Re-org local government? I wouldn't start from here


"Re-org is not where I want to be".

Who said it? The then Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant.

About what? Local government reorganisation.

When? Back in 2010, when everyone else was talking about the Ryder Cup, Mr Sargeant was heading off on a summer tour meet local public sector workers, taking with him a statement he'd called "Your Services, Your Say" but that back then, some re-christened "My Money, My Way".

Why? This is how I put it back then:

"For what he announced was nothing less that a complete re-evaluation of how local services are delivered in Wales: an independent inquiry, to report before Christmas, which will look at all functions carried out by councils in Wales and decide whether they could be better carried out at a regional or even national level.

We're not talking about back office here - HR, payroll and so on. It appears that the Minister is now prepared to wrest control of whole areas from local government and put them on a wholly different footing - waste, social services, trading standards for example, run regionally or even as a single national service. Mr Sargeant put it more simply - "I'm not precious about who does what".

Is he serious? A government source tells us he's deadly serious: "He is determined to take them on. He holds a lot of cards and he will play them."

The thinking was that with finances tight and getting tighter, even the most isolationist elements in local government accepted they had to do things differently, that they had to collaborate. Refusing to do so 22 times over was simply unsustainable. If they thought so, and if he thought so, and if the First Minister thought so, surely there were big changes on the way. But wholesale reorganisation?

As I say, that was not where he wanted to be. It's expensive at a time when there's no money to spare, it's complex at a time when politicians need to keep an eye on other things, it can be got very wrong at a time you really can't afford to make mistakes.

But if the government didn't want to talk reorganisation, others did, including some of the biggest beasts in Welsh local government.

So what now? As expected for some months now, the announcement of a Commission on Public Service and Delivery, involving all parties and that "provides an opportunity for those who are involved in delivering services, those who are politically accountable for them and users of them to examine how public services are governed: that is, held accountable for their performance and delivered most effectively to the public".

Or as another big beast in local government put it, they might be casting it as a public services commission but here's "the starting gun for Local Government Reform at last!"

The chair, Sir Paul Williams, as former chief executive of the NHS in Wales, is no stranger to reform nor to how the Welsh government likes it to happen. I'm told he's also "very tough".

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    the current system of local government in wales, where there are 22 local authorities (almost certainly too many for a small country like wales) was created in 1996 under a tory secretary of state for wales.There being no devolution in those days of course and all major political decisions affecting wales were made by the likes of john redwood - sargeant is only trying to clear up this tory mess!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Sorry dis no chance you live in Wales. But you could always move there if you think it would be so good. Perhaps you could tell us why it would be an improvement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The Argument from Intimidation is a confession of intellectual impotence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    No way, no repeal of devolution, not on my watch sonny jim! Lots of justified criticism about the way we're governed but the principle of Welsh self-determination is irreproachable. We need reform. The best answer is a federal UK where Welsh MP's sit in Cardiff 3 days a week to deal with Welsh matters and 2 days a week in Westminster to deal with UK matters. Only 5 councils needed in Wales.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    #10 the tory plan was to give power to people locally, it seems Labour would like it to themselves not for the local people to decide, who do you think was being the more democratic, not WAG for sure.

    Social Care & Education were never a borough service, that is where the most money is spent this then puts pressure on the traditional local services that were being delivered by a lot more boroughs


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