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Labour and Plaid Cymru have reached a deal that will see the Welsh Government's local government bill become law. The Public Service Minister, Leighton Andrews, has agreed with his Plaid Cymru shadow, Simon Thomas, that there will be no move to force councils to mereg until after next year's Assembly election.
Plaid Cymru has stopped Labour from enforcing their map for local government reorganisation through the back door before plans are put to people. Large scale changes to Local Government structures should not be decided by politicians with no mandate but should be decided by people in an election.
The demands made by Plaid Cymru will mean that all parties can present their individual proposals in their manifestos and seek a mandate to implement them, without being bound by the current government’s preferences.
I’d like to thank Simon Thomas and his Plaid Cymru colleagues for the constructive approach they’ve taken on this matter. It is clear that status quo is not an option for local government, and an important part of the framework can now be put in place for much needed reform. It is now down to each political party to set our their proposals in the coming election.
The other opposition parties have poured scorn on the deal, accusing Plaid Cymru of selling out to Labour.
Plaid’s leader has happily cosied up and done a deal with them. We should’ve expected nothing less than this astonishing hypocrisy. You’d be hard pushed to make it up.
Thanks to Plaid and Labour, local people won’t get a say on the future of our councils. Thanks to them, councils could now be forced to merge.
Vote Plaid – Get Labour. It’s that simple - and this disregard for Welsh communities is concrete evidence.
Plaid have sold out, but received absolutely nothing in return. It’s bizarre. Their embarrassing u-turn is based on smoke and mirrors. They have achieved literally nothing. There is no commitment for a fair voting system and it was always the case that mergers were not going to happen before the Assembly election.
The Welsh Local Government Association has said that today's proposals to shake up local councils offers no further assurances for council tax payers in Wales. It warns that bills could rise dramatically without a clear approach to how council tax will be adjusted when there's a merger between councils that have been setting different rates.
The WLGA says there's no consensus between the councils and the Welsh government about today's proposals. It says they add to the maps and options set out in the Williams report last year but do not provide additional clarity or certainty. The councils say that with no political agreement, reorganisation will take at least five years and warn that disruption, distraction and uncertainty will continue.
We call on the Welsh Government today to work closely with the WLGA and hold an urgent summit of the 22 council leaders and senior ministers, to discuss the future of local government in Wales. This summit could debate the way forward in terms of structures, but more importantly set in place a new vision for local government which is currently at the epicentre of public sector funding cuts and is having to carry a disproportionate share of the huge austerity burden.
The sustainability of authorities in Wales is in question over the next three years and it is time to examine all options for reforming public services across the board. This means looking at greater integration of health and social care, freeing up authorities from Government bureaucracy and regulation and also empowering local communities through their councils.
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The Welsh Government has published its plans to shake up local government. The current 22 local authorities would be replaced by either eight or nine new councils, with the only question left open is whether north Wales should have two councils or three.
The plans go further than the Williams Commission proposals for between 10 and 12 councils. The idea of following health board boundaries has also been rejected, with Bridgend grouped with Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil rather than Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.
But to get its plans through, Labour will have to win an outright majority at next year's Assembly election or do a deal with another party. All the opposition parties have other ideas so today's map is not yet a done deal.
This announcement provides further clarity on the future configuration of local authorities in Wales. It sets out our preference for the future structure in south, mid and west Wales while facilitating further discussion around north Wales. The case in north Wales is finely balanced between two or three local authorities. We therefore feel that there is a case for a further debate and would welcome views. I want to emphasise this is not a final decision. It is the next phase in our public debate.
The full list of proposed mergers is:
- Gwynedd, Anglesey and Conwy
- Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham
- Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire
- Swansea and Neath Port Talbot
- Bridgend, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Merthyr Tydfil
- Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan
- Newport, Monmouthshire, Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly
Powys would remain unchanged and the option of merging Conwy and Denbighshire into an additional county is also on offer.
Public Service Minister Leighton Andrews has rejected all three of the plans for voluntary mergers put forward by local councils. The proposals would have seen six councils become three ahead of the scheme for compulsory mergers which Labour plan to introduce if the party wins the 2016 Assembly election. They were:
- Bridgend to merge with the Vale of Glamorgan
- Torfaen to merge with Blaenau Gwent
- Conwy to merge with Denbighshire
The proposal from Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan broke guidelines that a new authority shouldn't cross health authority boundaries or include areas entitled to different levels of European aid.
The Torfaen-Blaenau Gwent merger was seen as partly an attempt to pre-empt a forced three-way merger combining both councils with Caerphilly.
Conwy and Denbighsire appeared to fit in with the Welsh Government's own thinking but the council leaders had made it clear that they would only go ahead if the costs of merger were fully funded by Cardiff Bay.
I welcome the leadership shown by the political leaders of each of the authorities concerned and their willingness to help shape their futures. I understand that securing agreement from their prospective partner councils took a good deal of work and personal commitment.
I have considered each Expression of Interest carefully against the criteria set out in the Prospectus. I am disappointed to report that on the basis of this assessment I am not persuaded that any one of these Expressions of Interest sufficiently meets the criteria for moving ahead to prepare a full Voluntary Merger Proposal.
There will now be a rethink on whether to go ahead with legislation that would have enabled voluntary mergers to take place.
The Welsh Government will today emphasise its determination to cut the number of local councils. The First Minister will formally respond in the Senedd to the Williams Commission's plan to cut the 22 county and county borough councils by half.
The Local Government Minister will then publish a White Paper on the councils' future. The Government is pressing on despite so far failing to secure the cross-party support it's been seeking. Even the Welsh Labour Party has only just begun a three month consultation before deciding its position.
The Welsh Local Government Association has warned that the costs of reorganisation will be considerable but last week the First Minister made it clear that such objections are not going to stop him demanding that the councils merge into larger local authorities.
We are in the process of conducting our own analysis of what the costs might be. I have seen the Williams commission’s analysis, and I have seen the WLGA’s analysis. It is important that we, as a Government, are able to have that analysis as well. However, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we are seeing unnecessary duplication of effort and cost as a result of the present local government structure that we have, and it must change.