A late addition to local government legislation in Wales could see ministers gain powers to carry out a wholesale reorganisation of councils without further reference to the country’s national assembly.
The move by social justice and local government minister Carl Sargeant has alarmed the Welsh Local Government Association, despite assurances that the power would not be used in this way.
Mr Sargeant tabled a late amendment that would allow him to order the merger of up to three councils in the interests of performance improvement.
This builds on powers he already possesses to direct groups of councils to collaborate.
In a letter to Mr Sargeant, the assembly’s constitutional affairs committee said it was “concerned that such apparently substantial powers are being introduced at this relatively late stage [with] no previous explanation…as to why these powers are now considered necessary”.
The WLGA said in a circular to council leaders it was “concerning that legislation as fundamental as the future structure of authorities can be done without scrutiny and wider engagement or consultation”.
Daniel Hurford, WLGA head of policy improvement and governance, said: “There is a lack of clarity of what could trigger a merger of councils. The minister has said it would not lead to local government reorganisation without consultation, but we are concerned that a future minister could use it like that.”
The bulk of the legislation going through the assembly deals with powers for scrutiny committees and for community and town councils.