Welsh local government minister ‘open minded’ on funding reform

30 Nov 16
The Welsh local government minister has told Public Finance he is “open minded” about how funding might change to accommodate planned reforms to the sector that would pool some services at a regional level.

Mark Drakeford, who took on the local government and finance portfolio following the Welsh Assembly elections earlier this year, is attempting to find a way forward on reform after proposals to slash the number of councils in Wales were blocked by both the sector and Assembly members.

Speaking to PF, Drakeford stressed that he had been listening to and engaging with local government and other parties to try to find a mutually acceptable compromise.

“You’ve got to work with local government to create consensus and you’ve got to work with other parties in the national assembly to share ideas, develop possibilities and, as much as possible, craft some consensus,” he said.

Following a summer of consultation, Drakeford made a statement to the Welsh Assembly on 4 October proposing to retain the 22 local authorities in Wales as a “front door” through which citizens would access services. Behind this, some services would be pooled at a regional level.

“We’ve got two city regions in Wales [Cardiff City and Swansea Bay], we want to use those big building blocks to discharge regional development, regional transport and regional land use planning.

“And in the footprints of our [seven] health boards we would consolidate to discharge social services, education improvement services an public protection services,” Drakeford said.

The minister told PF that details on funding had yet to be nailed down as the Welsh government and its stakeholders were still in an “intense period of discussion”.

“One of the questions is how funding will flow through the system, whether we ought to fund directly to the regional tier, or whether funding should flow to the 22 [local authorities] and then be pooled upwards,” he told PF.

“In either case, and I’m open minded on the views put to me, but what I am saying to colleagues is once we’ve agreed on the right way of doing it, then we will underpin that arrangement in any legislation that we bring forward so there will be a book of roles that governs those new financial flows.”

Drakeford confirmed that he was keen to go out to public consultation in January, concluding that process before the Welsh local government elections in April.

“If we are in good shape at the end of that then I would be in the strongest position to argue for a place in the Welsh government’s legislative programme in the second year of this assembly term,” he said.

“You’ve got to have a good argument to get your Bill on the list and I need help from local government colleagues to strengthen my hand to say ‘we’ve got a deal, we’ve got a way forward, now I need to be able to legislate to make that happen’.”

On relations with the local government sector in Wales, Drakeford acknowledged that the stalemate over the past three years had been “corrosive in a number of ways”.

He added: “We all ought to be able to make the compromises...that are inevitable if we’re going to agree a way forward. The prize is one worth having, and so far I’ve been very encouraged be people’s willingness to recognise that.”

  • Vivienne Russell
    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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