Leaked letter reveals split in Welsh Labour over education and local government

 

By Martin Shipton

Original source: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/leaked-letter-reveals-split-welsh-6257425

 

An astonishing letter written by a council leader has exposed a bitter and damaging split within Welsh Labour over education policy and local government reorganisation.

Written by Blaenau Gwent council’s Labour leader Hedley McCarthy to party colleagues across Wales, the letter rips in to the Welsh Government’s handling of key issues and suggests that Labour councillors faced with losing their roles will not campaign for the re-election of Labour AMs at the next National Assembly election in 2016.

Complaining about what he sees as an attack on small councils like his own, Mr McCarthy writes in the letter dated October 15: “Under the stewardship of former Education Minister Leighton Andrews, Pembrokeshire, Merthyr Tydfil, Torfaen and Monmouthshire have followed Blaenau Gwent into Special Measures. What have they all got in common apart from the fact that they have failed Estyn inspections? They are all what the Welsh Government would call small councils.

“What it proves... in Leighton Andrews’ terms is that small councils have not got the capacity to deliver effective education services. This is theoretical and not backed up by any serious evidence.”

Mr McCarthy goes on to state that Finland, with small councils running schools, has the best education system in the world, adding: “... if so many local education authorities are failing in Wales, perhaps there is something wrong in the Welsh Government.”

Turning to the controversial issue of local government reorganisation, Mr Hedley gives voice to the resentment felt by many Labour councillors who fear losing their roles in a slimmed-down sector.

He writes: “The views of a Labour politician like Mike Hedges who was leader {of Swansea council} should be carefully considered. He is also astute enough to note that among those calling for a large reduction in councils are Plaid Cymru’s Dyfed Edwards, leader of Gwynedd, as well as Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Labour representatives on the Welsh Local Government Association will also have seen the enthusiasm of Dyfed Edwards and Ellen ap Gwynn, leader of ceredigion, because they know it will be of tremendous advantage to the Welsh Nationalists. That is known as political nous, which seems to be sadly lacking in the Welsh Labour Party.”

Mr McCarthy describes Sir Paul Williams, the former head of the NHS in Wales, as “a strange choice” to chair the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery which is expected to recommend council mergers.

The council leader writes disparagingly of the reorganisation of the NHS into bigger units, with the biggest – Betsi Cadwaladr Local Health Board – having had the biggest problems.

Mr McCarthy describes the Welsh Government’s agenda of more collaboration between councils as “a lot of hot air”.

Concluding, he states: “Should the Labour Party seriously be considering reorganisation and the massive cost during a recession or should it be seen to prioritise the elderly, the sick and the needy? Where is the funding {up to £500m, he suggests} coming from to reorganise? Does the Welsh Government have the resources?”

Ominously, Mr McCarthy then states: “Most Labour councillors are party loyalists. However, they are unlikely to be turkeys voting for Christmas, so the 2016 election will not have Labour councillors knocking doors with the Assembly candidate saying vote for comrade Ianto Bach, he’s going to get rid of the local council.

“... At the present Labour councillors pay through the nose to fund the party. Be careful not to cut off that nose, like Ed {Miliband} has done with the unions.”

Shadow Minister for Local Government Janet Finch-Saunders said: “This letter from the leader of Blaenau Gwent council gives a frank and embarrassing assessment of what Labour figures in local government think of Carwyn Jones’ Labour Government – its lack of ‘political nous’, its failings in education policy and its intentions for local government reorganisation.

“Hedley McCarthy blames Carwyn Jones’ Labour Government for the decline in educational standards in Wales and unmasks the Welsh Government’s collaboration agenda as ‘a lot of hot air’.

“Hedley McCarthy is right to highlight Labour’s poor record in botched reorganisation attempts in the Welsh NHS, which were expensive and distracted attention away from driving up standards to focus on structural change.

“This leaked letter highlights how the cosy relationship between Labour councillors and Welsh Ministers could fracture as councillors threaten to withdraw their support from Labour Assembly candidates at the next election if they pursue local government reorganisation.

“These revelations give an insight into the debate going in the Labour Party about the impact that changing the delivery of local services would have, not on hard-pressed taxpayers or service users, but on the Labour Party itself and the jobs of its politicians.

“This letter exposes the same old Labour Party – concerned about its own fortunes, relations with its union paymasters and jobs for the boys, all at the expense of hardworking taxpayers.

“What we need is a mature debate about how we can deliver local services more efficiently in an age of thrift to protect the vulnerable, invest in schools and reduce taxes for hardworking people.”

A Welsh Labour spokesman said: “The Welsh Labour Government is wholly committed to providing the best public services for the people of Wales, despite the budgetary challenges we face thanks to cuts passed down from the Tory government in Westminster.

“In reorganising the established system of local government, Welsh Labour are seeking to ensure that services improve for local people, and the important role local authorities play in the provision of public services is both more efficient and more effective.”

A Labour source said: “His outburst is hugely wide of the mark and undermined by the constructive way that other Labour council leaders are engaging in the debate.

“It is now accepted by commentators and politicians of all parties that the current system of 22 local authorities is unsustainable in the longer term.”