Wales' councils reorganisation 'inevitable'


"I know of nobody now who argues for 22 local authorities."

Those were the words of the First Minister Carwyn Jones at his monthly news conference in the autumn.

It would seem then that there's an inevitability about local government re-organisation.

Paul Williams, the former chief executive of the NHS in Wales, is due to publish the conclusion of his review into public services next week.

It's widely expected to fire the starting gun on local government re-organisation.

Within it will be his thoughts, and those of his commission members, on what should happen to the 22 unitary authorities that were created after the last round of changes in 1996.

Frontline services

The big criticism is that there are too many councils and some are too small. There are mismatches. Cardiff for example has a population of around a third of a million, while Merthyr has a population of around 50,000.

A number of negative stories about council chief executive pay levels have all contributed to the debate, and added to the calls to reduce the overheads of 22 separate senior management teams.

In time, that could free up money to go to frontline services but in the meantime there will be a big bill to pay for the changes.

I'd expect one of the first battlegrounds to be around the cost. The consultants Deloitte has looked at the cost of a number of previous re-organisations around the UK and the average cost was above £250m.

Much will be taken up with the cost of redundancies.

In its submission, the Welsh Local Government Association says that when the NHS in Wales was restructured in 2009, senior managers who were moved to lower-banded positions had their salaries protected for ten years.

Job evaluations

It says: "Clearly there would be an expectation from the local government workforce and trade unions of fairness in these areas."

The other big costs will be IT. Since the 1990's councils have invested hugely in diverse IT systems in areas like payroll and council tax and all of these will have be connected with other systems.

There will also have to be job evaluations carried out of every staff member so new HR departments can work out how much everyone should be paid.

Critics will question whether now is the right time to carry out such big changes when councils are already facing some of the biggest cuts in years.

And are bigger councils better? The WLGA says there needs to be a compelling argument for change.

It admits that five of the local education authorities in special measures belong to some of the smallest councils but concludes that overall there's no obvious correlation between population size and performance. It says factors like leadership and deprivation have as much, if not greater influence over relative performance.

Another question is how to harmonise council tax rates. If, for example, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire were to come together to form a new authority then the council tax payers in Pembrokeshire could face paying more as their bills are currently more than £200 a year less than in Carmarthenshire.

And finally there could be political difficulties for Labour. If there's a dramatic reduction in the number of councillors in Wales, particularly in the south Wales valleys, then many of them will be Labour members who act as grassroots campaigners at the general and assembly elections.

It may well be that Carwyn Jones has more difficulty gaining support from within his party than gaining cross-party support at the assembly.

Nick Servini Article written by Nick Servini Nick Servini Political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Given the precedents, and the original citizen's-police ethos not State Police, Gendarmerie Nationale ethos, there is quite a good case for keeping three or four regions in Wales. Also, a Commissioner (Crime) from the Met in the S Wales urban strip as Chief Constable: Yes. But not, maybe, as CC in the 'Gaeltacht'. And who would be CC of a unified police force. Hands up for must be Welsh-speaking

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    ... Scotland has a single police authority with twice our population and a much more difficult geography; scope for Cardiff Bay movers and shakers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    #33 Why so many as 7 or 8? Manage with less for Police and |Health and there are now only four effective Education Regional working groups (ERW) why not Four working areas for administration?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.


    How about... instead of merging, the areas are still treated differently. So Pembroke and Carmarthen are treated as individual regions yet ruled by one authority. It would mean a bit more work for that authority and the amount of public sector staff that would let go reduced less than otherwise and still achieving some (not as much) savings. A bridge in the middle scenario.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Okay there might be a jobs in the public sector but it a believed that a by lowering the massive wage bill would lead to less public sector costs more money for services , more private inward investment in the long term .
    We really do need to reduce councils down to 7-8 if we are ever going to pick ourselves up again
    since 1996 education standard downs , services starved of money to pay wages

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    There are to many Councils, why not go back to 13 countys as there was before 1974?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    "The Welsh Government is a problem the size of Wales!"

    I love it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Here is just one reason for a total reorganisation of the public sector in Wales.

    "Up to a fifth of the NHS's work does not benefit patients and could cause harm, the health minister has said". Who runs the Welsh NHS? The WAG their chums on various Health Boards.

    Time to get rid of the WAG along with 14/15 of the LA's

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The population of Birmingham is just over 1 million. nearly 3 million live in Wales. What is it with you lot and statistics? heres one, the WG is a problem the size of Wales. Time it went.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The insanity had to stop. Twenty two councils serving a population the size of Birmingham. couldn't go on. Councillors & council leaders just keep threatening to cut front line staff. reduce the number of councils significantly and we can get decent services. There are lots of hard working people in local authorities but also some non jobs. Now is the time to get economies put into the system.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    The problem with reorganization is who goes where ? Caerphilly CBC is an akward authority (old Glam and West Mon), Merthyr + RCT would be a disaster, NPT has never been a popular mix, Bridgend in the old Mid Glam was resented locally. Powis is a bit of a shambles. What about the pre '74 counties, when Glamorgan and Monmouthshire covered most of the population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    24 Indy

    You normally try to balance the book on cost of a downsize in 9 to 12 months, not always possible. The cost of the downsize influemces the size of the downsize. It will go ahead, only way around drop in revenue. might take time, it is a ofrm of war

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    While on the subject of rugby how much did BBC pay Scarlets for 4 episodes will it be classed as 'State aid'.

    Back to LA reorg, One of the biggest losses in any of these reorgs is the loss of local knowledge from, Engineers, Surveyors and other professionals who leave, it takes years to amass.
    If the figures stack up 15,000 staff at £25k a yr avge £375m p.a salary saving less benefits paid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    " First Minister Carwyn Jones says he is prepared to talk in private to all the parties in the row which has cast Welsh rugby into crisis "

    Is it just me, or does that sound like Henry VIII offering to be a marriage councillor ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    'Warning merging Welsh councils could cut 15,000 jobs'


    That is the objective surely, to cut the labour bill, as there is very little else to cut and revenue is falling. Jeez. Any cost however big is accounted as a one off charge on the sheet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Some senior staff from the 4 authorities had nice pay off deals while the troops at the sharp end had to lump it. along with differing ideals from politicians on how community clubs were supported for example, how much was charged for services in differing areas. Duplication of buildings and staff for a number of years, it has now bottomed out so it its time for change again. But not me, moved on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    #19 Interesting, but the bottom line is - were the services better or worse after amalgamation, and were costs reduced ?
    Do we still have the CEOs of the three precursors occupying desks down the Bay, whiling away the days till they get their gold-plated pensions ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    In 1996 I worked for Rhymney Valley DC we joined with Islwyn BC, part of Gwent C C and Mid Glam CC when restructured to Caerphilly CBC.

    A shadow authority ran for a year, there were political issues on using council chambers which meant a new chamber plus HQ was needed. Staff competing for same jobs depended on who they knew not what they knew. 4 different staff bonus schemes ran for 6 yrs. cont.


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