Wales' council merger debate reignited by Alun Davies

Image caption,
Alun Davies said the matter of local government mergers had been debated for "too long"

The debate on the number of councils Wales should have has gone on too long and decisions are needed, the minister in charge of them has said.

Council mergers have been off the Welsh Government's agenda since the last assembly election in 2016.

Local Government Secretary Alun Davies said nobody in local government would argue 22 councils was the right number.

The Welsh Local Government Association said councils were committed to reform.

Before the last election, the Welsh Government proposed reducing the 22 councils to as few as eight.

But after Labour failed to get a majority at the assembly election, the plan was dropped, with ministers planning to legislate for more regional working instead.

"We've debated this issue for far too long," Mr Davies told BBC's Sunday Politics Wales programme.

"We need to come to some fundamental decisions about where we go from here."

"I've heard nobody seriously argue that 22 is the right number. I think that's a fair view of most council leaders that I've met, and I think (of) most people across the country.

"What we need are appropriate levels of governance; we need democratic accountability; and we need councils that are more powerful than they are today, able to take decisions in the interests of the people they represent, and able to shape the communities they represent for the future."

He said he wanted local government staff to tell him what structures best reflected the needs of the sector in future.

"I suspect that nobody is going to come back and argue for 22 authorities," he said. "I also suspect that nobody is going to say they want to create all sorts of new bureaucratic arrangements."

Image caption,
Plans to reduce the number of councils from 22 to as few as eight were proposed but later dropped

Later this week, the Welsh Government will give details about plans for the future of local government elections - including votes for young people aged 16 and 17, pilots for electronic voting, mobile polling stations and voting on days other than Thursday.

Among them will be the power for councils to introduce the single transferrable vote - a more proportional system than what is currently used.

Mr Davies said: "We're looking at strengthening councils, and strengthening local democratic accountability for councillors across the whole of Wales.

"And that means councils determining themselves how they want to be elected.

"So there will be permissive powers to introduce single transferable vote into local government elections if different people in different parts of Wales vote for that, and want that."

A WLGA spokesman said: "Council leaders in Wales appreciate the inclusive and constructive approach that Alun Davies AM has maintained since his appointment.

"Local authorities are committed to reform and have made impressive progress on this agenda, for example, through the regional economic development approaches such as the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, the Growing Mid Wales Partnership, the Cardiff Capital City Region and Swansea Bay City Region, which are clear evidence of our collective commitment to progress."

Sunday Politics Wales is on BBC One Wales on Sunday 28 January at 11:00 GMT,