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Agenda Item No. 8

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Council Meeting : 29th September 2014

 

Report of the Leader

 

Welsh Government's White Paper Reforming Local Government - Council Response

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To seek Council views on the Vale of Glamorgan's response to the Welsh Government White Paper Reforming Local Government. 

Recommendations

1.         That Council notes the issues set out in this report for its consideration and   indicates its views.

2.         That this Council confirms its previous resolution to resist a forced merger with Cardiff City and County Council and believes that the Vale of Glamorgan County Borough is a sustainable Council in its own right and urges Welsh Government (WG) to allow the Vale of Glamorgan Council to continue as a stand-alone Council.

3.         That should this position not be agreed by WG or that indications from WG confirm that they will not give such an undertaking, delegated authority is given to the Managing Director in consultation with the Leader to enter into pre-emptive negotiations for a voluntary merger with other Councils that share the same values and cultures as we do here in the Vale of Glamorgan.

4.         That WG be contacted to confirm what arrangements and financial support are available to this Council for proceeding with an early adopter approach.

5.         That the Leader agrees to keep all other Group Leaders informed of the progress or otherwise of the above resolutions.

6.         That a further report be presented to Cabinet and any subsequent Council meeting, including an extraordinary Council meeting if deemed necessary.    

7.         That delegated powers are granted to the Managing Director, in consultation with the Leader, to respond to the Welsh Government White Paper on the Council's behalf.

 

Reasons for the Recommendations

1-7    To enable the Council to respond formally to the White Paper and to take appropriate preparatory steps in relation to possible Council mergers.

 

Background

2.         The Commission on Public Services Governance and Delivery - the Williams Commission - was set up in April 2013.  In August 2013 the Council submitted detailed evidence to the Commission, arguing for its continued existence as a Council and outlining the ways in which collaboration with other bodies could enable it to address its challenges (Appendix A).  In January 2014 the Commission published its report and recommendations [Commission on Public Services Governance and Delivery Document] which included a merger of existing local authorities, including the merger of the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff Councils.  In a meeting of the Council in March 2014 the following was resolved: 'That this Council rejects the Williams Commission proposal to merge it with Cardiff City Council and considers that the Vale of Glamorgan Council is a viable and successful authority which should continue in its present form'. 

3.         A Welsh Government White Paper, Reforming Local Government (Appendix B), was published in July 2014 and broadly endorses the Williams report.  Welsh Government is consulting on the White Paper, with responses required by 1 October 2014.  Appendix C Is the Council’s draft response to the questions posed in the White Paper. 

4.         On 18 September 2014 Welsh Government published a document entitled Invitation to Principal Local Authorities in Wales to submit proposals for voluntary merger (Appendix D).  This document gives more detail in respect of the proposal outlined in the White Paper enabling Councils to submit bids for voluntary mergers which would allow them to merge sooner than Welsh Government’s legislative timetable otherwise provides for.  Initial Expressions of Interest for voluntary mergers are required by 28 November 2014. 

Relevant Issues and Options

5.         The main points from the White Paper response to Williams are:

·           Broadly supports the Williams Commission proposals.

·           Proposes 12 councils with the Vale of Glamorgan merging with Cardiff (and Bridgend with Neath Port Talbot; Rhondda Cynon Taff with Merthyr).

·           Proposals are not costed and there was a serious error in the original paper which stated highest estimate of the cost of merger as roughly 0.5% of annual Local Government expenditure, this should have been 5% if not nearer 7.5%.

·           Encourages voluntary mergers of councils and proposes incentives.

·           Establishes a proposed time-table for legislation and implementation.

·           Welsh Government to consider a review of Town and Community Councils. However, Welsh Government does not want to recreate a two-tier system of local government.

·           States there needs to be a change to funding mechanisms, mentions nothing firm on council tax impact but hints that local government may have to pay for the cost of reform.

·           Two bills are proposed. A first bill will be introduced January 2015 (expected royal assent November 2015), dealing with voluntary mergers and other preparatory matters. The second bill, planned to be drafted by Autumn 2015 sets out the proposals for the new merged councils. This bill will not be introduced into the Assembly until after the May 2016 elections.

·           A staff commission to be set up (and put on a statutory basis by the second bill).

