Wales politics

Merger plan 'not sustainable' - council leaders

A wheelie bin collection, a library and a municipal swimming pool Image copyright Thinkstock

Mergers of local authorities are no longer sustainable, the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has said.

Council leaders discussed the issue in Mold on Friday after the appointment of a new Welsh cabinet.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has said it is obvious a proposed map cutting Wales' 22 councils to eight or nine would not get assembly support.

Local government minister Mark Drakeford said he will meet leaders and others over next few months.

A statement issued after the meeting welcomed the appointment of Mark Drakeford to the position of Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government.

The WLGA added: "The reorganisation of local government structures is no longer a sustainable option given the ongoing austerity.

"We need to move forward quickly, to reconfigure public services on the basis of the partnerships and regional collaborative models which local government has developed over the last few years."

The organisation said there is a golden opportunity for the new Welsh Government and local government to "transform the way we deliver public services, particularly through the integration of health and social care".

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Media captionWLGA deputy leader councillor Aaron Shotton said a fresh start was needed with the appointment of a new minister

'Need for clarity'

A WLGA report which was to be discussed at the meeting warned there was an urgent need for clarity over plans to reorganise local government.

The report said the "challenges ahead are profound".

It added: "Many local public services are in crisis and now more than ever strategic intent and partnership are required across all tiers of elected government in Wales to navigate a way forward."

Mr Jones is talking to opposition parties about the future of local government.

The WLGA coordinating committee, on which all 22 council leaders sit, will consider the options.

Mr Drakeford said: "I understand the need for clarity on reorganisation but finding a way forward means developing an approach that is deliverable and sustainable.

"Over the next few weeks and months I'll be meeting local government leaders and others and listening to what they have to say before considering the long-term approach. It is in everyone's interests that we get this process right."

Image caption Steve Thomas says continuing confusion over what will happen to councils is damaging

Before the meeting, WLGA chief executive Steve Thomas told BBC Wales his members did not want to set any "artificial deadlines", when Mr Drakeford had "barely had a chance to get his feet under the table".

But Mr Thomas added: "It would be nice to have clarity about the direction of travel.

"Now whether that comes in a month's time, two months' time, in one sense we've lived with the uncertainty for three years and we can keep living with the uncertainty.

"But that uncertainty is having an effect on staff morale, it is debilitating for people working in local government, it's stopping collaboration that might happen, because people won't collaborate with an authority if they don't think they're about to merge with them.

"It's creating a problem which has got to be addressed."

On Monday, former Cardiff council leader Russell Goodway called on local authorities to draw up fresh plans to reorganise themselves.

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