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.

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