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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Shuffling deckchairs

Well this is sensible isn't it? Do I detect a certain amount of frustration and a feeling of powerlessness amongst Welsh Assembly Ministers? Perhaps they do not have enough to do that they have to start interfering with local government as well. Maybe, they just do not understand that local democracy means making decisions locally and Councils being accountable to local people for their decisions.

Either way, the last thing that local government needs is another reorganisation to distract them from delivering services. If they are struggling to meet the Welsh Government's targets now then see what happens when you impose organisational change on Councils with the inevitable five year-plus settling down period that follows. Frankly, if all this Government has to offer is to reorganise at the first sign of trouble then it has hit the rocks.

In the midst of all this the most intersting comments come from Professor Steve Martin of Cardiff Business School. He said that a reduction would not be as effective as different-sized councils need to offer different services:

"Simply to reorganise and have a number of larger councils is to miss the problems that we need to address in local councils. So its not a radical enough solution, if you want," Prof Martin said. "The optimum size for delivering education is a very different sized council to the one that maybe is the best size for delivering waste management. So really what we need is a service-by-service solution.

"In some cases we will want several councils to cooperate together, to work in partnership perhaps to deliver a waste management service," he added. "In others you'd want even smaller councils than we've got now, maybe operating at a neighbourhood or a very local level."

Alas, that too amounts to a reorganisation. We have to ask what happened to the much-vaunted Beecham review and its vision of everybody working together to deliver services at the optimum level. It does not seem so long ago that it was being promoted as the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe the current local government Minister needs to re-read it. It could go some way to meeting Steve Martin's vision too.
If reorganisation was the answer to the problems we have in Wales would have world class Health, Education, Local Government and Transport systems.

But what we've got instead are Parties and Politicians of all colours with no vision, no leadership and totally mixed up priorities in all these areas, no wonder people are giving up.
But Peter both you and I know that collaboration isn't working. Look at waste management. Last year Audit Scotland published a report which showed that the time lapse from OBC to operation in the case of recycling facilites was 6 years. Most Welsh authorities are still talking about the idea of recycling facilities with no idea where the sites will be or where the capital will be found to build the new facilities. No one out side Wales would understand for example why Swansea is not working with NPT and Bridgend to use MREC. I know that there are political issues because of the activities of a minority but it really is absurd that all my rubbish will go there but not yours and you live virtually on the doorstep. The present local governemnt system is not fit for purpose and everyone knows that. Even Beecham said that local government had until 2011 to show that it could cooperate.Consultants reports and officer working groups are no substitute for real action. Time is running out I'm afraid.
Are you thinking of making a comeback Jeff?
The answer to anon is 'no'. I'm enjoying life too much. I'm also too young to be considered as a candidate.
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