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Future-proofing local government in Wales

6 February 2016

Council tax bill

Welsh local government reform is top-down and inconsistent, Cardiff academic tells conference

The process of reorganising local government in Wales is top-down, confused and inconsistent, a fringe discussion at the Welsh Liberal Democrats spring conference has heard.

Dr James Downe, Director of the Centre for Local and Regional Government Research at Cardiff Business School, told the meeting in Cardiff that Welsh Government has been following a strategy where it has made decisions against the will of local councils, and has allowed discussions on structure to lead without considering the function of local government in any depth. 

He also said that whereas a number of well-performing countries have granted local councils the power to decide whether, and who, to merge with, Welsh Government has rejected proposed mergers put forward by local authorities in Wales. 

His remarks come ahead of the elections to the National Assembly in May, after which decisions will be made on the future of Wales’s local government structure.

Dr James Downe, Director of the University’s Centre for Local & Regional Government Research, said:

“Learning the lessons of how councils have worked together to date will help to facilitate effective collaboration and create robust and sustainable reforms that are fit for purpose.  This includes having a clear vision for the function of local government, strong leadership by both senior management and politicians, and engaging with staff and service users. 

“There are a number of different ways in which services can be delivered in the future to cope with cuts in public spending and increases in demand. Now is the time to assess the evidence, from within the UK and beyond, on the best approach to delivering public services, so that Welsh local government can operate effectively and efficiently in the future”.

The fringe event was organised by the University in partnership with the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA).