.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Governing from the back of an envelope

The BBC report that the Welsh Local Government Minister will be coming to the WLGA Conference in Swansea this morning so as to throw his weight around. Apparently, he is going to announce that he will legislate to give him the power to force joint appointments on local Councils.

It is not yet clear what the nature of these joint appointments will be but it seems fairly clear that they will be limited to local Councils when the natural way forward might be to have combined officer roles for local government and the health service within the same area.

Of concern is that the Minister does not seem to understand what he wants from this process other than a superficial show of progress towards joint working. As the WLGA have pointed out the real savings to be made are in integrated services not in post holders, and experience shows that the best way to achieve that is from the bottom-up, where all stakeholders buy into the process.

The danger is that a joint appointment at Chief Executive or Chief Officer level that has been forced upon Councils will prove divisive, unaccountable and ineffective without a greater integration of services. It is a profoundly superficial approach to joint working that indicates that the Minister is more interested in being seen to do the right thing rather than making progress.

When Carl Sargeant came to the Chamber on Tuesday to outline this approach, he omitted any mention of legislation. However, his lack of understanding of the process of collaboration was evident. This was my response:

You say that you do not want reorganisation, yet you are calling for joint appointments, without an apparent appreciation of the complexity and implications for the organisations concerned. I do not think that you can have it both ways.

What lessons have you learned from the collaboration projects that are already underway around Wales? In my discussions, one thing that local government has learned is that it is not a quick win, but that it requires resource, commitment and time. It is not for the fainthearted either. There are cultural issues around risk aversion and vested interests, there is a need for dedicated support and capacity to make progress, a need to break down silos and a willingness to compromise. Any collaboration requires strong leadership. Therefore, when you look at it from that point of view, you can see that the sort of partnership and collaboration that everyone in the Chamber supports is not as simple as just standing up there to take the blunderbuss approach that you have hitherto taken—'It must be done or else’. That is the impression that you have given in the Chamber. I am sure that that is effective in some environments, but perhaps not in a complex environment such as local government. Can you, therefore, confirm that you understand that complexity and the need for that joint working to be nurtured rather than forced upon local government?

Leadership, in this case, involves more support and constructive joint working on your part as well as on the part of the Welsh Local Government Association and other partners if we are to achieve the objective that we all want, which is delivering value for money from the sort of projects that are already proving successful, such as in Gwent and elsewhere. Can you also confirm that, when you talk about these sorts of joint working partnerships, the bodies and services for which the Assembly Government is responsible, such as health and the Environment Agency, are also in the mix, so that we can get a properly joined-up public service across all sectors within Wales?

The Minister's answer was astonishing in my view. He said that he not agree with many of the things that I said despite the fact that much of it was self-evident and came from documents that studied the lessons to be learnt from collaboration and joint working.

He continued: The method that I am using is about taking people with us. I am trying to guide local government into working together better. The simple principle of whether it is cheaper and whether it will deliver a better service is not too hard for anybody in local government—and certainly not difficult for the Welsh Government—to understand.

If we are going to have governance like this, from the back of an envelope for the next five years then I fear for the future of local democracy. We all want value for money and a better service but they can not be delivered by forcibly dismantling democratic structures and dictating from the centre.

Ultimately, the most effective driver for efficient service delivery is the ballot box. Make that more potent and Councillors have nowhere to hide.
Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?