This is a letter which I’ve sent to the public services minister, in the context of the ongoing discussions about local government reorganisation. I hope it will contribute to the debate.
Re: Local Government reorganisation in the west
I am writing to share some of my ideas on a way forward for the reorganisation of local government in the west i.e. the former Dyfed. I write this letter as an Assembly Member in the area and the letter is not to be interpreted as representing Plaid Cymru’s views more widely.
There are two principles central to my considerations in this letter:
1. The need to create a model that reflects the reality of providing services and democracy in a rural area
2. The need to ensure that any reorganisation of local government in the future will strengthen, not dilute, the Welsh language within public administration and reflect the social and economic realities of Welsh-language communities.
Firstly, I will refer to the recommendations of the Williams report, namely to recreate the former Dyfed County or to merge Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion and retain Carmarthenshire. I have already stated my opposition to merging Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion – on the basis of the distance and lack of any meaningful connection between main centres, such as Aberystwyth and Haverfordwest and Pembroke Dock. This option would also run the risk of diluting the Welsh language in both public administration and service provision in the area.
The alternative Williams option (Dyfed) is more economically and linguistically coherent. In considering these two options alone, then the option of Dyfed is preferable to the option of Ceredigion-Pembrokeshire. However, like others, I worry the council would be dominated by the more populated and urban areas along the M4 – A40 corridor, to the detriment of more rural issues. That was certainly the experience of those who experienced the previous Dyfed County Council.
Ceredigion County Council’s view, and Plaid Cymru within that Council, is to keep Ceredigion as a separate entity. I understand why of course – Ceredigion Council’s performance, although small, is one of the best in Wales and in some important aspects, the best in Wales. This is an important consideration and should not be dismissed lightly. All things being equal, I would support keeping Ceredigion County Council in its present form. This could be built upon to create a model of co-operation and formal partnership between a number of small, rural co-terminous councils. A Regional Council of this type could be used to provide some services more effectively and strategically across regional areas, while allowing local councils to provide and decide on other services more locally. A Regional Council could be cover the Welsh coastal communities from of Ynys Mon to Carmarthenshire. Alternatively, a Regional Council could include the 4 local councils of Powys, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. Elected councillors from the local councils would form the Regional Council.
I turn now to a new proposal option, and one which I believe deserves consideration and discussion in the context of the west – namely, the division of the former Dyfed between north and south, rather than west and east. To do this, the current boundaries of Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire or Carmarthenshire would not be kept in their present form. Two new counties would be created:
1. Ceredigion in its entirety, North Pembrokeshire and North Carmarthenshire
2. South Carmarthenshire and South Pembrokeshire.
For the purpose of this letter, I’ll call one council area, North Dyfed, and the other, South Dyfed
In effect, North Dyfed Council would include the rural areas around the old market towns and service centres:
If a different decision was to be taken about the future of Powys, then the area around Machynlleth could be added to this new Council. This would include 6 wards from Carmarthenshire, 4 wards from Pembrokeshire, 2 wards from Powys and 42 wards from Ceredigion – a total of 54 wards. The total number of electors would be 76,492 (excluding under 18 year olds)
The advantage of this option would be to create two Councils which better reflect the rural differences and the linguistic differences within the former county of Dyfed. The percentage of Welsh speakers in the north of the former Dyfed is significantly higher than in the south, thus allowing a council to be created that serves and administers primarily in Welsh. I would expect the South Dyfed Council to also operate bilingually. There is a historically and currently close relationship between communities in the upper Tywi and Teifi valleys and also between the Teifi valley and the Preseli. and along the two either side of the Teifi. The Teifi has only ever been an administrative division and the communities co-exist naturally on either sides of the Teifi – in economic, social and educational terms.
If there are to be changes in the boundaries of local councils in the west, then the option to form a North Dyfed and South Dyfed Council are certainly worthy of serious consideration. It is certainly more radical than options discussed so far and, in my opinion, it is more sustainable and representative of the economic and social realities of the area.
I will be sharing this letter to many interested parties in order to stimulate discussion on the proposal.
Elin Jones AM