Monday, 22 June 2015

Generals with maps

I rather liked the line about the dangers of a general with a map in a combat zone.  I’m not sure that it stands up to scrutiny though – it strikes me that a general without a map might potentially be even more dangerous.
It’s clear by now that the minister is determined to press ahead with a reorganisation of local authorities which will reduce the number of 8 or 9 in total.  It’s also clear that the other three centralist parties represented in the Assembly agree in principle with the push for a reduced number, even if they are quibbling about the detail.
It’s also clear that there are councillors in all the parties who will resist the proposed changes.  Here in Carmarthenshire, in a rare display of unity a few weeks ago, Labour, Plaid, and the Independent Party joined forces to declare that Carmarthenshire should remain a stand-alone authority.  They’re whistling in the wind though – their influence on their leaders in Cardiff is about as close to zero as it can get, and their views will simply be dismissed as self-interest.
It might be true that their protests are based on self-interest, but even if we give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are genuinely seeking to do what’s best for local democracy in Wales, they’ll still be ignored.  That simply isn’t the question being asked; and having the right answer to the wrong question won’t advance their case greatly.
It seems to me that the question being asked by Cardiff’s centralists has little to do with good or effective local democracy at all – it is, rather, about finding the most efficient way of delivering certain key services, and primarily amongst those, education.  Efficiency and democracy are not at all the same thing.  But seeking to judge the latest proposals against that key criterion of ‘efficiency’ (assuming that the term even has a simple agreed definition) raises more questions that it answers.
Firstly, why does the area of Glamorgan and Gwent require four regions, when four or at most five is deemed adequate for the whole of the rest of Wales?  Where is the evidence that requires the population of a region to be less than x and no more than y?
Secondly, why is the sanctity of existing boundaries taken as a given?  What’s wrong, for instance, with splitting Conwy and merging half with Gwynedd and the other half with the rest of north Wales?  Yes, I know, of course, that it’s easier to treat existing authorities as whole units, but if the question is how we find the most ‘efficient’ structure, this is an unnecessary constraint.
Thirdly, why do all services have to be delivered to the same pattern?  I can understand – even if I’m not entirely convinced by the evidence – why fewer education authorities might be an improvement, but why do services such as leisure centres have to be managed at the same level?  It simply looks like a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Fourthly, given the need for better co-ordination between health and social services, why is the NHS not being included, and aligned to the same boundaries, as Plaid have in fact suggested?
Fifthly, where does this leave the Welsh Government’s drive for city regions?  Whereas the regions have previously included ‘whole’ authorities (for instance, Carmarthenshire in Swansea Bay), the new plan will mean that some authorities (such as Dyfed) are partly in and partly out.
But the biggest question of all, which the minister seems to be completely unwilling even to contemplate, is about the value of democratic elections to these new ‘authorities’.  If the aim is to ensure the most efficient delivery of centrally prescribed services to centrally ordained standards in a consistent fashion, how does electing councillors to regional authorities add any value at all?  How much influence can any elected councillors actually have?
It’s a point that I’ve raised before – if certain services are considered so important that they have to be uniform and consistent in terms of both policy and delivery across the whole of Wales (I’m not at all convinced about that, but it seems that all four Assembly parties are), then why pretend that elected local government has any rôle in delivering them?  Better by far to keep local government local and let it concentrate on those services where there is room for local variation and difference.


Anonymous said...

It is still not inconceivable that the language could be saved with the establishment of an authority covering the areas of the country with a majority of the local population speaking Welsh. These areas are contiguous and constitute about 30% of the country.

Anonymous said...

It can be dressed up anyway they want it, but local government reorganisation is displacement activity for a tired political class that’s out of fight and ideas to improve the lives of welsh people.

Spirit of BME said...

Excellent post.