It’s not big, but it can be clever, by Gill Morgan

13 Nov 09
GILL MORGAN | Wales’s relatively small size is an advantage when it comes to joined-up working, which is now more essential than ever

Wales’s relatively small size is an advantage when it comes to joined-up working, which is now more essential than ever

One of the special things about Wales is its size – we are a small country, and we’re trying to be a clever one, too. We ought to be aiming to be an exemplar of connectivity and joined-up thinking – that should be our unique selling point.

Joined-up policy is the big challenge of the twenty-first century for governments all over the world, because governments tend to work in silos, and the massive problems facing the world today sit between those silos. For example, when we talk about problems in rural areas, it’s not just about agriculture – it’s about transport links, schools, health and social care; all those other services and how well they are integrated. It’s a challenge, but it’s one we have to meet to ensure that citizens get the government and the services they deserve.

At the Welsh Assembly Government, we have changed our internal structure to make us fitter to deal with the challenge of producing joined-up policies. I now have a team of cross-cutting director-generals, working to cross-cutting Cabinet committees to drive connectivity in three ways:

  • joined up between different policy areas
  • joined internally to provide twenty-first century business
  • joined up between ourselves and the outside world.

But this new structure will only help us achieve real improvements for Welsh citizens if we work with our partners. We are unique in that we can get 200 people in a room and they will influence 90% of the money spent in Wales.

So we are putting in place the mechanisms – a finance network, a human resources network, an executive leadership group – to get the main decision-makers together to ensure that those major decisions are taken with a Welsh view, not with an individual organisational view. All of this will support the very strong political links that are a characteristic of Wales.

So, why do we have to improve? It’s because of the scale of the challenge facing us. If we look at the budget projections for public expenditure, it suggests that there is going to be around a 10% reduction in public spending over the next few years. In Wales, that could mean a reduction of about £1.4bn in the money available to us.

We will have to become more efficient in our use of resources, but we must also become more innovative, and look for improvements in how we provide services. And we must put the citizen at the centre of what we do.

We can meet that challenge in two ways. We can either tackle it separately, protecting our own areas and sacrificing the things we do in partnership, or we can do things together. If we sacrifice partnership working, we know that will have an adverse impact on the services that most affect citizens’ lives, and that some of the most vulnerable people in our society rely on.

We have to work together – quality services for citizens will be provided and maintained only through sound and productive relationships and by tackling things once in a multi-agency approach, rather than lots of organisations all doing their own thing. When public services are redesigned in this way, they achieve better services by improving efficiency and removing waste and duplication.

Yes, the challenge is enormous, but I am confident we can meet it. It’s time for Wales to step up to the plate and become an exemplar, fulfilling the vision of the out-going first minister, Rhodri Morgan, of a small, clever country.

Dame Gillian Morgan is the permanent secretary of the Welsh Assembly Government. She will be addressing the CIPFA in Wales Annual Conference on November 18

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