Council Mergers: Draft Local Government Bill published today the Flintsham /Wrexshire dream moves a step closer
The Welsh Government has published its Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill today which outlines plans to cut the number of councils from 22 to eight or nine.
The Welsh Government claims cutting councils will save £650m over 10 years and expects the new council model to be in place by 2020.
The government predicts mergers will pay for themselves within two or three years, with figures of between £100m and £250m banded about in terms of the cost of mergers.
As many as 2000 council jobs could go in a shake-up which would see the current six north Wales councils merge into two or three.
Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews confirmed plans in a statement, he said:
“Our vision for local government is for activist councils, engaged in delivering modern, accessible, high-quality public services with their local communities.
This Draft Bill sets out a programme of reform to secure the future of local government in Wales.
We want to see councils which are vibrant, strong, flexible, open and transparent – councils with vision, great leadership and passion, working effectively with the public service workforce and their communities to improve services, improve lives and improve places.”
The two options being considered for north Wales are:
Two Council Option: 1. Flintshire, Wrexham and Denbighshire. 2. Anglesey Gwynedd and Conwy.
Three council option: 1.Flintshire and Wrexham 2.Anglesey and Gwynedd 3.Conwy and Denbighshire.
While it’s been recognised that collaboration tends to happen on a North Wales regional basis, GwE Consortium and the North Wales Economic Ambition Board for example, the Commission dismissed the creation of a single Local Authority area covering the whole of North Wales.
Doing so could be likely to lead to difficulties in meeting multiple diverse local needs effectively, or to maintaining fair democratic representation the report says.
The two- three-way Local Authority models for north Wales would see Denbighshire jeopardise its qualification for convergence funding if it merged with Flintshire and Wrexham, making a two-way tie up obviously more favourable, that would mean a Wrexham Flintshire ‘super council’ – something that has been roundly dismissed by councillors in Wrexham and caused a few ‘intresting’ exchanges over the past few months on social media.
The WG consultation document says ‘the case for either two or three Local Authorities in the North Wales area is finely balanced.
+Population – if the configuration in North Wales was three Authorities, two of those would have populations around the 200,000 mark i.e. Gwynedd / Anglesey and Conwy / Denbighshire. Notwithstanding Powys, this would be considerably lower than most of the other configurations in Wales which would be 380,000 plus with Wrexham / Flintshire just below the 300,000 mark.
+Welsh Language – there is an important question as to whether it would be supported better by creating three or two Authorities in North Wales. Some argue that placing Denbighshire with the border Counties of Flintshire and Wrexham might impact adversely on maintaining and strengthening the vibrancy of the language in the Denbighshire area. On the other hand, merging Conwy with the Isle of Anglesey and Gwynedd could create an area where possibly less than 50% of the population are Welsh speakers. This would mean that no Authority in Wales would have a majority of Welsh speakers and could impact on current internal administrative practice in Gwynedd.
+The creation of two rather than three Authorities would reduce the variance across North Wales on financial indicators, particularly in terms of the key indicators such as Council Tax raising ability (size of tax base) and spending power (gross revenue expenditure)
+Current sub regional delivery structures for police, fire and health currently operate on a three area basis – Anglesey / Gwynedd, Conwy / Denbighshire and Wrexham / Flintshire. The Health Board has recently introduced an area director structure based on these areas;
‘The case in North Wales is, therefore, finely balanced between two or three Local Authorities and there are pros and cons for both.’
Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews;
“There is a real opportunity here for local government to make significant savings for taxpayers and if councils work together, plan well and involve their staff there is the opportunity for savings even greater than the £650m we have identified.
This means more money for front line public services, more money to invest in communities and more money to support local economic prosperity.”
Conservative Shadow Local Government Minister Janet Finch-Saunders said;
“We heard similar rhetoric ahead of Labour’s last NHS reorganisation, which led to huge deficits and unprecedented pressure on frontline staff.
“Communities will rightly question whether these figures can be trusted and it’s local people who continue to be ignored by Labour.”
Consultation on the mergers is open until 15 February, with a bill due to be presented next autumn.