John Osmond finds that the Williams Commission has no easy answer to the Welsh dilemma of service improvement

January 21st, 2014

All government policy commissions want to secure unanimous recommendations because without them they stand much less chance of being implemented. On the face of it, yesterday’s report from the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery, achieved this objective.

Chaired by Sir Paul Williams, formerly chief executive of NHS Wales, it contained representatives from all four parties in the Senedd. And, indeed, they did agree on a wide-ranging set of recommendations about how to improve the delivery of public services and enhance the culture of leadership and performance in Welsh local government.

At the same time, apart from agreeing that the 22 Welsh local authorities should be reduced by about half, together with the broad principles on how that should be put into effect, in two crucial areas of Wales they have left the final decision to the Welsh Government.

This should not be regarded as a major criticism. The issues at stake are complex and in some cases finely balanced. But it does demonstrate that when it comes down to detailed decisions (where the devil resides) it is very hard to arrive at a consensus.

For more than a decade a view has been gaining ground that the creation of 22 Welsh councils in the last reorganisation in 1995, was flawed because it created many authorities that were too small to be effective or efficient. Until now the Welsh Government has resisted this pressure, worried that embarking on a further reorganisation would be a distraction from the main task at hand, improving the delivery of essential services, and above all would be expensive.

However, in the past year or so First Minister Carwyn Jones and his colleagues have changed their minds, mainly because of the failures of so many of the smaller councils. For instance, five out of six have had to be put into special measures because their educational provision has been deemed unacceptable. The Commission’s report quotes the following further examples of problems deriving from under-sized councils:

  • Two small local authorities were unable to employ full-time specialists in improving children’s literacy.
  • One small local authority has had seven directors of education in the past seven years.
  • Smaller local authorities typically pay up to £50 more per citizen in corporate and democratic costs than larger ones.

The dilemma is whether by responding to such inadequacies by coming up with larger councils will simply result in problems of a different sort, of having councils that are too large and unwieldy for effective service delivery and democratic accountability. Certainly, the scheme being proposed by the Commission will result in a large-scale culling of councillors across Wales. Whether it will result in a significant saving of money, as the Commission believes, is much less certain, even heroic. It claims:

“We are able to forecast that the costs of the merger could be recouped from the recurring savings in between 18 and 30 months, if the programme is effectively managed and led; and that annual savings beyond that could be very significant.”

Past experience on this score is not encouraging, and it is perhaps significant that the Commission have given themselves a ‘get out’ position with the caveat that the change should be “effectively managed and led”. However, they have provided the Welsh Government with some useful assurances about alleviating the disruption that any such major reorganisation is bound to entail, by adopting the following principles:

  • No new boundaries will be created – instead new authorities should be created by merging existing ones.
  • All the new authorities should be sited inside the boundaries of the existing six health boards – so facilitating the co-ordination of health and social services – and those of the four police authorities.
  • Each of the new authorities should lie entirely within or entirely outside the west Wales and Valleys European convergence funding area.

Following these principles one option put forward is for the 12 authorities shown in the following table:

Authority

Population

Councillors

 

before/after

% Welsh speaking

Inside convergence area

Ynys Mon/Gwynedd

191,436

105 / 75

69.1

Yes

Conwy/Denbighshire

209,245

106/75

33.6

Yes

Flint/Wrexham

287,736

122 / 75

21.6

No

Ceredigion / Pembrokeshire

197,906

102 /75

34.4

Yes

Powys

133,071

73

24.4

No

Carmarthenshire

138,961

74

47.4

Yes

Swansea

238,691

72

16.2

Yes

Neath Port Talbot/Bridgend

279,290

108 / 75

18.9

Yes

Rhondda Cynon Taf/ Merthyr

293,224

108/ 75

18.4

Yes

Cardiff/Vale of Glamorgan

472,121

122 / 75

18.1

No

Caerphilly/Blaenau Gwent/ Torfaen

339,784

159/75

17.1

Yes

Newport/Monmouthshire

237,293

93 / 75

19.3

No

Two other options are put forward: one involving the merger of Carmarthenshire with Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire; and the other a merger of Swansea with Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend. If one of these was agreed then the number of authorities would fall to eleven, if both to ten. It is here that the consensus within the Commission breaks down. So it puts forward the case for and against each option. On the case for merging Swansea with Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot they have this to say:

