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Local government reform

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Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford has set out a new way forward for local government in Wales.
Mark Drakeford has set out a timetable for talks on local government reform for councils to use to prepare for the harder choices that lie ahead.
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Reform is essential if local authorities are to be financially resilient and able to maintain and improve the quality of services during this period of austerity.

Local Government plays a vitally important part in the lives of every person in Wales. Councils provide the services which educate our children, look after our elderly, dispose of our waste and light our streets.

However, very real challenges still remain in local government. There is more to be done to achieve greater consistency and excellence, whilst at the same time there continues to be less money for public services.

A new approach

The purpose of local government reform is to build resilience and to support renewal in local government so that local authorities are more representative, prudent, efficient, effective, resilient and integrated.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government has met with all local authority Leaders and Chief Executives, also the WLGA and other stakeholders, to invite their views on the challenges faced and how they can be addressed. Following these discussions the Cabinet Secretary made an oral statement (external link) in plenary on 4 October 2016 setting out the broad proposals for the new approach based on enhanced levels of systematic and mandatory regional working.  

The wider reform proposals set out in the previous Draft Local Government Bill are being progressed, subject to further discussion and development working with local authorities:

  • The retention of the existing 22 local authorities, subject to any voluntary mergers, to act as the democratic tier to which councillors are elected and the ‘front-door’ for people to access services.
  • Renewed scope for voluntary mergers enabled by Welsh Government support.
  • Enhanced systematic and mandatory regional working. Systematic means functions would be organised on a consistent footprint and done at that level.
  • The possibility that there might need to be more than one systematic footprint. In particular, one based around the City Regions covering strategic transport, land-use planning and economic development; and the other, probably the Health Board (external link) footprint, for areas like social services, education and public protection.

What next?

We are engaging with local authorities and other stakeholders to identify a viable way forward by early 2017. We will narrow down what the footprint for regional working would look like, the functions to be delivered through regional working and the related governance and accountability arrangements. We will also consider how the local government funding system should be aligned to support the change programme.

Frequently asked questions

  • Why is reform taking place?

    • Very real challenges still remain in local government. There is more to be done to achieve greater consistency and excellence, whilst at the same time there will continue to be less money for public services.
  • Why have the proposals changed?

    • The previous Welsh Government led the way in putting forward specific proposals for local authority mergers. We accepted that we would not get an agreement to those proposals for structural reform in the National Assembly and that a change in approach was necessary.
    • Whilst there is widespread agreement of the need to reform local government in Wales, there was no consensus on the proposals for structural reform set out in the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill.
  • What are the new regional arrangements being proposed?

    • An enhanced level of regional working has been proposed, which would be systematic and mandatory. Systematic means functions would be organised on a consistent footprint and mandatory means the Welsh Government would specify which functions would be done at what level.
    • There might be more than one systematic footprint:
      • one based around the City Regions covering strategic transport, land-use planning and economic development
      • the other, probably the Health Board footprint, for areas like social services, education and public protection.
    • There are many regional arrangements in place across Wales, so the idea of regional working is not disputed. Collaborative arrangements are already in place in a number of important services, such as education improvement, social services and waste procurement.
    • We’ve seen plenty of good examples where local authorities have worked together to deliver public services.  We now need to move to a stage where this becomes normal practice.
    • ‘Delivered regionally’ could mean regional planning, through regional commissioning of services, through to regional delivery (where the delivery of services is directed by the regional arrangement)
  • Who will be accountable for delivering services with the proposed regional arrangements?

    • People will continue to access services via their local authority, but those services will be planned on a regional basis.
    • There are a number of potential governance models for regional arrangements. Ensuring accountability for members, for service users and people generally is one aspect we will look at in developing our proposals.
  • How will the funding system work?

    • The finance system for local government will need to change to support the reforms Welsh Government are considering to make councils more sustainable and self-sufficient.
    • Previous Welsh Government consultations on reforming the finance system have identified broad support for a phased approach.
  • How will you consult and engage on the reform proposals?

    • We intend to engage with local government and other stakeholders to develop the details of the approach by early in 2017.
    • By then we hope to have narrowed down the potential functions, footprint and governance arrangements. These will form the basis for formal consultation in the new year.
  • How will voluntary mergers work?

    • If local authorities wish to build their resilience further by merging voluntarily, Welsh Government will support them to do so. We will work closely with them and support would be tailored to the particular circumstances of a proposal.

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