Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sargeant's orders

Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities, has made a statement that virtually orders councils across Wales to start delivering joint services and combining top directors. This has already started to happen with Ynys Mon and Gwynedd sharing a chief executive and delivering a joint Local Development Plan.

Key passages in his statement include:

We will ensure that the overall delivery structure is fit for purpose. Where there are bureaucratic barriers, we will remove them. And we will continue to take decisive action in response to failure.

In today’s statement I will focus on three areas for early action:

first, taking forward action flowing from the Simpson report, which complements the Vivian Thomas report on education structures, and the Government’s policy paper ‘Sustainable Social Services for Wales: A Framework for Action, all published at the end of the last term;
second, recognising the gains made on efficiency and innovation and making sure we keep up the momentum for delivery;
finally, ensuring effective partnerships.
We are now moving to implementation of the fundamental service reviews I have mentioned. The core messages are clear:

the existing service delivery arrangements are not sustainable: capacity is spread too thinly across twenty two organisations;
therefore we face an urgent imperative to reconfigure those delivery arrangements,
doing so will strengthen performance and ensure services are robust and resilient for the long term.
Simpson is therefore the key driver of change and reconfiguration in local service delivery over this Assembly term.

As I made clear in my Statement on 31 March, this is not about local government re-organisation. We must reform delivery arrangements but we do not need to incur the cost, delay and upheaval of re-organisation.

Much work is already underway. On the planning side, Simpson’s proposals reflect best practice across Wales, which is being driven forward by the Environment Minister.

My new Department includes transport, and I will be looking to build on the work of the Regional Transport Consortia, to deliver more transport functions on a regional basis, and considering the use of the powers to form Joint Transport Authorities.

I am pleased that local government’s response to Simpson has been positive. But we must move from talking to action, and I will be having a frank discussion with local government leaders on this at the WLGA conference on Thursday.

One of the things I will be frank about is my frustration at the difference between warm words in principle, and recent action. The current senior staffing structure of 22 local authorities is unsustainable and outdated. How do we justify the cost of so many Chief Executives and senior officers when front line services are under threat?

At the same time, the Reviews are pointing to the need for strategic capacity at a more regional level. All this points to a fundamental re-think of the role of senior teams, across organisational boundaries. Why therefore does local government default to filling posts on a single organisation basis?

Over a quarter of local authorities in Wales have independently filled Chief Executive posts over the past year. At senior Director level, the pattern is the same: opportunities to make joint appointments are resisted and often not even considered. I am thinking of specific examples which I have pushed for, in Conwy, Wrexham and Blaenau Gwent but this is a general problem.

We are missing opportunities not only to make savings, but more importantly, to recruit the best quality people, from within and beyond Wales, who can help us deliver an ambitious change agenda. This cannot go on, it is time to stop talking and start delivering.

It is also time to simplify and streamline, so that delivery arrangements for individual services add up to a coherent overall structure that makes sense for partners and the public.

We are therefore looking to the WLGA response to demonstrate strategic coherence, and best practicable fit with the Local Health Board and Police Authority arrangements.

I believe in doing not talking. I will take the opportunity offered by Simpson to revamp the Local Government Partnership Council so that it provides the mechanism for robust challenge and progress-chasing. I am commissioning an immediate fundamental review of its operation, and will bring forward specific proposals in the autumn.

Our work on efficiency and innovation provided a rapid response to supporting public services in managing with tighter budgets.

We have seen some real success through working as one Welsh public service: for example in using common procurement, an area which is a manifesto commitment. I will be working closely with Ministers to bring to fruition, ICT and property management systems, as well as new service delivery models.

I am very grateful for the commitment shown by public service leaders in driving this common agenda with vigour and enthusiasm. I will be meeting the senior leaders involved early next month to identify the way forward as we move to support implementation of Simpson.

I will not hesitate to take difficult or unpopular decisions, including to mandate change if that is necessary to deliver our commitments to the people of Wales.

Whether Sargeant is willing to walk the walk as well as talk the talk remains to be seen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Redwina Hartski never walked the bloody walk when she was in charge of NHS Wales, why doesn't Sargeant talk to Lesley about saving some dosh! Useless lazy pillocks of Labour AM's.