Wales politics

Dismay at council merger rejections by Leighton Andrews

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Media captionTory leader Andrew RT Davies claims ministers 'don't have a clue' on mergers

Leaders of Welsh councils which have volunteered to merge have said they are disappointed by the rejection of their plans by the public services minister.

Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen, Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan, and Conwy and Denbighshire had proposed pairing up.

However, Leighton Andrews said he was "not persuaded" the councils had set out a "compelling vision" for merger.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has called for assembly party leaders to meet to agree a new map for local government.

He told AMs the Williams Commission recommendation of cutting the 22 Welsh councils to between 10 and 12 was still the "preferred option".

However, Mr Andrews has previously suggested some Labour figures would like the number cut to six.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies claimed ministers "don't have a clue" of where they want to go with council reorganisation.

'Fundamental reform'

The decision to reject the voluntary mergers came after a study of proposals submitted by six of the 22 councils at the end of November.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Andrews said: "I am disappointed to report that on the basis of this assessment I am not persuaded that any one of these Expressions of Interest sufficiently meets the criteria for moving ahead to prepare a full Voluntary Merger Proposal."

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Media captionThe move to merge councils follows a review of local government in Wales

He later told assembly members in the Senedd that he was looking for "fundamental reform" of local government, not the creation of "bigger councils going about their business in the same way".

Denbighshire council leader Hugh Evans said the authority was "astounded" by the announcement and felt the minister had "missed a real opportunity".

Vale of Glamorgan council leader Neil Moore said he was "deeply saddened" at the rejection of the plan to merge with Bridgend, whose leader Mel Nott said it was "extremely disappointing news".

'Hell bent'

Conservative shadow local government minister Janet Finch-Saunders said the "astounding" development was "another symptom of Labour's haphazard, uncertain approach to managing local government in Wales".

Plaid Cymru spokesman Rhodri Glyn Thomas said Mr Andrews "clearly has other plans" and called on him to "come clean with the assembly and tell us what exactly his plan is".

Liberal Democrat Peter Black said Labour seemed "hell bent on ignoring local democracy and ploughing ahead with their preferred combinations at all costs".

A bill outlining the process for voluntary council mergers was published by Mr Andrews on Monday, who promised a white paper on council reorganisation next week.

Analysis: BBC Wales political editor Nick Servini

Is Williams dead?

Last year the Williams Commission recommended that the existing 22 councils should be reduced by around half through a series of mergers.

It was actually a small part of the report but inevitably it generated the most attention.

Since then the Welsh government has been urging council leaders to take control of their own destinies and look to merge with a neighbour.

This decision throws that strategy into doubt.

Leighton Andrews indicated last year that there are "well known" figures in Welsh Labour who want as few as six councils.

It would suggest the proposals were thrown out because the new authorities would not have been big enough.

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