Local authority reorganisation and regional consortia

Welsh Government has confirmed that it will not be pursuing plans to reorganise the 22 Local Authorities down to as few as 9.

Original proposals were put forward by the Williams Commission as far back as 2013.

For school leaders it means a clear potential upset to established employment, governance and accountability arrangements has been ditched.  But all is not quite as it seems.

The confirmation from Mark Drakeford AM said that reorganisation through local authority-wide mergers would not be pursued but reform by collaboration and merging services will be encouraged.

The existing school improvement consortia are given as illustrations of what such a collaboration might look like.

Welsh Government is now comfortable in suggesting that the regional consortia are a model that can be followed.  This is possible because 3 of the 4 consortia performed strongly in recent Estyn inspections.

At the same time, new Estyn inspection arrangements have been announced and will come into effect from September 2017.

One of the new arrangements is that no provider will be placed in a category of local authority monitoring, with immediate effect.

The consortia are now very well placed to add further responsibilities and resource to their current operations.

School leader representatives are part of the strategic decision-making structures of all consortia.  This gives school leaders entry into organisations that may become increasingly influential over what happens in schools.

Nevertheless, any significant move to increase the scope and remit of school consortia will encourage a review of accountability and governance.

Strong advocates of local democratic accountability and most of the teacher unions will be keen to have that debate.

The Williams Commission was keen to establish a principle for local government reform where accountability at local, regional and national level would mutually re-inforce and not confuse or contradict.  School leaders would be pleased to see that principle clearly reflected in any new arrangements.

The Commission’s proposals may have been ditched and the report put on the shelf.  But its work on accountability and governance will have some in government and elsewhere reaching for it and blowing off the dust.

Author: Robin Hughes

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