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  1. Nick Powell

Councils shake-up: 'Dramatic' council tax rise warning

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.

– WLGA Leader, Cllr Bob Wellington

Council chief slams Welsh Government funding cut

A council leader has criticised the Welsh Government's decision to cut £1.6m of funding to the organisation which represents local authorities. You can catch up on the story by clicking here.

The Deputy leader of Flintshire council, Labour's Bernie Attridge, has taken to twitter to voice his concern about the reduction.


Minister vows to cut the cost of local politics in Wales

Public Services minister Leighton Andrews has defended his decision to withdraw £1.6m of funding to the Welsh Local Government Association. Here he tells Political Editor Adrian Masters that the Welsh Government is committed to fewer councils and councillors and that it will 'reduce the cost of politics in local government.'

Cut in grant "an unexpected blow" says WLGA

The Welsh Local Government Association has said it "deeply regrets" the loss of a £1.65 million grant from the Welsh Government, about 20% of its total funding. It's also been warned that ministers will be looking at whether other grants should be cut as well.

The decision to cut the grant was only received by the WLGA on 10th November without any prior consultation, detailed explanation or justification. The grant has underpinned a range of local services and been used to assist councils in difficulty. As a result of this decision, the WLGA has had to inform the 16 staff directly affected by the minister's decision that we will be issuing compulsory redundancy notices. This is a huge and unexpected blow to hard working and dedicated public servants who in the run up to Christmas now have to plan for unemployment in the new year. They will be consulting their trade unions.

– WLGA spokesperson

The spokesperson added that the other grants now under review include an award winning GP exercise referral scheme, as well as schemes to improve food in schools, raise waste awareness, improve social services, increase equality, support the Welsh language and deal with the impact of welfare reform.

  1. Nick Powell

Welsh Govt reduces funds to council association

The Welsh Local Government Association, which represents the 22 county and county borough councils in Wales, is losing £1.62 million of its funding from the Welsh Government. It will still get some £5 million but the minister responsible, Leighton Andrews, is also inviting other cabinet ministers to review whether the grants they give to the WLGA are still appropriate.

My decision [is] to discontinue the grant the Welsh Government pays to the Association to provide improvement support to Local Authorities in Wales from April 2015. This year, the grant is a maximum of £1.62 million. It is right that we regularly review grant arrangements to all organisations particularly in a time when we have to prioritise our resources very carefully.

I have not taken this decision lightly. I considered a number of options and concluded this funding would be better directed towards activities which are more clearly aligned to our ambitions for the reform of public services in Wales. It might be that the WLGA itself, and its member organisations, should reflect on whether it is right for a membership organisation to receive more than 75% of its income from the Welsh Government.

– Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews AM

Mr Andrews is in charge of encouraging councils to merge voluntarily, with the likelihood of compulsory mergers for local authorities that to fail to co-operate. It's a proposal bitterly opposed by many of the WLGA's members.

  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.


Councils need 'clear strategy' to make cuts says report

A report by the Wales Audit Office says councils should explore more opportunities to work together as they look to cut costs.

The Meeting the Financial Challenges Facing Local Government in Wales paper recommends they work with other public services to reduce costs and deliver improved outcomes for citizens. The Welsh Local Government Association said it welcomed the report.

"Local government in Wales has already had to manage significant cuts to its overall budget and, as this report outlines, it has done so effectively. A poor economic climate and continued UK austerity measures mean that the financial challenges faced by local councils in Wales are huge. It is certainly no surprise that some 'cracks' are beginning to show, as local councils are having to 'balance the books' while also attempting to protect the wide range of public services that they have traditionally offered to their local communities.

"The current funding framework needs to be improved so that finance practitioners have sensible funding assumptions beyond the short sighted annualised budget announcements that they currently receive."

– Spokesperson, Welsh Local Government Association

But there was some criticism for the report.

"A major gap in this report is that it says very little about the dynamics between difficult local political choices and selling these to the electorate who understandably do not want to see any diminution in local services."

– Spokesperson, Welsh Local Government Association
  1. Owain Phillips

WLGA: 15,000 jobs potentially lost in council shake-up

A major report has revealed the potential full scale of cuts and job losses in councils across Wales in a massive reorganisation of our local authorities.

The study has been commissioned by the Welsh Local Government Association ahead of a major review of services due to be published next week.

The review could recommend that the number of councils is halved from 22 to 11. The WLGA says that could result in 15,000 job losses - and that changes of that scale could cost £200 million pounds.

Bedroom tax: One in three council tenants in arrears

Over a third of council tenants affected by the bedroom tax in areas of Wales have fallen behind on their rent, according to figures released by the TUC today.

Figures obtained by the False Economy campaign reveal across Britain over 50,000 council housing tenants have fallen behind on their rent since the reform was introduced in April – nearly a third of all tenants affected by the tax in the 114 local authorities that provided data.

However in some parts of Wales, the proportion of council housing tenants in arrears has been far higher.

In Wrexham and Anglesey, almost half of all council house tenants (44%) affected by the bedroom tax have been pushed into arrears since April.

In Swansea, 38% of tenants in the city affected by the tax have fallen behind on their rent and in Cardiff, 616 families have experienced difficulties.

Wales TUC has welcomed the Welsh Government’s Smaller Properties Programme announced in August which provided £20 million in funding to help with the provision of smaller affordable homes.

Reacting to the figures Wales TUC National Officer, Julie Cook said,

“Today’s depressing news provides further proof that the Bedroom Tax is pushing families into complete despair. Disabled people who need space for their carers and families, and who have nowhere else to move, are being put at risk of debt and homelessness by the tax."

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