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  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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Councils should not challenge auditor says Plaid

Plaid Cymru has welcomed the Welsh Government's action on council chief executives' pay but the party's spokesperson raised in the Senedd his concerns about how Carmarthenshire council has responded to an audit report.

The auditor found that Carmarthenshire acted unlawfully by making payments to its chief executive designed to help him to pay less tax on his pension.

It is not the role of local government to challenge the findings of local government but [the council should] comply with them immediately.

– Plaid Cymru Local Government Spokesperson Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM

The minister, Lesley Griffiths, declined to respond because of a potential police investigation.

More action needed on councils' top salaries say Tories

The Shadow Local Government Minister has said that the Welsh Government's crackdown on pay for council chief executives doesn't go far enough.

Recent scandals surrounding the remuneration of some of the highest earners in Welsh local authorities make clear the urgent need for a full review of levels of senior council pay. Whilst I recognise these tiny steps towards greater clarity in setting executive pay levels, they fall far short of the full transparency and accountability that hardworking council taxpayers deserve.

– Shadow Local Government Minister Janet Finch-Saunders AM

Welsh Govt crack-down on council bosses' pay

Pay for council chief executives is to be regulated. The Local Government Minister, Lesley Griffiths, says councils will be "obliged" to pay attention to a renumeration panel's view of any proposed salary change that isn't linked to a pay rise (or pay cut) for all council officers.

The governance and scrutiny of senior officers’ remuneration is central to guaranteeing the effective delivery of our public services in Wales and to the public having trust in their public servants acting in the best interests of their communities.

– Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths AM

Councils will also be required to advertise externally all jobs with a salary of £100,000 a year or more. The Minister says "more robust" arrangements are needed because the issue has sometimes been handled poorly and led to negative publicity for Welsh local government.

The opposition parties fought for these provisions to be added to the Local Government (Democracy) Act precisely because we were concerned at the lack of accountability of Chief Officers and the Councillors who set their pay, It was prompted by what had occurred in Caerphilly, but further developments in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, where payments to their respective Chief Executives have been declared unlawful by the Wales Audit Office, have served to underline the need for a tougher approach.

There needs to be clear accountability and transparency when it comes to the setting of pay for senior officers in local government. Too often it seems that councillors are failing to assert their authority on these issues and decisions have been taken that are open to challenge. I hope that the decision of the Minister to give an oversight role to the remuneration panel and to tighten up guidance, helps to redress the balance and drive out any abuses of the system.

– Welsh Liberal Democrat Local Government spokesperson Peter Black AM

First Minister 'open' to council shake-up

The First Minister explains why he might consider breaking a manifesto commitment to start a shake-up of local councils before the next Welsh election. Carwyn Jones said there are increasing calls, including from within local government, for the re-organisation process to begin before 2016.

At his monthly press conference, Mr Jones, said any such move must wait until the Williams Commission on public services reports in a couple of months and would need cross-party support. He also said a bill paving the way for a shake-up would be unlikely to make it through the Assembly before 2016.

It's long been thought that the current number of Welsh local authorities - 22 - is unsustainable. This is the strongest signal yet that senior politicians are intending at least to start the ball rolling before 2016.

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Councils shake-up could come sooner, First Minister hints

The First Minister says he is 'open' to starting the process of reorganising local councils earlier than expected. Carwyn Jones' Welsh Government was elected with a manifesto commitment not to shake-up the current network of councils during this Assembly term.

During his monthly press conference Mr Jones said he 'doesn't like changing manifest commitments' but has heard increasing calls to bring forward the process. But he warned that any actual reorganisation was still unlikely before 2016 because of the legislative timetable,

A review is being carried out into the delivery of public services will report at the beginning of next year. There's widespread agreement that the current set-up of 22 local authorities is unsustainable.

  1. Nick Powell

Welsh freedom of speech "suppressed" -UK Minister

A UK cabinet minister says he's concerned that freedom of speech in Wales is being suppressed due to inaction by the Welsh Government. Eric Pickles, who's responsible for English local government, has released a strongly-worded letter he's sent today to his counterpart in Wales, Lesley Griffiths.

It has become clear that there is now a gulf between what local taxpayers bloggers and journalists can do in England and Wales. Welsh councils are routinely blocking people's right to report or film council meetings, leading to the high profile case of a local campaigner being handcuffed and arrested in Carmarthenshire for trying to report a council meeting.

I am concerned that freedom of speech in Wales is being suppressed and as a result, waste corruption and incompetence is potentially being covered up. It is disappointing that the Welsh Government has not taken the opportunity to mirror the legal rights and practices that citizens now enjoy in England, and I would ask you to consider the case for enhancing openness and accountability in Wales.

– Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles MP

Mr Pickles has issued new guidance for the press and public on their rights to report, film and tweet council meetings in England, following new rules on openness that the UK Government brought in last year.

Although responsibility for local government is entirely devolved, the letter has been sent by Mr Pickles' Whitehall department, meaning that it's an official UK Government position, rather than just a party political attack by a Conservative on a Labour minister.

Plaid welcomes Welsh Govt move on council chiefs pay

Plaid Cymru has welcomed the Welsh Government's move to introduce an independent panel to limit the pay of council chief executives. The move is contained in an amendment tabled by the Local Government minister to the local democracy bill.

All three opposition parties had joined forces to force the u-turn by the Welsh Government by threatening to vote against the bill. Plaid's Simon Thomas confirmed that his party will support the legislation and has confidence that the independent panel will keep salary levels down.

He also dismissed warnings from the Welsh Local Government Association that the move could lead to legal challenges. He said the WLGA had been 'defending the indefensible' and hoped that, after 'an initial flurry of huffing and puffing' it would offer leadership.

Councils warn pay panel could cause legal problems

A spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Association, which represents local councils, said any attempts to change the way Chief Executives and other senior officers are paid could lead to employment tribunals and put off talented staff taking up key roles in Wales.

In the last analysis the legality of this proposal could be subject to judicial challenge and we would expect local government to be fully consulted and involved in any proposals which may impact on remuneration in the sector. The main question must be, has the National Assembly fully considered the wider implications of this proposal in terms of equal pay and the potential ramifications it might have on all council employees in Wales?

– WLGA spokesperson
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