There are only a few days left to respond to the Welsh Government’s consultation on its proposals for the reform of local government in Wales. Whilst the the title of the White paper focuses on local government, ‘Reforming Local Government: Resilient and Renewed’, it is actually much more about public services in Wales and how the Welsh Government wants services to operate in the future. Against a background of how many local authorities should exist in Wales with the obsession on their number, the white paper sets out some ideas around the renewal of local democracy, regional and collaborative working and joined up service delivery.
The proposals set out in the white paper reinforce the role of elected members, or councillors in local democracy. The proposal is for these members to sit on Regional Partnership boards in much the same was as councillors currently sit on the governing boards of the fire and rescue services in Wales. There are huge expectations from the regional partnership boards in the joint delivery of health and social care services.
Joined up delivery and collaborative working are set out as the new ‘normal’ in which councils and other public bodies sit together in regional Public Service boards to deliver more focused outcomes for citizens within their areas. The existing 22 local authorities in Wales are a key part of the new agenda and their involvement in the regional footprints in health and social care, transport, education and other service areas is central.
In addition to participating in the regional agenda, local authorities can continue to operate separately as 22 authorities or they can decide to merge or come together for the delivery of certain functions.
The White Paper also focuses on the importance of community councils in Wales in particular communities.
Its enhancement therefore of the involvement of councillors in regional decision making and the endorsement of community councils could potentially reinvigorate democracy.
However, expanding the role of councillors in the governance of a range of services needs to take on board a number of important issues to ensure effective public services. These include the need for councillors to represent the communities they come from in terms of diversity, gender and background, to be trained in the key areas of challenge and scrutiny and for them to fully understand their role, particularly focused on the improvement of outcomes.
This won’t be without its challenges. One of these will be where local councillors make decisions in regional forums which may impact negatively on their local areas. Another challenge will be the workload involved and the need to attract the very best individuals who are ‘up to the job’. Perhaps the days of the ‘part time’ councillor are over due to the increasing demands on them.
The White paper aspires to joined up collaborative public services in Wales. This aspiration has existed for a number of years, probably since the Beecham reports http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/documents/829/WAG%20-%20Beyond%20Boundaries%20%28Beecham%20Review%29%202006.PDF
which were published over 10 years ago and since then, there has been the Williams (2014) report –http://gov.wales/topics/improvingservices/public-service-governance-and-delivery/report/?lang=en. In all of the time that many have spent on talking about reorganising and improving public services in Wales, the joined up collaborative public service agenda is taking shape much more quickly, for example, in areas of England including Manchester where the Combined authority is set to take charge of a range of services under the direction of a Mayor https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/.
It’s time to stop talking. Lets get on with delivery securing the best outcomes for the citizens of Wales.
A link to the consultation can be found at https://consultations.gov.wales/consultations/reforming-local-government-resilient-andrenewed