12:40pm Monday 20th January 2014
By David Deans - Politics reporter
GWENT’S five local authorities should be whittled down to two, with one large authority for the region's Valleys, a report said this morning.
Newport and Monmouthshire should be merged into a single council, while the communities of Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen and Caerphilly should be served by a single organisation.
This morning the Welsh Government-appointed Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery delivered its findings on the future of how our public services in Wales are run.
Its members say the 22 councils in Wales should be reduced to between ten and 12 by 2017/18, saving half a billion pounds over a decade.
But while different options are presented in some areas, in Gwent only one shake-up is suggested.
The commission believes that Wales is over-represented with councillors, and that there may be fewer after the recommendations are put in place.
However no prescription for how many councillors there should be was given, and it’s not clear how many jobs could be cut.
Carwyn Jones, Wales first minister, will now look at the report’s 62 recommendations and decide what to do next - with commissioners suggesting work should begin to take place as early as this Easter.
The commissions’ chairman Paul Williams said radical change is needed for public services to survive.
He told reporters: “Public services in Wales face severe and unprecedented challenges over the next decade. The affect of the recession and austerity will continue for many years."
Mr Williams said his report aims to make local government more effective and responsive: “The public sector in Wales is too complex. There are too many small organisations, too many partnerships and not enough clarity about roles and responsibilities."
This creates a maze for citizens, voluntary organisations and businesses, he said.
The commission thinks that annual savings of £60 to £80 million could be made within three years, albeit with an upfront cost of £100 million to the taxpayer.
New areas should be as coherent as possible, according to the report's authors - population sparsity, deprivation, the use of the Welsh language, council tax levels and economic growth patterns were all taken into account.
There is no proposal for a super-Gwent authority, with the commission saying that councils that serve too large an area would hamper how communities are represented democratically.
Mr Williams said that the recommendations may mean a reduction in the number of councillors, and said there were more councillors per head of population in Wales than in England and Scotland.
It says that reforms should be consistent with eligibility for so-called EU convergence funding – cash which Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Torfaen are eligible for.
Mr Williams said that issue was key in Gwent and diluting those funds couldn’t be risked by merging councils into larger organisations.
First minister Carwyn Jones said: “People across Wales rely heavily on the vital services delivered by the public sector every day. Change is inevitable and essential so that our public services can become more efficient, effective, accessible and responsive.
“I will now take time to consider the report in detail and respond in due course.”
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