Our communities, families and businesses have been deeply scarred by the impact of coronavirus. Nothing that we can say or do will diminish the hurt that has been felt by so many.
Coronavirus has been a major test of the whole of government in Wales – local authorities, health boards and the Welsh Government itself, along with our partners in business and the voluntary sector.
We are learning all the time from our experiences and no doubt, with hindsight, we might have chosen to take a different course of action at times.
Nevertheless, we should be confident that we have risen to the challenges and taken full advantage of the relatively small scale of government in Wales.
The Welsh Government has devolved responsibilities for 3.2 million people. It is able to work closely with the 22 principal local authorities, themselves small enough to maintain close engagement with their communities.
The pandemic has strengthened the close working relationship between Welsh Government and local authorities.
Making use of digital technology, I have been able to have at least weekly, sometimes daily, contact with all local authority leaders.
Whenever discussions were targeted at a particular topic, I have been accompanied by other ministers, including those with responsibility for health, finance and the economy.
It has been a revelation to witness how technology has allowed so many responsible politicians to interact in such a purposeful way, each from their homes, each supported by their own organisations through digital means.
There is no doubt that trust has developed from the regularity and intensity of this interaction. This new and developing relationship has worked through a range of hot topics. Together, central and local government have found answers to a succession of urgent questions, including:
- finding the appropriate sources and distribution of protective equipment when demand was surging
- prioritising and maintaining local services while protecting our staff and local communities
- ensuring funds were available to local authorities when their costs were rising and local revenues were falling
- ensuring health boards and local authorities worked together to protect people in their care
- developing local authorities’ capacity to deliver local systems for track and trace
- supporting local authorities to support local businesses through the pandemic
- defining the restrictions on social interaction, which allowed us to limit the surges in infection when they occurred.
The above agenda was thrown at us by the events of the past few months. It is to the credit of the close working relationship between central and local government that, in each and every case, we developed our responses together.
Even when we were not as successful as we would have wished, we supported each other without resorting to blame.
The successful relationship between the Welsh and local governments cannot rely entirely, though, on the relationship between government ministers and local authority leaders.
In Wales, 1,200 local councillors work closely with their wards, as well as around 100,000 local authority employees, whose commitment, hard work and innovation we rely on entirely to deliver our priorities.
The challenge now is to ensure that the relationship between ministers and leaders cascades into purposeful involvement and engagement with those councillors and employees.
There is a long way to go, but we have been successful in setting out a direction of travel.