“It would avoid the anomalous treatment of Swansea [compared with Cardiff which they agree should be merged with the Vale of Glamorgan], and would be arguably more consistent with long-term patterns of population and economic growth in the wider region. Because of the geographic restrictions to the west and north (such as the Gower and the Loughor estuary), Swansea’s future development is likely to be focused on its eastern boundary with Neath Port Talbot, along the Fabian Way / M4 axis. For instance, the recent ‘SA1’ development is around 750m from the boundary; and Amazon Park and the majority of the new Swansea University campus is within Neath Port Talbot. It would also be consistent with the Western Bay care partnership which has already had some success in integrating health and adult social care across the area. On the other hand, the resulting local authority would be relatively large, with a population of 518,000, making it the third most populous unitary authority in the UK after Glasgow and Cornwall. However, there are significantly more populous metropolitan authorities in England such as Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield, which discharge substantially the same functions; and being a large authority may be an advantage (it will maximise economies of scale and would give the authority a strong voice). The population of this possible local authority area might give cause for concern, but there are strong arguments in favour too.”

On the possibility of merging Carmarthenshire with Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, the Commission accentuate the negative arguments:

“This would help integrate health and social care in the Hywel Dda LHB area, and would bring together an area which has at least some significant common features in terms of rurality, local economy and, in much of the area, use of the Welsh language. On the other hand, the geographic size and diversity of that area would present significant challenges. It would cover the largest area of any UK unitary authority outside the most rural and remote parts of Scotland while having a significantly higher population than any of those areas. Furthermore, while there are common features, there are also significant differences. Llanelli, the Amman Valley and Milford Haven are largely urbanised and industrial; much of the rest of the area is very sparsely populated. And while Welsh is widely spoken in much of Carmarthenshire, north Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, it is less prevalent in south Pembrokeshire and along the Carmarthenshire coast. Anecdotally, there is still a sense in the area that the former Dyfed County Council struggled to address this diversity in a responsive and effective way. Resolving this might well require the creation of delivery and engagement structures below the level of the whole area, whether or not along the boundaries of the current local authorities. Finally, this option would create a significant council tax disparity: Pembrokeshire’s council tax is among the lowest in Wales and would rise significantly if council tax levels were equalised across the whole of the new area.”

On balance, therefore, the Commission appears to be leaning in favour of a single ‘Swansea Bay’ authority, but rather against resurrecting the old Dyfed. However, it concludes that these are matters which require further consultation and should be for the Welsh Government and National Assembly to decide.

It does not give them much time. It suggests that the whole thing, in terms of direction of travel at least, should be done and dusted by Easter. It argues that delaying the question until after the 2016 Assembly election for example – to enable the parties to put their preferred options to the electorate – would create an unacceptable hiatus and inertia for Welsh local government.

There is much more to be mined in the Commission’s report. Issues to which the debate on ClickonWales and the IWA’s journal the welsh agenda will need to return include:

  • The role of the National Parks, and the Commission’s proposals for a strategic all-Wales overview.
  • The role of the 736 Community Councils and their substantial reduction to a more effective tier of local democracy.
  • The future of the regional education consortia for the delivery of school improvement.
  • Enhancement of the interface between health and social services.
  • Greater co-operation between the fire and ambulance services.
  • The reduction of councillors and the corresponding argument for increasing the size of the National Assembly.
  • The development of city regions for southeast Wales and Swansea Bay and their inter-action with the new local government structure.

