Wales politics

Council reform plans to be rewritten, Mark Drakeford says

Cardiff
Image caption Councils have co-operated on regional projects such as the £1.2bn Cardiff city deal

A planned shake-up of Welsh councils is to be redrawn by the autumn, the new local government secretary has said.

Mark Drakeford said the plan to cut the 22 councils to eight or nine had gone.

In his first interview since taking up the post, he told the BBC's Sunday Politics Wales he was looking for a "wider sort of conversation".

Bob Wellington, leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, said it was time to "move on" from mergers and look at other efficiency solutions.

The merger plan faced criticism from opposition parties in the assembly, and from Labour council leaders who felt they could save money by working more closely.

Leighton Andrews, the former public services minister promoting the shake-up, lost his seat at the election in May.

He had told an assembly committee in February "people need to grow up" and reach agreement on the matter.

Image caption Mark Drakeford says there is more to local government reform than 'lines on a map'

First Minister Carwyn Jones has since said the proposals would have to be revisited to gain enough support across the assembly.

Mr Drakeford told BBC Wales he was "not committed to any particular solution... we've got to be prepared to have a wider sort of conversation".

"People are very willing to agree that there are challenges facing local government that have to be faced up to and have to be solved," he said.

"Lines on a map is part of it, but only one part of it.

"The reality is that we couldn't in the last assembly - and we know that we couldn't in this assembly - summon the votes together to put that map into legislation.

"We must accommodate ourselves to that reality and find a different way forward."

Mr Drakeford said he wanted to have a new plan drawn up by the autumn.

Janet Finch-Saunders AM, Welsh Conservative spokesperson for local government, said it was "a step in the right direction, but when exactly he intends to announce these plans remains unclear".

She said: "Any plans going forward must be declared as soon as possible with maximum transparency, and need to be done in consultation with all parties, key stakeholders and - above all - local communities."

Speaking for the councils, Mr Wellington said: "The map is gone, let's now join together again and look for new solutions."

Andrew Morgan, leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf council, pointed to the success of councils co-operating on regional projects such as the £1.2bn Cardiff city deal for investment in transport and infrastructure.

He said such schemes could provide "vast benefits without the cost of reorganisation".

Image caption The plan to cut 22 councils to eight or nine proved controversial

Newport council leader Debbie Wilcox said: "Clearly we won't end up with the same model as we have now.

"There will be changes and there will be rationalisation and there will be some structural change, but not this whole scale 'throwing the baby out with the bath water' and the map as it was."

Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea council, told the programme his authority would still be open to merger "for the right reasons".

He added that he was looking forward to working with Mr Drakeford.

"He's somebody we feel we can talk through a detailed process with and I think we'll have an excellent relationship with him."

Sunday Politics Wales is on BBC One Wales at 11:00 BST

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