Critical week for councils

We are approaching what could be a critical week for the future of councils in Wales.

Council leaders gather in Swansea next Thursday for the Welsh local government association annual conference.

The expectation is that by then they'll have a new proposed council map to chew over, published by the Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews.

Labour council leaders met Carwyn Jones and Leighton Andrews to discuss potential changes on Wednesday.

I'm told it wasn't acrimonious, but difficult nevertheless. Or, in the jargon, there was a full and frank exchange of views.

Last-ditch

Senior Labour sources within local government used it to make a last-ditch plea to the ministers to row back from plans to put together a map.

Some have a new-found confidence after the general election. Their argument is that this will cause huge controversy among grassroots Labour ranks at a time when the party can ill-afford to lose that support.

As one source told me: "He (Carwyn Jones) needs the foot soldiers now. It's expensive having leaflets delivered by independent agencies. They have got to think about it."

A number have essentially called on the first minister to fudge it ahead of the next assembly elections.

Or as one put it to me, he should set out a maximum and a minimum number of councils in future, after working out what savings are needed, and use that as the basis for a manifesto commitment.

Not for turning

That would then give Labour the flexibility to consult with the local authorities and other parties after the election.

The council leaders know they're running out of time. Once a new map is produced, it can't be undone.

A Welsh government source has indicated they're not for turning.

It would be difficult to see how they could, after so much rhetoric supporting the need to change.

And this will be the debate. The Welsh government knows that most people probably agree with its view that 22 councils is too many, but the job of going about changing that is easier said than done when ministers don't have a majority at the assembly.

The other difficulty they have is insisting on change when a new Conservative government means that the cuts will continue for longer.