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Welsh outlook

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Vol. 6, No. 8 Aug. 1919

Local Government areas : The need of reform.

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another urban authority, and as a result schemes are
developed for the housing of the people on less favourable
and more expensive sites, merely because the site is within
the council's area. The same anomaly exists with regard
to rating, workmen engaged in the same works at the
same occupation living in separate urban areas often have
a considerable margin of difference between the amount
they contribute towards the local rates though they are
practically one community. Another feature, and one that
is most important, as bearing on the question of area
is that in connection with the department of the Medical
Officer. The common practice of appointing a part time
Medical Officer is one that is not conducive to a high state
of efficiency in the administration of the Public Health
Acts. In this department, in many of the industrial dis-
tricts the Medical Officer of Health is a private practitioner,
who has not the time necessary to the efficient discharge of
his duties as medical officer. Coupled with this is the fact
that often he is the professional attendant to families
who have a vested interest in the district for which he acts,
and he is placed in the unfortunate position of having to
choose between his duty to the public on the one hand, and
private interest on the other hand; in addition to which
the subordinate officials of his department do not receive
the supervision which is necessary to maintain a high state
of efficiency in the Public Health Department. The only
.remedy for this state of things is the grouping of areas
for the employment of a whole time medical officer, whose
remuneration will be such as to make him absolutely
independent of private practice, and will enable him to
pay that close attention to the duties of his office which the
important position he holds demands. In this respect,
I am pleased to observe that the tendency of the Local
Government Board is to the grouping of urban areas
for the purpose of employment of a whole time medical
officer with Sanitary and Health Committees for each
area. This system cannot be as efficient as that of the
unification under one authority having one Sanitary Com-
mittee responsible for the whole area. The same might
be said with regard to the lack of appointment of Lady
Health Visitors in a large number of the industrial areas.
The small size of many of the districts with the lack of
progressive ideas by the members of these local authorities
and the idea prevailing of the non-interference in the
private life of the various families that make up the com-
munity, is one that is largely responsible for the comparative
small number of Lady Health Visitors employed by the
Public Health Authorities. The proper administration
of the various acts dealing with the food supply of the
people such as meat, milk, fruit and fish is also one that
is dependent upon the whole time medical officer being
in charge of the department.
There is another aspect of this question which is worthy
of consideration, namely, that in the case of practically
every one of these small authorities professional gentlemen
act as part time clerks and enjoy at the same time the
rights of private practice. The situation that arises from
time to time when one of these small authorities has
occasion to promote a Bill in Parliament or in fact when a
group of authorities act, as in the case of Bills for the purpose
of acquiring a supply of water or for the construction of
sewers over extended areas, too often it is found that the
neighbouring authorities instead of rendering assistance
to the promoting authorities are induced on various
grounds to lodge petitions in opposition to these measures
sometimes on the most flimsy pretext. During my eight
or nine years association with public work I have observed
this time after time. Clauses in the Bill of the promoters
are closely scrutinised with a view of ascertaining whether
there is ground for locus standi so that they can advise
the authority for whom they act to lodge a petition and to
instruct Parliamentary Agents to draw up the petition, and
all this means added expense to the promoting authorities.
What follows is that the promoting authorities are invited
to send a deputation to London in order to enter into a
conference with the opposing parties, each party taking
their legal and other professional advisers. Days are
spent in conferences of this kind and ultimately, com-
promises are arrived at, the petition is withdrawn, but the
bill of cost has to be paid. The unification scheme for a
number of authorities would tend to reduce a number of
these frivolous petitions, and be a saving of thousands of
pounds to the ratepayers of the various districts. Inci-
dentally, it may be stated that private companies are still
greater sufferers from this kind of thing than even the
local authorities, and the appointment of a whole time
clerk for unified areas would tend to reduce this particular
evil. Incidentally also I may refer to the fact that the
establishment of Home Rule for Wales would tend
to a considerable reduction in the cost of promoting Bills,
and even the cost of opposing such Bills, as a visit to Cardiff
or Swansea, or some other centre in Wales would be far
less expensive to the public authorities than a visit to
London, and the temptations of Parliamentary Agents and
gentlemen connected with the Parliamentary Bar to con-
vene conferences would be less, if such conferences were
held in the provinces instead of at their offices in London.
The problem of differentiation of rates in the different
districts is one that I shall probably deal with another time
as well as the problem of the unfair representation upon
the County Administrative areas of the urban
and the rural districts. Already the question of unifica-
tion is receiving some attention, and conferences are being
held in certain of the industrial valleys, and steps are being
taken to convene conferences of the various local authorities
within certain well defined areas that lend themselves to
grouping purposes. These suggested conferences are all
in the industrial and populous centres, whilst the evil
arising from limited areas is greater in the rural and semi-
rural districts, than in those of the great industrial centres,
and until action is taken by either the Imperial or Federal
Parliament to deal with the matter, I very much doubt
whether the problem will be tackled voluntarily in
these semi-rural districts, and yet with all the talk of
reconstruction and professed sympathy with the idea of
reconstruction we will still find that we have the same old
battles to fight in attempting to so allocate areas for local
government as to render them serviceable to perform the
functions necessary to secure administrative reconstruc-
tion.
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