The Implications of ‘Small Country Governance’ for Public Services

This report was prepared for the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery. It examines what is meant by ‘small country governance’, discusses whether it is a useful concept in Wales, and identifies lessons that might be drawn from international comparators.

It addresses four questions that are directly relevant to the Commission’s work:

  • Is the small-scale of governance in countries like Wales less alienating than larger more distant London or Brussels governments, and are international comparisons valuable?
  • Is subsidiarity (whereby public service delivery ought to occur at the lowest possible level) a relevant perspective for the Commission to consider?
  • What are the best governance arrangements for Wales given the resources at its disposal?
  • Does the ‘machinery of government’ and the current structure and organisation of the
  • Welsh Government and local public services promote or inhibit effective ‘delivery’?

The available evidence points to five key conclusions:

  • ‘Small country governance’ should not be a key issue for the Commission because scale is mediated by other factors such as politics, history, administrative traditions and economic capacity.
  • Public policies do not respect being neatly confined to particular levels. Insofar as possible, however, it is helpful when there is a clearly defined separation of responsibilities between different tiers of government.
  • There is a limit to the number of tiers that are advisable. More than two tiers in a country the size of Wales is likely to overcomplicate governance and service delivery.
  • Many countries have a larger number of small municipalities than Wales but services like education are often delivered at a higher level of government which serves a large population. This might equate to the All Wales level for some services (such as secondary education), or to streamlined local government structures or regional partnerships for others.
  • The All-Wales level should mainly be concerned with strategic steering, the distribution (and re-distribution) of scarce resources, the creation of performance incentives for service deliverers and foresight.