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MORGAN AND WLGA SET OUT STALLS ON BEECHAM

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Wales' First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, has called on public service leaders in Wales to back the Beecham Report on p...
Wales' First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, has called on public service leaders in Wales to back the Beecham Report on public services.

Speaking to an audience of Wales' public service leaders from local government, the NHS and representatives of the voluntary and business sectors in Swansea today, the First Minister said the need for reform was pressing but there was an opportunity to make public services in Wales 'the best in class'.

He committed the Welsh Assembly government to working with public bodies to achieve the reforms proposed in the Beecham Report published on Monday, 10 July.

He said: 'Jeremy Beecham and his outstandingly high-powered team of committed experts have confirmed our view that the most effective transformation of public delivery can be achieved by ensuring that existing institutions co-operate constructively, consistently and whole heartedly rather than recommending a further round of restructuring. He also confirms our view that as a small country we can achieve more by leading, incentivising and requiring collaborations between organisations rather than fostering competition between them.

'Our search for innovation in developing new and robust forms of collaboration between organisations is putting Wales at the leading edge of government and administration. This is what public service in Wales is all about - building bridges between organisations and making the connections. It means public service deliverers getting out of their silos, forgetting frequently arbitrary geographical and sectoral boundaries and concentrating on the public service as a whole, not just their bit of it.'

The First Minister praised public bodies in Wales who had embraced the 'change agenda' and said there were now some excellent examples of collaboration in Wales between local authorities and across sectors.

For example, it was recognised that local authorities, health boards, business and voluntary sectors were suffering from a lack of trained people for the provision of social care. Rather than competing with each other for the limited supply, they had formed regional partnerships to build the capacity that was lacking, supported by the Assembly government and social services inspectorate in bringing organisations together.

In north Wales, the health trusts and local health boards were about to implement a shared function to provide many of their business and financial services.

Mr Morgan added that the challenge facing the public sector was to get more public service from resources available - 'more bang for the buck' - and to get services to respond to the needs of individuals and communities.

'We are clearly on the right track but our reforms have to go further and faster and the Welsh Assembly government will be publishing a detailed action plan for public service reforms in September.' he said.

In response, Welsh Local Government Association leader Derek Vaughn endorsed Beecham but called for 'streamlined central-local regulations, better joint working with health services and an open debate about the return of post-16 education to local government'.

He added: 'The Beecham Report has hit the right notes in local government. It commends our approach to collaborative working and warns against large scale restructuring. Whilst we are making progress in terms of collaboration and realising substantial efficiency savings, the clear message is that we need to improve services with greater haste and conviction.

'Whilst we need to double our own efforts, we are calling on the Assembly government to simplify and streamline central-local regulations to give us the flexibility and scope to improve public services.

'Inspectorate activity needs to be reduced significantly. Self-regulation through self-assessment, local scrutiny and peer challenge should replace inspection wherever possible. Over-inspection takes up resources and means we take our eye off the ball in terms of service delivery.'

'The local government finance system needs to be streamlined. Too many grants are passed to councils outside the local government settlement. They cost huge sums to administer and often produce requirements for separate plans and partnerships. These grants should be brought within the overall finance settlement as soon as possible.'

'We need to reduce the number of partnership structures in Wales as the current scale is overwhelming and time consuming. Local strategic partnerships must be at the centre of the drive for local reform and we must embrace the new Partnership Action Contract (PACT) model. PACTs should be led by local authorities in their community leadership rolE. However, other public bodies must also be fully committed and bring their money to the table too. We therefore call on the Assembly government to introduce a duty of collaboration on public bodies or those bodies in receipt of public funding.

'We call for two principal areas of service reform, which will require some structural change in primary health care and post-16 education. We need to work better with local health boards, ensuring that there are more shared services and joint appointments in order to better deliver primary care and the health improvement agenda. There needs to be an open debate about the return of post-16 further education to local councils. This would restore simplicity, continuity and good governance to the education system in Wales.

'Sir Jeremy's report highlighted the leadership shown by the WLGA. Whilst we can balance central-local relations, national leadership must come from the Welsh Assembly Government. The Assembly has been criticised for not setting a sufficiently clear and consistent policy agenda. It therefore needs to allow local government to determine collaborative approaches locally, but must also set out clear strategic expectations and be more joined up in the way it works.'

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