·           The then Minister for Local Government concluded her foreword to the white paper by stating 'Local Government must take the lead in designing its own destiny. We must work together, in partnership, over the coming months to build Local Authorities designed for Wales, in Wales'.

6.         The paper stated that councils could make alternative proposals but these would need to be supported by all councils directly and indirectly affected, particularly if seeking to make an exceptional case over alignment with health and police areas. It was also indicated that the Welsh Government would wish to see a commitment to voluntary mergers in this case.  Following the White Paper Welsh Government has now published its prospectus for voluntary mergers, Invitation to Principal Local Authorities in Wales to submit proposals for voluntary merger, attached at Appendix C.  

7.         The prospectus sets out a process for voluntary mergers. Expressions of interest in a voluntary merger should be submitted by the end of 1 October 2014; fully developed cases by June 2015; statements of confirmation of intention to proceed by November 2015. Welsh Government would consider these and by February 2016 develop the necessary subordinate legislation for approval by the Assembly.

8.         If approved there would be no elections in May 2017 for councils voluntarily merging and terms of existing councillors would be extended to May 2018. The shadow council would be established in October 2017 with vesting day the 1st April 2018.

9.         The Second Bill would be drafted by autumn 2015. This bill would establish the new merged councils. It would not be introduced into the Assembly until after May 2016 with Royal Assent expected in the summer of 2017.

10.      Local elections to existing councils would be held in May 2017 for a term of 3 years (for merging councils). In May 2019 the elections for the new merged councils would be held for a 3 year term. Councils would be shadow until vesting day of 1 April 2020.

11.      The next section of this report discusses the available options for merger.

 

Options for Merger

 

12.      The Vale of Glamorgan Council’s current position is that it would wish to continue as a self-standing unitary council.  This section of the report, however, focusses on the implications for the Vale and its residents should a merger become inevitable or desirable.

13.      The Welsh Government currently proposes that the Vale is merged with Cardiff. A number of other options exist, subject of course to the willingness of alternative partner councils. The options could include merger with our immediate neighbours RCT, Bridgend and Cardiff or even including multiple authorities from further afield.

14.      Merger with RCT includes some of the disadvantages that merger with Cardiff represents as the two councils are so different in size and identity (a matter that is explored in more detail below). Merger with multiple authorities could severely reduce the responsiveness of a new Council to local needs, impacting adversely on our residents. Consequently these two options have not been considered further and focus is on a potential merger with Bridgend or Cardiff.

15.      Bridgend and the Vale Council areas are of a similar size. Bridgend has a population of over 139,000 and the Vale just under 127,000. The resultant new Council would have a population of circa 266,000 which is large enough to benefit from economies of scale and provide resilience. The combined population would be greater than Monmouthshire and Newport (237,000) and Conway and Denbighshire (209,000), which are Councils proposed in the Welsh Government response to the Williams report. In addition, it would also compare favourably with Anglesey and Gwynedd (191,000) and Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire (198,000).  It would also be larger than the two of the proposed stand-alone councils of Carmarthen (184,000) and Powys (133,000).

16.      Cardiff has a population of over 345,000 and a combined Vale/Cardiff council would have a population of circa 472,000. When assessed against the definite recommendations of the Williams Commission, this would be significantly larger than the next largest council following mergers, namely, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly and Torfaen (population of 340,000).  Indeed, even standing alone, Cardiff with a population of over 345,000 would be the largest Council in Wales, when assessed in terms of population. 

17.      The similarity in size between Bridgend and the Vale is more likely to lead to an equitable distribution of resources across the area of the new Council than would be the case should the merging councils be significantly different in size and consequently influence.

18.      In addition, where the size of merging councils is similar, a new Council is more likely to adopt best practice from whichever of its predecessor Councils demonstrates it. Where a single large Council dominates, there is a significant risk that the practice that is adopted is the one carried out by the majority from the dominant Council and this quite frequently will not be the most effective and efficient means of delivery.

19.      If the Vale merges with Cardiff there is a real risk that the Council could be seen as overlarge and remote from the people it serves. In order to overcome this it could be necessary to set in place decision and service delivery mechanisms that enable the council to be more responsive to local areas’ needs. This would be at a financial cost eroding any savings made from scale of delivery.

