Plans for Welsh local government reform to be issued in January

7 Nov 16

A blueprint for Welsh councils reform, which will set out more details of plans to pool some services at regional level, will be published early next year, Welsh local government secretary Mark Drakeford has said.

In a speech to the Welsh Local Government Association’s annual conference on 3 November, Drakeford said he would work with councils in the remainder of this year to an agreed action plan.

He said he was “mindful of the fact that we’ve not been able to agree a way forward in the past”, and urged councils to prepare for the harder decisions that lay ahead.

Drakeford has set out plans to retain the 22 single-tier local authorities as the “front door” through which people access services, but with mandatory regional cooperation to cut costs. This will give local authorities more resilience in terms of staffing and finance and ensure that services are planned and delivered on the right scale, Drakeford said, while the government would support voluntarily mergers.

In his speech to the WLGA, Drakeford said he would set out further details of this plan in January, with two models of cooperation proposed – one around city regions for economic development, and one around health boards for education and social services.

“I think we’re all aware that there is a real reputational risk to local government if we can’t move forwards on these proposals. We simply can’t afford to step back. That’s why I will be meeting with you all over the coming weeks so we can reach a consensus by the end of the calendar year,” he said.

“This will be followed by formal consultation in January, concluding before the local government elections next year. If we get the process right, then we’ll be able to move quickly towards a new local government bill that provides local government with the means to address the significant challenges of continuing austerity, rising demand for certain services, higher public expectations and Brexit which lie ahead.”

Implementing such plans would require a cultural shift, he acknowledged, and he urged local authorities to use the next 18 months to think about the future pressures they were going to face.

He highlighted that last month’s local government settlement was intended to provide some much-needed stability in difficult times. The settlement saw the first overall cash increase for the sector since 2013-14, while no individual council will have less than 99.5% of the cash provided to them last year.

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