Labour and Plaid Cymru voted together in the National Assembly this week to give the Welsh Government powers to prepare for a reorganisation of local authorities if, after next year’s Assembly election, there was a majority which could agree on such a reorganisation. The Government agreed not to use its newly gained powers until after the Assembly election. It was a strange deal – the bill could just as well have waited until after the election when the lie of the land was better seen.
There is clearly no deal yet in place between Labour and Plaid Cymru on the nature of local government in Wales. The Labour ministers remain wedded to seven or eight authorities, far too big to be local and often too small to tackle the regional issues. Labour would remove all the community connections necessary to make social democracy effective and legitimate; and at the same time Labour would not fill the regional void that has long characterised Wales – the void in regional governance which has prevented any development of the ‘metro’ transport system in South Wales.
Plaid Cymru has an interesting alternative which retains the potential of community self governance whilst creating at the same time the potential for regional governance. They propose retaining 22 principal local authorities whilst at the same time creating a legislative framework which requires those authorities to create regional combinations for tasks such as regional transport, economic development and promotion, school improvement, the commissioning of health and social care, fire and police.
Plaid Cymru suggests four combined authorities. Personally I would prefer the boundaries of the three combined fire authorities that already exist: north, mid and west, south.
The differences between the Labour and Plaid models are currently vast. The Labour model is based on the centralising, controlling, hierarchical simplicity of the Williams Report. The Plaid model builds up from communities, relying on the more modern notions of multi-tiered network governance. They are worlds apart. Labour is wedded to the ‘first past the post’ electoral system. Plaid seeks more proportional systems.