Winners and losers in another Welsh council shake-up

Mike Hedges says another reorganisation of local government could cost some Council Tax payers dear

With the number of senior politicians in both the National Assembly and local government calling for larger authorities, then surely such change is inevitable? Gwynedd Council Leader, Dyfed Edwards, has suggested that the councils in north Wales be reduced from six to two. Russell Goodway, a former leader of South Glamorgan and Cardiff Council, has called for the present 22 unitary authorities to be reorganised along the same boundaries as the seven Local Health Boards.

Former Plaid Cymru Leader and Dwyfor Meirionnydd AM, Dafydd Elis Thomas, has also said that the number of councils in Wales should be reduced to between five and seven.

While politicians are interested in organisation structure, I am sure the average voter is more interested in how much such changes will cost them via their Council Tax. Whilst such a question cannot be answered, what we do know is the band D council tax currently charged in every Welsh Authority. We also know that within any local Authority the Council tax raised by the County or County borough Council has to be the same for all properties in the same council tax band. This means that if Local Authorities are joined together there will be a common Council Tax for each property in each band. A Community Council can levy a charge on top of this so the overall amount payable may vary within an Authority.

Whilst each suggestion involves reducing the number of councils to a number similar to the number of County Councils pre Local government reorganisation there are substantial variations in Council tax between the unitary authorities covering each of the former County Council areas.

In the former West Glamorgan there is a band D Council tax in Swansea for 2013-14 of £1219.72 whilst in Neath Port Talbot it is £1475.59. In the old South Glamorgan Cardiff City Council charges £1119.67 and the Vale of Glamorgan £1206.63. The former Dyfed has Pembrokeshire at £974.36, Ceredigion £1205.47 and Carmarthenshire £1253.71. In Mid Glamorgan, excluding Caerphilly, the figures are Merthyr £1427.60, Rhondda Cynon Taff £1397.91 and Bridgend £1346.83. In Gwent the figures are Blaenau Gwent £1525.90, Torfaen £1246.41, Monmouthshire £1236.47 and Newport £1057.24. Caerphilly which would have to be split between Gwent and Mid Glamorgan to return to the former County Council boundaries charges £1127.86.

Unless substantial efficiency savings can be achieved council tax payers in Newport, Pembrokeshire, Swansea and Caerphilly will all face a substantial Council tax rise in the event of a reorganisation along the lines being contemplated. Conversely Carmarthenshire, Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr and Neath Port Talbot residents should have a reduction in their bills.

Local Government reorganisation will inevitably lead to winners and losers but with gaps of over £200 in band D council tax charges in the former Mid Glamorgan, West Glamorgan and Dyfed but with an over £500 variation in the former  Gwent County Council area some people could end up paying a lot more and others a lot less Council Tax.

Of course, huge increases in efficiency and other savings could mean that no one pays more. However, the three largest Local authorities are not the Councils with the lowest Council Tax so the signs for large savings occurring by creating larger Authorities are not good.

Whilst most people are not taking an interest in the discussions relating to local government reorganisation I believe that unless they start to, the first they will know of what the changes mean to them is when their Council tax bill comes through the letterbox and then it will be too late. This issue is too important to Council Tax payers for them to leave it just to the politicians.

Mike Hedges is Labour AM for Swansea East and a former leader of Swansea County Council.

11 thoughts on “Winners and losers in another Welsh council shake-up

  1. I ran some of the numbers on this and I’m not sure Mr Hedges’ figures are entirely accurate given the distribution of houses across the bandings in each Local Authority.

    Using the Band D figure doesn’t necessarily give an accurate impression of what each current authority raises through Council Tax and similarly what each new ‘Authority’ might need to raise.

  2. This proposal is an admission that the last two re-organisations were failures. It condemns the Labour and Conservative parties, who were responsible, as being useless. Let’s face it (and I had just started working for Cardiff City Council at the time in 1974) they were attempts at political Gerrymandering.

    I am therefore not happy at the prospect of the Labour Party doing yet more Gerrymandering to protect or widen its self-serving Fiefdoms. I would prefer them to try and evolve or, failing that, form some sort of commission that’s not Con or Lab loaded.

    If we do have to re-organise, yet again, let’s get it right.

