Defending ‘Local’ Local Government

April 2nd 2013

 

Image: ITV Wales

Image: ITV Wales

There is a proposition widely circulating Wales that we would be better off with less local government – fewer, larger local authorities with fewer, less significant functions. Wouldn’t it be sensible if the Welsh Government ran schools? Wouldn’t it be good if the NHS ran social services? Wouldn’t 7 local authorities be cheaper and better than 22? So the chattering classes do chatter.

The major problem with this proposition is that there is no research anywhere in the world which has found that bigger government is better than smaller government.

Let’s just look at the evidence on the size of local education authorities. On all available performance measures Finland has the most successful education system in Europe and all responsibility for supporting schools in Finland lies with the 342 local authorities with an average population of less than 20,000.

All secondary schools in Wales are placed in a band, 1 to 5. Placement in a band is the result of a measure which weights overall educational attainment with levels of deprivation in the school population. We can test the impact of population size in Welsh local authorities by correlating the size of the local authority with the average school band achieved by its secondary schools. An average school band above 3 means that the local authority is performing below average. An average school band below 3 means the local authority is performing above average. 

 

 

Population

Average

School

Band

Cardiff

 

345,400

3.3

Swansea

 

238,700

2.07

RCT

 

234,000

3.95

Carmarthenshire

184,000

3.56

Caerphilly

 

178,800

3

Flintshire

 

152,700

2.5

Newport

 

145,800

3.12

Neath Port Talbot

139,900

1.73

Bridgend

 

139,400

3

Wrexham

 

135,100

3.55

Powys

 

133,100

2.92

Vale of Glamorgan

126,700

2.62

Pembrokeshire

122,600

2.37

Gwynedd

 

121,500

2.78

Conwy

 

115,300

3

Denbighshire

93,900

2.12

Monmouthshire

91,500

3.75

Torfaen

 

91,200

3.86

Ceredigion

75,300

3.29

Anglesey

69,900

2.6

Blaenau Gwent

69,800

3.75

Merthyr Tydfil

58,900

4

 

Statistically the data reveals no correlation between population size and performance (r=-0.07). Larger authorities such as Cardiff, RCT and Carmarthen are below average performers. Smaller authorities such as Anglesey, Denbighshire and Pembrokeshire are above average performers.

The evidence in favour of fewer, larger organisations taking responsibility for education is not available. The case for collaboration between local authorities to share specialist resources is sound. We should welcome the recently created four school improvement consortia which take responsibility for monitoring performance and supporting improvement within schools and local authorities. But this should not be seen as a stepping stone to merging local authorities into fewer, larger units more detached from their schools and communities. 

Paul Griffiths is a Public Service Consultant. He is also a councillor at Rhondda Cynon Taff Council.

 

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