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Labour figures 'want Wales to have just six or seven councils'

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Senior Labour figures believe the number of councils in Wales should be cut to just six or seven, the country’s public services minister has said.

A commission on public service governance and delivery, set up by the Welsh Government, reported in January that the present 22 councils were unsustainable and should be reduced through mergers to between 10 and 12.

But Mr Andrews (Lab) revealed in an interview for the BBC’s Wales Report programme: “There are senior people in my own party [who] think we should only have six or seven local authorities.”

He did not elaborate, but returned to the idea when discussing the costs of Wales’ councillors.

“The cost of councillors is £21.7m a year, and under [the commission’s proposals] would be £15.7m and under what some of my colleagues suggest the costs of politics in local government would fall to below £10m.”

He added: “There isn’t a single political party that believes the current structure is fit for purpose. It was designed before we had a national assembly and we need to rethink how we work together.”

The present 22 unitaries were created in 1996, replacing a two-tier system put in place in 1974.

Mr Andrews asked councils to lodge expressions of interest in voluntary mergers by 28 November, and said: “We’re giving local authorities the opportunity to come forward [with merger plans] and if they don’t we will merge them.

“I’ve made it clear that if we don’t get voluntarily mergers coming forward we will take action.

“We will have fewer council leaders, fewer chief executives, fewer cabinets and fewer councillors.”

A white paper will be published early in the new year setting out the Welsh Government’s vision for the future of local government.

Mr Andrews admitted that before becoming a minister he had criticised the commission’s report for a lack of vision and said the white paper would set out “what local government should be doing in future”.

He said the Welsh Government would talk to councils about new sources of finance.

However, he said, any change to the council tax system was “not something I’d want to get into in the next three to five years”.

Meanwhile, Cardiff City Council has said it would consider a voluntary merger with Vale of Glamorgan Council, as proposed by the commission, although the latter opposes the idea.

A similar stand-off has developed in north-west Wales, where the commission advocated a merger of Gwynedd Council and Isle of Anglesey CC.

Gwynedd is willing to explore the idea but Anglesey has rejected it, arguing that the island needs its own council.

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