As forecast by PDN last month, the Welsh Labour Government’s local councils supremo Mark Drakeford has now officially dropped plans to merge the Vale of Glamorgan Council with Cardiff Council.
Until now the Welsh Labour Government had been attempting to implement the recommendations of a report it had commissioned from Sir Paul Williams – the so-called “Williams Report” – which had advised that the existing 22 councils in Wales be reduced to ” 8 or 9” through a series of mergers.
The Labour-run Vale of Glamorgan Council had however, resisted the recommendations in the Williams Report that it should be merged with Labour-run Cardiff Council – putting it at odds with the Labour-run Welsh Government.
But then came the Welsh Assembly elections in May this year in which the man leading the charge to force the councils to merge – Assembly Member Leighton Andrews – lost his safe Labour seat to Plaid Cymru .
- The Labour Party failed to win a majority in the Assembly – and failed to get Labour Leader Carwyn Jones automatically re-elected as First Minister when – evidently to his discomfiture – Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood attracted an equal number of the votes of Assembly Members, making the outcome a tie.
- A coalition deal was then stitched together with the LibDems’ single remaining AM – Kirsty Williams – which enabled Labour to form a government as the largest party, but it meant that the council merger plans were put on hold.
Now, however, Drakeford says all 22 councils in Wales will – instead of being merged down to “8 or 9″ – be asked to “work together” to improve public services , although the option of “voluntary mergers” will be made available to them . Drakeford said he was setting out on a “shared service journey” with a “new determination”.
He sees a “two-footprint” model for local authorities – some occupying a “city region” and the others covering territory already served be specific health boards – but his comments were generalised and not specific.
Drakeford also announced that he will carry out a independent review of the role of town councils – like Penarth Town Council and community councils . He said there was enormous variability in this tier of local government and he is to commission the production of a blueprint to get the maximum out of town and community councils. He is also to enact what he called “a series of immediate arrangements to help town councils – as they exist today – to become more effective “
Commenting on today’s 180 degree U-Turn by the Welsh Government on its council merger plan, Conservative AM Janet Finch-Saunders said: “We were pleased to see the Welsh Government abandoning plans to force councils to merge, but the next steps must be properly thought through – not rushed out without due consideration.
She said of the Welsh Labour Government – “once again they’re doing things the wrong way around.”
The Conservatives claimed Labour’s climb-down was really down to its enforced pact with Plaid Cymru – the alliance which enabled Labour to retain power in the Welsh Assembly.
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Member for Local Government , Sian Gwenllian said tonight she was pleased that Drakeford had “confirmed that he will perform a U-turn by scrapping Labour’s plans to force unpopular mergers and to maintain the 22 authorities.”
She said “Plaid Cymru wanted to see councils co-operate under a regional model, and to be charged with planning strategically for services, education, transport and the integration of health and social care. However, the government’s plans as announced today on integrating Health and Social Care are not clear. Plaid Cymru wants to see them developed further in order to deliver a seamless service for patients.”
Plaid also says the Welsh Labour Government will need to “outline where democratic accountability lies within the new system, and much consideration needs to be given to this as the plans progress.”