Slap saves councils

A slap on the wrist for local government minister Brian Gibbons from his senior, the minister for finance and public service delivery Andrew Davies.

There has been quite a lot of quiet talk for some time that 22 councils is too many for Wales – some are too small, such as Merthyr, with only 56,000 people, and that is before you factor in the competencies resulting from the resultant difficulty in attracting good officers.

Dr Gibbons told a BBC show that numbers of councils could be cut if targets were not met within the next four years. Bearing in mind the time needed to affect changes, that almost amounts to the minister drawing out an executioner’s sword and telling the prisoner to start walking towards the block.

Questioned about the effect of such talk on the stability of the system, Mr Davies strongly emphasised “reform” – such as councils working together, changing the culture so that the needs of customers (ie, us) predominates over the interests of the providers (ie, the councils and their workers). “To talk about local government reorganisation is premature.”

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He curtly finished, “Reorganisation does not automatically improve things,” It is true that the last reorganisation in 1996 can be said to have been bungled; it had been planned a few years before by the Welsh Office, and some of the ministers concerned seemed more concerned with establishing as many unitary authorities as possible rather than with how effective they would be.

That explains how there was much talk of Meirionnydd and Llanelli continuing in existence. For Meirionnydd to have survived would have been farcical. But debate about the far more viable Llanelli seemed to have choked off by local Labour interests who seemed far more interested in using the tin town’s voting power to seize control of Carmarthenshire in its entirety.

But talk so far recently has been of getting the system to work better, and placing heavy pressure on areas of partial-failure. A reorganisation would amount to failure by the centre, and ensure local chaos for almost a decade.

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