20.      A merged Bridgend/Vale Council whilst sufficiently large to be sustainable will not be so large it becomes too distant from the citizens it serves. It will not be necessary to institute elaborate sub-structures for service delivery to try and preserve some sense of place and make service delivery sensitive to the needs of the local population. The size will also mean the Council will be able to innovate and yet be nimble enough to implement that change quickly.

21.      The nature of the areas of Bridgend and the Vale are similar in that both have significant rural areas, small distinct towns and villages, coastal towns and administrative centres and share a heritage coast. This contrasts starkly to Cardiff, which is a densely populated urban conurbation with approx. 2,500 people per sq.km.  In contrast the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend have about 500 people per sq.km.

22.      Also of importance is the fact that the Vale of Glamorgan has a unique identity when assessed in a regional context.  It is without doubt the Green lung of S.E. Wales, performing a valuable function in terms of leisure, recreation and food production.  It is predominantly rural and of its 33,097 hectares, 85% (28,132 hectares) is agricultural land. The preservation of agricultural land is essential in terms of protecting food supply for future generations.

23.      The Vale has 53 km of coastline, of which 19 km is Heritage Coast that connects with the Heritage Coast within Bridgend.  It has a very similar housing need to Bridgend and the town centres of both the Vale and Bridgend face competition from new forms of retailing and the draw of the capital city of Cardiff. 

24.      Both Bridgend and the Vale Councils also generate significant commuter traffic by road and rail into the Capital city and day trip traffic to areas such as Barry Island, Porthcawl and the coastal strip. 

25.      In view of the similarities with Bridgend in the above paragraphs, for the Vale of Glamorgan, there is likely to be more commonality in the nature of the challenges, opportunities and problems experienced and nature of service delivery and key policies with Bridgend than with Cardiff. This is more likely to drive efficiencies in service delivery.

26.      It is also more likely to assist in preserving the identity of the area as well as promoting regeneration activity; formulating and implementing planning policy; and delivering transport services. For the reasons outlined, and the geographical context, merger with Bridgend is seen as a more sustainable option, and a means of ensuring that the rural characteristics of both Bridgend and the Vale are protected and enhanced for the benefit of the wider region.

27.      There are particularly strong links between the population in the western Vale with Bridgend, in terms of access to services including health, retailing and recreation. It is however recognised that to the east of the Vale there are also very strong links with Cardiff, e.g. Penarth for similar purposes.

28.      Many of the residents in the Vale travel to Cardiff for work and social activity. Consequently, merging with Cardiff could bestow an advantage in terms of transportation and highway planning.  There are several strong public transport links, both rail and bus, between the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff, as there are with other council areas surrounding Cardiff.

29.      A merged Bridgend/Vale Council would also be within the Cardiff 'travel to work' area and the merger could assist in transport/highway planning for the existing Bridgend and Vale areas. The Vale of Glamorgan railway line links Bridgend through the Vale to Cardiff.  Bus Services similarly also link Bridgend and the Vale to Cardiff (e.g. the X2 service via the A48 and the 302/303 that links Bridgend with the rural Vale, Barry and Cardiff).

30.      With the advent of the Cardiff Capital City region, the importance of transport, economic development and infrastructure is already being driven forward at a regional level and the Vale merging with Bridgend is not, as a consequence seen as disadvantageous. Indeed, the commonality of issues between Bridgend and the Vale could be viewed as a strength and a key opportunity.  The new merged council would also need to work with Cardiff and this resultant collaboration could be more beneficial than just a merger of Cardiff with the Vale.

31.      With regard to education the Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff and Bridgend are in the Central South Consortium, together with RCT and Merthyr. Consequently, there are strong links between the Councils in education. Bridgend and the Vale both have 65 schools with about 22k pupils. This compares to Cardiff which has 136 schools and about 52k pupils. Schools are structured in a like way in all three Councils.

32.      Performance and prospects for improvement following the last full Estyn inspections of the Vale and Bridgend were judged by Estyn to be of the same level (“adequateâ€) whereas Cardiff has further progress to make in this area ('is in need of significant improvement').

