First published Monday, January 20, 2014
Today has seen the publication of the Williams Commission report on Public Service Governance and Delivery. This long awaited document, the source of much speculation and rumour, makes 62 recommendations intended to bring about a “step change in the performance and delivery of public services in Wales”.
Having read the summary report this morning (105 pages of it), there are many observations and comments that make perfect sense, and rather refreshingly appear to be based on straightforward thinking and common sense as well. Coming from a start point where it is noted that it has been difficult to determine exactly how many public sector bodies there are in Wales, but reaching a figure of 935 (“a conservative best estimate”), it makes for interesting reading. The overarching themes within the recommendations are based around simplifying structures where appropriate and possible, improving performance and accountability, reducing duplication, providing more effective services and delivery of them, and encouraging genuine and productive collaboration. There is of course far more contained within the recommendations and detail of the report, but it would appear that a comprehensive body of work has been undertaken, and some solid, well though out proposals put forward.
Recommendations specifically affecting Pembrokeshire comprise a proposal to merge Pembrokeshire County Council with either Ceredigion County Council, or with both Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion County Councils. Additionally there is a proposal that the National Park Authorities in Wales should join forces at a national level, whilst maintaining local delivery teams and their individual identities within those areas. There is reasoned explanation of both within the document.
The timescales proposed within the document suggest that time is of the essence, with a clear indication that suggests the majority of this reorganisation should be completed by the financial year 2017/2018. The Welsh Government and Assembly Member responses so far today have been typical soundbites, with views from those in favour of change, and those expressing concern at the impact of some of these changes. No doubt over the next few days as the report is further digested and analysed there will be more said from all quarters. What is clear however is that change will happen, and I personally hope that it will be in line with many of the recommendations of the report, and within the timescales outlined.
The content of the report however, strikes me as being a reasoned and long term view of how public service delivery in Wales needs to change. This is a welcome thing. Too often it seems that decisions, work programmes and policy changes are based on short term activity, which stifle the ability of organisations to make adequate plans for the long term. Currently tourism trade associations across the South West Wales region are being asked to formulate plans for their activity for the first six months of the new financial year, and are unable to make particularly concrete plans beyond that, due to a consultation currently open on the future of the Regional Tourism Partnerships, bodies which provide partial funding towards these associations.
The members of these associations, such as those we have here in Pembrokeshire, are business people, running their individual enterprises, with plans and activity schedules laid out for well in excess of six months activity. As a trade association we have ideas, opportunities and work streams that we would like to develop in order to support these businesses, but it is hard to do so when there is significant uncertainty as to the support mechanisms that may be in place for us beyond September 2014.
Given the content and recommendations of the Williams Commission Report, I would suggest that the current consultation regarding the structure and role of the Regional Tourism Partnerships in Wales is put on hold, maintaining the current status quo. There will be a time when it becomes appropriate to resume such a consultation and review, however, given the wide reaching recommendations for reorganisation in today’s report, I don’t believe that now is the right time to make changes to a structure that potentially will change again within the next three to five years. Doing so will allow the support mechanisms for the tourism industry to plan for the next two to three years rather than the next six months, and enable a more constructive and responsive structure to be developed in line with the recommendations of the Williams Commission. The tourism sector, along with many others, needs stability in order to fully maximise the opportunities for growth and development. Changes now, followed by further changes in three or four years time will not be helpful. A measured and well thought out restructuring, properly planned and mapped to take place over a sensible period of time will bring benefits, efficiencies and true collaboration opportunities.