Wales politics

Forced council mergers 'irresponsible' at time of cost-cutting - AM

Mark Isherwood
Image caption Mark Isherwood said the proposed changes might not produce the wanted outcome

Forcing councils to merge would be "grossly irresponsible" because of the cost at a time of spending cuts, a Conservative shadow minister has said.

Mark Isherwood AM, the Tory communities frontbencher, said the Welsh government had "completely failed" to assess how much reorganisation would cost.

The Welsh government wants to reduce the number of councils from 22.

There are plans to cut the number to 12 through a series of voluntary mergers, but ministers could go further.

Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews, who is overseeing the process, says some in the Labour party would like to see as few as six councils.

The Williams Commission - which proposed cutting the number of councils - estimated mergers could save £60m to £80m per year after an upfront cost of £100m.

But in work commissioned by local councils themselves, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) found the upfront costs of reorganisation could range between £160m and £268m, followed by annual savings of £65m.

'Change is necessary'

Responding to the CIPFA report, North Wales AM Mr Isherwood told BBC Sunday Politics Wales: "It's quite clear that to force councils to merge now would be grossly irresponsible and simply add to their costs.

"Until we've had a proper examination of the cost implications of those mergers - which the Welsh government has completely failed to do - we shouldn't be forcing them down a road that might not produce the outcomes we all want."

Labour AM John Griffiths, a former cabinet minister, said: "There are very few people in Wales that think that 22 local authorities is the optimum number in terms of efficiency and effectiveness in use of money and in terms of service delivery".

"So I think change is necessary, but obviously there's a big debate to be had in terms of the actual configuration and the shape that change will take."

A deadline for councils to express an interest in voluntary mergers passed on Friday with only six of the 22 councils naming preferred partners.

They are include Conwy and Denbighshire, Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend and Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen.

The Welsh government has said it will respond to the suggested mergers on 5 January.

Responding to the CIPFA findings last week, the Welsh government said the case for change in local government was "compelling and widely accepted".

A spokesman added: "We simply cannot afford to miss this opportunity to change the shape of our councils and to drive funding into improving frontline services.

"There is a significant cost to doing nothing."

More on this story