A myth is widespread that the collaboration thing was tried in Wales but it did not work. It must therefore be inevitably too complex, unaccountable and dispensed with. This is the subtext of the Williams report: we must double the size of local authorities so that there is no further need for collaboration – good old fashioned command and control can replace any need for trust and negotiation between organisations. The Williams Commission regards collaborators just as De Gaulle regarded the Vichy Government.
It is one of the wholly uncelebrated facts of Wales that we have a good record of effective collaboration. I did a 10,000 word research report for the Williams Commission on ‘shared services’ which pointed to that success. It can be found on http://wales.gov.uk/topics/improvingservices/public-service-governance-and-delivery/evidence-received/?lang=en. Tellingly, the Williams Report did not make a single reference to that research – perhaps because the research did not support the ideological premises of the Commission: an ideology that makes a virtue of centralised bureaucracy over markets or negotiated networks.
The research indicates that there is much very successful collaboration between Welsh local authorities. Working in clusters they are currently procuring regional energy from waste plants and in so doing are achieving what is one the biggest investment programmes in the history of the Welsh economy. It is estimated that 70% of social care is commissioned from voluntary and business organisations and Welsh local authorities have for some time been procuring high cost care on a collaborative basis. Since 2012 four education improvement consortia have been in place to ensure that each local authority can access expert support in managing the performance of their schools. In a wide range of services such as libraries, trading standards, food standards sophisticated arrangements are in place to share specialist expertise, procurement and information. Highways professionals have been developing far reaching plans for the sharing of systems and expertise but these plans may not survive the Williams Report. For decades here has been successful collaboration in the development and implementation of regional transport plans; unfortunately last year Welsh Government nationalised the production of regional transport plans.
Collaboration is a way of life in local government systems throughout Europe which consistently operate on a smaller scale than in Wales. It is normal and undertaken whenever necessary on a business like basis with clear agreements of intended outputs. We are getting there in Wales but the intention of Williams is to put a stop to all such malarkey.