From the Cutting Edge to the Backwaters

Last week Nick Pearce of the IPPR was invited by the University of South Wales to come to the Norwegian Church in Cardiff to talk about ‘The Relational State’ – a ‘new’ approach to public service delivery. 

His theme is that we cannot rely on either markets or hierarchies to achieve all that is necessary from our public services. We need also to develop relationships, networks, between citizens and deliverers and between different deliverers. 

It sounded so much like Welsh Government’s ‘Making the Connections’ programme of public service reform of a decade ago. We were going to have a citizen centred public service. We were going to work across organisational boundaries to create seamless and integrated public services. We were not relying entirely on markets or on centralised bureaucracy, we were going to create agile and responsive networks across a range of public, private and voluntary organisations. Pivotal to the modal was the role for community based local authorities offering active community leadership in the local management of networks. 

The London based think tanks have now escaped the limitations of New Labour’s agenda for markets, choice and contestability. They are now in the same place as Wales was a decade ago. Unfortunately the Williams report has rejected the pioneering agenda set out in ‘Making the Connections’. Williams rejects both markets and networks and puts its total reliance on new centralising bureaucracies. In seeking simplicity over complexity, centralisms over localism, direction over participation – Williams places Wales back into the Morrisonian orthodoxies of 1945.



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