Above all, there is the underlying Welsh dilemma of improving service delivery in a period of austerity that is stretching as far ahead as the political eye can see – of how in the absence of sharp drivers, whether they be carrots or sticks, improved performance can be achieved. The Commission addresses this question but has no real answer. As it says:

“In the absence of a market model, continuous improvement must be driven through effective performance management and improved regulation. Data must be transparent and meaningful for politicians, managers, professionals and the public to hold organisations to account. Organisations must respond positively and pro-actively to areas for improvement identified by audit, inspection and regulation”.

No-one would disagree with that. However, it’s been essentially the position since the Assembly was established, and long before. And where has been the improvement? The Commission quotes two outstanding examples – in the operation of our fire services – where the rate of casualties resulting from fires has fallen by 54 per cent in Wales compared with 45 per cent in England since 2004; and in waste recycling – doubled in Wales from 27 per cent to 52 per cent since 2006, compared with an increase in England from 33 per cent to 44 per cent in the same period.

Yet, these are rare beacons of performance excellence. Generally, the Commission finds that the performance of our public services is “poor and patchy over time and relative to other countries”. We just have to hope that their recommendations will improve things without costing any more money.

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John Osmond is Editor of ClickonWales.

22 Responses to:“Can bigger be better local government?”

  1. Aled Jones says:

    The Williams Commission should be applauded for presenting a very detailed report with clearly argued recommendations. Given the degree of political agreement in the Senedd, it ought not to be impossible for the new local authorities to be in place by April 2016. As you point out, though, the Commission has held back somewhat on the twin questions of West Glamorgan and Dyfed.

    On the whole, the idea of bringing the Llwchwr/Lliw, Tawe, Dulais/Nedd, Afan and Cynffig/Garw/Ogwr valleys into the orbit of Swansea is an attractive one. (Better than linking them to Cardiff, anyway!)

    I am troubled, however, by both the plan to merge Ceredigion and Pembroke LAs and the alternative pan-Dyfed option. You rightly show that a merged Cerebroke LA would be 34% Welsh-speaking. The Devil, though is in the detail: page 320 of the full Williams Report reveals that 56% of Ceredigion residents speak Welsh, compared to only 20% in Pembrokeshire. This is the most extreme mismatch in the proposed LAs, and Welsh-speaking Ceredigion residents would have very strong reasons to be concerned that Cerebroke would be unable or unwilling to provide services effectively in Welsh.

    I agree that the scenario 2b resurrection of Dyfed would create a behemoth in South West Wales, but on the whole it would be preferable to the prospect of retaining Carmarthenshire and splicing Ceredigion with Pembrokeshire.

    (Report comment)

  2. comeoffit says:

    Oh dear…. 24 hours after the Williams report was published and the Welsh language has already been risen to top of the pile in terms of considerations for designing reform. Forgive me if I’m wrong but isn’t this supposed to be about the saving money? An exercise to save money where the Welsh language is prioritised so highly is doomed to fail from the beginning. We need to decide here and now what this is about because saving money and the promotion of Welsh are polar opposites.

    (Report comment)

  3. Simmo says:

    Good article.

    I’m heartened by the proposals put forward. I think it is difficult to compare with what was in place in 1974, given the change in technologies (communications) in the intervening period. However, it seems that the current smaller Valley authorities with large pockets of social deprivation are just too small to provide effective delivery and would benefit with mergers. Also, to have the boundaries consistent with Health Board and Police boundaries is a commonsense proposal.

    As John points out, there are a number of arguments to resolve (the role of the National Parks etc.). The interesting one for me is how it will tie in with the proposed city region developments. A Swansea BAy Area authority would appear to be fairly consistent with the the City region proposals for that area. From what I can make out, sending Cardiff west-south-west with the Vale and sending Newport northwards with Monmouthshire would run counter to the Cardiff – Newport – Valleys CIty Region proposal? (I am sceptical personally of the city region philosophy)

    An interesting concern was raised with resurrecting the old Dyfed in relation to the Welsh language, and how certain provision might be ‘diluted’ if Pembrokeshire were brought into the fold; is it not the case though that Pembrokeshire itself is very much split language-wise between North and SOuth – if Ceredigion and Carms were brought into the fold it may help to reinforce provision of Welsh in North Pembrokeshire?

