Caerphilly Council to oppose plans to merge with Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent
Caerphilly County Borough Council looks set to reject proposals to merge with Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen county borough councils.
Members of the local authority’s Cabinet will recommend that it “stands alone” as part of any future plans to merge local authorities in Wales.
The Williams Commission report, published in January this year, outlined plans to merge some of Wales’ 22 councils but Cabinet members said any merger would be a “step backwards”, and that there were “few, if any, tangible benefits to the residents of Caerphilly County Borough”.
Cllr Keith Reynolds, Leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council, said: “We have an excellent track record of delivering services and being a well run authority that is financially very well managed.
“This is evidenced by the results of the Welsh Government’s recent National Survey for Wales, which highlights that residents are pleased with the standards of the services we deliver. We have managed to deal with any emergencies that have arisen and overall we’re in a very strong position to be able to stand alone.
“We want to send a strong message to everyone that this Cabinet’s overriding view is that we will be looking for the authority to press the case to Welsh Government for a standalone solution as far as this authority is concerned.”
Steve Thomas, the Chief Executive of the Welsh Local Government Association, said: “From our point of view that is a decision taken locally and we respect that. My understanding is Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent are not keen on the Caerphilly option either.
“There’s all sorts of configurations that could emerge, but the bottom line is the substantial cost of £200m.”
He added that the Welsh Government could not expect local authorities to fork out for the cost, given the vast savings and cut backs councils are being asked to make.
Caerphilly Observer understands a number of Caerphilly Labour councillors are in favour of merging, meaning the Cabinet’s recommendations may not be easily passed by council.
Labour Councillor for Blackwood Allan Rees, said the Cabinet’s decision, while taken in the best interests of Caerphilly, does not consider the long-term benefits for Wales.
He said: “The problem with the NHS and our services is that they are too fragmented. In Gwent we have five local authorities five cabinets and you cannot link strategy.
“There’s going to be a massive funding gap within local authorities in the future. For local authorities to come together and merge public services, this would have a long-term positive effect on Caerphilly.”
Cllr Rees also suggested that job losses and redundancies resulting from a merger would affect skilled staff who would be able to find new work.
He said: “There needs to be a flattening of the pay gap in local authorities and a merger will mean less management. Any redundancies will come from medium and high management, so there will still be a need for the majority of the general workforce.”
Cllr Colin Mann, Leader of the Plaid Cymru opposition group, said the party would make a decision on their stance at a meeting on September 22, before full council decides its response on September 29.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are currently consulting on proposals for reforming local government. While merging councils is part of those proposals, so too is the need to strengthen democracy, improve scrutiny and use good performance information to create effective and improving local services.
“We look forward to receiving the council’s formal response to the consultation in due course.”
Steve Thomas, Deputy Leader and Executive Business Manager of Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, said: “Blaenau Gwent does not consider Caerphilly’s position a snub.
“All Councils are currently assessing their options and Blaenau Gwent is no different as we carefully consider our next steps. We will respond to the Welsh Government White Paper on Reforming Local Government by October 1 2014.”
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