Tuesday, June 29, 2010


In today's Western Mail, Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant states that whilst he is looking for efficiencies across local government, he will stop short of reducing the number of councils in Wales.

I believe this is extremely short-sighted, especially at a time when Wales simply cannot afford 22 local authorities across the nation.

As I wrote back in October 2008,

"there seems to be a growing consensus that we may have too many local authorities in Wales and it is time for another reorganisation, especially as the current number of councils was arrived at in 1994 and did not take into account the creation of a new devolved government in the form of the National Assembly for Wales. For example, some would argue that there is a strong case for only two councils in North Wales, as was previously the case under Gwynedd and Clwyd prior to 1996, as this would ensure efficiencies and economies of scale that would save money and, in the long run, cut council taxes.

Given the current economic crisis, I believe this issue is as critical to Welsh public life as the current convention on further powers for the Assembly. The question is whether the Assembly has the powers to do this and, more importantly, the political will?

Recently, Assembly ministers stated that they did not envisage any local government reorganisation prior to the next elections in 2011. However, as far as I am aware, the 2006 Government of Wales Act states it is the Assembly Government, and not the UK parliament, that is responsible for the establishment of councils. Therefore, with the growing dispute between the two levels of democracy in Wales and growing demand for better use of public funds, it may be time for AMs to bite the bullet and put such an argument to the Welsh electorate. Certainly, it would finally give us a system of government at a local and national level that reflects the new Wales."

I am surprised that Carl Sargeant, given his strong opinions, has not called for a reduction in the number of local authorities in Wales and that he uses the excuse that of a "high one-off costs of a full-blown reorganisation".

If he were to keep senior executives in gold plated posts, as his colleague Edwina Hart did recently with the reorganisation of local health boards, then of course the costs would be high post-reorganisation. However, if he could show the long term cost benefits to the public purse, then I am sure such a reorganisation, if it provided a real long term settlement for Welsh local government for a generation, would work.

Perhaps it does not suit the political ambitions of the Labour Party to see the number of councils reduced to eight or nine across Wales. Alternatively, could this create a number of mini-Assemblies with the local clout to challenge the main body down in Cardiff Bay?

Given the reluctance by Labour to fully implement a change, I wonder if any of the other political parties in Wales will have the courage to make the reduction in local authorities a key policy at the next Assembly elections?

At the very least, they could call for a review of the situation to ensure that expert opinion, rather than political expediency, advises any future decision on the role of local government in Wales.