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?

 

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