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'Fractious' Merthyr council asks for government help

Credit: Merthyr Tydfil Council

The Welsh Government is sending outside experts to try to solve a local council's financial and political problems after its leader appealed for help, saying it was unable overcome the 'deep division' on its own.

Merthyr Tydfil Council is struggling to balance its books and is facing a budget deficit of more than £8m in the next financial year.

It has recently been warned by the Wales Audit Office not to raid its reserves.

The local authority is also politically divided. Since the 2017 election, no single party or group has been in overall control. It's currently run by a minority administration formed by a group of independent councillors, while the majority of votes are split between a Labour group and other Independent councillors.

In a letter to the local government minister, the council leader Kevin O' Neill said that, "like many other authorities, we face enormous pressures around delivering social services provision to our most vulnerable citizens."

He has asked for the Welsh Government to help review what the council is doing and to overcome the 'fractious' political divisions:

It is not unusual for the Welsh Government to appoint troubleshooters to deal with problems within councils, but it is thought this is the first time that a local authority leader has asked for such help.

"We are experiencing difficulty in delivering change which requires difficult and challenging decisions because of our political balance. Whilst all members appreciate their duties under the Code of Conduct, and the need to act in the best interests of our citizens, we are also conscious that political differences can lead to deep division and conflicting views on how best to manage our situation and eventually that can hinder progress."

Mr O' Neill asked for support including "the involvement of an experienced figure who could act as an honest broker" in bridging the political divides.

In response the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James has agreed a programme of support. She has told AMs that she will appoint an external adviser to work out what the council's main problems are.

She said, "I have also agreed an experienced political leader will work with Merthyr Tydfil council members to develop and strengthen working relationships across all political groups and between members and officers."