Sunday, April 11, 2010
organising local services
Another interesting organisational perspective from BBC World Service – in the first part of a series on the Ganges River whose “magic” qualities have been worshipped by pilgrim bathers for centuries. But all is not well since many dams have been built for purposes of irrigation or general water management. You’ll forgive me said one polite Indian – for saying that the English have a lot to answer for! Water resource management apparently used to be handled by small communities along with many others such as cultural life, etc Then the English came to India and split everything into specialised functions – with irrigation being a separate function from water resource management and from cultural traditions. A crucial holistic dimension was lost as a result. A nice “take” on the silo mentality I referred to yesterday – introducing an important “systems” dimension to the discussion.
If you look at local government systems, the Brits certainly seem to have caught the rationalistic addiction much more strongly than their European neighbours. I have to confess that I was part of the first such on onslaught in the 1960s when – as part of the critical mood then in the air about our institutions - independent commissions in England and Scotland examined the local government systems in those countries and came up with radical solutions which found their way into legislation. Scotland’s was more radical – Adam Smith’ ghost of specialisation perhaps? 625 municipalities of different sorts (large towns, small towns, Counties and communes) were converted into a two-tier system of 65 municipalities. Literally a decimation – with 9 Regions, 53 Districts and 3 Island Authorities coming into being in 1975. As a councillor in a large burgh of 65,000 souls (whose educational, police, water and sewage requirements were taken care of by a County Council – coveting about 300,000 people), I was a strong advocate of their replacement by a District of 110,000 people and a Region (Strathclyde) of more than 2 million whose destinies had been strongly linked by the River Clyde. But people believed then in “economies of scale”.
In fact, the Region functioned remarkably well – with the development of a new strategic dimension into policy-making which tried to pay proper respect to political, professional and community perspectives; its scale making it the first municipal body to forge a relationship with the European Commission and also making it easier to advance the internal arguments for experimentation and decentralisation at both the county and community level.
Recently Kenneth Roy suggested that the leakage of power from the Scottish towns was responsible for the poor shape in which they find themselves now – and he made a good case (as he always does). I was glad to see, however, that Alex Wood at least put up a rebuttal, arguing how corrupt and complacent town government had become. And, he might have added, the County Councils had already taken their power away – and were not directly elected! This was the critical note I struck in my contribution (What sort of Over-government?) to the Red Book on Scotland which Gordon Brown edited in 1978.
However, it is true that Scotland is now at the far end of the spectrum of the European scale as far as municipal size is concerned – with a one tier system of 23 Districts having been introduced in 1999. A major restructuring every 25 years does not seem a good approach! The French have a reputation for excellent public services – and have held on to their small communes. And their engineers, of course, are still held in higher regard than managers!
However French and German municipal services are now threatened by the credit crunch.
By the way, for further analysis of the Kyrgyzstan developments see an article on the excellent Open Democracy site -
ps - the picture above is the Ploiesti Clock museum - with the Boulevard Restaurant to its right