Wales

Welsh councils could be cut to six, Leighton Andrews warns

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Media captionLeighton Andrews says councils should focus their money on services rather than bureaucracy

The number of Welsh councils could be cut to as few as six, the public services minister has warned, as he urges them to seek voluntary mergers.

Leighton Andrews has also told local authorities to slash bureaucracy and administration costs as public spending cuts continue to bite.

He has set up an independent review to find where savings can be made.

Councils have warned key services could be "dismantled" due to £146m in budget cuts next year.

The review comes as Wales' 22 councils face a deadline over voluntary merger talks this week.

On Monday evening, Bridgend council voted in favour of merging with the Vale of Glamorgan Council as part of the shake-up.

'Limited resources'

The findings of the administration costs view will be considered during the Welsh government's local government reform plans after the Williams Commission recommended the number of councils be cut to as few as 10.

Mr Andrews has said "significant change" is coming and has indicated that he is open to the idea of cutting the number of local authorities to as few as six.

He said he expected councils to focus "limited resources" on frontline services for the public and trim backroom spending.

Image caption Councils have already been reviewing services such as refuse collection

"This review will enable me and local authorities to compare and contrast expenditure and understand where practice should be changed to move a greater proportion of the spending to delivering services to citizens," he said.

Councils have until Friday to submit their ideas for voluntary merger.

But Andrew Morgan, leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council, warned against "rushing" into reorganisation.

He said his authority was not yet convinced of the case for a recommended merger with Merthyr Tydfil and was seeking talks with five neighbouring councils.

"Just putting blocks on a map together doesn't work - we need to look at the services, the cost base, and the management," he told BBC Radio Wales on Monday.

"If we are to work through this, it needs to be sustainable. We don't want to be rushing just to try and cut some chief executives and find out in a few years that services are starting to fail."

'Distraction'

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Media captionProf Tony Travers said 'fewer councils mean more efficient councils'

Aaron Shotton, leader of Flintshire council, told BBC Radio Wales that organising a merger could cost his authority £10m although neighbouring Wrexham had already rejected the idea.

He said councils were already working hard to cut costs and further savings would be difficult to find.

"Already we've taken out £2.5m of senior management costs this year - you can't repeat that - and we've already set a challenging [savings] target of over £1m of administration costs so it's something we're already doing," he said.

"If we protect social care and education, that leave us with £80m [a year] for everything else that we spend across the council from which we'll have to find £50m [in savings] over the next three years.

"[Reorganisation] is a distraction, a slight red herring - the issue is what can the Welsh government do now to provide a vision for local government and provide flexibilities in order to assist us in the challenge ahead."

Andy Silvester from The TaxPayers' Alliance said: "The minister is spot on that reducing wasteful spending and unnecessary bureaucracy is the way forward.

"Saving money in those areas ensures that frontline services are still delivered for taxpayers."

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