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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Hints but no clarity

This morning's Western Mail offers us a leaked report of a private meeting between the Welsh Local Government Minister and Labour councillors at the Welsh Local Government Association conference in Llandudno last month, where Carl Sargeant hinted that wholesale reorganisation was on the cards by 2016.

Up until now it has been the official position of the Welsh Government that it is against local government reorganisation. Instead it has encouraged councils to work together. Last week Carl Sargeant said he expected local authorities to cut costs by sharing top officers when existing post-holders retire or leave. He now appears to have changed his tune, but only off-the-record.

I have said before that there is a case to reorganise local authorities in Wales to produce bigger Councils and fewer Councillors, but only with the quid pro quo of giving them greater powers and the budgets over areas such as health, transport and community regeneration and ensuring that they are elected by the single transferable vote system.

I am prepared to say that up-front in the run-up to the Assembly elections and argue for its inclusion in the Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto if I can get support in my party for this proposal. I believe that people should know what they are voting for.

What I would not be happy about is a party such as Labour failing to address this issue in their manifesto and prevaricating on it in the election campaign, only to go on and do it anyway once the votes have been counted. That is dishonest. There would be no mandate for such an approach.

If Carl Sargeant does want local government reorganisation then he should say so in public and justify his alternative during an election campaign. It is no good muttering about it in private meetings and dropping obtuse hints at Committee and in Plenary. Let us get this debate out into the open.
If they are going to form larger Council (one would assume we would have a West, Mid & South Glamorgan) with reduced Councillors, they should look at introducing STV for the election of those Councillors at the same time.
Yes I said that STV was an essential pre-reequisite
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