LAST week Leighton Andrews, Public Services Minister for Wales, published the Welsh Government’s preferred plans for redrawing the map of local government in Wales. The plans unveiled had been well trailed and boil down to recreating the large unitary authorities that were part of the Welsh civic and political landscape for 22 years up to 1996.
In Wales’ fiercely independent west, the vision presented by the Welsh Government means recreating Dyfed. It appears, however, that the Welsh Government faces not only an uphill battle to get its reorganisation plans accepted by grassroots councillors, but also a stiff challenge to the prospect of even getting them on the statute book at all.
Council l eaders speak out
The issue highlighted by all of West Wales’ council leaders is that of cost and the threat to local accountability.
Cllr Ellen ap Gwynn, Leader of Ceredigion County Council, said: “Ceredigion County Council has previously voted unanimously against any merger proposals; this stance remains unchanged. Merging with any other authority would weaken local accountability, and so it is in the county’s citizens’ best interests to retain the sovereignty of Ceredigion. As the WLGA has recommended, local accountability would be best served by employing a combined authority model, which would consist of Ceredigion, Powys and Carmarthenshire cooperating on common strategic matters – an arrangement which would also negate any democratic deficit. Ceredigion remains committed to cooperate with other Councils to share resources and expertise in order to secure the most efficient and effective services possible. Bearing in mind that the Council has already made savings of £25 million over the past three years and needs to make similar savings over the next three years, concentrating on these proposals does not offer any benefits for the people of the county. It would be much better to see the estimated £268m cost of these proposals being spent on local services, rather than taking an empty, expensive step back in time.”
In a press statement last week, Cllr Emlyn Dole, Leader of Carmarthenshire, offered a more poetic view of the situation: “We have in Carmarthenshire a distinctiveness in culture, language and heritage – these are precious, and ours to retain and nurture. To that end, I firmly believe that Carmarthenshire should stand alone as a local authority in any future reorganisation of local government. One of my last acts as leader of the opposition on Carmarthenshire County Council, before becoming Leader, was to put down a motion on notice making this very point. I also put to council that maintaining our status as a county and an area authority offers us the best opportunity to safeguard and improve our services, and enables us to continue with the regeneration of our local economy. I was pleased to see cross party support, with all members – bar one – giving their full support. Having said that, I am not an inflexible Leader, and I will listen to all arguments for and against – indeed I do merit regional working arrangements.”
Cllr Jamie Adams, Leader of Pembrokeshire, was equally keen on retaining the distinctiveness of his county: “Seeing the maps for the first time, it is difficult to comment without some explanation of the rationale behind it. My position has always been: will the change improve the services we deliver to the public while at the same time reducing costs? If it doesn’t tick those two boxes, I think it is right to question the validity of this exercise. Apart from the obvious loss of local decision-making and accountability, I also have concerns about the real damage reorganisation could do to a very successful brand. I am referring to the Pembrokeshire name which is instantly recognisable to those living far outside our County and even beyond Wales. A large number of local businesses in tourism, agriculture, food and energy depend on, and identify strongly, with brand Pembrokeshire for their livelihood. I fear they will inevitably suffer if amalgamation goes ahead and in these trying times I believe it would be foolish to gamble with the health of our local economy.”
Big is beautiful ,but not always
There is no doubt that bigger authorities are better able to administer some key local government services. Strategic planning and transport, education and social services all demand scale. Size can bring vision, specialist expertise and economy and flexibility in the use of resources. For these services, big is beautiful and a reduction in the number of local authorities is right. It might even be that 8 or 9 authorities are too many, particularly in respect of strategic planning and transport.
But sometimes small is beautiful as well. Local authorities ought to be more than just the deliverers of services, and councils that don’t obviously connect with the places they serve struggle to be civic leaders and place-makers. The performance of Wales’ biggest councils also shows that big isn’t necessarily better.
Despite the clarion calls of the city-region lobby, most of Wales consists of small towns and villages, and we ignore the governance and provision of services in these communities at our peril. It remains to be seen if the proposed role for town and community councils will fill this gap.
Plaid Cymru has tapped into this picture with its own proposals for reorganisation. Plaid’s response is to create regional consortia to deliver the services identified above, while retaining a direct link with the local electorate by retaining other services at the existing county level. In a debate in the Senedd, Carwyn Jones di smi s sed this plan as ‘creating seven new quangos’, but Plaid’s policy seems to bear remarkable similarities to that favoured by the Welsh Local Government Association.
Cllr Bob Wellington CBE, Labour leader of Torfaen and head of the WLGA, says: “The sustainability of authorities in Wales is in question over the next three years and it is time to examine all options for reforming public services across the board. This means looking at greater integration of health and social care, freeing up authorities from Government bureaucracy and regulation and also empowering local communities through their councils.”
As Mike Hedges AM, presciently wrote in a paper for the Bevan Foundation: ‘The last 40 years have seen two reorganisations, the creation of the National Assembly for Wales and services such as water, post-16 education and Magistrates’ courts being taken out of local authority control. After almost a hundred years with a stable structure, Local government in Wales was reorganised into county and district Councils in 1974 and further reorganised into 22 unitary authorities in 1996. If we continue changing local government structures every 22 years then we are due an Act in 2016 and a new structure in place by 2018’.
