Council Mergers Rejected

Sensibly the Welsh Government has rejected the offer to merge made by six Welsh local authorities. Inevitably there could be no business case to support these mergers – there is simply no evidence that larger local authorities work at a lower cost or to greater effect than smaller local authorities. There was no public support for these mergers. They were merely defensive proposals from local authorities who feared that something even worse would be imposed upon them.

Today’s editorial of the Western Mail made predictable but sad reading. This ever diminishing clarion of the Welsh crachach renewed its call for fewer councils and fewer councillors. It has been making this call for over a century in its frustration that the werin could ever imagine that they should manage the affairs of their own communities.

The crachach look forward to leading Wales to a model where there are perhaps six areas administered by appointed experts, people with real business experience. If there are any elected councillors left, they will be so detached from their communities that they will do little to redress the infertility of the democratic desert that Wales will become. From once being a beacon of community solidarity and activism, Wales will degenerate into a sullen passivity.

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A Consistent Devolutionist

There is always an excellent case for devolving powers from Whitehall and Westminster to the Welsh Government and Assembly. Ever more devolved government is a means towards ensuring that public policy is ever more attuned to the diverse needs of different geographical parts of the state and public administration can be ever better coordinated across professional and organisational boundaries.

The limits to devolution lie in the need of the centre to redistribute resources and opportunities from those parts of the state which the market favours most strongly to those less favoured. Actually the centre does not need to be fiscally or administratively large to fulfil this key function.

But just as we work to ever extend the devolution of powers to the Welsh Government, it is consistent to argue that for exactly the same reasons the Welsh Government should ever extend the devolution of powers to local communities and elected local councils.

There is irrational inconsistency for the Welsh Government to seek ever more powers from the UK Government and yet seek potentially to emasculate local government in the ways recommended by the Williams Report.