Welsh councils have until 28 November to express interest in voluntary mergers, the country’s new public services minister has said.
Leighton Andrews told the Welsh Assembly that the current configuration of 22 local authorities was unsustainable, and “there will be change, voluntary or not”.
The Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery, set up by the Welsh Government, said in January that the 22 councils should be reduced in number to between 10 and 12.
Legislation to allow voluntary mergers is planned to allow these to take place by April 2018, with any forcible mergers coming later.
Mr Andrews said the commission had called on the Welsh Government to provide incentives for voluntary mergers. He said he hoped to be able to “say more about the funds available to assist with voluntary mergers” later this year.
He said: “Local authorities who wish to end uncertainty for their staff and the wider public will be urgently considering how best they can come together with neighbouring authorities to deliver services on a more strategic and sustainable basis. The status quo is not an option.”
Mr Andrews cited as reasons for change the commission’s findings of “poor and patchy performance in a number of areas of service delivery, and wide variations in efficiency”.
“The case for change was detailed and compelling,” he said. “This government accepted that case. Local government cannot continue to operate as it has done.”
In a sign of potential trouble for the merger programme, Wrexham CBC is due this week to reject the merger with Flintshire CC suggested by the commission.
Leader Neil Rogers (Ind) said in a statement that after a series of workshops for councillors “members agreed unanimously that the County of Wrexham should remain in its current form as it is large enough to stand alone.
“This is what we believe to be in the best interests of the people, the place and the economy.
“Wrexham town is at the centre of the county and is the natural hub for the surrounding areas and a commercial centre for the region.”
Flintshire last week expressed interest in merging, though Wrexham is separately beset by political upheaval after Cllr Rogers defected from Labour while in office as leader.