33.      Bridgend and the Vale are in the same Police Basic Command Unit (BCU) and consequently a merger of the Vale and Bridgend councils would facilitate joint working with the police on community safety and related issues. A merger with Cardiff would mean a new Cardiff/Vale would need to work with 2 BCUs (one of which would be partial) unless the Police re-organised the command structure.

34.      A merger with Cardiff would mean the new merged Council would exactly match the footprint of the Cardiff/Vale UHB. This would make integration of social care and health less complex. A significant amount of progress has already been made in this area including setting up of joint posts.

35.      With regard to integration programmes for Social Services and Health, merger with Bridgend would mean that the local authority area would straddle 2 Health Boards. Under the current NHS arrangements a new Bridgend/Vale Council would need to work with Cardiff and Vale UHB and with Abertawe Bro Morgannwg UHB as well as other councils within the footprint. It should be noted, however that:

·         Major hospital services are already planned on a regional scale through the South Wales Programme

·         Significant numbers of Western Vale residents depend on the provision of hospital and some other health services in Bridgend, which is covered by a neighbouring Health Board, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.

·         For community and primary health services (the most important relationship for adult social care), both Cardiff/Vale and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg UHBs operate a locality structure within which the Vale and Bridgend have locality status. This is to ensure that services are properly grounded in matching local need and local service. For example, there are considerable demographic and social differences between the current Vale locality and Cardiff South.

36.      The Cardiff/Vale UHB would need to work with 2 Councils (as opposed to one under the current Welsh Government proposal). However, in reality, health and social care issues in Cardiff and the Vale are already different to some extent. With regard to Abertawe Bro Morgannwg UHB, the Welsh Government proposals would require them to work with 2 councils. Depending on the future shape of Neath Port Talbot and Swansea Councils, this could remain as 2 or increase to 3. Consequently, a merger of Bridgend with the Vale should not pose insurmountable difficulties to the two affected health boards

37.      The management structures of Bridgend and the Vale are close in size and have similar cultures. This again differs significantly from Cardiff which, as a capital city, has a large Corporate Management Team and the significantly different culture of a major city council.

38.      The Vale Council already has established relationships and joint working with both Cardiff and Bridgend and this would assist in a merger with either Council. Bridgend and the Vale share a single internal audit service which has proved to be very successful. The Vale’s Civil Parking Enforcement role is provided by officers working for Bridgend. There are also similar examples between the Vale and Cardiff. The Vale works extensively with Cardiff and a number of other authorities in Wales on waste and recycling projects, both as part of Prosiect Gwyrdd and, most recently for Bio-degradable Waste treatment. The Vale shares senior management post in both Mental Health and Learning Disability Services with Cardiff.

39.      Prior to 1st April 1996 some services were delivered by South Glamorgan County Council.  Consequently, some activities within the Vale are organised in a similar way to Cardiff.  However, this has diminished significantly over the years, and both Councils will have changed service delivery to more accurately reflect the differing needs of their populations. 

40.      There is a perception on the part of many people in communities in the Vale that decisions made by the former South Glamorgan Council were Cardiff-centric and that the Vale suffered from under-investment.  Examples include a lack of school investment, particularly in the secondary sector, coupled with at that time having no Welsh medium secondary school in the Vale, and under-investment in highway infrastructure.

41.      Since the 1996 reorganisation and the establishment of the current Vale Council many of these deficiencies have been remedied.  The Council has established a Welsh medium secondary school and has invested substantially in the schools infrastructure, building a new secondary school in Cowbridge and new integrated educational and community facilities in Penarth, with further plans in place for Llantwit Major.  It has also addressed infrastructure issues in Barry in particular, such as regeneration and public realm improvements in the Town Centre and at Barry Island.  The Vale Council has also focused on the social-economic needs of its rural areas, with Creative Rural Communities successful in attracting funding year after year for a huge number and range of projects due to its close relationship with rural communities and understanding of their specific needs.

Conclusion

42.      The Council’s draft response to the White Paper is attached as Appendix B.  It will be noted that the White Paper includes reference to a number of issues outside that of reorganisation of local government – they include engaging with communities, improving service performance, strengthening democracy and improving scrutiny.  It is assumed in the White Paper that merging Councils will enable these things to happen, although there is no actual evidence that this is so.  The Council takes the opportunity therefore of making this point as an introductory statement before providing responses to the questions asked in the White Paper itself.  However, for consistency with the format of the white paper consultation this is repeated at the end at question 26.

