There will be no forced mergers of councils in Wales, although they will be required to work together to deliver key services, according to new proposals.
Under the new plans, there will be no cuts to the current number of councils but there will be a mandatory requirement for local authorities to deliver services at a regional level.
Local government secretary, Mark Drakeford, said the plans would make local government more resilient, and he would also support any councils looking to press ahead with a voluntary merger.
He said: ‘It has been suggested to me that we have two models to deliver these services; one based around City Regions covering strategic transport, land-use planning and economic development and another aligned to health boards for services such as education improvement, social services and public protection.
‘Of course, some authorities may wish to build their resilience further by voluntarily merging and we will support them to help make that happen.
‘We will also make improvements to community councils in the short term, and establish an independent review to look at the future role of this tier of local government.’
The announcement has been welcomed by the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), saying the proposals would help build a more 'resilient and stable future' for local public services.
Councillor Bob Wellington, leader of the WLGA, said: 'What is encouraging is that these proposals highlight how councils will remain embedded in their communities acting as the ‘front door’ through which people access a range of vitally important everyday services.
'In doing so the proposals outline a vision that keeps the ‘local’ in local democracy and local government, while also offering a coherent agenda for regional collaboration on key service areas.
'There is much detail now to explore, not least on how the proposed ‘mandatory’ approach to regional working will work, but we look forward to working with the Cabinet Secretary and our other partners to ensure we deliver a workable vision for public service reform in Wales.' Mr Drakeford also announced a permanent five-year election cycle for councillors to give the sector more stability.