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WELSH IN SECRET TALKS ON REORGANISATION

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Welsh counties have broken their public policy of non co-operation with the government over reorganisation and had ...
Welsh counties have broken their public policy of non co-operation with the government over reorganisation and had an unpublicised meeting with Welsh Secretary John Redwood.

Russell Goodway, chairman of the Assembly of Welsh Counties' reorganisation committee and leader of South Glamorgan CC, specifically denied to LGC that local government reorganisation had been the main purpose of the meeting. He said the meeting - attended by other representatives of the AWC - was 'nothing special' and 'just one in a series of frequent exchanges'. He later said it had been called to discuss a local issue. However, the Welsh Office confirmed Mr Redwood met an AWC delegation at the assembly's own request.

'It was to discuss a number of issues primarily relating to local government reorganisation', a spokesman confirmed. Hugh Thomas, AWC secretary and chief executive of Mid Glamorgan CC, and Gerry Corless, West Glamorgan CC chief exectuive, also attended.

The AWC has consistently followed the Labour Party line in refusing to co-operate with the government in protest at plans to impose 21 new unitary authorities on the principality. The meeting with Mr Redwood was held in the last week of September. This was shortly after the assembly appointed lobby firm Westminster Strategy to push its views that the plans lacked support among the public, unions and businesses. Mr Goodway said Mr Redwood had touched on reorganisation. The meeting had served to highlight his concern about the costs of the exercise. 'It is a ridiculously expensive exercise which nobody can afford', he said.

The AWC is circulating its own assessment that the transitional costs of reform will amount to £202 million over 15 years at 1995-96 price levels, rather than the £66m-£155m estimate published by the government.

In its report figures are broken down into staffing costs at £101.8m, property £64m, information technology £15.1m and £21.4m 'other' costs. The report also updates ongoing cost estimates. After reorganisation these would be £6.2m a year more than existing costs and £45m a year more than the costs of eight authorities based on the present county areas, it argues.

The new county figures, circulated to key MPs at the Conservative and Labour Party conferences were attacked this week by the Council of Welsh Districts. CWD Assistant Secretary Paul Griffiths said they amounted to an attempt to 'derail the reform process rather than being a serious contribution to the financial costs of reorganisation'.

The CWD has long argued that the £155m figure, calculated by Touche Ross for the government, was an overestimate. Its assumption of redundancy costs was too high, Mr Griffiths said, since it assumed all 21 unitary councils would adopt identical staffing structures.

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