Share big-earning officials, Welsh councils told

Image caption, Some councils could be deeply in deficit, according to the report

Welsh councils could have to share their top-earning officers with neighbouring authorities to cut costs.

Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant wants councils to replace senior officers who leave via joint appointments with nearby councils.

Mr Sargeant was speaking at the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) conference in Llandudno.

A report has shown that some councils could be hundreds of millions of pounds in the red.

The document by local government managers has revealed larger councils are facing debts of £120m and smaller councils deficits of £30m.

He said the new system, which is designed to promote closer collaboration between councils and save money, should be "the default position, not just one possibility".

As the spotlight moves to the financial pressures facing the public sector ahead of the new UK government's first budget, top-earning council officers throughout the UK are coming under scrutiny.

Critics closer to home have questioned the need for each of Wales' 22 local authorities to employ senior directors on substantial wages in areas like education, finance and transport.

Mr Sargeant told local government leaders: "When you consider how to save money - how to deliver a service more efficiently - I want you to investigate the option of joint delivery with other local authorities or other public bodies, or indeed both as your very first consideration.

"If a senior officer leaves your authority I want you to actively seek a joint appointment with a neighbouring authority - or another public sector organisation. This should be the default position not just 'one possibility'."

His proposal could see the number of senior directors cut, with the aim of making major financial savings as well as linking councils on key policy areas.

He added: "This is the only way that we can preserve the front-line services that our citizens and communities need. And their need will be greater in the coming years than it has been for a very long time."

'More efficient'

He spoke on the day that some delegates at the conference faced criticism for staying in "top of the range hotels" in the town.

One Llandudno hotelier, Anne Blanchard of the Pink Hotel, accused members of not supporting the local economy by staying in smaller hotels.

She said: "Cost-cutting begins at home. I spoke to some of the delegates last night and found that the majority of them are staying at The Imperial Hotel where rooms are £85-plus.

"They could get a perfectly decent room in the town for £35. If they are going to cut costs in the NHS and public spending they should start with themselves."

But WLGA chief executive Steve Thomas fiercely rejected the claim.

He said: "It's a ridiculous accusation - delegates are staying at various different hotels throughout Llandudno.

"We have 300 people here and they have all shopped around, some have block-booked to make savings and they are all putting money into the local economy."

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