The Anglesey story is that of a small unitary authority serving a relatively disadvantaged and isolated island community, with a long history of political turbulence and corporate under-performance.
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Formal intervention in 2009 was triggered by a report by the Auditor General which expressed a range of significant concerns focused in particular on the absence of effective political leadership. This led to the appointment of a Recovery Board which operated alongside an Interim Managing Director.
In early 2011 the Minister judged that insufficient progress had been made in improving the Council and decided to step up intervention through the appointment of five Commissioners who effectively took full control of the running of the Council. They provided both direction and hands-on support whilst gradually handing control back to local politicians as they judged that councillors were equipped to take up responsibility for decision making once again.
This process culminated in elections in 2013 using new ward boundaries, with a smaller number of councillors elected and a new system of multi-member wards.
- The Welsh Government intervention in Anglesey was justified. It probably should have happened sooner but it was necessary given the limited capability and capacity of the Council, and the lack of cognition by key actors that it needed to change radically.
- The first phase of the intervention between 2009 and 2011 consisted of an advisory Recovery Board and a designated Interim Managing Director. It may have been a necessary first step given the state of local-central relationships at the time and that it marked a significant departure from previous policy. But it failed to turn the Council round because the differing (and sometimes opposing) approaches of the Recovery Board and the Interim Managing Director were based on an incomplete theory of change.
- The second phase from 2011 to 2013 consisted of the appointment of Commissioners to run the Council combined with electoral reform. It succeeded in providing a ‘wake-up’ call for key actors in Anglesey and introducing the necessary capability and capacity to achieve the changes that were required. The Commissioners combined the use of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power to win respect and to demonstrate how to do things and get things done. The Minister’s clear and strong support for the Commissioners, coupled with an effective exit strategy linked to the boundary changes, were critical success factors.
- In designing and implementing future interventions, the Welsh Government should draw on the learning from this study and other interventions. In particular it should apply a formal framework of analysis and diagnosis, and be explicit about the theory of improvement and the equation of change it is adopting.
Advantage should always be taken of the benefits of ‘small country governance’, as it was in this case, to align and reinforce the perspectives, capabilities and actions of the key institutions and actors. A revision of the Welsh Government’s Intervention and Support Protocol in light of our evaluation could be an important instrument for giving effect to those benefits.
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