government's decisiveness and it must become more agile, says Wales' top civil servant.

Permanent secretary Derek Jones said he wanted an organisation that was "restless" to do better.

Mr Jones heads the 5,000-strong civil service in Wales responsible for carrying out ministers' policies.

Public spending cuts have reduced numbers by a fifth, and the financial climate has had an effect, he said.

Speaking in a rare interview, he told BBC Wales: "I think particularly over the period of austerity budgeting, there's been a tendency to lock things down, and good intentions to be prudent with public money.

"But I think it has also had the effect of hampering some of our decisiveness, and I want managers to manage and take responsibility for their decisions."

A number of controls had already been removed aimed at making the government more decisive and agile, he added.

However, the civil service has also faced repeated criticism in recent years from the Wales Audit Office, which has published a number of highly critical reports into the Welsh government's management of the grants it gives to outside organisations.

'Systems failure'

Most recently it was scathing about the handling of money given to the collapsed race equality body, the All Wales Ethnic Minority Association (Awema), which received millions of pounds of public funding.

The report exonerated ministers, but Mr Jones said that although he took overall responsibility, what occurred had been a "systems failure" rather than a result of any individual culpability.

He added that lessons had been learned and the government "can do and should do better" in future.

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Mr Jones said there had been a systems failure which led to the Awema scandal

Mr Jones said his and the civil service's main priorities were economic growth and tackling poverty, in line with those of ministers.

He said: "As everyone knows, we've been hit by a really serious, deep and now long-running recession, but for Wales, it's not just the recession... that impact comes on top of the structural weaknesses in the Welsh economy that are still with us.

"Too many of our families and our communities are still suffering from poverty, relative poverty, of one kind or another."

A commission headed by Paul Silk is currently examining whether further powers should be devolved to Wales.

Mr Jones said he saw the potential for wider powers was an opportunity for the Welsh civil service.

"There are challenge elements in it, we will need to find new capabilities to meet those responsibilities, whether it's large scale borrowing or taxation powers, whether it's policy or legislative responsibility on social justice, we will need to find those capabilities," he said.

"But what a great opportunity for a government and a government service."

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