Is Merthyr Tydfil Council too small and too divided to deliver for local people?

Merthyr Tydfil is a place its people tend to be proud of. They'd much rather see the local council's St Tydfil logo than the emblem of a merged Heads of the Valleys council. That's an idea which was fought off nearly thirty years ago, leaving it as the smallest of the 22 Welsh councils.

Local politics is fierce, the local MP and AM are both Labour but the party always faces a battle in council elections. Labour currently has just eight of the 33 councillors, with independents providing both the ruling group and the main opposition.

The council is led by Cllr Kevin O'Neill Credit: Merthyr Tydfil council

Last year, the council's leader, Cllr Kevin O'Neil, asked the Welsh Government for help with the challenges he faced. A task force found that the council was locked into what it called "survival mode", with a budget that relied in part on being able to pull "accountancy rabbits" out of the hat.

This approach was described a "not sustainable", with a confusing and unclear structure caused by financial cutbacks.

Nevertheless, the task force found that the politics of the council were too often a "drama" played out on Facebook.

Outside advisers are to be brought in to look at education and social services. GCSE results have been getting worse, with the council ranked 22nd of the 22 Welsh local authorities. The number of children in the council's care can vary by as much as 30% because of the small population, making planning difficult.

Next year, the Welsh Government will give Merthyr Tydfil £97 million to spend. That's a 4.8% increase, one of the biggest in Wales. But with less than 2% of the Welsh population, Merthyr will still get less money than anywhere else.