Mark Drakeford's honeymoon period

One definition of a honeymoon period in Welsh politics must be getting a round of applause at your first appearance at the annual conference of the Welsh Local Government Association.

And that's what has just happened to the Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford in Cardiff. The claps were the direct result of his decision to scrap proposals to bring the 22 existing councils down to eight or nine through a series of mergers.

He told me he's not expecting it to happen again. He knows there are unpopular decisions ahead but there's no doubt he has the opportunity to take advantage of a huge amount of goodwill as he tries to put together a series of regional committees.

Council leaders want them to work. The question is whether that support is because they don't involve any local authorities disappearing, or whether they support them for the right reasons.

The exact details have to be worked out before Christmas but Mark Drakeford's plan is to give these committees teeth.

Accountability

In social care for example, the regional bodies, based along health border boundaries, would be the main decision-makers, rather than organisations carrying out some kind of coordinating function.

And it won't just be in social services, which take up huge portions of budgets, but in sensitive areas like the allocation of housing and road improvements.

The accountability rests with the individual authorities, but if local people are unhappy with a decision they will find themselves criticising an authority which has only been partially responsible.

You can see why it needs total buy-in from everyone to make it work effectively, and avoid deteriorating into a blame-game when things get difficult.

The time-frame is tough. If sufficient detail can be agreed on, there will be a public consultation early in the New Year so that the ball is rolling ahead of the council elections in May.

Mark Drakeford wants to make it as difficult as possible for any new council administrations to block the plans.

Regional partnerships could get up and running without legislation but the Welsh Government will try to lock everyone in with a new law that will have to be agreed on by AMs.

The 22 councils may have survived the chop but nevertheless there is still fundamental change on the way.