Agenda Item No 10

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Cabinet Meeting: 21 May 2018

 

Report of the Leader

 

Welsh Government Green Paper Consultation Document "Strengthening Local Government: Delivering for People" - Council Response

 

Purpose of the Report

  1. To seek Cabinet's views on the Council's proposed response to the Welsh Government Green Paper Consultation Document "Strengthening Local Government: Delivering for People".

Recommendations

  1. That Cabinet notes the issues set out in this report for its consideration.
  2. That Cabinet confirms the Council's previous submissions to Welsh Government resisting a forced merger with Cardiff Council and re-emphasises its stance that the Vale of Glamorgan, as a high-performing Council and best placed to represent the interests of its citizens, should continue as a stand-alone authority.
  3. That the Council's draft response to the questions posed in the Green Paper (Appendix A) are endorsed for submission to Corporate Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 24 May for its views before final consideration by Cabinet on 4 June.    
  4. That Cabinet notes that the views of all Council Members were sought in a briefing held on 9 May and that those views are reflected where considered appropriate in the draft response.  

Reasons for the Recommendations

1 and 2. To enable the Council to respond formally to the Green Paper.

3 To enable consideration by Corporate Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee.

4. To allow the views of Members to be included in the response as drafted.

Background

  1. The Green Paper (Appendix B) is the latest in a series of consultation documents released by Welsh Government in recent years proposing changes to the structure of local government. In January 2014 the Williams Commission proposed that the current 22 local authorities should undergo a series of mergers, thereby creating 12, 11 or 10 new authorities.  A  Welsh Government White Paper, "Reforming Local Government", was published in July 2014, effectively endorsing the Williams recommendations and further reducing the number of Councils to 8 or 9.  The Vale of Glamorgan Council strenuously opposed the White Paper, arguing (as it had in its evidence to the Williams Commission) for a collaborative approach rather than wholesale restructuring and presenting a convincing case for the retention of the Vale of Glamorgan as a Council.
  2. At the same time, Welsh Government issued an invitation to all Councils to submit expressions of interest in voluntary mergers with another Council.  Believing at that time that Council mergers were inevitable, and that it was in Vale of Glamorgan citizens' best interests to merge with Bridgend Council rather than Cardiff Council (as the White Paper proposed), the Council put forward a joint proposal to merge with Bridgend.  That bid was rejected by Welsh Government.  However, Welsh Government's subsequent efforts to effect any sort of restructuring came to nothing.   
  3. Following the National Assembly elections in May 2016 Welsh Government changed its stance on the merger of Councils. The then Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government made an announcement at the end of 2016 that enforced mergers were no longer on the agenda and that collaboration between existing Councils would now constitute the way ahead. A White Paper issued in January 2017 set out proposals for regional working between Councils and how that might work in practice.  The Vale of Glamorgan Council responded positively, although arguing for more flexibility in respect of collaborative working than was proposed.
  4. The arrival of a new Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services in November 2017 heralded yet another change of policy. The March 2018 Green Paper now returns in effect to the Williams Commission recommendations, this time with 10 Councils proposed.

Relevant Issues and Options

  1. The thrust of the Green Paper is as follows:
  • Local authorities should be given more powers to deliver for their communities, and to enable that to happen they should be fewer in number and bigger in scale.  A reorganisation is therefore needed through mergers, with 10 Councils the end result.  A map of the new Councils is set out, with the Vale of Glamorgan merging with Cardiff.  Alignment with other public services, in this case, Health Boards, is a factor determining the boundaries of the new Councils. 
  • Options are set out for achieving the mergers.  Early voluntary mergers could be invited (as long as they are in accordance with the areas in the map); or phased mergers would happen, to be completed by 2026 (with early adopters merging in 2022); or all mergers would happen at the same time, in 2026.  Additional powers and flexibilities would be given to early adopters, but not to others, with additional powers and flexibilities being extended to others at a later date.   
  • Associated transitional arrangements in relation to issues such as workforce, systems, budgets, electoral matters, governance, change management support and the role of Town and Community Councils are addressed.
  1. A series of questions are posed in relation to these matters.  These questions and the Council's detailed responses are at Appendix A. 
  2. The Council's position remains the same as in previous submissions in response to Welsh Government Council merger proposals, and can be summarised as follows:
  • The case has not been made for Council mergers.  The Williams Commission report which appears to form the basis for the Green Paper was fundamentally flawed and did not examine in any detail the alleged financial benefits.
  • Larger does not mean better.  There is no correlation between the size of a Council and its performance and efficiency.  The Vale of Glamorgan Council is according to the last three years' Data Unit Wales statistics the best performing Council in Wales, and this should not be jeopardised.  The Council is also close to its local communities, which can only be achieved below a certain scale.
  • The proposed merger is with Cardiff, which is an area significantly different to the Vale in a number of ways, and the fit would be an uncomfortable one.
  • The Council continues to argue, as it has consistently in the past, that regional collaboration should be the way ahead.  There has been considerable progress in this respect over recent years which is set to continue, and the threat of Council mergers is a distraction from making further progress. Examples of progress extend across a number of areas including City Deal, health and social care, adoption, education improvement as well as shared services in regulatory services and audit.
  • The freedoms and flexibilities on offer for the early adopters for mergers should be granted to all Councils immediately.             

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

  1. There are no direct financial implications arising from this report.  Clearly, however, Welsh Government proposals for Council mergers, if adopted, will have very considerable financial implications which will need to be addressed at the appropriate time.  It should be noted that the Green Paper provides no evidence whatsoever that the proposals will deliver financial savings, although it is based upon that assumption.     

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

  1. The general thrust of the Green Paper is to establish larger Councils serving bigger populations.  There is a danger that the connection between Councils and their communities will become weaker, thereby undermining the principles of Sustainability.   

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

  1. As a Green Paper the document has no statutory force.  Welsh Government may or may not legislate to enact any of the options set out in the document, and the legal implications for the Council will be examined when specific legislation is proposed.  

Crime and Disorder Implications

  1. There are no specific crime and disorder implications associated with this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

  1. The Welsh language and equalities are addressed in Section 6 of the Green Paper (paragraphs 6.58 - 6.61 of Appendix B) and in the Council's responses to Questions 11-14 (Appendix A).    

Corporate/Service Objectives

  1. The Council's stated values are Ambitious, Together, Open and Proud.  Its response to Welsh Government is coloured and informed by those values.

Policy Framework and Budget

  1. This is a matter for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

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

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

  1. Corporate Performance and 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

Welsh Government White Paper "Reforming Local Government - Resilient and Renewed", January 2017

Contact Officer

Huw Isaac - Head of Performance and Development

01446 709760

Officers Consulted

Corporate Management Team

Responsible Officer:

Rob Thomas, Managing Director