Agenda Item No. 13

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET: 6TH JUNE, 2018

 

REFERENCE FROM CORPORATE PERFORMANCE AND RESOURCES SCRUTINY COMMITTEE: 24TH MAY, 2018

 

 

“           WELSH LOCAL GOVERNMENT GREEN PAPER CONSULTATION DOCUMENT “STRENGTHENING LOCAL GOVERNMENT: DELIVERING FOR PEOPLE” COUNCIL RESPONSE (REF) -

 

Cabinet at its meeting held on 21st May, 2018 (Cabinet minute no. C311 refers) considered the Council’s proposed response to the above Green Paper and had subsequently referred the matter to the Scrutiny Committee for consideration.

 

In referring to the Cabinet report and related proposed response the Managing Director made reference to the Members recent briefing which was held on the content of the Green Paper on 9th May, 2018.  The briefing had provided all members with an the opportunity to express views and opinions on the merits or otherwise of the proposals. Where relevant, Members’ comments had been incorporated into the draft response of the Council. 

 

The Managing Directors attention then turned to the Green Paper itself indicating that it set out the case for reform on the basis that Welsh Government contend that Local Government required additional powers and flexibilities, but for this to happen they needed to be bigger.  As a result, the issue of merging local councils was raised yet again, barely 4 years after the issue was first raised as a result of the Williams Commission and some 10 months post hence from the predecessor Minister for Local Government, indicating that merger proposals had been withdrawn in favour of further collaboration and partnership working. The proposals set out the case for the Vale of Glamorgan to merge with Cardiff (one of 10 proposed new Councils) on the basis that this was in line with the Local health Boards, again as was the case with the Williams Commission. Options timelines for mergers ranged from “Early Adopters” 2022 to phased mergers 2026.

 

He indicated that the Council’s draft response was in his view, a fair assessment of the current local government landscape, extremely thorough and robust, and set out in some detail, concerns which were summarised as follows:

 

  • This Council was opposed to merging with Cardiff Council, not just for the sake of opposing it, but for sound reasons, namely:
    • There were significant cultural differences with Cardiff as well as geographical differences that necessitate a separate stand-alone Council;
    • The Green Paper was nothing but a re-run of the Williams Commission – albeit with no additional data and       analysis, which made the continued case for merger flawed;
    • Larger did not equal better – the Council’s performance on an all Wales basis proved this, as did the various reports from regulators;
    • The Council was Wales’ Top Performing Council;
    • Collaboration was key and has gained momentum and referred to example of strategic projects which sat under the umbrella of the Regional City Deal e.g. Housing and Transport, something that had not been recognised in the Green paper.  Wholesale reorganisation would put this at risk;
    • New powers and freedoms should not come at the cost of any mergers;
    • Local autonomy and responsiveness was key for our communities. The Council was able to perform well because it could can connect with local communities.
    • Implications for Elected Members, particularly the democratic deficit created within local communities as a result of the overall reduction of Elected Members, a consequence of the merger proposals;
    • Sharing services – locally, regionally and nationally had commitment which had been demonstrated over recent years;
    • The Green Paper was as yet another distraction from delivering the Council’s vision.

Discussion ensued with broad support for the Council’s proposed response.

 

 A Member suggested that the proposed response should be strengthened in terms of the significant impact any merger proposals would have by distracting the delivery of regional projects e.g. transport, as part of the Regional City Deal. The Member also felt that the response should be strengthened around the mergers creating on-going uncertainty which in turn, had had significant consequences for the Council in terms recruitment and retaining of certain professions. To his knowledge, he referred to cases where Council officers were choosing to leave local government employment in favour of the private sector due to the hiatus linked to mergers. The Managing Director acknowledged the concerns raised and indicated that the proposed suggestions to strengthen the Council’s response should be referred back to Cabinet for consideration.

 

A Member alluded to the dependency of the merger proposals on the outcome of the impending Assembly Administration leadership contest. He also queried the Council’s proposed response to Question 15. He considered that the Council’s response should set out clearly at the start of the response its position on the matter. If an Executive Summary was required to be included then it should be, rather than the format of the Welsh Governments’ document dictating the terms of the Council’s response.

 

The Managing Director acknowledged the merits of the inclusion of an Executive Summary and indicated that this could be included as part of the Council’s response to Question 1.

 

Discussion further ensued with the Chairman strongly suggesting that the Council’s response should draw upon comparisons between local government and health boards in Wales, in terms of budget compliance and service performance. It was timely to remind the Welsh Government that a number health boards in Wales had been in the past or were currently in special measures. The size of these organisations could not be ignored in the context of the merger proposals.

 

Having regard to the above and related issues it was RECOMMENDED -

 

(1)       T H A T the Council’s proposed response to the Green Paper be endorsed.

 

(2)       T H A T Cabinet be requested to consider strengthening of the Council’s response to include the following additional matters:

  • Strengthened in relation to the mergers creating on-going uncertainty having significant consequences for the Council in terms recruitment and retaining of certain professions.
  • Strengthened in terms of the significant impact any merger proposals would have and distraction in the delivery of regional projects e.g. transport as part of the Regional City Deal.
  • Consideration of the inclusion of an Executive Summary which set out the Council’s position on the subject.

 

Reasons for recommendations -

 

(1)       In support of the Cabinet response on the matter.

 

(2)       To strengthen the the Council’s stance taken in response to the proposals.”