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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reorganisation or bust

Over at the BBC Betsan Powys speculates that the Welsh Government plan to amend the Local Government Measure to give Ministers the powers to merge or amalgamate councils under certain circumstances by way of an order.

Such an order would not be amendable, would not go before any Assembly Committee for scrutiny and, although there would be a 12 week consultation period and a vote in Plenary, would not be subject to the sort of evidence-taking it would attract if the method chosen was a Measure.

As Betsan points out however, the Government will need to suspend Standing Orders to table these amendments as they fall outside the scope of the Measure they are seeking to amend. They are therefore out of order.

And that is the problem. This is a substantial and fundamental change of policy on the part of the Welsh Government that will effectively allow a wholescale reorganisation of local government by Ministerial decree. Even the Tories did not go that far.

The amendments are being introduced at stage two of the Measure after evidence has already been taken on its provisions and the consultation has closed. They substantially change the thrust of the Measure but will not receive the same level of scrutiny as the rest of it.

My view is that reorganisation of local government, either in part or wholescale is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if you are going to do it then 12 weeks consultation and a Ministerial Order in Plenary is not the way to do it. There should be wider engagement with all stakeholders and proper and detailed questioning of the Minister on his or her reasons and options. That would also enable wider issues to be brought into it such as the powers to be exercised by Councils.

Betsan speculates that the first target of such an order will be Ynys Mon, which may be amalgamated with Gwynedd. Maybe that prospect is the reason why the suspension of standing orders did not materialise today as expected. Did Plaid Cymru get cold feet? We shall see.
Another good reason to consider voting NO in the upcoming referendum ?
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