Home > Welsh Politics > Local Authorities in Wales – Is Cutting The Answer

Local Authorities in Wales – Is Cutting The Answer

Since the reorganisation seen in 1996 Wales has had 22 local authorities for a population of 3 million. This is a substantial amount of local authorities for a small population but is cutting the number a good enough answer?

Local authorities are having to slash their services left, right and centre and are struggling to provide the most basic of services due to cuts imposed from the top of the power chain from Westminster and in turn Cardiff Bay. Local authorities in 2017 will be very much smaller than they once were providing minimal services.

The Williams Commission has led to some interesting results, seeing the commission calling for a total of 10 councils in Wales. Yes, there needs to be reorganisation of Welsh local authorities, but the current recommendations are a tad bit extreme. Local government is just that-local , local to the people it represents to allow community champions to be elected in order to represent and support their neighbours throughout their term in office.

In my own neck of the woods in Newport, it is seen that Monmouth and Newport City Council should merge. I personally strongly disagree with this recommendation, not because I have Nimby attitude, but on principle and practicality, the two areas are very different with very different issues as one is mostly urban while the other is mostly rural. If reorganisation of local government is to be realistic then it needs to be a Monmouth and Torfaen council merge, they have already shared a lot of services and buildings for their work already. The only reason seen that it will not see such merger is due to European funding and different objective funding between the two authorities. This is just one example of many across the country and not fair on the communities in question.

Services such as education have already witnessed regional management as enforced by Welsh government. Education has been a sore policy area, causing many a headache for a number of local authorities, having a number see their education departments go into special measures and ran by a team installed by Welsh Government. Having less councils does allow for more scrutiny as there is more people within departments, but as the council area increases so does the number of schools in its control. This can take away the feeling of local accountability in how the services are ran as decision makers are yet again removed again from the local populace.

However, as in a previous blog post it was highlighted that issues such as recycling were very confusing seeing 22 local schemes, so in some services it could be highly beneficial to see less authorities, or even a midway compromise being better co-operation amongst local authorities. It generally depends on the appetite amongst local politicians versus that in Cardiff Bay, and it seems there is no appetite on a local level and that it is being enforced from a national level, which by opinion is not the best way to approach such policy. The reason being is that many are more expert on how local government is best utilised and can serve the public than those removed from it in Cardiff Bay.

The decision must not be taken lightly as Wales is a differing place, valley to valley – city to city as well as north to south and east to west. Thus any changes would need to account to local identities and look to protect communities and their proud identities, not swallowed up by the major civic towns as what the case would look to occur.

It seems that Cardiff Bay is trying to grab more power from below as it struggles in gaining more power from above (Westminster). This will most likely see a battleground from within the very fibre of the main parties as the grassroots will put up a struggle for each party to go ahead and agree these recommendations. Welsh Labour will most likely be hit the hardest as they look to lose many wards to upsizing wards and downsizing the number of councillors. Welsh Government has and should support local authorities rather than listening to Conservative David Cameron’s rhetoric about the NHS. He can’t speak ill of Scotland due to the referendum and failing in government so of course naturally wales is the scapegoat. The First Minister should rise above it and get back to what wales is better at, delivering public services for all in the community.

The government in the short term is to consider legislation to bring to the National Assembly to discuss this topic and to allow for voluntary mergers. At present there is no short term incentive noted to merge and merging on such a scale is an expensive affair. In the long term it can lead to more cost effective services but even that statement is yet to be put to the test in practice. A lot more consultation needs to be undertaken in the public domain as well and not just by politicians and policy specialists/ officials. It needs to be the solution to work not for 10, 20 or 30 years but a sustainable outcome to last more than a generation.

In conclusion, there is a strong need to reorganise Welsh local authorities, however the number of proposed authorities to cull is a bit too much, in effect removing the ability to be labelled as local. Ideally and realistically the number should be around 15 or 16 allowing for the South Wales cities of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea to keep their own areas. This would also allow for representatives to be local to the populace of a ward and be able to be seen and not just another name on a piece of paper. Much more consultation and work needs to be undertaken on the issue, as the matter stands it does not have a lot of appetite outside of Cardiff Bay to merge.

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