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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Welsh Government bill without a cause

The Welsh Public Services Minister launched stage one of the reorganisation of local government in Wales yesterday with the introduction of a bill to facilitate voluntary mergers. He did so having first ruled out the only three proposals for voluntary merger he had received.

This has caused consternation, not least because one of the proposals in front of the Minister fitted in with the proposals of the William's Commission. The Minister obviously has the right to turn down the voluntary merger proposals in front of him on the basis of the criteria that he set out but that poses an important question: having turned down all the voluntary merger proposals why are we now discussing a Bill to enable voluntary mergers to take place; there are no voluntary mergers in front of us for this Bill to enable?

The Minister said in his statement that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-model local government in Wales. This will be the third reorganisation in 40 years of local government. If we don’t get this right now, we will find ourselves back here in 20 years’ time doing it again. So, how is he making sure that we have sustainable models based on compatible communities when he does not have the co-operation of local government, and when the proposals that are put forward on a voluntary basis are not acceptable to him? How can we make sure that the map that he now seems determined to impose on local government is sustainable and that we will not be revisiting this in 20 years’ time?

It seems that the process continues to raise more questions than answers and it is unlikely that the opposition parties will bail the government out on this. The Williams Commission was a Labour Government affair, it had no input from Welsh Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru or Welsh Conservatives. So far I have seen no good reason why, having been excluded from the process at the start, we should join it on Labour's terms.
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