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Friday, May 27, 2016

Welsh councils could be waiting a long time for clarity on reorganisation

Considering that most councils were opposed to Leighton Andrews' proposed restructuring of local government so as to create just eight bodies, they are protesting rather loudly now that plan has been shelved for lack of support.

The BBC reports that a Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) paper, which will be considered today, says that there is an urgent need for clarity over plans to reorganise local government. The paper says that the "challenges ahead are profound", with many services in crisis.

They are not wrong but the idea that shuffling deckchairs around could solve this is fanciable. For once Russell Goodway is right, the solution lies in the hands of councils themselves and they should stop complaining about the Welsh Government and get on with it.

That solution does not need to involve mergers, though it could, nor will it produce the money needed to keep services going, but determined leadership that delivered substantial joint working could make savings that are worth having and which will protect front line services.

Personally, I do not believe that local government reorganisation should be abandoned so easily. The problem of course is lack of consensus and the absence of a majority in Cardiff Bay to deliver any change. It is a shame that even now Government Ministers believe that consensus involves securing an inter-party agreement behind closed doors.

A more organic and considered process in which the local government boundary commission was charged with wide consultation on drawing up plans for say 12 local councils based on natural communities over a period of time may be more deliverable.

Such a process would need to respect large population centres such as the Welsh cities and towns like Wrexham and build council areas around them rather than sublimating them into larger amorphous areas as proposed previously. Historical counties would need to be considered and rural considerations taken into account, especially with the implications for funding.

Although loosely based on existing counties, this process would not be afraid to chop them up so as to create a more sustainable entity, for example by taking the Swansea and Lliw Valleys out of Neath Port Talbot and adding it to Swansea.

And there would need to be a commitment to election by single transferable vote to compensate for the inevitable reduction in the number of councillors and to ensure that councils are properly representative of the people who elect them. Such an outcome would improve accountability and transparency and lead to better services.

I have been advocating such a solution for some time, but others believed that a quick fix was a better approach. Now that fix has come undone, perhaps it is time for a more deliberative and consensual approach.
I would like to see a nice simple system where (in order to address concerns over the cost of councils) each council have the same number of councillors as a proportion of the population. For instance at the moment Swansea council has 72 councillors for a population of 239,000 where as Bexley in Greater London (with a roughly similar population) only has 63 councillors. Here in Ceredigion our population of 75,300 is served by 42 councillors where as Brentwood in Essex only has 37 councillors for the same population.
Harry. Surely the actual size of the council by area should be taken into consideration Brentwood 59.12 sq mi (153.12 km2) cannot be compared to Ceredigion 1,783 km2 (688 sq mi) which is a;most three times larger and means councillors have bigger wards.

A Brentwood councillor could probably walk around his/her ward in a hour.

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