After the counts have been finalised and the winners declared, the business of governing Wales begins once again.

The parties all set out their visions for leading the country – recovering from coronavirus, strengthening the economy, addressing climate issues – and now it’s time for the victors to put those plans into action.

The pandemic has thrust into the spotlight the roles and responsibilities of the Senedd and the first minister.

Now, arguably more than ever, there will be more scrutiny of the next Welsh Government’s performance, with any successes and failures inevitably drawing comparisons to the decisions made in Westminster and elsewhere in the UK.

But regardless of the party that controls the Senedd for the next five years, what should the next government’s priorities be?

We asked policy experts and representative groups what they think should be top of the list for the incoming Welsh Government, both in the immediate future and over the course of the new Senedd term.

Health

The National Health Service (NHS) and its staff have been praised for their relentless work over the past 15 months.

But as the Covid-19 situation improves, there is now an opportunity to examine the toll the emergency has taken on the NHS and those who work within it, as well as the chance to resolve growing waiting lists and the slowdown in non-essential treatments. Dr David Bailey, Wales council chair of the British Medical Association, said the incoming government must make the NHS recovery their priority.

He said the BMA was “hugely concerned” to see a “significant number of patients” struggling while they waited for treatment, and “we urgently need to invest in recruiting more NHS staff and give existing colleagues a break before they leave due to exhaustion.”

Such staff fatigue was “neither safe or sustainable,” Dr Bailey warned, and the government must “implement a culture of valuing and taking care of NHS staff”.

READ MORE: Stark 'act now' call to prevent NHS staff exodus

But Dr Bailey said government must also address the underlying health problems fuelled by “socioeconomic inequality” in Wales – chronic disease, alcohol and drugs, mental health and suicide risk.

“Many of these inequalities could be avoided if communities were given the support – particularly supporting young mothers and better education and childcare provision,” he said. “We need to see investment in mental health services and support programmes which improve educational support for vulnerable children and young people.”

Poverty

On a similar note, the next government should “focus on making Wales fair and prosperous for everyone,” according to Bevan Foundation director Dr Victoria Winckler.

This means jobs paying wages that people can afford to live on, and making sure no communities in Wales are left behind.

READ MORE: Poverty warning as mum-of-four 'lives on toast' to afford school uniform

More immediately, Dr Winckler said the government should be “to put cash in the pockets of hard-up families” by extending free school meals to all families on Universal Credit, increasing Educational Maintenance Allowance for 16-18 year old learners to afford college essentials, and provide free part-time childcare to all families of children aged 0-3 year old.

Education

Support for families must continue into the classroom, according to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT Cymru), whose director Laura Doel said there had “never been a more critical time for education in Wales”.

Government must invest in the teaching workforce and fund the training and support for schools to improve their services for children with additional learning needs, NAHT said.

READ MORE: 'Education crisis in danger of silencing land of song'

In the short-term, the union believes there should be no fixed curriculum for the coming school year and inspections should continue to be suspended, allowing teachers to focus on post-pandemic recovery.

Longer-term, NAHT is calling for wellbeing to be prioritised for staff, alongside a review of school funding to end what it called a “postcode lottery” across Wales.

“Education forms the foundation for the future of Wales, its prosperity and ability to sustain itself,” said NAHT president Kerina Hanson. “As such, it deserves to be at the forefront of policy-making and investment.”

Housing

Coronavirus has demonstrated the important role of housing and a “warm, safe environment to live, work and learn in,” said Stuart Ropke, chief executive of Community Housing Cymru. But is has also “laid bare the inequalities faced by people living in inadequate housing,” he added.

The next government must make housing investment a “central” part of its plans – leading to job creation, stronger local economies, and a greener Wales, Mr Ropke said, calling for a £1.5 billion scheme to build at least 20,000 new, energy-efficient social homes.

READ MORE: Lessons from pandemic can help build a better Wales

Better housing for the most in-need would “make a huge difference in Wales” worth £6 billion to the economy, supporting jobs and training, and reducing the impact on the NHS, he added.

Economy

Nearly every party that stood in Thursday’s election made economic recovery one of its priority issues – and despite the improving picture for Welsh businesses in recent months, the effects of the pandemic on many traders’ profits have been significant, and analysts continue to predict there will be more severe financial consequences to be felt across the UK when government grant schemes come to an end.

READ MORE: 'What businesses want from the next Welsh Government'

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the new government in Wales must produce “a clear and concise strategy” that will provide traders with certainty.

FSB Wales policy chair Ben Francis also believes the Senedd will need to work closely with Westminster to align future business support schemes. More immediately, he said the first minister should extend financial help to firms that remain partially- or fully-closed, perhaps via a Restart Grant scheme to help traders with the costs of reopening.

Environment and rural affairs

Looming over any policy decisions made by the incoming government will be the climate targets set by the Senedd, the UK government, and international organisations.

The immediate priority should be the strengthening of laws to protect Wales’ countryside and coast, according to the charity Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW).

“Our Welsh landscape faces a perfect storm caused by climate change and the decimation of nature by irresponsible development,” the group said, calling for a “generous grant system” to help small farms and sustainable enterprises promote tourism and conservation in rural areas.

Longer-term, the Senedd should create a specialised conservation agency and appoint a landscape and wildlife commissioner, CPRW said, to “hold the public and private sectors to account in protecting our natural assets”.

Government should also make better use of brownfield sites for renewable energy projects and commit to public transport developments over the building of new motorways, the group added.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) said the next government should make a Wales-specific plan for supporting rural areas rather than “blindly copying” Westminster’s approach.

READ MORE: Union appoints lawyers to fight anti-pollution laws

FUW president Glyn Roberts also called on the incoming administration to reverse “draconian new water regulations” that have been extended to cover the whole of Wales – something the union believes will cause “real economic and environmental damage” in rural communities.

One thing is for certain, then – the incoming first minister and their colleagues will not be able to savour the election results for too long, for there is an expectation from all quarters that they must beging to deliver from day one.