Local government in Wales is set for a makeover.
On Tuesday 17 July, Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services, Alun Davies AM set out the next steps to reform and strengthen Welsh local government.
In March of this year the Welsh Government published its Green Paper, ‘Strengthening Local Government- Delivering for People’, which set out a vision for stronger, more empowered councils which can provide bold determined and focused leadership. The Paper offered three possible ways of achieving this: voluntary mergers; phased mergers; and comprehensive mergers at the earliest opportunity.
Mr Davies has, following the responses to the proposals, announced that the Government will be establishing a new, independent working group to take forward the reform programme and “shape the future of local government in Wales.”
Mr Davies added, “the consultation responses suggested there was an appetite amongst local government to work together to progress voluntary mergers and increase and improve regional working. I therefore intend to introduce the Local Government (Wales) Bill early next year to move ahead at the earliest possible opportunity”.
Debbie Wilcox, leader of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) provided her support for the reform programme detailed by Mr Davies, stating; “The WLGA’s position is clear. We are supportive of any council’s who desire to merge voluntarily and are committed to working collaboratively to deliver services. She added, the formation of this joint working group is timely and strengthens the democratic base and powers available to councils.”
However, not all were as welcoming of the proposals. Speaking to the Assembly on Tuesday, the Conservative AM Janet Finch-Saunders expressed her discontent. She stated, “the past experience of some authorities with regard to voluntary mergers and government’s response to them is hardly encouraging.” She added, “we do not agree now that merging local authorities is appropriate.”
The announcement comes as the Assembly and Government come to the end of the term and sits alongside the announcement made on the 18 July that the National Assembly will be renamed as Welsh Parliament from 2020. It will remain to be seen how much support the reform programme gains and how effective a possible local government makeover would be in reality.