43.      The Council’s case remains that the Vale is sustainable as currently formed. However, with regard to potential options for merger, there are links between the population in the Vale and Cardiff, for example for work and social activities. Nevertheless, this is also true of the other local authority areas surrounding Cardiff, including Bridgend, Caerphilly, RCT and Newport.

44.      There could be more complexity with regard to social care/health integration if Bridgend and the Vale were to merge. However, this could be overcome and it would not make sense to form a new council based on just a single service area (social care) to the detriment of all other services such as education, regeneration and strategic planning.

45.      A new Bridgend/Vale Council could still work closely with Cardiff (e.g. on the new shared Regulatory Services), Neath Port Talbot, Swansea or any other of the surrounding councils. Indeed, whatever the shape of the new merged councils, cross boundary and cross organisational collaboration will be essential in the future in order to achieve our objectives, e.g. on transport, education, social services, health and the city region agenda.

46.      Similarly, a new merged Cardiff/Vale would also need to work with surrounding councils. However, a Cardiff/Vale Council would be significantly greater in size, and quite possibly influence, than any of its prospective partners. This disparity would not assist in equal partnership working.

47.      There would be no detriment to Cardiff resulting from a Bridgend/Vale merger as the capital city is already of a sufficient size (population over 345,000) to benefit from scale.  Where it would be beneficial to achieve even greater scale economies or where a regional approach is desirable, this arrangement would offer an improved opportunity for collaboration between a merged Bridgend/Vale and Cardiff, as both of these Councils would be and are currently within the same city region area.  Additionally, Cardiff would not be distracted by the massive organisational disruption caused by a merger and could focus on its important role as the capital city of Wales and improving the prosperity of the city region.     

48.      As a merger with Cardiff is the current Welsh Government proposal, the issue of detriment to Bridgend of such a merger is not a major consideration under the Welsh Government white paper.  

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

49.      There are no direct financial implications arising from this report.  However, the Welsh Government  proposals for Council mergers, if adopted, will have very considerable financial implications; indeed, it has been pointed out that the public purse can ill afford such expenditure at a time when Council budgets are already subject to unprecedented pressures and when the savings that will accrue as a result are unquantified.     

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

50.      There are no direct sustainability and climate change implications arising from this report.   

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

51.      Welsh Government has the devolved powers to legislate in these matters.  A full legislative programme to effect the necessary changes will be published by Welsh Government in due course.   A further document entitled 'Invitation to principal Local Authorities in Wales to submit proposals for a voluntary merger’ has been published on 18th September 2014 with responses required by 28th November 2014. 

Crime and Disorder Implications

52.      There are no specific crime and disorder implications associated with this report, but the structural arrangements for dealing with crime and disorder are referred to in the report when it discusses joint working between Councils and the Police and implications for the structure of South Wales Police’s Basic Command Units (BCUs). These currently include Cardiff as a standalone BCU and the Vale and Bridgend as another separate BCU, and clearly have a bearing on potential Council mergers.  

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

53.      There are no specific equal opportunities implications arising from this report.  Equalities Impact Assessments will need to be completed once the way forward in relation to Council mergers is agreed.

Corporate/Service Objectives

54.      The Council's stated values are delivering good services, transparency, engagement and empowerment.  Its response to Welsh Government should be coloured and informed by those values. 

Policy Framework and Budget

55.      This is a matter where full Council's views are sought. 

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

56.      This is a matter for the whole of the Council and therefore no ward member consultation has been undertaken.

57.      The Welsh Government prospectus for voluntary mergers requires any such submission to demonstrate consultation and engagement with others.   

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

58.      Corporate Resources. 

Background Papers

Williams Commission report, January 2014

Welsh Government White Paper Reforming Local Government, July 2014

Welsh Government document Invitation to Principal Local Authorities in Wales to submit proposals for voluntary merger, September 2014

 

Contact Officer

Huw Isaac - Head of Performance and Development

01446 709760

 

Officers Consulted

 

Responsible Officer

 

Sian Davies, Managing Director

 

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