In Spring 1917 Lenin travelled through Finland to initiate the October Revolution. If the Williams renunciation of community government in Wales is accepted by the Welsh Assembly, I may in 2017 need to seek refuge in Finland in order to experience the wonders of community self government.
Finland leads the world in public service performance. Its tax funded health care system is top of the tables on indices of public health, infant mortality, cancer treatment, longevity. Its comprehensive wholly public funded education system achieves remarkably high standards whilst also having the narrowest of gaps between rich and poor, high and low achievers.
It is not sufficiently well understood in Wales that Finland delivers its public services almost wholly through its community based local authorities. There are 342 local authorities with an average population of less than 20,000; they are responsible for the delivery of both schools and health care. Working on this basis it is not surprising that health care is seen as a partnership between the community and locally based nursing professionals – the Welsh obsession with medicalising and specialising all forms of health care is resisted in Finland.
Of course such small local authorities work together in order to deliver many of their tasks. There over 200 joint municipal authorities and many more less formal arrangements. For each of the 20 regions of Finland the municipal authorities have created combined authorities for the tasks of economic and transport planning and the management of European funded programmes.
The Williams report considers the Finnish system of community self government to have units too small to be resilient or cost effective. Williams would have nightmares over the systematic collaboration between Finnish local authorities- too complex, too little hierarchical control, insufficiently accountable. The Williams Report did refer to Finland but did so in order, as it did regularly, to distort and misrepresent the reality – Williams claimed that the creation of regional combined authorities in 2010 for a limited number of economic functions illustrated that Finland was turning its back on its experience of community self government.
In this, as in so much else, Williams is wrong. Successful public services must be rooted in community self government. Wales has traditionally been recognised for the strength of its local communities. That tradition will be destroyed by the implementation of Williams. If it happens – I’ll be looking for the Finland Station.