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'The Government has retreated into silos ... there's no joined-up thinking'.

LIBERAL Democrat AM Peter Black has warned that the Welsh Government departments are operating in "silos" and the situation is worse than at any stage since the founding of the Assembly in 1999.

Mr Black yesterday condemned the Labour Welsh Government's record on reforming local government. His comments follow last month's report by Cardiff Business School which critiqued the Welsh Government's policy on councils. Mr Black said: "They are floundering around looking for a holy grail when they should be showing leadership. When they do try to take a lead they focus on the wrong priorities and often contradict their own and the policies of other ministers.

"More worryingly, it is my impression that the Welsh Government has retreated into silos more than any other time since the Welsh Assembly was founded. There appears to be no joined-up thinking across Government as to how to deal with local councils and that is leaving councillors in limbo.

"There needs to be better partnership working between all levels of government but if we are to achieve that then there has to be coherence and clarity at the top as to the direction of travel and how we are going to arrive at our destination.

That is clearly missing."

Steve Thomas, chief executive of the Welsh Local Government Association, said the focus was on Wales' 22 councils collaborating to deliver services but this presented difficult challenges.

He said: "People are starting to get to grips with the agenda [but] the problem is it's cre-ating a somewhat messy regional map at the moment." However, he detected more "policy-drive" in the Welsh Government since the last election and expected up to pounds 1bn of services to be delivered at a regional level. A Welsh Government spokesman said: "We recognise the approach to collaboration that has been identified in this independent report. The Minister for Local Government and Communities is already taking steps to tackle this.

"In his recent speech to the WLGA conference he stated that 'protracted change' is no longer an option and the 'preservation of local empires' could not take precedence over the improvement of service delivery. However, the Welsh Government is already providing clear leadership on the issues raised here.

"At the recent Local Government Partnership Council, the minister gave clear direction on the boundaries for collaboration and a more ambitious and strategic approach to regional service delivery.

"This is also the reason why a Bill on collaboration within local government is included in our recently announced legislative programme."

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* Peter Black AM
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 30, 2011
Words:422
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