Friday, 24 June 2011

How to win friends and influence people

There’s no single right way to achieve that, but there are plenty of wrong ways.  Telling people that they’re complacent, bureaucratic, and under-performing is a pretty good example.  Yet that’s the message which the Welsh Government delivered yesterday to the assembled bosses of the WLGA, and Local Government Minister Carl Sergeant was the enthusiastic messenger.
My guess is that it’s unlikely to lead to the sort of joined-up collaborative thinking that is needed to implement the sort of scheme which I referred to yesterday.  But I’d also guess that that isn’t what the Welsh Government is looking for anyway.
The comments seem to be based on a preconception that the current structure of local government is not fit for purpose.  Nothing new there – it’s a pretty generally-held view.  There’s a lot less consensus, however, about what the ‘purpose’ is, and even less about what structure would be ‘fit’ for that purpose.  “Wales doesn’t need 22 Directors of Education (or whatever)” is the easy part; deciding how many we do need is a great deal harder.
He also talked about combined units having greater buying power – presumably he’d like them to emulate his Government and use their buying power to drive the cost of laptops up down to £700 each.  It’s also a well-proven way of ensuring that contracts get awarded to larger and larger companies from ever further away.
Forcing the merger of individual services on an opportunistic case-by-case basis may (although I’d need convincing about that – the devil is in the detail) reduce some costs.  But it will also have the effect of further reducing the power and influence of local elected members – probably an intended consequence of a centralising government.
I don’t have a firm view about how many councils we need in Wales or their precise functions and responsibilities.  I do have a view, though, on the sort of factors which should influence those decisions, such as:
·                Clarity over lines of responsibility and accountability
·                Meaningful ability to influence the nature of the services for which they are responsible rather than simply implementing central government policy
·                Boundaries reflecting natural human and geographical affinities
·                Joined-up delivery between complementary and overlapping services.
An approach for which the main drivers appear to be cost-cutting and being seen to be tough doesn’t seem to be designed to achieve any of those, other than perhaps by accident.
It is, once again, skirting around the issue that no-one wants to face up to, namely a proper and thorough review of the governance of Wales in the context of a devolved parliament.

1 comment:

Draig said...

It should also be borne in mind that collaboration doesn't just have to take place between County Councils. It can also take place between community and town councils. This kind of arrangement is facilitated by the new Charter structure promoted by WAG.

A good example of this is the collaborative arrangement between a grouping of community councils in the Bala area, where a number of key services, such as parks, public toilets and playing fields, have been taken over, with logistical and financial support (in the form of a one-off grant) from Gwynedd County Council.

In a very piece-meal kind of way, we seem to be progressing towards the kind of two-tier arrangement we
had pre 1996 perhaps...