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Friday, June 18, 2010

Welsh ministers bomb in Llandudno

Roy Noble proved an excellent speaker at last night's Welsh Local Government Association Conference but all the talk was of the Welsh Government's redeployment pool. That is because delegates had spent most of the day listening to the Assembly's Local Government and the Finance Ministers lecturing them about fiscal responsibility.

The reference to Wales' premier leisure pool underlined the fact that whilst local Councils are already taking hard decisions and reducing their workforce, the Labour-Plaid Cymru Government are abolishing Quangos and reorganising the health service without laying anybody off. Instead they continue to bear the cost of surplus staff whilst looking for a role for them.

Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant told the Conference that he was prepared to use new legal powers to force councils to work together in service areas if they failed to do so voluntarily. He also said he expected councils to share senior managers when existing post holders left.

However, the WLGA's leader, Councillor John Davies was adamant that councils should not shoulder a disproportionate share of cuts and that all public sector bodies should be prepared to do so:

He said: “We need to emphasise the need for an overall coherence in the design and implementation of a Welsh fiscal cuts programme. This means creating a sense of common sacrifice across all public bodies with no participants feeling that they are being asked to bear a disproportionate share or that incongruous standards apply.”

He made a pointed reference to the controversy surrounding NHS reorganisation last year when, despite a big reduction in the number of health bodies, senior officials whose jobs disappeared were kept on the payroll, adding: “Common messages on job losses, for example, are not possible at the moment with a no redundancy policy in health and redeployment pools in the Assembly.”

The WLGA leader also argued that the £200m Communities First programme, aimed at raising prosperity in Wales’ poorest communities, should be disbanded, with the money saved diverted into the schools budget.

What was emphasised at the dinner was that local government is already involved in a huge number of joint working projects. These arrangements are not easy and often do not make the sort of savings that Ministers claim for them. And why are Ministers not insisting that Further Education, Higher Education and health are more proactive in cross-sectoral joint working on back office systems for example?

Given the inability of the Welsh Government to get its own act in order and to not take hard decisions itself this rhetoric by Ministers is increasingly looking like a diversion tactic or maybe they are just preparing the ground to hammer local government disproportionately in the next budget.

Update: Former Bridgend Council Leader Jeff Jones has more to say on this issue over at Wales Home. He has some strong views on Welsh Government priorities and on how fit for purpose our current public service structures are. He also has this to say about collaboration:

Unfortunately, collaboration is not that simple. The example often quoted by many is the joined up service approach of Western Australia. Even there, however, the gains were exaggerated and there were real problems as a report of the State’s Auditor General showed. Collaboration requires not just a real commitment from the partners it also often requires initial funding to introduce the new systems. The Assembly pumped nearly a million pound and was due to give the authorities concerned another £9.5 million into the failed South East Wales Shared Service Project. Over £ 10 million for set up costs on a project that was only concerned with one back of office function HR in just 10 authorities. Even then the consultants argued that it would take at least 7 years before any of the authorities saw any savings from collaboration. This poses the question of where will the pump priming money come from when the Assembly is talking of cutting 37% off its capital funding in the next three years?

Collaboration also takes time. Audit Scotland estimated that that from out line business case to operation in any waste collaboration would be in the region of 6 years. In any case in areas such as waste because the Assembly wants a zero waste society costs even with collaboration are going to rise by billions of pounds by 2025. The simple fact is that unless authorities are already way down the track with collaboration then it will not help protect so called front line services in the next few years. The time scale is too tight except for minor collaborations in certain areas such as legal and planning where the savings are really peanuts compared to what is required.

WAG has always seemed to be Jobs for the Boys, it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that they aren't reducing their staff.

When are they going to create some wealth in Wales? Building call centres and that white elephant the Baglan "Energy" park isn't creating wealth, just moving jobs from one industrial site to another!

Lets face facts, I wouldn't trust most AMs to run a bath
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