A Theory of Welsh Governance

When we decide how we want to run our country we choose a balance between three different ‘governing mechanisms’:

• We can invest all power into the centre which applies standard rules for the administration of public services. Things become more equal but it is bureaucratic and not at all participative;

• We can extend markets into all forms of activity and rely on contracts to regulate how we get on with each other. Things become more unequal. We choose one service or another but do not engage directly with each other;

• We develop inter-active networks between a variety of forms of government and citizens in their communities of place and interest. Relationships are continuously negotiated and develop through trust.

As governments develop they tend to evolve from simple hierarchies into complex networks which ever more share responsibilities with active citizens.

The Williams Report recommends that we simplify Welsh government into a handful of local authorities ever more accountable to the centre. The aim is to take Wales backward to an ever more hierarchical, militaristic, form of government; less engaged with active citizens, more concerned with rules than innovation. It takes us back to the 19th century rather than forward to the 21st century.

Learning from the Scottish Referendum

One of the many refreshing insights to be gained from the Scottish referendum is that people became animated by a political choice when it is directly related to the sort of economy in which they wish to live. They want constitutional arrangements that can separate their forms of government from the interests of financial speculators in the City of London. They want to reverse the escalating inequalities of the past three decades and have forms of government and politics that can give them control over what matters in their lives, reversing the privatisation and marketisation of health, education, public transport and public utilities, creating vibrant regional economies and giving local people the power to shape local communities. The Scottish referendum debate was not about the fetishes of nationalism or the intricacies of constitutional detail; it was about giving ordinary people the ambition to change how they can work together to control their own destinies, how they can change the relationship between labour and capital.

If the Westminster elite, or indeed the Welsh crachach, can now be engaged in how to develop forms of government and politics that meet popular demand they would be seriously considering

– creating a form of UK Government which is separated from the public administration of England and is clearly charged with reshaping and regulating private finance whilst using public finance to redistribute income and wealth between classes and regions;
– creating a form of European government which is charged with controlling, taxing and regulating international corporations – instead of devolving powers of corporate taxation we should be centralising them into a pan European framework;
– not only developing the national governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but also fostering regional governments in England;
– re-invigorating community government throughout the United Kingdom so that local communities have direct responsibility for their local services, local economy and local environment;
– developing globally competitive city regions through active partnerships between local councils and regional or national administrations.

It is ironic that at the moment, however short lived, that the UK is alive with the complex challenge of how to make the multiple tiers of government relevant to a popular demand for shared control and influence; in Wales we are distracted by the dull and deadening demands of the Williams Commission: how to have less government ever more detached from popular influence.

WLGA to the Rescue

The Williams Report is pushing Wales into the dead end of being the most centralised country in Europe with fewer local authorities per head of population than anywhere else. This ever more hierarchical Wales will be less enterprising and innovative. Citizens will sink into a sullen passivity, distrusting each other and all forms of collective endeavour.

Fortunately the Welsh Local Government Association representing the local authorities of Wales is offering the Welsh Government a sensible, effective and low cost alternative to this ill considered local government reorganisation.

http://www.wlga.gov.uk/wlga-corporate-publications/discussion-paper-the-creation-of-four-combined-authorities-for-wales

It is recognised that there is a small but important range of activities which are best done on a geography smaller than Wales but larger than any individual local authority:
– we need transport planning and economic promotion in regions that combine cities with their wider hinterland
– we need to commission specialist health and social care services on a regional basis
– we need to procure Energy from Waste plants with populations of around a million
– we need specialist school improvement support teams working across regions.

Ironically the ten local authorities proposed by Williams will be too small to undertake these tasks.

The WLGA is proposing that the Welsh Assembly legislates to create four Combined Local Authorities with statutory responsibilities to undertake these tasks. The Combined Authorities would be accountable to the existing local authorities as well as being subject to oversight by the Welsh Government.

That’s it! Problem solved. We retain local authorities which are rooted in communities but we also ensure a capacity to undertake regional tasks. Of course it is not new; throughout Europe genuinely local authorities combine to perform regional tasks.