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’.

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