    (Report comment)

  4. Nic Wheeler says:

    I agree with Aled’s conclusion re the Dyfed option, but perhaps for slightly different reasons. On the issue of the use of Welsh, Dyfed (which I served as an English speaking chief officer for the whole of its life) did possess a Welsh ethos, but also respected the cultural and linguistic differences within its borders. Perhaps it didn’t strive hard enough in promoting the Welsh language, but it did achieve a balance and a tolerance and a mutual understanding which served it well. It produced an early Welsh Language Policy, and sought to implement it with consensus and tact, from which we can all learn.

    The issues here though are largely ones of economies of scale and delivery. ‘Cerebroke’ (ouch!) would still be a sparse, large area, and lacking a population and resource base to deliver sound governance and management. The residents of north Ceredigion would still have little in common with those in south Pembrokeshire (although the same could equally be said of Powys!), and Angle to Ponterwyd is still over 100 miles! So the Commission arguments on the downside of a ‘Dyfed’ apply equally to this option, without gaining further cost savings, economies of scale and probably a reduction of a further 65 councillors.

    The last 20 years has shown that smaller units struggle to provide the specialism and expertese needed to run modern services, lack the pool of resources in terms of staffing experience, can easily develop an insular mentality averse to partnership and sharing (in the true sense of relinquishing power and the joint use of resources), haven’t the resource base to tackle larger projects, are often ‘conservative’ in outlook and ambition – lacking long-term vision and aspiration – and are reluctant to innovate (or lack the resources to do so). These are things Wales is so desperately in need of.

    The other key issue is the potential ‘democratic deficit’ in larger authorities – local delivery, ownership and involvement. Despite the comments in the report, I didn’t find this in Dyfed, although based entirely within one former county area. Every effort was made to deliver services locally, and make them accessible and to take account of local circumstances. Yes, there were regular moans about one area faring better than another, but I hear that within Pembrokeshire now! It is a natural reaction of rural areas and strong communities seeking the best for their inhabitants, finding it hard to share, and even harder to forgo for the sake of somewhere else which is in greater need – look at the last 20 years! Determined efforts and a firm local delivery policy, allied to ICT advances which now provide ready alternatives can address this concern, so long as it is central to the ethos of the new bodies, and localism, rather than centralism, of both delivery and community involvement is central to their culture.

    The points made by Commission members about the equalisation of council tax does of course need to be related to the variations in what services have actually been delivered, and how, and indeed how well those services have stood up to external scrutiny and comparison across the board. Perhaps they didn’t examine the record that thoroughly…. and as the respondent on the TV News last night agreed, he would be prepared to pay a bit more to get a better level of services. That is the challenge.

    (Report comment)

  5. Nic Wheeler says:

    ps. and Simmo’s!

    (Report comment)

  6. , says:

    According to the figures above, Newport/Monmouthshire has the highest percentage of Welsh speakers in the South-East. I’m more than happy to be surprised by unusual statistics but is this right?

    Editor: I was also surprised. The figures are taken from a table on page 320 of the Full report – giving 17.7 per cent for Welsh speakers in Newport, and 20.2 per cent in Monmouthshire (rounding up at 19.3 per cen for the two combined. I also checked in the The Wales Yearbook and found the following statistics of Welsh speakers for Monmouthshire at 16.7 per cent, and for Newport at 18.9 per cent. Hopefully the report’s statistics are more up to date…

    (Report comment)

  7. Owain says:

    Having had a chance to look at the 100 page summary report last night, I can’t say that I am overly impressed by its analysis of such an important issue for government in Wales. It has far too much management speak and vague ambitions, and is lacking in explicit references to the services and organisations which are needed to underpin the rationale behind the Local Authority proposals in particular. There also appears to be only a cursory reference to democracy, which I believe is (or can be) one of the main drivers in maintaining standards and best practice as well as being an end in itself.

