Wales Election 2016

Council mergers: Tories promise public to get final say

Council services: Refuse collection, library, classroom and gritting Image copyright Thinkstock/PA/BBC

Voters have four weeks to save their councils from merger, the Welsh Conservatives have said.

The party claimed the public had been given no say over Labour plans to cut the number of authorities from 22 to eight or nine.

Voluntary mergers would be allowed, the Conservatives said, but only if people backed them in a referendum.

Local government spokesperson Janet Finch-Saunders said only the Tories were promising residents the final say.

'Missed opportunity'

"Labour are totally committed to forcing through local government reorganisation and, unlike the Welsh Conservatives, they are refusing to give local communities the final say in a referendum," she said.

"That could mean curtains for historic Welsh areas with distinct local identities.

"Whilst we all accept that the cost of politics has to be reduced, Labour's plans identify a genuine problem - but take the views of local communities completely out of the equation.

"Worse still, their plans put the cart before the horse and they have made no effort to consider what services the new council structure would be asked to provide.

"It's a huge missed opportunity, and an abuse of the democratic process."

Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Welsh Labour's proposed maps are similar to the pre-1996 county councils

In March, Labour's Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews said consultation on the bill to cut the current 22 councils to eight or nine was supportive, but he said more work was needed to ensure councils stayed connected to their communities.

Plaid Cymru said it would keep the current councils, but use them as "building blocks" to create up to six regional combined authorities.

Led by elected mayors, these would give a "strategic overview" of local services to be delivered by the existing councils.

"This means that we will get economies of scale through working together, but keep the advantages of local scrutiny and accountability," a Plaid spokesman said.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Peter Black said his party felt there were too many councils, many of which were "too small" and "underperforming".

But he said larger councils should have a fairer voting system, and that "the lines on the map shouldn't be drawn by politicians".

"It should be up to the independent Boundary Commission to establish a fresh map, which should be based on natural communities," he added.

UKIP spokesman Mark Reckless said his party saw the case for fewer councils, but added: "We believe mergers should be 'bottom up' in response to community views, and not 'top down' imposed."

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