'Profound change' ahead for Welsh councils

Wales faces "profound change" in local council services, the minister in charge is warning. Lesley Griffiths says local authority mergers could start within four years but will only be one step towards making them more responsive and efficient.

Live updates

  1. Nick Powell

Council mergers "no silver bullet" say local leaders

Welsh local government leaders have warned that merging councils won't solve problems caused by what they estimate is a £2.6 billion budget shortfall facing Wales’ public services as a whole. They claim that there's a "growing misperception" that reorganisation offers a "silver bullet".

The leaders, who are holding a conference in Llandudno describe the idea of merging councils, to cut their number from 22 to between 10 and 12, as "widespread speculation", though it was recommended in a report commissioned by the Welsh Government.

The pressures being placed on Wales’ public services are significant and complex, and any future reform of how these services are delivered must be based on a consideration of the public sector as a whole rather than a ‘paint it by numbers’ approach to council boundaries. We acknowledge that local government itself must change, but the reform process should be based on a true consideration of the functions and role that local councils should fulfil rather than the structures that are required to support this.

Local democracy in Wales is not an abstract political concept. The public want local government and local decision-making when it comes to the issues and services that they care most strongly about, and public services will always be delivered more effectively when they are shaped and informed through an open dialogue with the people who use them.

In stark contrast to the current response in Wales of increased centralisation and ultimately less accountable forms of government, today’s event will hopefully start the process of remodelling the delivery of local public services on a principle of localism and decentralisation that is far more sensitive to community interaction, more publicly engaged and ultimately more empowering of its citizens.

– Cllr Bob Wellington, Leader Welsh Local Government Association

The conference is also hearing from the Local Government Minister, Lesley Griffiths. She's told councils that they must embrace "profound change" and that if they volunteer for mergers, elections to the new authorities could take place in May 2018.

  1. Nick Powell

Merge, save money and embrace change, councillors told

Welsh councils could start merging into new larger local authorities within four years, the Local Government Minister will announce later this morning. Lesley Griffiths will tell the Welsh Local Government Association conference in Llandudno that a "cosmetic redrawing of the map" won't be enough.

She'll add that although there's a need to save money, that's not what driving reform. The minister will claim that a "profound change" is needed to make local authorities fit for the 21st century. She'll also confirm that councillors elected in 2011 will serve five year terms.

Larger authorities would make more of the money available for the front-line services, but this reform is about much more. It must be a catalyst for profound change so local authorities are fit for this century. Local authorities must be organised in ways which allows the voices of communities to ring loud and clear at the centre of democratic decision making. I want us to work together to put in place a new relationship between local authorities, communities and individuals.

Good leadership will be crucial in maintaining forward momentum during this period of change. Uncertainty could harm this and so I want to confirm the next Local Government elections on the basis of existing authorities will be held in May 2017. I will also legislate to pave the way for local authorities who wish to merge to do so early and to hold their next elections, for the new authorities, in May 2018.

– Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths AM

The next local elections are being shifted from 2016 to 2017 to avoid a clash with the Assembly election. There could now be local elections two years running as further extending councillors' terms of office has been ruled out, presumably on the grounds that it would be bad for democracy.

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