Wednesday 12 February 2014

Hope vs experience

Estyn’s ‘excellent’ report on Ceredigion’s education system looks like good news for the county’s children and parents, and the county council is well in order to be celebrating the success.  There may be one or two devils hiding in the detail, and I’m always at least a little dubious about whether comparisons are as meaningful as they’re made out to be, but at least we now have a series of county by county reports produced by the same body on, one assumes, the same basis and criteria.
Whilst the fact that Wales’ 19th largest authority has done better than the 18 larger ones above it doesn’t disprove the notion that smaller authorities find it harder to deliver consistent high quality services, it very much disproves the notion that size is the sole or even the main determinant of performance.  Yet the wholly subjective argument that Wales’ local authorities are ‘too small’ has been one of the key arguments of those wanting to rush headlong into an arbitrary reorganisation of local government.
Where does it leave the proposed merger of Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire?  Pembrokeshire is the 14th largest authority – that doesn’t sound too different from 19th, but by population, Pembrokeshire would represent around 60% of the new county.  Pembrokeshire’s Estyn report was, shall we say, rather less glowing than that received by Ceredigion.
That means that there are some other questions which need to be asked: When two organisations of different size merge, which culture is likely to be dominant – that of the smaller or that of the larger?  And when it comes to amalgamating the staff and management posts, which authority is likely to predominate - the larger, or the smaller?  And where will most of the councillors making the appointments come from – the larger or the smaller?
I know which I think is likeliest to happen – believing that the smaller will prevail would be to elevate hope and optimism over logic and experience.

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