Byline: MARTIN SHIPTON Chief Reporter email@example.com
NEW regional boards to run education and social services should be set up with the aim of improving standards, according to a backbench Labour AM.
Mike Hedges, who represents Swansea East, has also called for the end of arrangements under which council chief officers can recommend pay rises for themselves.
Mr Hedges, a former leader of Swansea Council, told the Western Mail: "Having been a councillor directly involved in the 1994 local government reorganisation, I witnessed first hand the effect it had on services and service users, and would not wish to repeat that experience. It was expensive and time consuming with many of the most experienced and senior staff taking the opportunity for early retirement."
Nevertheless, argues Mr Hedges, there is a case for major reform in the way the two most significant service areas managed by councils are delivered. He referred to a recent statement by Education Minister Leighton Andrews in which he said Wales has no excellent local authorities, but five good ones; five are in a formal Estyn category because of their unsatisfactory performance; and five are being monitored by Estyn.
Mr Hedges said: "With social services we have also had a series of inspections with Pembrokeshire, Anglesey, children's services in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot all needing outside support.
"There is a stark variation in the performance of social service departments across Wales. While a report from the Care Inspectorate found many examples of good practice across the country, it said that local authorities continued to face challenges in providing social care due to greater demand for care and the increasing complexity of people's needs. "According to the report, this means that the ambition of ministers and policymakers for a more equitable level and quality of provision across Wales will require collaboration and hard work to achieve."
In these circumstances, said Mr Hedges, there are three possible alternatives for the future running of social services: a joint board created from the existing councils, collaboration with or without a lead authority for the major services, or the creation of National Assembly-sponsored regional boards for education and social services. …