Constructive dialogue needed to progress council mergers, says National Assembly Committee
An open and constructive dialogue is key to ensuring that any future legislation to merge Wales's local authorities is successful, according to a National Assembly committee.
The Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee has been considering the draft Local Government Wales Bill which, if passed, could lead to a reduction in the number of authorities in Wales from the current 22 to either eight or nine. The Bill would also make changes to the way in which authorities operate.
The Committee acknowledges that the Minister for Public Services, Leighton Andrews AM is keen to progress with the mergers, not least to end the uncertainty faced by local government and in particular, council staff. It emphasises the need for the Minister to continue to engage in open and constructive dialogue with the sector to ensure that the final number and formation of authorities is workable and will be long lasting.
While the Committee recognises the potential for savings to be made as a result of mergers in the medium to long term, it is concerned about the ability of authorities to meet the upfront cost of mergers. It asks the Minister to consider whether repayable grants could be made available to authorities to help them meet these costs.
The Committee also has concerns about the potential impact of council tax harmonisation and pay harmonisation on merged authorities, council tax payers and authority staff.
"The Committee heard evidence to suggest that some form of structural change is necessary within local government," said Christine Chapman AM, Chair of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee.
"We have considered the Minister's proposals contained in the draft Bill which, if taken forward, will dramatically change the structure of local government in Wales. It is therefore important that the Welsh Government continues to engage in open and constructive dialogue to ensure that these changes are workable, enduring and robust."
The Welsh Government's consultation on the draft Bill recently closed and the Minister will be making a statement on progress before the end of this Assembly. Any decision on legislation will be made by the next Assembly.
Report by the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee on the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill (PDF, 553KB)
More information about the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee.