Re-organising Welsh councils

Phil Parry says 22 councils are inhibiting the delivery of services.

The plan to cut the number of Welsh councils from 22 to eight or nine, is controversial.

But perhaps it is right.

The Welsh public services minister Leighton Andrews has been urged to abandon the proposals until after the assembly elections next year.

The Welsh Conservatives local government spokesperson, Janet Finch-Saunders, has described them as a ‘disaster’ and the deputy leader of Flintshire council has even publicly admitted he is considering resigning from the Labour party altogether.

Bernie Attridge said:  “It’s a final nail in the coffin for local government at a time when we’re fighting for our lives to protect frontline services.”

But as one senior Welsh local government official told The Eye:  “We all know it is the right thing to do.

“We can’t go on like this with 22 councils – but if the numbers are cut it will mean we lose our jobs.”

How realistic is it to continue with 22?

How good are frontline services anyway?

I have personal experience.

I recently had to put my elderly mother into a home.

I used all my powers as a journalist to check out the home in Llandogo in Monmouthshire – even to the extent of listening unnoticed to see how the nurses dealt with a particularly obstreperous patient.

They were firm but kind as they persuaded her to get out of the chair, so I knew it was a good place for my mother to spend the rest of her life.

I was also persuaded by a list of acceptable homes checked by the local authority in Monmouthshire.

There was nothing on that list, though, for homes in the next door area covering Newport council, which would have been nearer me in Cardiff.

Newport is, of course, a completely separate local authority with (presumably) different procedures.

While Monmouthshire have partnership agreements and links over acceptable homes there is not the same level of information provided for anxious relatives across authority boundaries.

It is a problem not confined to Wales.

In November problems with a plethora of smaller councils for Wales’ English Midlands neighbour came to a head.

A combined West Midlands ‘super council’ was proposed, forming an alliance between Birmingham City Council, Walsall, Sandwell, Wolverhampton and Dudley authorities was proposed.

These five councils serve a combined population of 3.4 million people (Wales is under 3.1 million).

Solihull and Coventry authorities were also invited to join.

How does the number of councils in Wales affect business?

There is a Welsh government ‘one stop shop’ offering details about 15,000 ‘SMEs’ (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises), which brings together crucial information for businesses wanting to create jobs in Wales.

But the 22 councils in Wales remains daunting for businesses wanting to set up in Wales and I have personally heard managers complaining about the number of councils.

They say they cannot recommend to their overseas bosses that Wales should be a destination for investment as a result.

Earlier this month the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Sarah Rochira said the UK legal system is failing older people and perpetuating abuse.

She called for the law to be changed making it easier to prosecute those who abuse or neglect older people, or those who allow it to happen.

But the system we have now, where older people and their families are not always provided with critical information in a neighbouring authority, is also failing and surely that is a form of abuse.

Phil Parry is Editor of the investigative website, ‘The Eye’. Formerly known as ‘Wales Eye’.

8 thoughts on “Re-organising Welsh councils

  1. If Leighton Andrews were to deal with this particular issue prior to Assembly elections he would move up a notch in my estimation. It would show a bit of backbone and willingness to grasp problems when they needed fixing (alright 10 years after they needed fixing!) not just when politically expedient. We have already seen with Universities that he doesn’t mind a punch up ! He might be out of a job next year so lets get the job done now.

  2. Honestly is this sort of fact-free, anecdotal analysis the best that the IWA can muster? You are supposed to be Wales’s premier think tank, not a forum for articulating bar room prejudice. Phil Parry has a bad experience with his mother in care-home, therefore, let’s spend millions and reorganise local government? I recently had an appalling experience with my Local Health Board in North Wales which happens to be the largest public sector body in the country. Can Phil please add that to his list?

    Is Parry seriously saying that the number of councils has an impact on growth from companies outside Wales? Why then is the First Minister talking about record current inward investment figures. Again where is the actual empirical evidence to support this other than Phil has spoken to a couple of grumpy mates.

    Finally, the section on the West Midlands combined authority makes no sense either in the context of this piece or as a factual statement. Having done a quick Google search it seems that it will be up and running in a year. The argument appears to be whether it will have an elected mayor or not.

    I personally support a reduction in the number of councils and thought the Williams Report option of 12 about right. On the other hand after reading this piece I am almost persuaded to support 23 councils. The IWA really does its reputation no credit whatsoever with this approach of publishing such a poor quality, anecdotal and badly written articles.

  3. I wouldn’t hold your breath on ANY form of a)reorganization of local government,b)building M4 relief road around Newport,c)City regions et al!!.We have created an organization that seems very poor at grabbing hold of major problems and implementing necessary changes,particularly where it affects the ‘paid’ members of LLafur,and approved people on quangos!!.The only real hope is to abolish WAG and reintegrate this region of UK into naturally connected parts of England.It wont happen as BBC Wales wouldn’t allow it as its part of process of separating us from the UK as a whole.

  4. Regarding Local Government Re organisation, I feel this presents an opportunity to resolve the anomalies caused with the break up of the former Clwyd County Council, namely the decision to transfer the whole of the former Glyndwr District to Denbighshire, any new configuration should put the Llangollen urban area within Wrexham/Wrecsam which is its nearest large town, I would have thought that Corwen as part of the pre 1974 Mewrioneth/Merionydd should be reunited with that former county and become a constituent of Gwynnedd. I am also strongly of the view that the entire resort area of North Wales should be administered as one authority and that the artificial divide between Rhyl and it’s de-factor satellites in Conwy at Kimnel Bay and Towyn should be administered together,(most holiday makers to the many chalet parks are unable to differentiate these far east wards in Conwy County Borough from Denbighshire’s largest town). The last re organisation removed the artificial boundary, between Colwyn Bay and Llandudno, it is time to remove the final hurdle to a North Wales Coastal authority; which to the visitor is all one large urban area, linked together by the railway line and a high frequency semi metropolitan Bus Network!

  5. It bothers me that there is still the common mentality that big is more efficient, therefore bettter, in all types of organisations. It’s just not true.

    However, there’s no formula, that I know of, that can define at what size an organisation is at its most efficient. The only way is suck it and see and have the sense to realise when you’ve gone too far,

    It was some Greek philosipher who said that when a manager doesn’t know what he (or she) is doing they reorganise.

    It’s concerning that the current proposals go back to a structure of local government that did not work very well. There does not seem to be any data for the basis of this reoganisation. Just like the previous ones.

    Anybody who has training in organisational structures and systems is aware of the problems of the “big bang” approach – that is, it usually fails and is followed by another “big bang” which fails, etc.

    It may be a revolutionary proposition, and not fitting Labour (or Conservative) authoritarianism, but may I suggest evolution rather than revolution. The latter causes a repeated mess and usually ands up with the same lousy system you started with, but with different faces that are just as bad as the previous ones.

  6. There are a number of flaws in the arguments of Phil Parry. There is an assumption that if we merge a number of small local authorities then the new large local authority will adopt the practice of what we consider to be the best performing small authority. There is no evidence to support this assumption; the merged authority might have every incentive to adopt the practice of the worst performing small authority.

    The advantage of a large number of small authorities is that they can develop differently and test what works best. Large authorities tend not to compare themselves with others and slump into slumbering passivity.

    There is much that local authorities have been doing to share activities with each other. They should do more. I provided evidence on this which is available on the Welsh Government website as evidence to the Williams Commission. Developing further a programme of shared activity between the existing local authorities would be a far more effective use of scarce public money than a wholesale reorganisation.

    Businesses want a range of different relationships with government. Most of the time they want to operate in a well maintained attractive local environment with the grass cut, litter collected, and pavements mended. They sometimes want relationships with local schools and colleges. They would like a partnership with government in which they can market a whole region, or the whole nation as a place to do business. They want and need multi-level government which offers them different points of access for different needs.

    I have reflecting on the issues of large and small local authorities for some time see

  7. Gwyn is absolutely right BIG is not an answer and in my view Wales needs an efficient and transparent local governance within the current boundaries.

    Equally it must be free of political dogma and free of ‘Welsh Language Essential’ that needs to be replaced with ‘Provide Welsh Lang services whenever practical & reasonable.

    Wales is not a Bilingual nation and Welsh language imposition is draining public funds and bringing incompetence in many cases!

    No doubt I’ll be shot as usual for my ‘irreverent views but a relationship with reason should matter in any open and free society?

  8. Wales needs just one national body and more input from the general public and less influence from business, lobbying groups and quangos. The cost of government to the public in wales is massive and needs to be cut drastically. Wales has a population less than the size of birmingham who have one council a few mps and a fraction of the councillors of that of all wales.
    The biggest challenge thoug is to take power from the gvernment and give it to the public. Of course all the so called politicos and their parties talk a good fight on tis, but what they mean is that they want to seize all the pwer in wales from the uk government. Thereby swapping one lot of out of touch dictators for a new local lot of dictators.

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