(Title Image: BBC Wales)
After an announcement a few weeks ago that Wales’ 22 local authorities will no longer be forced to merge, the Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) gave an update on responses to a green paper on local government and the next steps.
He re-emphasised that “no change isn’t an option”. Mergers could still happen, though the Secretary said they’ll be voluntary and led by councils themselves instead of a top-down approach – a new Local Government Bill will be introduced in the new term to allow this. Another committee has been established to look at what powers local government should have and is structure.
Shadow Local Government Minister, Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) told the Secretary that the constant on-off proposals had caused a lot of uncertainty in local government. She pointed out the Local Government Act 2015 already includes mechanisms for voluntary mergers.
Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon) highlighted the fact that there are no details on how much the process would cost and she thought the green paper was a waste of time. She hoped that proportional representation could be introduced across all councils in any new Bill alongside measures to improve the diversity of councillors.
What struck Gareth Bennett AM (UKIP, South Wales Central) was how few councils are keen to merge, even voluntarily; it sounds as though the Welsh Government were kicking the can down the road. He thought it would be a better idea to encourage further collaboration instead – later echoed by Jenny Rathbone AM (Lab, Cardiff Central) who suggested shared backroom services like payroll.