The Williams Report: A Challenge to Higher Education

Contributed by Professor Tony Beddow, Visiting Professor at Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care, University of South Wales


The Williams Report seeks to prompt an improvement in the leadership and management of public service in Wales. It issues a challenge to Higher Education to facilitate this improvement.

There has been a great deal of publicity since the publication of the report on how many Welsh local authorities there should be (a reduction from 22 to between 10 and 12 is William’s conclusion).

Whilst not wishing to undermine this discussion, a more significant one is how Wales improves public services if eschewing the English tactic of using both competition and the private sector. William’s answer is to employ a different governance and managerial paradigm that relies upon a blend of collaborative professionalism, network delivery systems, greater user involvement, and transparent governance arrangements that positively welcome – and use – scrutiny – “the invisible hand of the market must be replaced by the visible hand of performance management.”

This is a major challenge to the way that public services are led, governed, managed and changed and there is clearly a need to collaborate and understand the importance of services. To meet this challenge, the leadership and management of Welsh public services (by political, professional and managerial domains), must adapt, acquire and apply knowledge and skills that are tailored to Wales.

Higher Education in Wales must play its part. It should craft eclectic undergraduate and Masters degrees that prepare prospective public sector leaders from many disciplines for the challenges ahead; creating and supporting alumni that can nurture leaders and managers. It should also be spearheading research across public sector boundaries aimed at service improvement. Training too could be further developed which offers more of the skills within the Wales public sector which will be needed in the future. Responding to the new Wales public service, Undergraduate and Masters degrees could include the following aspects:

• legal basis of Welsh public services
• “new” economics” – challenging the all-powerful panacea of “competition”
• management theory relating to partnerships/networking, performance management of public services, and understanding professional, managerial, and political domains
• history of Wales and its contribution to public service
• operational processes, outputs and outcomes of the main public services – including elective work placements
• comparative international experience of public service performance, including study abroad.

In recognition of the distinctive Wales public service which is emerging, there is a need to offer a new generation of future leaders of the professional, managerial and political domains a rich and shared academic experience.

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