    Perhaps I am being a bit harsh, as admittedly I haven’t read the main report yet, but on the basis of what I have read, the report and its conclusions lack the detail and analysis that I was expecting and therefore it isn’t inspiring a huge amount of confidence unfortunately.

    (Report comment)

  8. Peter Hugh Charles Davies says:

    I am amazed if the Williams report is accurate.Can the stated fact that the proposed Monmouth and Newport council has 19.3% Welsh speakers really be true? More than Swansea (16%) and more than Rhondda Cynon Taf Merthyr( 18.4%)

    (Report comment)

  9. Urien says:

    Is Carms proposed to be ‘independent’ because Labour are in power there? Seems so.

    Joining Ceredigion with Pembs is a non-starter. It doesn’t make sense and will lead to protest – it’ll either not be able to implement decent Welsh language stategy or (in the case of Comoffit, will be ‘too Welsh’).

    Id go for bringing back Dyfed but with a special English-language option south of the Landsker something similar to the old District powers. If not Dyfed, then join Ceredigion with Carms which would make far more sense. Or, why not join Ceredigin to Gwynedd?

    The Lower Conwy Valley (Llanrwst) would be better served by Gwynedd too.

    For the life of me, I can’t see why the ‘old’ Gwent isn’t resurected. It makes more sense than the suggested option.

    A lot of costs would be saved by creating national service for the Police, Fire and Ambulance services too. It seems to have worked for Scotland which is several times larger than Wales. These borders don’t correspond with the police service in relation to Gwent Police and South Wales (why didn’t they call it Glamorgan?) police services.

    (Report comment)

  10. Celticus says:

    This is a helpful analysis, but I can’t help thinking it leaves out the most important factor – party politics. You say the commission “contained representatives from all 4 parties”. On the record, some AMs have said their parties – all? – were not consulted before its members were hand-picked by Labour.

    Many commentators today – in all parties and none – despair about the quality of most politicians, disfunctional power structures in party machines, unsuitable celebrity personalities, etc. The revealed quality of officers in some principal authorities confirms the failure of political leadership. Highly paid executive councillors hide behind delegated powers to officers.

    If these existing failed power structures are merely cut and pasted within new boundaries, nothing will change. Does the report give the option of proportional representation? That has transformed local government in Scotland and N. Ireland.

    (Report comment)

  11. Ken Richards says:

    The Institute intends to return to a “strategic all Wales overview of National Parks.” Don’t delay. I have the impression from the Williams report and the series of policies and white papers of recent months that the government has fumbled the ball on this subject and the broader question of protected landscapes in Wales. Part of the problem lies in the incremental way that “landscapes”have been handled without an overview – or consideration of protected areas as a system, as recommended by experts in the field for the best part of a decade, if not longer.

    Having reviewed and commented on the proposed policy on Protected Landscapes, and the White Papers on the Historic Environment, the proposed Environment Bill, and now the proposed Planning Bill, I think there are strong grounds to support the inclusion of a section regarding national parks and other protected areas in one of the three bills that the government intends to introduce in the months ahead. The choice probably lies between Natural Resources and the Historic Environment.

    Welsh-based law would clarify the status of these areas, and provide local authorities with clear basis for management and decision-making in these areas. The alternative, I fear, is continued dependence on Westminster-based laws and associated practices in the planning and management of national parks and other protected areas in Wales, which may not be in Wales’ long term interests.

    The suggestion of an of an integrated National Parks service in Wales is interesting, although the prospect of centralization goes against the grain of advice from international experts who suggest a stronger emphasis on local governance and collaboration in the management of protected areas. There is clearly a need for an approach that balances the national importance of protected areas with local aspirations.

    (Report comment)

  12. Terry Mackie says:

    Owain,

    Don’t read the complete report if you find the 100 page summary so unimpressive. You will die of tediousness. Your analysis of too much management speak and vague ambition is quite kind. The report’s vocabulary is ghastly, full of the stuff of out of date MBA courses run by desperate places of higher learning. I know I have to get out more but I counted over 500 instances of ‘delivery’, 428 ‘outcome(s)’, 165 ‘values’ and so many mentions of ‘culture’ and ‘cultural’ that my head exploded in sheer horror.

