Blueprint revealed for shake-up in council services

Ministers say they do not want to scrap the 22 existing councils but they do want them to work together in six new regional groups.

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The Welsh Government has denied it is planning to merge councils "by the back door" after revealing a blueprint for radical reform of local government.

It wants six new regional groups to run services such as education and social care, rather than the 22 local authorities.

One council leader said it was time for a fundamental reorganisation of local authorities.

But there are no plans for a cut in Wales's 1,264 councillors.

The six proposed regions are North Wales, Mid and West Wales, Swansea Bay, Cwm Taf, Cardiff and Vale and Gwent.

Although councils will not be merged, ministers will insist they look to deliver services jointly within these six areas.

It would mean a major shake-up from the current way of delivering services, but ministers say there are risks with the current fragmented approach.

Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant has told the Cabinet the current collaborations are "pick and mix" with different councils working together on different policy areas.

Start Quote

We need to reorganise councils in Wales, but the government doesn't want to go there”

End Quote Dyfed Edwards Gwynedd council leader

He said: "This isn't reorganisation by the back door. This is about improving public services for the people of Wales.

"That's what people want. That's what I'm keen to deliver.

"People who are saying that really are just using this as an excuse not to make a change in public services for the better."

The new boundaries are designed to match Local Health Board borders and police areas, to make it easier for services to be integrated with them.

The largest population of the new service delivery areas will be North Wales, with 686,000 people, covering six council areas.

Mid and West Wales will have 519,000 people across four councils, Swansea Bay 511,000 and three councils, Cardiff and Vale 455,000 and two councils, Cwm Taf 290,000 and two councils and Gwent 569,000 and five councils.

'Blueprint for reorganisation'

Liberal Democrat local government spokesman Peter Black said he was in favour of cutting the number of councils, but accused the government of reorganisation "by the back door".

He said: "This is a blueprint for reorganisation. I'm OK about having that debate, but let's have that debate, not ease our way there surreptitiously.

"Let's actually have a debate about what we want to do with local government. It seems to me that at the moment, the government and the ministers are floundering around without really knowing what they're doing - let's have a proper debate about whether we're going to reorganise or not instead of trying to do it by the back door."

The Welsh Government wants to introduce a new law in the autumn which will be aimed at forcing councils who are reluctant to share services to do so.

Map

Labour promised at May's election that it would reorganise local authorities during this assembly term.

There are no plans to formally merge councils or cut the number of councillors. Councils can offer their members a basic allowance of up to £13,868 a year, with more for leaders and committee chairs.

Gwynedd council leader Dyfed Edwards said the current situation of 22 local authorities was "unsustainable" and had not changed in response to devolution.

He said: "Local government is the only part of Wales which hasn't changed in response to devolution - it's still doing things exactly the way it did before.

"We need to reorganise councils in Wales, but the government doesn't want to go there, it says because of the cost. Well there are are costs to not reorganising.

'Fundamental questions'

"Instead, we have this plan B, of collaboration, which raises fundamental questions, not least of accountability.

SIX REGIONAL GROUPS

  • North Wales (population 686,000): Anglesey, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd and Wrexham councils
  • Mid and West (pop 519,000): Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Powys, Pembrokeshire
  • Swansea Bay (pop 511,000): Bridgend, Neath Port T and Swansea
  • Cardiff and the Vale(pop 455,000) Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan
  • Cwm Taf (pop 290,000): Merthyr and Rhondda Cynon Taf
  • Gwent (pop 569,000): Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire, Newport Torfaen
  • Source: Cabinet document, Public Service Reform: Promoting Regional Coherence

"In the end, we'll have to reorganise, as the current structure is unsustainable. We're a small country - there are some services currently being provided on a local basis that could easily be provided on a national basis."

Wales's local government map has been redrawn several times.

There were 13 shire authorities and two city councils until 1974 when they were replaced by eight councils.

Those counties, including Gwent and Dyfed, were abolished in 1996 when the 22 councils were created.

BBC Welsh affairs editor Vaughan Roderick said there was a consensus in the assembly and local government that 22 councils are too many.

"The problem is this: the government doesn't want to have a reorganisation," he said.

"It says it would be costly, it would take time, it wouldn't deliver efficiencies.

"What they have been trying to do is to get councils to co-operate with each other. Some of that has been going on, but not enough for the government."

A spokesman for the Welsh Local Government Association, which represents councils, said the plans would be discussed at its next major meeting at the end of the month.

What do you think of the blueprint for how councils could work in the future? We will publish a selection of your views

I think that this is just a Cardiff-based desktop exercise. There has been no attempt made to achieve parity among the groups and it will disenfaranchise residents who will find that their community ties are broken.

