The Welsh Government’s proposals for local government reform will get nowhere, a local authority has warned.
The Government’s Green Paper, published in March, proposes merging councils to reduce their numbers from 22 to 10. Three options were presented: voluntary mergers; a phased approach with early adopters followed by other authorities by 2026; and a single comprehensive merger programme by 2022.
Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council’s chief executive, Steven Phillips, and assistant chief executive, Karen Jones, told councillors: “This is the fifth Green or White Paper [on local government] since the Williams Commission report in 2014. It is also the third set of proposals for local government reorganisation/reform in as many years.
“In all probability, it will result in a continuation of the stalemate that has characterised this debate for years, i.e. the Welsh Government/ National Assembly will not impose a solution and local government is clearly not going to reorganise itself.
“The discussion has become almost completely circular – and the opprobrium heaped upon the proposals from local government and opposition parties in the Assembly has been entirely predictable.”
They said there was no compelling case for the council to merge with the City and County of Swansea “or anyone else”.
“It would be foolish to rule out mergers indefinitely and the imperative to merge may already exist elsewhere. Perhaps it would be more achievable/realistic to instigate a reorganisation of 22 councils to, say, 15 or 16 rather than down to ten in one go?”
They said the Green Paper was “particularly weak” on evidence that larger councils are better/stronger. “Indeed in Northamptonshire, it has been proposed to split the all-but bankrupt local authority into two smaller councils and the largest council in the UK, Birmingham, has a history of major problems on service delivery.”
Philips and Jones said councils had been promoting an agenda of voluntary collaboration but this had producted only “minimal benefits”. “The budgetary dividend from collaboration has never featured in successive budget rounds here simply because there hasn’t been one.”
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