WELSH Government and Welsh local government agencies are making noises about reducing local authority councils from 22 to 10. They indicate that unless Councillors volunteer to decide to merge there may be a movement from Welsh government to make it mandatory.
If this happens, local councils will have to decide wether to merge with the West (Carmarthen) or with the East (Swansea).
We spoke with Cllr John Jenkins on the issue of council mergers. Here is what he had to say:
Q: Are you for or against council mergers?
A: I’m not against the merger as 22 councils for Wales (population 3,000,000) when you think Birmingham City Council has 1 council, 120 Councillors and population over 1,000,000.
So obviously we are over-governed in Wales even when taking into account less dense population.
I would, however, say that any reduction in County Councils should be part of a wider reform of Town and Community Councils who could provide more localised services such as street cleaning.
There is a case for sending a proportion of the savings from Local Government Settlement grant (75% of Council’s income; the other 25% being Council Tax) direct to a reformed Town and Community Council sector to provide localised services currently provided by County Councils.
Small Community Councils could merge, federate or cooperate to provide such services. Or we could listen to all these sitting Councillors who only care about their self-survival and salary and maintain the status quo…
Q: Could larger merged council’s with more devolved powers handed down from the WAG be better?
A: I certainly think there is a strong case for less Councils. I think the trick is to have larger Councils dealing with regional and strategic issues but to ensure that the stuff that matters to local people; litter, street cleaning, dog mess, graffiti, parks and playing fields – that they are managed as close to local people as possible and I do think our Town and Community Councils could play a role like the Borough and District councils did back when Wales only had 5 County Councils (“the Dyfed days”).
Q: Could more sharing of services be better and more cost effective for the public?
A: Like I said, a lot of the back office work Councils do, like administration, pensions, payroll don’t need 22 separate Councils to do. There is certainly a strong case for sharing administration in Welsh Local Government to as few as one body.
There is also a strong case for regional collaboration across health and social care (forget Councils, Wales could provide better health services with as few as one or two health boards) and in regional planning, highways and transport we could better and more efficiently manage services.
Q: Should councils hand over the running of their services to outside organisations?
A: That is a political decision for Councils to make. We’ve seen it work well here in Carmarthenshire with waste services run at an arms-length away from the Council. We’ve seen sports clubs and community councils step in to manage parks and playing fields cheaper and better than the Council Council have been willing and/or able to.
I don’t think there is much appetite for privatisation or complete out-sourcing of public services. I feel that most our public services could and should be kept public and run for the common good and not for private profit as much as the public sector could learn from private sector efficiency and less waste.
Q: Would you like Carmarthenshire County Council to be merged with Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion or with councils to the East like Swansea? What would the benefits of a merger be? What would the downside of a merger be?
A: I think if we do merge, I think it would make more sense to merge westwards with Pembrokeshire. If the old Dyfed does return then without a reform of the Town and Community sector to provide local services more locally then Dyfed would be seen as too remote.
I think if we did merge with Swansea Council then that would be a disaster for Llanelli as we would be the smaller, neglected town subservient to the large City. Llanelli would be the largest Town in Dyfed and as I have said many times before, if Llanelli politicians would only work together across the political divide we could throw our weight around more.
Our failure to do this in the past has resulted in us being outmuscled by small rural market towns like Carmarthen and Ammanford.