Kevin Wilberforce, Merthyr Tydfil,

So having decided that Dyfed was too big and that unitary authorities was the way to go, some idiot thinks they know better! It would be more apposite to make the existing councils more answerable for their actions in appointing chief executives and letting those appointees run the councillors rather than the other way about. Capping the wages of senior officers would saved a fortune for council tax payers, after all which of them is worth more than the prime minister?

Dick Bain, Carmarthen,

About time. This is long overdue. As said we ARE a small country and have far to many Councils. I would go even further and have just THREE councils, namely North Wales, Mid Wales and South Wales. That would give everyone a clearly defined geographic feel. However, I fully support the proposed change.

Roger Wright, Anglesey,

I recently went to the Council recycling site in Leckwith Cardiff to recycle cardboard and was told at that centre that cctv was being used to identify people (registration numbers) using the facility who lived outside the area. So, because I live in the Vale of Glamorgan I was at risk of prosecution. I shudder to think what the cost of that is/would be. I cannot believe that this is a useful way to using Council resources. This is the ideal opportunity for shared facilities.

John Lauder, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan,

The establishment of a Regional Board (committee, quango?) to manage the delivery of Regional Services, who will no doubt be reported to by a Regional Local Management Team. So basically more bureacracy and less accountability. Not forgetting the Consultants who will need to be hired to advise the Board and Management Team of their "Strategic Regional Vision". Why stop at Regional? Are the needs of the citizens of North, Mid and South Wales that different? Social Care, Education, Housing, Bins, Highways, Planning could all be run directly by the Welsh Government, who could place national contracts for their delivery and save millions in the process. There is a major downside to this though as the WG would then be directly responsible if there were problems with the delivery of services and as any politician knows, responsibility always rests with others. More pale-greyprint than blueprint imho.

S Roberts, Wrexham,

Hugely overdue - this should take place as quickly as possible - those who would be against it have not heard of `economies of scale`. I loathe Council Tax more than enything else - it there is any chance of reducing it - I`m for it! If there is any chance of having more efficiency and Councils that only deliver ESSENTIAL services - I`m all for it.

Maggie, Swansea,

The recent Estyn report on educational services in Blaenau Gwent made the obvious point that the Authority was far too small to give adequate professional support to its schools. The eight Welsh local education authorities that existed before 1974 were by no means perfect, but they were, for the most part, able to have a good knowledge of their schools and provide support where it was needed. Asking the present authorities to collaborate in providing these services, is very unlikely to produce significant improvements.

Jeffrey Portch, Abergavenny,

This is a step in the right direction. We have too many councils and far too many councillors - some of whomn are ill qualified to do the job for which they have been elected. We need a structure that responds to devolution. The old system was tailored to the needs of a population without computers, telephones and cars. It really needs to change. This shouldn't cost jobs though.

Helen Davies, Aberdare,

Like John Lauder, I'm a Barry resident who has been told by Cardiff council that I need to take "identification papers" to their facilities if I wish to use them on behalf of my 85 year old aunt, who is a Cardiff resident. It's not a bounday reorganisation (again) that is needed. It's a big dose of common sense

Steve, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan,

When a Dyfed county councillor and they anounced that Dyfed County Council was to be disbanded and the three counties were to be reformed. I demanded that the six District Councils within Dyfed should be made into three County District County's and we still retain the Dyfed County Council. As Dyfed was a very large County we had a very strong say within Wales. Going back to the three County Councils was a wrong move. I was also a Preseli District Councillor at the time so I knew that if Pembrokeshire as well as the other two counties only had one Dristrict Council in each County the rate payer would save in costs as well be more accountable to the people.

Edward Setterfield, Milford Haven, Pembs,

I am in full agreement with Dyfed Edwards' statement that the current situation is unsustainable and that there is a cost in leaving things as they are as well as some concern regarding accountability. I was doing some research into local authorities in the rest of the UK and was shocked to discover the effect that a low population can have on the efficiency of services, the worst examples are in Wales. Our Ministers should grasp the nettle, no doubt the populace would take some short term pain in order to achieve long term gain.

Evan Owen, Harlech, Gwynedd,

I work for a local authority and have had no pay rise and am not expecting one for quite a while. It is time that numbers of councils and members were cut down to the minimum. We are are small country. Why do we need 22 councils?

Mark, Swansea,

There should be a return to a version of the pre-1974 boundaries, except with Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham as larger metropolitan entities and Powys divided in two, as it is for the Westminster constituencies: Montgomery as one and Brecon and Radnor as the other. This would reduce the overall number of authorities while retaining boundaries to which local people hold some allegiance, and therefore feel are accountable.

Simon Mundy, Gladestry, Radnorshire,

A step in the right direction, but only if we lose some councillors too. Devolution brought us the Welsh Assembly and new AMs, but it's taken a decade to even consider reducing the number of MPs in Wales. While we need democratic accountability, we don't need overmanning so let's show our 'green' credentials and recycle some paid county councillors into unpaid parish councillors - localism and VFM at the same time!

Stephen, Cardiff,

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