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Welsh public services need ‘radical change’ – and council mergers

The number of Welsh councils should be reduced from 22 to at most 12, the Williams Commission has recommended. The commission has been investigating options to improve public services across Wales and make them more accountable.

Chair of the Commission, Sir Paul Williams, said: “We need a radical shift, which will mean fundamental changes to structures, roles and programmes across the Welsh public sector.”

The re-organisation should be made through mergers using existing council boundaries, the commission suggested, with new councils should be within the current health board and police force areas. Welsh local authorities were last reorganised in 1996.

The Welsh Local Government Association has estimated that the reorganisation could cost 15,000 jobs, and WLGA-commissioned research by accountants Deloitte suggested the changes could cost over £200m.

Over 60 recommendations were made to reduce complexity and duplication in Welsh public services. They include increasing the capacity of local authorities by reducing their number to 10, 11, or 12, to combat problems of small scale and to deliver cost savings.

Strengthened governance and scrutiny, as well as a new approach to leadership is proposed, while performance management should be streamlined with a single and concise set of national outcomes, the commission stated.

Sir Paul added: “We are very clear that public services in Wales face severe and prolonged challenges. The effects of recession and austerity on public-sector budgets will continue to be felt for many years. At the same time, our population is changing, meaning that the need for some of our most intensive and costly public services is bound to grow. That creates twin and conflicting pressures – demand for public services is growing, through demographic change and increasing public expectations, while resources to provide them are falling. These pressures are nobody’s fault, but they will be felt by all of us.

“Radical change is needed for public services to survive in a viable and sustainable form. We cannot deny or ignore current and future challenges; instead, we need a public sector which can rise to meet them…We all need to embrace the need for change, and make it happen as quickly and effectively as possible. It is far better to invest in reform now, before it is too late, and to create world-class public services and a public sector of which we can all be proud.

In an interview for the BBC's Sunday Politics Wales programme ahead of the report’s release, First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “We have, at the last count, six local authorities who are in special measures with regard to education out of 22.

“Now that's not sustainable in the future so we need to have a very hard, long and honest look at the structure of not just local government but all public services in Wales to make sure that the structure is far more sustainable and stronger in the future.”

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Image c. Chris Bewick


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