    I am better today…

    This is a super-prolix, civil service type, sententious report that is 250 pages too long and pretending to be some work of unusual insight. In fact, it deals tidily with its only substantial theme, local govt reorganisation, but it arrogates itself up its own pretentious backside by giving homilies full of the bleeding obvious about problems like scrutiny and accountability that deserve bigger brains than these unMagnificent Seven commissioners could possibly come near to. As J Osmond pointed out some time ago, The Commission was packed with political insiders and left bereft of any creative or academic thinkers. That’s why the report is so safe and just does the bidding of The Government.

    The size and tone of the report is a kind of facsimile of authentic analysis of the great political issues of modern Wales. So, no one will read Williams in the future. It has nothing much to offer of substance or lasting insight beyond the new map of local government. But, the IWA could have come up with that one page in a process of just six weeks and at very low cost.

    Last point, how can any report on Wales spiel for 346 pages and say the word ‘unions’ once and expect to be given respect? Whatever way you cut it, the unions matter greatly in modern Wales and feature strongly in all aspects of our ‘governance, culture and delivery’. Is that not an essential layer of our civil society, worth some expensive consideration as to future national direction and improvement?

    Williams has done his job for Carwyn. But, this is too insipid and uniformed a job for my taste or gratitude. The Williams report is, in some senses, a faithful mirror of Wales. Too many words, too many insiders, too many calls to virtue and no one is ever to be blamed for incompetence and shoddiness. Sad, actually.

    (Report comment)

  13. Geraint Talfan Davies says:

    The Williams Commission (and possible the Wales Year Book) has obviously picked up some erroneous data on the language in Newport and Monmouthshire. In the 2011 census those claiming to be able to speak Welsh amounted to 9% of the population in Newport and 9.7% in Monmouthshire. Those claiming to be able to speak, read and write Welsh accounted for 6.3% of the population in Newport and 7% of the population in Monmouthshire.

    (Report comment)

  14. Peter Hugh Charles Davies says:

    Having checked the 2011 Census returns,I would entirely agree with Geraint Talfan Davies. Newport and Monmouthshire Welsh speaking figures are inaccurate in the Williams report – their figure is lower than those for Swansea,Cardiff, and Rhondda Cynon Taf.
    I would also point out ,that these figures should be taken into account when the Assembly decides the language policy for English speaking councils,which I accept should have the right for those who wish to learn through the medium of Welsh. However, spending large sums of money on Welsh language signs and demanding Welsh translations in English speaking counties is a waste of taxpayers money.

    (Report comment)

  15. adarynefoedd says:

    Help! Though Powys is a small consideration, the plans for it in this report are dreadful. I was hoping for some kind of radical change and all we have is more of the same. We in Powys cannot cope at the moment let alone taking on health as well. Even ‘Dyfed-Powys’ seems better than the status quo.

    Williams has also missed a trick in education and social services as the units proposed are far too small. To overcome many of our endemic problems in these areas, we need large authorities, possibly four or even one, then we could have a range of imaginative provision and not need to commission services elsewhere – at vast expense. History shows a lot less problems when health was managed as an all Wales unit.

    (Report comment)

  16. comeoffit says:

    What’s this? fudged figures and statistics on Welsh speaking ability? You do surprise me

    (Report comment)

  17. Jeff Jones says:

    In 2010/11 the number of deaths from fire per million population in Wales was 6.7 and in England it was 6.2. In terms of non fatal causalities the figure in England was 168 per million an din Wales it was 248, I suppose the civil servants who wrote the report were desperate to find some stats which showed a ‘successful ‘ public service.

    On the report itself Terry Mackie’s comments are spot on. But why should anyone be surprised given the makeup of the Commission and its obvious remit from the Welsh Government. When politicians are desperate to be seen to be doing something you end up with a rushed report such as that produced by Williams. If you don’t ask the right questions I’m afraid you are not likely to come up with the right answers.

