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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reorganisation by the back door

Kirsty Williams' initial reaction to the Welsh Government's legislative statement yesterday, that a bill to force joint appointments in local government is reorganisation by the back door is in my view, absolutely correct.

As Kirsty said, if the government want to reorganise local government then they should say so and publish a white paper setting out proposals so as to start the debate. The First Minister responded that the Government did not want to do this because of the cost of reorganisaton, which is a valid point of view but it does not address the fundamental problem that his Minster is flailing around wildly trying to look macho whilst failing to adequately deal with the issue.

The point is that collaboration between organisations is a complex and difficult process that involves buy-in from both sides. It is not something that you can impose by threats. Joint appointments may sound attractive but as a means of collaboration they are superficial, whilst at the same time putting the appointee in an impossible situation.

Without a joint structure beneath it, the combined post will be isolated and torn between competing demands on his/her time. Where they have been succesful they have been set-up on the basis of an agreed method of joint working such as in Gwent, Pembrokeshire or Bridgend and they have involved organisations outside the local government family such as health.

There is no indication at all that the government are prepared to compromise their own control of directly funded services by putting a similar duty on health boards for example. This is control freakery of the worse kind.

That the Minister thinks he can proceed in this way shows a shocking ignorance of the area he has responsibility for. Collaboration is widespread in local government, though it can be better and they can do more of it. However, the way forward is to incentivise and support such joint-working, get other government departments to commit to it as well and look at removing any legislative barriers.

Carl Sargeant's problem is that he is wielding a sledgehammer within government silos, not breaking down the walls of those silos.
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