Does reducing Welsh Council numbers have a Real Business Case?

The Welsh Government, Public Services Minister, Leighton Andrews has announced plans to cut the number of unitary authorities in Wales from a staggering twenty-two to just eight. It’s a plan to save Welsh Councils tens of millions annually but it’s a plan with some furious opponents.

Plans are due to be announced today for a road map that will pave the way for eight (or possibly of nine) local authorities in Wales, in a move that is said will streamline services, cut large elements of bureaucracy and a duplication of services. The mergers would see a reduction in some 15,000 jobs for local authorities however initially restructuring would cost in the region of £200m to implement. After similar re-organisations in Scotland and England, Council Taxpayers seen an initial average increase of 1-2% on their Council Tax to cover costs. Last year local authorities in Wales were invited to put business cases forward for voluntary mergers with only six of the twenty-two coming close to making arrangements but these plans were rejected by the Welsh Government.

Opposition voices in Cardiff Bay highlight the lack of a concrete plan for dates of mergers and that the rejection of already suggested mergers has caused doubt in the Welsh Governments approach. Others have suggested that there is no evidence that this restricting process will lead to vast savings.

Earlier this week Mr Andrews highlighted that a recent report had concluded that even now local authorities in Wales could save nearly £151m on administration costs if they were brought in line with those in England. Denbighshire County Council have already announced a projected saving of £1.4m due to outsourcing an element of the back office staffing

At this juncture this plan does appear to aim to bring about a number of much needed changes to the way Wales is governed, heling to stream-line local service provision - it will cut duplication of services and reduce the number of town hall bureaucrats. However, the real question is at what cost and how much will Welsh Taxpayers be really saving longer-term?

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