The Size Fetish

Within the last week leading Welsh parliamentarians have made the claim that all problems in Welsh public services would be solved by having larger organisations. 

One Assembly member was asked how we might improve educational attainment and answered that having fewer, larger education authorities would assist. 

Elfin Llwyd was asked how the Welsh NHS would improve and answered that having just one health organisation for the whole of Wales would lead to fewer bureaucrats and more doctors. 

There is simply no evidence to support these claims. Throughout the world researchers have tested the relationship between size and cost, size and performance and found no correlations. 

In Wales I have tested the relationship of school performance and the size of education authorities and found that the correlation is as close to zero as it possible to get. Last year little Anglesey had the best performing schools. 

There is no evidence that larger public service organisations have fewer bureaucrats to turnover. The Williams Report provided some pretty crass analysis that corporate management was a larger proportion of turnover in smaller organisations. It did not even refer to the tendency for larger organisations to diffuse corporate activity into their complex array of functional and geographical segments in a manner that even the most sophisticated management accountants are unable to track.

In recent weeks I have listened to my local health bureaucrats explain their complex plans for developing ever more integrated networks of ever more specialist care as they match their knowledge of clinical needs with a precise knowledge of the limitations of each building and each consultant – all within a ten mile radius of Pontypridd. In the Elfin Llwyd fantasy these bureaucrats would be redundant as all such complexities were resolved with a centralised flourish within some fairy tale castle in Machynlleth. 

Life is hard. Improvement requires steadfast commitment alongside imagination,  innovation and distributed leadership . Why oh why are so many simple souls mesmerised by size?



Williams Report Scuppers City Regions

Successful city regions require actively managed networks of business, educational and government organisations rooted in communities and recognising their economic interdependence across regions. Contrary to crachach opinion, the local authorities of South Wales have long understood this reality. 

The Williams report recommends fewer, larger local authorities. These will be large enough to develop an inward looking culture of hierarchical control and assumed self reliance but far too small to develop the synergies necessary to succeed in the global economy. 

Vancouver is a successfully developing city region with a population of 2.2 million served by 22 local authorities with populations smaller than those in Wales. Its location puts the region at the interface of the North American and Asian economies. The region works as a network of municipalities which ensure that innovative businesses are attracted to a region which has successful universities working together, high levels of skills in the workforce, an integrated transport infrastructure and ambitions for further development. 

Stuttgart is one of Europe’s most successful regions which combines the most advanced manufacturing with the most attractive environment and diverse cultural activity. Its governance is that picture of multi-tiered complexity which is anathema to Williams with 179 municipalities, 46 districts and a directly elected regional assembly for 2.7 million sitting alongside the Lander and the Federal Government. It works. 

To succeed economically we will need to build a networked city region across the Severn estuary to include the cities of Cardiff, Newport, Bristol and Bath. The mix of valley towns and attractive hills, vibrant and creative city centres, advanced universities, manufacturing and service potential, a market of over 2 million people, a skilled and adaptable labour force – all this will attract global investment. The region will be an hour travel time form the global city of London and have its own interconnections including a world beating barrage providing road and rail links and making the region self sufficient in non-carbon producing energy. 

All this will be combined with systems of active local democracy rooted in towns and villages and networked into regional administrations and national governments. The Williams Report has no relevance to this exciting vision; its implementation would boundary organisations into inward looking, restrictive patterns of conformist behaviour far away from the complex needs of the 21st century.