A recent commission set up by the Welsh First Minister has concluded the number of local authorities in Wales should be halved as part of “urgent and radical action” needed to protect public services. Under the proposals, some councils would merge, which would reduce the number from 22 to between 10 and 12. The commission said the changes to the structure of local government are so crucial, they should be agreed by Easter at the latest. The report takes a detailed look at all public services and makes 60 recommendations.
It states: “Public services simply cannot cope with these pressures in their present form and the way in which they operate. In particular, it does not reflect criticism on our public servants providing valuable public services on the front line. As other governments around the world have recognised, radical change is needed for public services to survive in a viable and sustainable form and to become the kind of public service that is fit for the future.
“The problems we have found are inherent in the systems, processes and culture of the public sector as it stands. They are interdependent and mutually reinforcing – and therefore they demand equally interlinked solutions. So we are very clear that our recommendations must be implemented as a whole. We urge the Welsh Government, the National Assembly for Wales and the wider public sector to respond accordingly: to embrace the need for a programme of change and to make it happen as quickly and effectively as possible. There must be no picking and choosing among our recommendations, no complacency and no allocation of blame. We accept that change will not be easy. But the alternative is far worse.”
The recommendations have been met with fears of diminished local identity and accountability, as well as job losses. In Scotland, Local Government Minister Derek Mackay has often reassured councils that the Scottish Government is not, at present, planning to reduce the number of local authorities. But as commissions agonise over what’s best for local government, let’s hope those in charge can keep in mind the people who would be affected by any sweeping changes. Councils are often an essential source of help for our most vulnerable citizens and we must keep it that way.