Local government shake-up unlikely any time soon

Gareth Hughes analyses what divides the parties over the Williams Commission’s recommendations


Local Government reform as advocated by the Williams Commission this week is not going to happen anytime soon. Why? Because it’s unlikely that the political parties in the Assembly can agree a way forward this side of the Assembly elections.



Ruth Dineen makes the case for a member-led Co-Production Network to implement the Williams Commission agenda.

The William’s commission’s report set an ambitious time limit: “The Welsh Government, local authorities and key stakeholders must agree the programme arrangements for mergers by Easter 2014 at the latest.” But although First Minister Carwyn Jones thinks this is a realistic target, it’s unlikely that the Assembly political parties will get their collective act together to meet the timetable..

There are too many points of principle that divide the parties. For instance the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru are wedded to a system of Single Transferrable Votes (STV). However, Carwyn Jones would have great difficulty getting his party to agree such a system for electing councillors.

For the Welsh Liberal Democrats Peter Black AM says that whilst they support reducing the number of councils it should be about a lot more. His party is calling for a wholesale change on how local government works in Wales and wants the councils to gain more powers and responsibility. He wants the Welsh Government to devolve some of its powers to Councils. Bit the idea of Carwyn Jones’s government losing some of its powers is difficult to envisage.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew R.T. Davies AM went further and said it really wasn’t about the structure at all but how best to deliver services in an efficient and cost effective way. In his weekly press conference he seemed very cool about the Williams Commission. He wants Carwyn Jones to bring forward a considered and informed response setting out his intentions. Nonetheless, my impression is that there is unlikely to be a meeting of minds between the government and the leader of the opposition.

A similar view came from Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Local Government Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas. “Any major reform needs decisive Government leadership,” he said. “The Welsh Government needs to take direct action to outline which of these options is the best way forward, how costs will be met, and the implications for frontline staff.”

While all parties agree that the status quo and keeping things exactly as they are is not an option, it’s clear they all have many different views about the way forward. All will now consult their respective parties and more importantly their local councillors. But it’s unlikely that sweetness and light will emerge from such a consultation.

The likely result is that all the political parties will have proposals about reform in their manifestos for the 2016 election and then formal proposals will be put forward. Legislation will then have to be passed. It’s unlikely that Wales will vote for new Councils much before 2018.

Gareth Hughes is a political commentator. This blog first appeared on Gareth's blog (http://welshpolitics.co.uk/2014/01/reform-but-not-just-yet/).