GPG delivers specialist technical advice through a core group of retained Associates who are former Ministers, Members of Parliament, senior civil servants or parliamentary staff, and academics. We have built long-lasting relationships with Associates which we seek to highlight in this series of personal profiles.
This month’s Associate, Kirsty Williams, served in the Senedd for 22 years, prior to which she was appointed to advise Ministers on how the new democratic structure should operate. She discusses her career, devolution, and her impact on Welsh and British politics.
Describe your area of work. What encouraged you to work in the sector?
I never set out to pursue a career in front line politics, however the opportunity to play a part in establishing a new democratic institution in my country, the first parliament in Wales for over 200 years, was irresistible. Having played an active part in the referendum campaign to devolve powers to Wales, I was appointed to advise on the establishment of the National Assembly and that only heightened my determination to help shape the future of my nation.
The institution I joined following the inaugural elections in 1999 was significantly transformed by the time I stepped down 22 years later. Its powers to legislate, its fiscal responsibilities and governance procedures changed radically, and it was a privilege to be part of, and a witness to those changes.
Give a short overview of what you consider to have been key moments in your career. What brought you to where you are today?
It is impossible to choose a single moment, but there is a common theme, that of being really fortunate to have been able to create and work with fantastic teams who have been driven by a common purpose.
Becoming the first woman to lead one of the major parties in Wales was a huge moment for me personally but for women’s equality too, I hope. Moving from leading an opposition party to a Minister in a government was also a huge change and challenge, especially when you are a member of a different political party to the rest of the administration. Whilst I had relished scrutinising and holding administrations to account, the ability to implement and lead a programme of reform was the culmination of what I had been working towards throughout my career.
In or out of Government I am really proud to have been able to pass legislative firsts for Wales. In 2016 Wales became the first part of the UK to legislate for safe nurse staffing levels on hospital wards as a result of my Private Members Bill and in 2021 passed laws to create the first ever schools curriculum designed in Wales by Welsh teacher for Welsh pupils.
What one thing about working in your sector do you wish was different?
Despite significant progress in recent years, the members of many of our democratic institutions do not truly reflect the diversity of the electorate and if I am allowed a second, I believe power in the UK is still too concentrated at the centre.
What work have you done for GPG, and what drove you to work with our organisation?
I am a new Associate at GPG and have just begun work on my first project, with the parliament in Malawi. At the moment I am involved in pre- and post-legislative scrutiny development.
Just like GPG, I am passionate about representative democracy. It is a process that is never done or complete, nor can we ever take it for granted. Being able to work with other Associates who skills and experience I admire greatly to strengthen democracy in what ever way possible is a real privilege.
Share your thoughts on a recent event or news story that caught your attention.
I have been thinking a great deal about all the recent media attention around Chatbots. I don’t claim to be an expert on this new technology, but I think it is already clear that these developments are going to complicate even further how individuals search for, acquire information, or consume news. These and other AI platforms present both opportunities and challenges for political engagement and discourse.