Report calls for reduction in number of Welsh councils

A report into the way public services are run here in Wales recommends a reduction in the number of local councils to 10 or 12.

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  1. Adrian Masters

First Minister's cross-party call on council shake-up fails to impress opposition

Carwyn Jones' will have some work to do to build the cross-party consensus he says is needed ahead of any reorganisation of local councils. Opposition parties have criticised the First Minister for failing to make his position clear despite being given the Williams report before Christmas.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said 'the ball is firmly in the court of Carwyn Jones and Welsh Labour.' Plaid Cymru's Simon Thomas said his party will engage with firm proposals but said 'it's not our job to provide political cover for this.' And Welsh Lib Dem Leader Kirsty Williams said

If Carwyn Jones were serious about a cross-party consensus he would have ensured cross-party nominations to the Williams Commission.

– Kirsty Williams AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader

Without a majority, Carwyn Jones would need the support of at least one of the parties for any changes. The Williams Commission says a plan should be in place by Easter. Given the mood of the parties in Cardiff Bay, that's looking optimistic to say the least.


Report "sensible and balanced" says union

Unison, the union which represents many local council workers, has broadly welcomed the Williams Commission report and it's call for a series of mergers that would halve the number of county and county borough councils in Wales.

The union says that it will study the recommendations and their impact on public sector workers throughout Wales.

The report appears to be a sensible and balanced response to the challenges that Welsh public services face and we are pleased that the commission acknowledges the increased demand being placed on services at a time of budget restraint. Understandably there is going to be a lot of focus on the future of Welsh local government and we welcome the assertion that the ‘status quo’ is not an option. Unison is calling for the Welsh Government to establish a staff commission with significant trade union involvement to oversee this reorganisation process.

Unison has always been clear that 22 local authorities across Wales is an unsustainable position. We need to use this chance to ensure that local authorities can sustainably deliver good quality services and value for money to Welsh communities. However, Unison is concerned that there are going to be significant transitional costs incurred as a result of reorganisation and believes that the Welsh Government should commit to fund any reorganisation and local authority budgets should not be required to absorb these costs.

Local authority budgets must be used responsibly and for the delivery of services to the communities they serve, which would be incompatible with having to fund reorganisation. We are positive about many of the opportunities outlined in the report for local government but we are disappointed that there is no recommendation to merge the eight current Local Government Pension Scheme funds into one all Wales fund which would lead to over £65 million year on year savings and we would urge the Welsh government to take this into consideration.

– Dominic MacAskill, head of local government Unison Cymru Wales

Give councils more powers say Lib Dems

Liberal Democrat spokesman Peter Black has responded to the Williams Commission's report, saying that the Welsh Government should hand additional powers to the proposed larger councils.

While I support reducing the number of councils, this report is about more than that. We need a wholesale change on how local government works in Wales. This is about ensuring we get cost effective, efficient and accountable public services delivered at the right level. I believe it is essential that councils, especially if they will now be larger, gain more powers and responsibility. Devolution must not stop at Cardiff Bay.

When we are contemplating the third restructuring of local service delivery in 40 years, we must make sure that we get it right. That means that we need to consult widely on the report’s recommendations and properly debate them. It is imperative that the Welsh Government shows leadership on this issue.

The Williams commission says the period of change will take around three to five years. I support this timeline, however I also urge caution. The next local government reorganisation must be for keeps. We cannot afford to be considering ripping it up and starting again in 15 or 20 years time. I'm prepared to support re-organisation if we get it right. That means having councils which are representative, with a fair voting system such as the single transferable vote, so that the outcome of elections are reflected in the way councils are elected.

– Liberal Democrat Local Government Spokesperson Peter Black AM


Services are better delivered locally say Tories

The Welsh Conservatives' Shadow Local Government minister, Janet Finch-Saunders has welcomed the Williams Commission report which calls for a cut in the number of local councils here in Wales.

What matters to the vast majority of hardworking families is not the intricate structures of local government, but knowing that services will be delivered in an efficient and cost effective way.

We believe that public services are best delivered locally so taxpayers can hold local representatives to account for what happens in their community.

We welcome the publication of this much-anticipated report, which now paves the way for the Welsh Labour Government and the First Minister to promptly set out their proposals to end this period of limbo and uncertainty in local government.

– Janet Finch-Saunders, Welsh Conservatives

Welsh Government must lead reform say Plaid

Plaid Cymru has responded to the Williams Commission report by demanding a decisive response from the Welsh Government.

Any major reform needs decisive Government leadership. The Welsh Government needs to take direct action to outline which of these options is the best way forward, how costs will be met, and the implications for frontline staff. The weight of evidence presented to the Williams Commission shows that if the people of Wales are going to get the services they need and deserve then there has to be a radical improvement in the way public services are delivered.

The status quo and keeping things exactly as they are now is not an option. Some of the existing structures we have were designed before the National Assembly and Welsh Government existed. Public services are the glue that holds Wales together. It is vital that standards in education, healthcare, and local government are continuously improved, and that any reform of public service delivery meets this challenge.

Plaid Cymru will now be consulting within our party on the options presented by the Commission and on any other options for public service delivery. We would encourage all interested parties to discuss the options, but we also want to see the Welsh Government set out its own view of what is the best way of delivering public services.

– Plaid Cymru Local Government Spokesperson Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM

"Change is inevitable" -First Minister

I’d like to thank Sir Paul Williams and the Commission for their hard work in gathering wide-ranging evidence for this report, including from those who deliver and use public services. This report addresses many issues that are critical at a time when the need for public services is outstripping the resources available to provide them. I have always been clear that the status quo is not an option.

People across Wales rely heavily on the vital services delivered by the public sector every day. Change is inevitable and essential so that our public services can become more efficient, effective, accessible and responsive. I will now take time to consider the report in detail and respond in due course.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM
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