The case for reform
Not all visions of reorganisation are as apocalyptic as those offered by local government leaders. Wales Politico carries an article which cites two unnamed senior council officials as accepting that the need and case for reorganisation is overwhelming. The article quotes a South Wales officer as saying: “Everyone in local government knows it is the correct decision. But obviously we can’t say that publicly, because so many jobs will go – including our own.”
Writing in Click on Wales, Geraint Talfarn Davies goes as far to say that: “Fewer larger counties should entail a rejuvenation of this bottom tier, in ways that would encourage really local action. It has been the missing dimension in the debate. Those who want to see real local engagement should opt for fewer councils at the top and genuinely local entities at the very bottom, even more local than the existing councils. The message from a public that seems increasingly more concerned by quality of delivery than by democratic form is, for God’s sake get on with it, do it better, get results.”
Describing the progress of the reforms as ‘snail-paced’ and ‘ham-fisted’, The Daily Wales observed: ‘The reality is that just as turkeys will never vote for Christmas, local authority leaders will never vote for their own abolition’.
Whatever the future holds for Welsh local government, it seems that – with no hope of getting legislation through before 2016’s Assembly elections – the debate is going to run and run.
The question is, who will blink first?
New Quay RNLI crew members pass out as ILB helms
NEW QUAY RNLI crew members Huw Williams and Dylan Price recently passed out as inshore lifeboat helms.
They were put through their paces by an RNLI Assessor on Monday (Aug 13) with a written exam ashore and a practical assessment afloat on the D class inshore lifeboat.
Roger Couch, Lifeboat Operation Manager of New Quay RNLI said: “As well as responding to emergencies our volunteer crew members spend a lot of time training in order to maintain their knowledge and skills.
“Both crew members have worked very hard over the past 12 months to complete all the training units needed and have now passed the final stage.
“Our lifeboats are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year round and having seven qualified helms for our inshore lifeboat provides us with additional flexibility.”
Huw Williams added:“Dylan and I would like to thank all the crew here at New Quay lifeboat station for their help over the last 12 months. We could not have done it without their support.”
Schools succeed in A-Level results
A-LEVEL examination results published yesterday(16 August) by the WJEC indicate that high standards are being achieved in Ceredigion schools.
Councillor Catrin Miles, Cabinet member with responsibility for Learning Services said: “Our sincere congratulations are extended to Ceredigion sixth form students who, once again have excelled in their A Levels. Thank you to all school staff, Governors and parents who have supported our young people to fulfil their potential.
“Their successes are a testament to our pupils’ efforts and hard work, in addition to the quality of education provided by teachers in Ceredigion. We are proud of the well-deserved achievements of our young people and wish them well in the future.”
Nearly 27% of Ceredigion entries achieved A* – A grades and 77% of entries achieved A*- C grades. A pass rate of 98% was achieved by Ceredigion students.
|Grade A* – A||26.8%||26.3%|
|Grade A* – B||56.7%||n/a|
|Grade A* – C||77.1%||n/a|
|Grade A* – E||97.8%||97.4%|
Compared with last year, 6% more of Ceredigion entries achieved A*-A grades. The number of entries that have achieved A*-A, and A*-E in Ceredigion is higher than the Welsh average.
Man assaulted nurses while being restrained
A PRE-SENTENCE report will be prepared on a Ceredigion man who assaulted two nurses and destroyed an extractor fan.
Lewis Hill, aged 24, of Brynhoffnant, appeared before Haverfordwest Magistrates Court on Tuesday (Aug 14) to plead guilty to the three charges.
Prosecuting, Mr Vaughan Pritchard-Jones told the Court: “At 11pm in the evening on January 30, the defendant was on the roof of Bronglais Hospital threatening to jump off. Police and medical personnel attended and were able to talk him down.
“He was taken to the Cwm Seren ward in St Davids Park, Carmarthen, where they arrived at 1:03am the following morning. During the course of being assessed he became aggressive and had to be restrained by staff. He kicked out at the first nurse and was then put on the floor.
“Whilst on the floor he was throwing his head back and forth and the staff nurse, who was concerned for him, tried to hold his head but he continued to throw his head and because of the force he was using he trapped her finger onto the floor.
“The charge did originally read as common assault but the nurse went to get her finger x-rayed which revealed the fracture.
“After that incident he got free and he started damaging an extractor fan which he completely destroyed.
“I am not sure why the case has taken so long to come here but at the time of the offence he was on a suspended prison sentence, the period for which has now elapsed.”
Defending, Mrs Katie Hanson added: “He is extremely sorry for his actions on that night. He was on the roof of Bronglais Hospital trying to commit suicide. There are serious mental health issues but he accepts he was struggling on the floor but he did not intentionally hurt anyone and he apologises for his actions.”
Magistrates ordered that a pre-sentence report be prepared and Hill was released on unconditional bail and must return to court on Wednesday, August 29 for sentencing.
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