Agenda Item No. 5
THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL
COUNCIL MEETING: 17 DECEMBER 2014
REFERENCE FROM CABINET: 28 NOVEMBER 2014
C2551 EXPRESSION OF INTEREST TO WELSH GOVERNMENT FOR VOLUNTARY MERGER (L) (SCRUTINY COMMITTEE – CORPORATE RESOURCES) -
The Council at its meeting of 29 September, 2014 considered its response to the Welsh Government (WG) White Paper "Reforming Local Government", which was published in July 2014 and proposed mergers of Councils, including that of the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff Councils. In the same meeting the Council also considered WG’s associated document "Invitation to Principal Local Authorities in Wales to submit proposals for voluntary merger", which invited Councils to submit by 28 November 2014 bids for voluntary mergers which would allow them to merge sooner than WG’s legislative timetable otherwise allowed.
It was acknowledged in the meeting that although the Council's preferred option was to continue as a Council in its own right, WG might not allow this to happen. In order to resist a forced merger it was consequently agreed by the Council to undertake pre-emptive negotiations for a voluntary merger with Councils "that shared the same values and culture" as the Vale of Glamorgan Council. To this effect delegated powers were granted to the Managing Director in consultation with the Leader to undertake negotiations.
In view of developments after 29 September 2014, including discussions with a variety of partners on the options available to the Council, a further report was brought to Cabinet on 17 November, 2014.
It was proposed that rather than pursuing a "stand alone" course of action, the Council should aim for a voluntary early merger with Bridgend Council, and the reasons for that stance were outlined in the report. Cabinet approved the preparation of an Expression of Interest to that effect, to be considered by Cabinet by the WG deadline of the end of 28 November, 2014, and to be subsequently ratified by full Council at its meeting scheduled for 17 December, 2014.
Appendix A attached to the report contained WG’s prospectus for Council mergers, "Invitation to Principal Local Authorities in Wales to submit proposals for voluntary mergers". It required Expressions of Interest to be submitted by 28 November 2014. WG intended to respond by 5 January, 2015. If Expressions of Interest met with WG approval, formal Merger Proposals would be required by 30 June, 2015. The legislative timetable for voluntary mergers was as follows:
A first Bill introduced to the Assembly in January 2015 would include the power for the Welsh Ministers to merge Authorities who wished to do so voluntarily.
Authorities wishing to voluntarily merge must submit detailed expressions of interest by November 2014 and fully developed cases for merger (the Merger Proposal) by June 2015 to the Welsh Ministers for consideration. The Authorities and Welsh Ministers would work together in considering the cases to enable Authorities to submit statements of confirmation of intention to proceed to voluntary mergers by November 2015. The Welsh Ministers would, by February 2016, develop the necessary subordinate legislation for approval by the Assembly.
There would be no elections in May 2017 to Authorities merging voluntarily. Instead, the subordinate legislation providing for voluntary merger would extend the terms of existing Councillors to May 2018.
In October 2017, a shadow Authority and shadow Council for the merging Authorities would be established, consisting of the full body of serving Councillors on the constituent Councils. Its functions in preparing for the creation of the new Authority would be specified by Order.
Vesting day for the new voluntarily merged Authorities would be 1 April 2018. First elections to the new Authorities would then be held in May 2018, based on new wards following an electoral review of the whole of the new Authority, with new Councillors assuming responsibility four days after the elections. They would serve for four years, until a full round of Local Government elections took place in May 2022.
The Council's proposed Expression of Interest to WG for a voluntary merger with Bridgend Council was attached at Appendix B to the report and was structured along the lines of the WG guidelines attached at Appendix A to the report and had been drawn up jointly with Bridgend Council, who would be submitting the same document to WG.
The purpose of the Expression of Interest was to declare to WG an interest in an early voluntary merger of the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend Councils to take advantage of a range of opportunities to shape their own futures.
The case for embarking on a voluntary merger, the risks of doing so, and the mitigating factors, were described above. It was considered that there was a convincing argument for a voluntary merger, and the recommendation therefore was that Cabinet endorsed this conclusion.
As to who the Council's merger partner should be, on balance it was considered there was strong reasons supporting a Vale/Bridgend merger. The report indicated that there were fundamental disparities between the Vale and Cardiff which would make it difficult for a merger on equal terms to happen. These disparities were essentially about size (Cardiff Council was roughly three times the Vale’s size) and about the nature of the communities the Councils serve: Cardiff was a densely populated urban conurbation and capital city with all that that entailed, while the Vale’s character focused on a significant rural area, small district towns and villages and coastal towns.
A merger with Bridgend would be seen as an "exceptional" case by the WG as the new authority would straddle the boundaries of two health boards and would not conform with existing EU Convergence area boundaries. These issues were addressed in Section 10 of the attached Expression of Interest.
In presenting this report the Leader tabled statements of support to the voluntary merger of the Vale with Bridgend from the following organisations;
He highlighted that a further written letter of support was forthcoming from Abertawe Bro Morganwg which would be added to the above statements of support.
The Managing Director confirmed that these statements of support would be incorporated into Appendix C of the report which would be amended to show that these documents had been received.
In addition the Managing Director provided an overview of the report for Members.
At the meeting the Cabinet Member for Leisure, Parks, Culture and Sports Development, commented that the Vale of Glamorgan had strong links and connections with Bridgend and it was important to continue this bond as it would be beneficial to merge with a Council of a similar demography.
The Cabinet Member for the Environment and Visible Services commented that a merger with Bridgend would be a partnership of equals as the two Authorities were extremely similar.
The Cabinet Member for Housing Building Maintenance and Community Safety commented that the proposed merger presented a unique opportunity to develop the future of the two Councils together with more equitable distribution of resources and made special reference to the work of community safety.
The Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Innovation, Planning and Transportation commented that the proposed merger was about the sustainability and improvement of public services which could only be achieved by working with the Council with a similar demography to the Vale and expressed her full support for the voluntary merger.
The Cabinet Member for Childrens Services re affirmed his support for the proposed voluntary merger.
The Cabinet Member for Adult Services commented that a voluntary merger with Bridgend Council would be the natural option as the Vale shared the same demographic make up as Bridgend such as the heritage coast, large towns and seaside resorts and therefore would be a good partner as it would allow for two equals working together.
This was a matter for Executive decision
(1) T H A T the Councils proposed Expression of Interest attached at Appendix B to the report in respect of a voluntary merger with Bridgend Council be approved for submission to Welsh Government.
(2) T H A T the report be referred to full Council on 17 December, 2014 for ratification of the Councils proposed Expression of Interest in respect of a voluntary merger with Bridgend Council.
(3) T H A T the use of article 13.09 of the Council’s constitution (urgent decision procedure) to submit the Councils Expression of Interest in respect of a voluntary merger with Bridgend Council to Welsh Government by the end of 28 November, 2014, be approved.
Reasons for decisions
(1) To ensure that arrangements are put in place to safeguard the interests of the residents of the Vale of Glamorgan.
(2) To ensure that the Expression of Interest in respect of a voluntary merger with Bridgend Council received Council approval.
(3) To submit the Councils Expressions of Interest in respect of a voluntary merger with Bridgend Council to the Welsh Government by the end of 28 November, 2014.
[View Cabinet report from 28 November 2014]