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LGC JOINED-UP GOVERNMENT SUPPLEMENT - REGIONAL RELATIONSHIPS

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If Holyrood and Cardiff cannot join up, there may be little hope for Westminster. Jon Hanlon looks at progress in S...
If Holyrood and Cardiff cannot join up, there may be little hope for Westminster. Jon Hanlon looks at progress in Scotland and Wales

Wales

The Welsh Assembly now calls itself the Welsh Assembly Government in an obvious attempt to assert its identity, and first minister Rhodri Morgan sees joined-up government as the key to a successful future.

However, it was a lack of joined-up thinking over the foot-and-mouth epidemic which led to calls for greater devolution from Welsh rural development minister Michael German.

Referring to a report from the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs into the handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis, Mr German says: 'The report recognises the impossible situation which faced ministers and officials last year and the heroic efforts made by farmers, those in our rural communities and government officials to bring the disease under control.

'It is therefore disappointing that the report only recommends establishing an agreement between DEFRA and the Assembly for the management of future disease outbreaks. The Welsh Assembly Government continues to believe firmly that the current legal situation is unsatisfactory and fails to recognise our constitutional position.'

The government has set up a cross-party commission chaired by the former leader of the House of Lords, Lord Richard. The commission is examining the case for more devolved powers, which could include powers over controversial large-scale planning issues. However, further independence will have to be accompanied by better joined-up government.

At times it has seemed that government of Wales has been carried out by Whitehall and the Welsh Local Government Association - an organisation which has taken the reins of government while the Assembly struggles to find its feet.

The WLGA led the debate on major issues and won some major victories. Best value in Wales is to be replaced by a Programme for Improvement, with far less emphasis on external inspection. Each council will carry out an assessment of its own ability, seeking the views of staff, external stakeholders and other organisations.

Another move eyed with envy by the Local Government Association in London is the white paper pledge to reduce ring-fencing. In an unprecedented expression of enthusiasm, local government minister Edwina Hart said: 'This document is a milestone for local government in Wales.'

The Assembly has experienced some well-publicised problems delivering joined-up government since devolution. Former Welsh secretary of state Ron Davies, who left office after 'a moment of madness' on Clapham Common, recently launched an attack on the first minister.

Mr Davies told an HTV documentary: 'I think part of [Mr Morgan's] dress and mannerisms, wanting to go to the pub for a drink with the boys is a bit of over-compensation for the fact he actually comes from a very well-established, very middle-class family.'

Devolution in Wales has led to the abolition of school league tables and rejection of best value and the comprehensive performance assessment. But there is still concern over the extent of the Assembly's power and the ability of Assembly members to get things done.

At times joined-up government in Wales has hardly been noticeable. This could be because it is working like clockwork or because it is not working at all.

Scotland

Joined-up government has formed the basis for a number of complex internecine squabbles since the Scottish Parliament was set up, but has also been an integral part of many achievements.

The Parliament has struggled to define itself following the death of Donald Dewar. Henry McLeish took over as first minister after a ballot rife with political intrigue, but was later forced to resign after admitting he had wrongly received expenses on constituency offices.

Jack McConnell took over after a press conference in which he made a frank confession that he had an extra-marital affair. His wife, Glasgow City Council's cultural and leisure services director Bridget McConnell, sat next to him throughout, before saying: 'Jack betrayed my trust'.

Mr McConnell went on to carry out an unprecedented cull of ministers, compared to Harold MacMillan's 1962 'night of the long knives'.

Despite the difficult and protracted birth of the Scottish Parliament, there have been a number of major achievements in delivering joined-up government.

Local government minister Angus MacKay, who was later sacked by Mr McConnell, announced a three-year framework and abolished spending guidelines for councils.

The Scottish Parliament has primary legislative powers - the Welsh Assembly which only has secondary powers - so has been able to abolish student tuition fees.

The Executive has published Working together

for government which outlines its achievements in delivering joined-up government. This includes:

'A community leadership forum to stimulate modernisation in Scottish local government has been

set up and a package of development and training is

to be unveiled.'

The report also identifies setting up a Scottish Standards Commission and code of conduct for councils and other public bodies. The Executive also intends to introduce best value to improve services.

There have certainly been notable achievements at a national level, but joined-up government among councils suffered a serious blow when Clackmannanshire Council, Falkirk Council and Glasgow City Council quit the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

The decision sent COSLA spiralling into debt and led to the joint resignations of chief executive Oonagh Aitken and president Norman Murray.

A statement from the Scottish Executive attempts to sum up the success of joined-up government north of the border: 'The Scottish Labour Party and Scottish Liberal Democrats are working together delivering stable government for Scotland.

'It is a modern coalition approach to policy development and is delivering our jointly agreed programme. Our partnership approach is reflected in our work with individuals, communities and organisations across Scotland, with the UK government and the EU.'

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