Today, the Welsh Government has announced plans which could see local authorities merged into eight councils. Under the plans, Ceredigion would be merged with Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, in an arrangement similar to the old Dyfed County Council.
The plans announced by the Public Services Minister are an amended version of the plans in the Williams Commission Report for 10-12 merged councils, and have already been severely criticised by many within his own party.
I fear that we’re in danger of a botched reorganisation of local government, which will distract councils at a time when they’re coping with serious cuts, and won’t deal with major challenges such as integrating health and social care.
By just merging the existing local authorities, these plans miss an opportunity to engage with real reform. There are an immense number of regional public bodies, operating on different boundaries, dealing with such issues as health, fire, education and much more besides. Many of these could be made more accountable, and reforming them would help to integrate key functions such as health and social services.
Plaid Cymru’s alternative plans would aim at better integration and accountability for regional services, abolishing educational consortia, reforming health boards and pooling back office functions, without forcing councils through a reorganisation at a time of cuts, and without increasing the numbers of councillors or officers.
Merging the three counties of south-west Wales back into Dyfed, while leaving the broader problems unaddressed, is unlikely to be a good deal for Ceredigion.
The Labour Welsh Government needs to re-think these proposals. They’re a recipe for chaos, and voters will have the chance to pass judgement on them next May.