UKRI Parliamentary Fellowship at the National Assembly for Wales Research Service: Starting Out and Initial Impressions
Article by Robert Byrne, EngD student
This is the first of three blog posts reflecting on my experience during a 3-month placement within the Environment and Transport team of the National Assembly for Wales Research Service. The Research Service is an expert, impartial and confidential research and information service designed to meet the needs of Assembly Members and their staff.
Upon arrival at the National Assembly for Wales, I entered Tŷ Hywel – a red brick building holding Assembly Members (AMs), Commission staff and Cabinet offices behind the impressive, modern and sustainable Senedd building on the waterfront (image below). After passing the airport-style security, I was greeted by my line manager and introduced to the rest of the Environment and Transport team – a friendly group who immediately made me feel welcome.
The first week consisted of an induction to become familiar with the functions and processes of the Assembly and Research Service. This involved sessions on; devolution of powers in Wales, legislature processes and of course, Brexit – which is additionally complex when taking devolution into account. An extra focus was on the Welsh language – as all work must be bilingual and every live debate or document is translated into Welsh and English. Having grown up in Wales, I’ve also decided to reignite the dying embers of my GCSE Welsh and join weekly classes for Assembly Commission staff.
In Wales, a new First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has recently been elected and the definite highlight of the first week was attending his inaugural First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) and sitting in on the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs (CCERA) Committee – one of the main committees which the Environment and Transport team support.
To watch debates and Assembly Members (AMs) in action, or to bump into an AM who I’ve followed in the media for years in the corridor, feels like a privilege. However, the Assembly is incredibly open to the public. Any member of the public can watch FMQs, debates and committee meetings from the modern and stylish viewing galleries. If unable to attend, anyone can watch live and past debates on Senedd TV. The transparency and accessibility of the Assembly, along with the level of careful work behind each debate, committee and report, were the most eye-opening facts from the first week.
The Research Service is made up of teams of experts on policy relevant topics, who support the 60 AMs through; responding to enquiries, providing advice to committees and publishing reports, research briefings and blog posts . As any work published can have implications for policy and the reputation of AMs or the Assembly, it must be accurate, reliable and impartial.
Throughout my time here, I am hoping to be involved in all aspects of this work and I have already worked on a wide range of topics. These have included; writing a blog and research briefing on oil spills, updating a research briefing on planning legislation, responding to an AM’s enquiry on parking charges and updating the Environment Brexit Monitoring Report. I have also attended meetings with clerks and legal services aiding the CCERA Committee – learning about the processes behind its work has been insightful.
Due to the variety of work and the continually moving debate, the workplace feels very alive. Normally, after Christmas, you would be forgiven for experiencing annual January blues. However, everyone seems motivated and happy at work. After just a couple of weeks, this has contributed to myself already feeling part of a team. I am certainly anticipating the rest of the placement with excitement, looking forward to becoming more involved and making the most of the opportunity.
The parliamentary fellowship was provided to Robert Byrne by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of the UKRI Policy Internship Scheme which enabled this article to be completed.