Lukewarm response to council merger plan

Campaign Series: Lukewarm response to council merger plan Lukewarm response to council merger plan

HOPES for a cross-party Assembly consensus on council mergers were given a lukewarm reaction yesterday.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has said legislation on the results of the Williams Commission could be made before May 2016 if there was cross-party consensus.

But some opposition parties said the ball was in the Welsh Government’s court with the ruling Labour group yet to give its response to the commission.

The Williams report, published on Monday, called for the number of councils in Wales to be whittled down, for Newport and Monmouthshire to merge, and for a single authority for Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Torfaen.

Mr Jones told AMs in the Senedd he wanted to meet with opposition leaders to discuss the party’s views.

He said he’d like to be in position by Easter where every political party in the Assembly had a definitive opinion.

“The process won’t be over by Easter,” he said, referring to the commission’s recommended timetable for programme arrangements to be in place.

He said it is the Welsh Government’s intention to reduce the number of councillors in the longer term.

“It won’t be possible to introduce a bill in the Assembly before the Assembly elections, but if there is an inter-party consensus to move things forward more quickly we can do that.”

But Rhodri Glyn Thomas of Plaid Cymru earlier told journalists: “It is impossible to negotiate with a government that doesn’t have a position on a commission they set up.”

His colleague Simon Thomas said discussions over using the single transferable vote, a form of proportional representation for elections, would be “central to our political negotiations”.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Tory group, yesterday expressed scepticism that larger authorities would improve local government, although he said he didn’t fundamentally disagree with the commission’s findings.

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, said if the First Minister was serious about getting cross party support “he would have ensured that there were party nominations to the commission”.

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