Local government in Wales is facing a radical overhaul, with ministers consulting on plans to create ‘larger, stronger councils’.
The Welsh Government has published a green paper consultation exploring the idea of reorganising the country’s hard-up councils through either voluntary mergers or forced reconfigurations.
It follows months of research by Wales’ cabinet secretary for public services, Alun Davies, who has visited council leaders to discuss how to tackle financial and sustainability challenges facing the sector amid austerity.
Mr Davies said: ‘Wales needs strong, effective, empowered local authorities which can weather continued austerity and build local democratic structures fit for future generations.
‘I do not believe that our local authorities, as currently constituted, can fully play this role and I am not alone.
‘Councils have been clear that services are wearing down to the point of collapse, and there is a general acceptance that things cannot carry on as they are and a general acknowledgement that more money, even if it was available, would not solve the problem.
‘I also know local government has made real efforts to change, adapt and invest for the future but I also understand that, in the face of UK Government cuts, there are limited options to ensuring the future sustainability of local services.
‘Unless we do something radical in response to these challenges we all recognise the role of local government will increasingly be one of managed decline.’
Under the plans, councils could be handed further devolved powers if they sign-up to reorganisation.
The Welsh Government will now attempt to produce an ‘agreed template’ for future reforms, which will determine how mergers would take place.
A spokesman for the Welsh Local Government Association said the announcement had caused ‘disquiet and confusion’.
He added: ‘It has arrived midway through the assembly term and following the recent Welsh Government assurance that no reorganisation would occur for 10 years.
‘The proposals are yet to be fully costed and most academic analysis concludes that such reform programmes rarely deliver the savings or changes in performance that were hoped.
‘As current examples in England show, scale is not an answer to the crisis in social care and deepening austerity.
‘Merging authorities on the breadline to create larger authorities without the necessary resources is not a sustainable solution to the problems councils face.’