Looking outside of Wales

Welsh Government ministers say that they want to reduce the number of local authorities in Wales from 22 to 8 in order to reduce political and administrative costs. There is no evidence that administrative costs are reduced by increasing the size of a local authority. The recent KPMG report to Welsh Government indicated that as a percentage of the total budget Cardiff, our largest local authority, has the third highest administrative costs in Wales.

The proposed reduction of local authorities is based on an early 20th century orthodoxy that large scale, centralised organisations were the way to modernity. It was a view shared by Henry Ford and Joseph Stalin. As for driving down the cost of politics, Francisco Franco achieved that very successfully.

In the 21st century most people outside Wales recognise that success is achieved through relatively small scale organisations keeping close to their citizens and customers and working together as necessary to achieve shared objectives. Active political participation is celebrated rather than lamented.

If only Wales would learn from a country like Denmark which has a population not much greater than ours- 5.6 million. The Danes went through a decade of discussion to reform their public services in 2008. At the end of that process they established 98 local authorities with an average population of 58,000. In Denmark their local authorities provide all the services of a Welsh local authority plus community based health care and a responsibility to ensure the local supply of gas, electricity and water.

Welsh Government should pause and look elsewhere at other successful local government systems before driving us into the last century.


Crunch Time for Welsh Labour and Welsh Democracy

Tomorrow the Labour Group of Welsh Assembly members will decide whether to back the Cabinet’s proposal for ten new local authorities as recommended by the Williams Report.

Here are a number of good reasons for the Labour Group to turn down these proposals:

  •  There is no evidence that fewer local authorities will provide local services any cheaper or better; just look at the comparative performance of large and small local authorities in Wales and elsewhere in Europe.
  • Large local authorities will increase the distance between government and communities in all parts of Wales; leading to a withering away of Wales’ attachment to progressive social democracy.
  • The recent KPMG report makes sensible proposals for reducing administrative costs without the expense and distraction of wholesale reorganisation.
  • The WLGA has made sensible proposals for key strategic activities to be undertaken by regional combined authorities; activities such as planning, economic development, school improvement, health and social care commissioning.
  • Proposals for the abolition of various local authorities risks electoral losses for Labour in seats such as the Vale of Glamorgan, Neath, Bridgend, Merthyr, Caerphilly, Torfaen and Newport; as voters reject take over by neighbouring authorities and party members lack any campaigning motivation.

The End of Progressive Politics in Wales?

Last month’s general election was a major step backwards for progressive politics in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. The parties of reaction, the parties which set one individual against another, substantially increased their vote.

If we wish to promote political values which balance cooperation, fairness and mutual support with those of enterprise, endeavour and innovation then it is not enough to list the words; people must experience community and shared responsibility in their daily lives.

Wales had been considered a haven for progressive political values. This was because we retained communities which came together to support each other and work place trades unions which shared responsibility for successful enterprises.

Sadly Welsh Government seems intent on separating people from power – creating ever larger units of public administration and political control. We will then increasingly espouse political values that reflect our daily experiences – voting for parties which promote inequality, passivity and resentment.

If the Welsh Government confirms its intention to create the largest local authorities in Europe, it will be proclaiming the death knell of progressive politics in Wales.

Beware of Big – lesson of the North Wales Health Board

Paul Williams was the instigator of the Welsh Health Service reorganisation which led to the creation of the North Wales Health Board – the largest health service delivery organisation in the United Kingdom. Such has been the record of unmanageability in this health board that it is now about to be nationalised by the Welsh Government.

The Williams Report on Welsh Public Service Delivery recommends that we transfer the Welsh health service model to Welsh local government, creating the largest local authorities in Europe with average populations of 300,000. These local authorities will fail to deliver good services, fail to engage with local people and will lead to the further nationalisation of local services.

Is this what devolution now means in Wales?