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Scrutiny group looks forward to the future

Those of you who regularly observe the political theatre played out in the National Assembly's Senedd in Cardiff Bay will have noticed many changes during recent months. These have come about as a result of the exciting democratic challenges of the new constitution established by the Government of Wales Act 2006. The Assembly has greater legislative powers and new budgetary mechanisms, and Assembly Members have much enhanced scrutiny opportunities as a result.

One obvious change in the Bay is a new committee structure. The subject committees of the first and second assemblies, which shadowed ministerial portfolios, have been replaced by four cross-cutting scrutiny committees. I am absolutely delighted to have been elected chair of the enterprise and learning committee.

The committee has a huge task to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the government and associated public bodies in the fields of economic development, social enterprise, transport, and lifelong learning - that is, education from pre-school through to higher education. As committee chair, I have a crucial role in the development and implementation of effective scrutiny, and I look forward to the challenge of providing leadership and direction to the committee. It is important under the new arrangements that members are focused on outputs and outcomes, and I will do all I can to ensure the committee has an impact on government policy and expenditure.

The committee takes very seriously the future of schools. Assembly Members are aware of issues such as school closures, falling rolls, the need to monitor investment in school buildings and, above all, issues arising from the way our schools are funded, which means some schools accumulate surpluses while others struggle to spend an adequate sum per pupil.

The committee can influence government directly on these issues. As AMs, we felt it important to scrutinise the minister for children, education and lifelong learning and skills on the Government's progress in implementing the recommendations in the committee on school funding's Report on School Funding Arrangements in Wales, published in June 2006. We were glad that the minister accepted our invitation and that she and her officials appeared before the committee on November 21.

Members pressed the minister on key issues such as the difference in funding between the key stages, the use of RAISE funding, the effectiveness of school budget forums, and the nature of the indicator-based assessment (IBA) within the distribution formula. So that we have a complete picture before we report and make our recommendations, we have resolved to ask a wide range of key stakeholders to tell us about their experiences of these issues. I will soon write to teachers' bodies, school governors, local authorities and others in this regard. Also, since the minister emphasised the importance of the Bramley review for future school funding, Members will be briefed on the implications of the report.

You will see therefore that the advantage of the new committee system and structure is that, as Members, we can act more quickly and flexibly than our predecessors in the first two Assemblies. The Assembly's new scrutiny committees have a vital part to play in ensuring that government policies are robust and provide value for money. I look forward to chairing the enterprise and learning committee for the next three and half years, to examining critically the activities of government and holding it accountable for its actions, and to trying to meet the aspirations of the education sector and the people of Wales.

Gareth Jones is a member of the National Assembly for Wales and chairs its learning scrutiny committee.

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