    At least it gave some of my friends in local government a good laugh. At the moment they are hoping that the Assembly will adopt the Report’s recommendations asap so that they can pass Go and collect the six figure redundancy package.

    On a more serious note, I would have thought that before setting any timetable for implementation any serious politician would instruct the civil service to properly cost any reorganisation. The only figure we have is £200 million+ – set out inin the WLGA’s evidence. It really isn’t good enough I’m afraid for the Report’s authors to say that they don’t agree with the WLGA’s ‘assumptions’ and that they believe that the figure is closer to £100 million. At a time when public services are being slashed to the bone politicians need to have the facts not assumptions before they embark on any major policy initiative. Too often in the past, as John Osmond rightly points out, initiatives that promised to save money and improve service delivery have had exactly the opposite effect. Some of us still remember William Hague’s argument that LGR in 1996 would see reductions in council tax. The aim of any change should be improved democratically accountable service delivery. Unlike the previous politically motivated reorganisations of local government it should produce a system which will stand the test of time and be able to meet the real challenges of providing services in the 21st century.

    There is really no need for the Assembly to rush into a decision before Easter as suggested by Williams. Public Services in Wales might be under pressure for a number of reasons but they are not on the verge of collapse. The present Welsh government, having stated that it did not intend to implement local government reorganisation before the next Assembly election, has no mandate for change. The Report doesn’t say anything new and many, including myself, would argue that there are real doubts about whether its structural recommendations will improve issues such as capacity and scrutiny. What is now required is real debate not rushed decision making. Whether that happens will depend on how many AMs put the long term aim of good accountable public service delivery before short term political calculations.

    (Report comment)

  18. Jason hughes says:

    As always all fine in theory. In reality it will be a total shambles. Party politics, regional and cultural differences, the ego’s of local government leaders and the fact that in Wales bigger just means more expensive, less efficient and poorer quality with less accountability. It’s all one big cycle. Such changes being the realisation that actually politicians are either under resourced or just no good, leading to mistake after mistake, then financial ruin, then panic, then a new system costing millions. In 10 years we will be back saying small is beautiful etc etc and off we go again. It’s not size: it’s poor leadership and under resourcing….

    (Report comment)

  19. Owain says:

    Having now had the chance to go through all 62 reccomendations in detail, it becomes clearer that the Williams report is merely the start of this process and discussion and not its conclusion. However, the one recommendation that should gain general support is the first one, that:

    “The Welsh Government must initiate, lead and manage a comprehensive programme of change to address the findings of our report. This must begin immediately and will take 3 to 5 years to complete; it must be carried out in close collaboration with organisations across public services in Wales.”

    To this I would add that the collaboration needs to include the trade unions, political parties, and wider civil society.

    The timescale of 3 – 5 years is reasonable. However, to expect the heads of terms on the local government re-organisation to be agreed by Easter is not practical. In many respects that is going to be the key change that the success of all of Williams proposals hangs on. It is also the most contentious part of the proposals. The interesting part will now be to see how each of the parties and affected organisations and authorities respond. There does appear to be a will to reach a consensus on this (either that or risk paralysis) but the consensus has to be found through negotiation not imposition. Jeff’s point about the detailed cost analysis of these proposals is very valid too, and it will take time for those to be prepared for the different options to be considered – and they should not be limited to the mergers as proposed in the report. There also seem to be significant cost implications for some of the other recommendations as well which need to be assessed in the current fiscal climate.

    The importance of gaining a political consensus on the way forward cannot be overstated, so that there is certainty for the programme of work going forward post the next Welsh election regardless of who gains office. So my suggested timetable would be:

    1. Formal responses to the report in by Easter, followed by detailed negotiations between all parties (including the WLGA, Unions, and health, fire and ambulance officials) backed by financial analysis by the Welsh Government civil service.
    2. A provisional date for the conclusion of the negotiations and agreement on the programme could be September 2014, which would still maintain momentum.

