Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford has set out a new way forward for local government in Wales.
Under proposals set out today, local authorities would work together to deliver key services. There would be no change to the existing number of local authorities, but the Welsh Government would support voluntary mergers.
While some local authorities already work together voluntarily to deliver some services, this new way of regional working would be systematic and mandatory.
In an update to Assembly Members today, Mark Drakeford said:
“Councils are delivering their services against a backdrop of austerity or what the Institute for Fiscal Studies have called an “extraordinary ten or more years of retrenchment in public service spending”.
“Austerity creates pressures and one of the key questions for me is how we can make our local authorities more resilient to deal with these pressures. That’s why local government reform is a requirement, not a choice.
“Over the summer, I visited all 22 local authorities and met with the Welsh Local Government Association, Trades Unions and others.
“I have listened to their views and we now have an approach on a possible way forward. This would retain existing local authorities - the “front door” through which people access services – but with key services being delivered regionally.
“Behind this front door, we would have an enhanced level of mandatory and systematic regional working. This will give local authorities more resilience in terms of staffing and finance and also ensure that services are planned and delivered on the right scale.
“It has been suggested to me that we have two models to deliver these services; one based around City Regions covering strategic transport, land-use planning and economic development and another aligned to health boards for services such as education improvement, social services and public protection.
“Of course, some authorities may wish to build their resilience further by voluntarily merging and we will support them to help make that happen.
“We will also make improvements to community councils in the short term, and establish an independent review to look at the future role of this tier of local government.
“I am conscious local government has been through a period of extended uncertainty about its future and the corrosive impact this has on morale.
“In June I announced that councillors elected to existing councils in 2017 will serve a full five-year term to 2022. Today, I am able to announce that there will be elections to these councils – less any which merge voluntarily – in 2022. This confirms a permanent five-year election cycle and provides local government with a ten-year stable platform from which to take forward reform.
“I want to be clear today that we are setting out on this journey with a new determination. I’m prepared to see progress over a sensible and practical timeframe, but progress must be made.
“By the New Year, I hope to have identified, with local government, recognised Trade Unions and other partners, a viable way forward.”