SPENDING millions on shaking up councils would be a tough sell to an elderly person having their meals on wheels cut.
That’s according to Labour Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle, who yesterday in the Senedd questioned whether reducing the number of councils is the panacea for challenges public services face.
She is the latest Valleys Labour politician to wade into the aftermath of the Williams Commission after concerns over cost from Islwyn MP Chris Evans and Torfaen MP Paul Murphy. The commission last week proposed merging Torfaen with Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly, and Newport with Monmouthshire, reducing the number of councils in Wales from 22 to as few as ten.
In a debate on the report Ms Neagle said it is really important “that we listen carefully to the voices who’ve expressed concern over the likely cost of reorganisation, rather than simply shouting them down as harbingers of doom or roadblocks to change”.
She said whether it will cost £100 million or £200 million “we’re talking really significant amounts of money that we won’t then be able to spend in other areas”.
“It’s a pretty hard sell to the elderly person whose meals on wheels have been stopped or to the community whose library has been closed,” she said.
Ms Neagle broadly accepted that some kind of change is needed now, but said she couldn’t help but feel AMs would have been better off “grasping the particular nettle much earlier in the lifetime of this Assembly”.
She recognised that public services are too complex and fragmented, that there are issues around capacity and the ability to deliver and there is a clear need for better leadership.
“But for me the overriding question that remains unanswered is whether reducing the number of local authorities – particularly at this time – is the panacea for delivering that kind of change.”
Carwyn Jones, Labour first minister, told AMs that his party will be consulting ahead of March.
But Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Plaid local government spokesman, said: “In listening to Ms Neagle’s speech you have a job of work to do, first minister, to persuade your party on this matter.”
Mr Jones added that his government would not back amendments from Plaid and the Lib Dems to the motion for an electoral reform debate.