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Welsh councils to gain powers to merge

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Welsh local government minister Lesley Griffiths (Lab) has told a Welsh Assembly committee that two pairs of unnamed councils have signalled interest in mergers.

Allowing mergers would be an initial response by the Welsh Government to the recommendations made in January by the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery, set up by first minister Carwyn Jones (Lab).

That advocated reducing the number of Welsh councils from 22 unitaries to between 10 and 12.

Mr James is due tomorrow afternoon to set out his full response to the commission, followed by a white paper for consultation.

Ms Griffiths told the Welsh Local Government Association’s annual conference last month: “Reforming local government is about more than a cosmetic redrawing of the map of council boundaries to achieve economies of scale.

“Larger authorities would make more of the money available for the frontline services, but this reform is about much more. It must be a catalyst for profound change so local authorities are fit for this century.”

The WLGA said then that it aimed “to challenge the growing misperception that local government reorganisation offers a ‘silver bullet’ for solving the complex array of issues”.

Ms Griffiths told the assembly’s communities, equality and local government committee there was “just not time” for legislation to enforce council mergers before the assembly’s 2016 election, but “there are some authorities that want to merge voluntarily, but they cannot merge voluntarily without that legislation. So, I will do that before the summer recess”.

She added: “Privately, I would say that at least four local authorities have mentioned [merger] to me”, which she explained meant “two sets of mergers”.

The Welsh Government was sympathetic to devolving more functions to councils, but not the present ones, she said.

“Local government needs to be far more resilient than it is,” Ms Griffiths said. “We’ve had six local education authorities in special measures [and] one authority, Anglesey, that collapsed completely and had to be run from here.”

Welsh local government was organised into eight counties and 37 districts in 1974 and then into 22 unitaries in 1996.

Ms Griffiths said any new reorganisation should “last for several decades”.

 

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