    I have to agree wholeheartedly with Terry as well in that the complete lack of consideration of the trade unions role in this report is shocking and betrays an utter disrespect for the public sector workforce upon whom the whole project depends, as well as a myopic understanding of the public sector in Wales. This ommission combined with the scant concern for democracy displayed are the biggest flaws and weaknesses. I am, however, confident that the trade unions will highlight these flaws quite firmly in both their formal and informal response to the report. It is bizarre, however, that the report should deliberately exclude the trade unions when its stated intention is the reform of the public sector. The Welsh Government would be foolish in the extreme not to include them in the preliminary and overarching negotiations. Without their agreement the project will founder and result in many unsatisfactory outcomes.

    Despite these flaws, the reccomendations taken together do set out a reasonable (and reasonably ambitious) framework for the reform of the public sector in Wales. The case for the merger of the local authorities as proposed is not conclusive however and there are big gaps in the detailed arrangements and costings.

    The field is now open, or at least it should be. So let us see what the Welsh Government can acheive. Its reputation and competency (and that of Wales as a self governing country), along with the future success and survival of public services in Wales, are at stake here. It is no small potatoes that they get this right, and they need to do it through consensus (or as near to it as they can get).

    (Report comment)

  20. Jon Owen Jones says:

    The Williams Commission was hamstrung by having to maintain the existing health board boundaries. These in turn were dependent on previous local authority borders. All very well if these historic divisions were sensible but if not you end up repeating the mistakes of the past. I was raised in Maerdy in the Rhondda and I now live in Cardiff. When I was young they were part of the mighty Glamorgan County Council. Perhaps it was too mighty, certainly in a Welsh context, and in 1974 it was divided. Labour argued for an east and west division; Cardiff and Swansea with the valleys that drained into them. The Tory government had a different objective which was to create a county that they could win – and so South Glamorgan was born. The main problem with this gerrymandering was that poverty was concentrated in one region and that geography was defied. When all the valleys run north south and the roads follow how do you distribute resources within particular valleys and expect people to cross mountains to reach them.

    If you want an explanation of why acute hospital provision isn’t located at the major road junction of the M4 and the A470 but instead in an overcrowded city site and at Merthyr and Llantrisant, look at the local authority boundaries. The Williams Commission propose two very poor valley authorities with very bad internal communication. Lets not repeat the same mistake.

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  21. Jeff Jones says:

    Jon Owen Jones is entirely right. Some of the back of a fag pack suggestions by Williams could end up making matters worse not better. Anyone who can make Caerphilly, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent work needs to be fast tracked asap to become Head of the European Commission. If Mid Glamorgan struggled even with Bridgend and Caerphilly what chance has RCT and Merthyr? It’s almost as bad as the original Tory idea of a Heads of The Valley authority of Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent.

    What is the logic of recreating South Glamorgan but not West Glamorgan? The only logical conclusion is that the Leader of Neath Port Talbot who was a Commission member knows that his fellow councillors would do anything to avoid going in with the Jacks. Hence, the need to drag Bridgend into the equation. Would anyone seriously have suggested Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot merging if it wasn’t for the ‘Brilliant success’ of AberTawe Bro Morgannwg in delivering the finest health services in the world? One minute Bridgend is in the Cardiff City region and the next it is being urged to look west.

    The recommendations have the feel of a dog’s dinner. They could easily have been written in five minutes on the back of a post card over a cup of coffee in the Khardomah. Perhaps they were for all we know. They come straight out of the ‘We haven’t got a clue but we had better do something’ policy making handbook. No wonder this week’s Local Government Chronicle devoted a full page to the Greens decision to hold a council tax referendum in Brighton compared to a very small column on Williams.

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  22. Gwyn says:

    Some of you. Really!

    It does not matter how you try and organise Local Government it will always be about looking for the least bad option.

    The other thing is that bigger does not mean better or more efficient. Any organisation has a size above or below which it operates less and less well. If there’s a formula I’d be interested to know. History is littered with examples of both. Of course, the Public Sector can hide its deficiencies for longer that the Private, but even there the day will come.

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