Wednesday, 16 February 2011

How many councils?

I’m in danger of agreeing with both Peter Black and the CBI, which must be a first of some sort.  Up to a point, anyway.  Both of them have called for a commitment to legislation to change the number of Welsh Local Authorities. 
That is a far more honest and open approach to tackling an issue which most people recognise needs to be addressed than the backdoor route currently being pursued by the Welsh Government.  Instructing authorities to share services and resources, and seeking for itself the power to merge councils as and when it sees fit is a centralising, reactive, and ad hoc way of dealing with a serious issue, and is likely to lead to a patchwork quilt of inconsistency across Wales.
But agreeing with the principle of reforming the local authorities in an open and honest fashion is not the same as agreeing with the detail of their proposals.  The CBI propose 7 councils, and Peter Black proposes 8 or 10.  Both of them seem to be picking figures out of the air, and proposing different ideas about what responsibilities councils should have – they look like subjective rather than objective conclusions.
I’ll admit to some subjective views myself – I’m not convinced that 22 councils is the ‘right’ number, and that probably puts me in a majority – for once.  But subjective views about what is or is not the ‘right’ number are hardly a sound basis for a major and costly reorganisation.  The local government set-up is as it is today after two rounds of reorganisation in the past, both driven by what one particular party’s politicians thought was the ‘right’ thing to do.  What we need is a more objective and thought-through approach.
How about resurrecting the idea put forward by Plaid in 2007 of a commission to review the whole issue of powers, financing, numbers and boundaries of all the different bodies governing Wales with a view to putting a structure in place which is fit for the 21st century?  That has to be better than either tinkering when things go wrong (as seems likely to happen in the case of Ynys Môn), or of choosing a number between 7 and 10 because someone thinks it’s ‘right’.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think the right number is around 15 but waht do I know??

The important thing is that this should be looked at objectively - without any gerrymandering of boundaries to suit particualr parties, and with an expectation that the total number of councillors will be cut drastically whatever the final outcome. It is a given that Turkeys wont vote for Xmas so dont waste time asking our Councils whta they think is right as we can anticipate their answer.

Penddu

Anonymous said...

I would say that 22 is not enough. We have areas like Llanelli that form part of the massive area of the Carmarthenshire that would be better served on its own.

On the other hand, there may be a strong argument for merging many of the smaller Valleys Councils.

Jac o' the North said...

The minimum population figure set before the last local government reorganisation was 60,000. It was always difficult to establish why this figure was chosen. Perhaps for sentimental (Labour) reasons to allow Merthyr to remain distinct. But if so, why save Merthyr and then create the massive RCT next door?

The truth is that no matter how one looks at it, for every council area that makes sense there is another that is difficult to justify. The correct approach last time around would have been to abolish the district councils and make the counties unitary authorities.

This approach would have saved a lot of money at the time and also saved us another reorganisation in the near future.

Given that memories of the 8 counties are still strong, that many people still use them in their address, and that businesses and others cottoned on to Dyfed, Clwyd and the rest, a return to the 8 counties is the most obvious and painless solution.

Jeff Jones said...

Basically the Tories in the last reorganisation wanted to destroy the old counties which were dominated by Labour. Hunt wanted the 4 city authorities but as far as the rest of Wales was concerned he wasn't interested. Labour couldn't agree on an alternative with Labour district and county councillors at each others throats. No one was interested in either service delivery or efficiency. The result is the mess we have today. Merthyr was originally placed in a Heads of the Valley authority with Blaenau Gwent. At the committee stage Hunt agreed to give Labour one more authority hence the creation of Merthyr. What is a happening at the moment is crazy as Councils create behind the scenes alliances which often lack any logic and which throw democratic accountability out of the window. As you rightly suggest John what is required is an independent commission which will first decide what services should be provided by the tier of government beneath the Assembly and what services should be provided by community councils. The Commission should report by 2013 and the new system should be implemented by 2017.

david h jones said...

Bring back the old Cwmwd. GLyndwr had 2 members sent from each Cwmwd in Wales for his parliament as did Hywel Dda fod codifying his laws.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commote

The Cwmwd, certainly in rural areas, is an ideal size - ususally the communiting distance to the local market town.

Get rid of community councils - too small, too useless. Bring in the Cwmwd and then a larger County - Gwynedd, Clwyd, Gwent etc.

Glamorgan will always be a problem, there's the issue of bringing back Dyfed - which I'd be in favour of but with some recognition to South Pembrokeshire.

Oh, and less councillors with larger wards, but for councillors to be a full time job.

Jac o' the North said...

Today we learn that councils are being told to team up to deliver social services.

Council mergers are, effectively, being pushed through on an ad hoc basis, with no public consultation and no independent scrutiny. This is a recipe for another cock-up.

Why doesn't someone grasp the nettle and go about it in the correct way, even if it does take a few years. We can not go on chopping and changing local government every 15 or 20 years.

John Dixon said...

Jac,

"Why doesn't someone grasp the nettle and go about it in the correct way, even if it does take a few years."

Precisely. And that was exactly the point of my original post.

Peter Black said...

I have set out the rationale behind my proposal here: http://waleshome.org/2010/03/trust-the-people-time-to-devolve-from-the-assembly/

Essentially though i am looking for Councils to take over health provision and so the new bodies would be roughly equivalent to the current health boards in size with some room for manoeuvre to take account of local factors.

jogger said...

I'll propose ONE council to Blackies 8

The Weslh Assembly govt is the council and has different branch's throughout Wales.
Carwyn J chief exec and FM

John Dixon said...

Peter,

Thanks for the link. I don't think we are far apart on the principles, actually, although there's an awful lot of devils in the detail. I too am concerned about creeping centralisation - a topic on which I've blogged before. You refer to Labour and Plaid as two centralising parties - that's good political knockabout, but I have a suspicion that ANY parties in Government in Cardiff would find themselves drawn to addressing what all four seem to like calling 'postcode lotteries'. The problem is that addressing such 'lotteries' inevitably means giving more and more central direction, and that inevitably weakens local government.

My case, in a way, is that we need to stand back and decide what really needs to be decided centrally, and what can be decided more locally; and if decisions are to be made locally, then the government should butt out and accept that there will be differences. Conversely, if the government (of whichever party or parties) is determined to take all the key decisions itself, then take the responsibility away from local authorities and stop pretending that there's any meaningful local democratic accountability.

And yes, I asbolutely agree that Health should be in the mix as well; but, however convenient it might be, I don't think we should start from the point of view that ANY of the current structures are right and adapt the rest to suit them. This is a little unfair, I know, but that does rather seem to be where you're starting in relation to the Health boards.