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Welsh local government: Fighting on all fronts

The war of words between the Welsh Government and UK ministers over windfarms, taxes and how much money Wales gets from the Treasury may yet look like a polite disagreement compared with the way the Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant is upping the ante with the councils.

Earlier this year, he took powers to reduce the 22 counties and county boroughs by forcing them to merge but at the same time stressed that he had no plans to use his new powers.

He expected that they would agree to collaborate instead, sharing services and even chief executives.

As one AM put it, the counties were expected to behave like wise subjects of King Henry VIII and fall into line “as soon as they were shown the instruments of torture”.

When the minister addresses the Welsh Local Government Association conference today expect him to draw attention to just how painful the rack would be.

He’s already vented his fury in the Senedd this week:

“I will be having a frank discussion with local government leaders on this at the WLGA conference on Thursday.

“One of the things I will be frank about is my frustration at the difference between warm words in principle, and recent action.

“The current senior staffing structure of 22 local authorities is unsustainable and outdated.

“How do we justify the cost of so many Chief Executives and senior officers when front line services are under threat?

“Why does local government default to filling posts on a single organisation basis?

“Over a quarter of local authorities in Wales have independently filled Chief Executive posts over the past year.

“At senior director level, the pattern is the same: opportunities to make joint appointments are resisted and often not even considered. I am thinking of specific examples which I have pushed for, in Conwy, Wrexham and Blaenau Gwent but this is a general problem.

“We are missing opportunities not only to make savings, but more importantly, to recruit the best quality people, from within and beyond Wales, who can help us deliver an ambitious change agenda. This cannot go on, it is time to stop talking and start delivering”.

Yesterday he gave another demonstration that he’s prepared to proceed to hanging, drawing and quartering, when he sacked all three local government boundary commissioners, after a report found that they had lost the confidence of their stakeholders.

Much of the grumbling about them had come from local government so there won’t be many tears shed in county halls.

But whose heads will be next on the pikes?

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