    I think some Greek philosopher said (I paraphrase) “If you don’t know what you’re doing – re-organise!”

  3. Gwyn
    Actually both reorganisations were brought in by Conservative Governments
    The regions existed as electoral areas for the European Parliament pre the current electoral system , prior to that there were 4 regions I am unable to understand how these regions have a bearing on service provision.

  4. The Welsh government provides revenue support grants to local authorities that make up over 80 per cent of their total income. What is Mike Hedges assuming about that? Obviously if some areas suffer and others benefit from any reorganisation, the Welsh Government can adjust its revenue support grants to cancel that out. Unless the reform actually raises costs, why should anyone suffer?

    What is obvious is that unitary authorities were a mistake. If we only have seven or so “local” authorities in Wales, we’ll need to keep community councils or similar at a truly local level to decide on local things. Why should the citizens of Treorchy have everything decided in Pontypridd or Ystrad Mynach. Don’t forget subsidiarity and local democracy.

  5. What the politicos forget is that an advantage of the present system is that in people feel an attachment to their local councils simply because it works in the “best” interests of the local main town. Cardiff deals only with Cardiff, Swansea with Swansea, Wrexham with Wrexham.

    Everyone forgets that when you had larger councils there are stupid compromises. For example in the old Clwyd Theatre Clwyd as a result was built in Mold and Wrexham felt ignored. As a result a major urban centre was overlooked in favour of a smaller market town.

    A single North Wales council will be a disaster for democracy, stretched as it is in local government. People in Wrexham in all honesty could not care what happens in Amlwch and vice versa. The government would not be local would it.

    There is maybe an argument to merge the smallest councils with a neighbour eg Merthyr but leave the majority alone and councentrate on making certain services shared services, such a social services linked with health board boundaries. Or maybe get neighbouring services to bid to run services in smaller areas.

  6. Mike Hedges

    “Actually both reorganisations were brought in by Conservative Governments”

    True, but by the time is was applied Labour had taken power, Harold Wison having taken power on 4th of March 1974 while the re-organisation actually kicked off on the 1st April 1974 (Apt – April Fools Day). So Labour carried on with it and so cannot fully escape resposibility.

  7. R Tredwyn
    Yes the RSG can be changed but unless more money was added to the system it would not adress the differences within merged councils

    Matt Wiliams
    If you contact me I can provide the raw data. Band D property values are the one’s used to set Council tax and other bands are a % of it (both higher and lower).

    All other bands would be equally affected.

  8. There seem to be a couple of points that have been overlooked. I have been informed that the revaluation of properties has been delayed until 2017 – why? Property values in a significant number of areas have decreased which if the current Band values are applied the funding generated would be considerably less. There is also the point that a Community Council rate levy is also added– in many instances the Community Council is so small the amount raised is almost useless. Should we therefore not only be looking at County reorganization but also a reduction of the 730 Community and Town Councils to improve their effectiveness to potentially take on some of the services that Local Authorities will be dropping if they don’t have a statutory requirement.

  9. How democratic is the current three tier process of electing National assembly, Local Authority and Community Council members- more than 50% of the National Assembly are not elected to represent a constituency and many Community Councils have not held an election for many years and have vacancies. Democracy may give a vote to everyone but it doesn’t necessarily reflect apathy!
    Is one of the reasons why WG have not pushed through for expanding county boundaries at the moment which would in turn probably change the AM constituency boundaries as there could be political change of the landscape at the next election. This is based on reflecting the current Local Authority political membership through to areas in size equivalent of the Health Boards. On the basis of projections this could result in significantly more Independent AMs. Would a Government without an overall majority wish to risk this potential change in political balance?

  10. I believe that ‘representative’ democracy as we know it has come to the end of its useful life. With greater education/wealth and use of personal choices a new form of representation/individual power needs to be invented. Both my children cannot be bothered to vote in ANY form of election and they are not alone. However, as tax payers/contributors to society then its important that such people express their view. With regard to the numbers of local authorities in Wales its clear that the Welsh Government has taken all the policy decisions to itself and other organizations are merely ‘managment’ only. We need/can afford no more than six. They could transfer their actual running to private companies which could bring in management’expertise’ to local services.The salaries paid to chief executives,and then down the line are a joke,and out of line with private sector.

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