There was a mixed reaction to plans to reduce Gwent’s five local authorities to two yesterday.
Eyebrows raised at the timescales given – one Gwent council source scoffing at a recommendation that the Welsh Government, councils and others should agree “programme arrangements” by Easter.
“It ain’t going to happen,” the source said, pointing to the budget process all local authorities in Gwent are currently embroiled in.
Monmouthshire opposition leader Cllr Dimitri Batrouni said: “At the moment, the report throws up more questions than answers and the devil is always in the detail.
“The Labour group in Monmouthshire will go through the details of the report and listen to residents before coming to a conclusion.”
Newport opposition Tory group leader Matthew Evans raised questions over how different rates of council tax would be worked out and said one of the biggest issues will be the amount of officer and councillor time spent looking at it.
“If you look back at the old Gwent county council it certainly wasn’t a question of bigger being better – hence the reorganisation in the first place,” he said.
The commission has called for Newport and Monmouthshire to be merged into a single council, while the counties of Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen and Caerphilly should be served by a single organisation.
Carwyn Jones, Wales’ first minister, will now look at the report’s 62 recommendations and decide what to do next – with commissioners suggesting work should begin to take place as early as this Easter.
The commission believes that Wales is over-represented with councillors, with more councillors per head of population in Wales than in England and Scotland and that there may be fewer after the recommendations are put in place.
Although cutting councils could have an upfront cost of £100 million to the taxpayer, the commission thinks that annual savings of £60 to £80 million could be made within three years.
The report’s authors spelt out a number of criteria for the proposed council mergers.
Population sparsity, deprivation, the use of the Welsh language, council tax levels and economic growth patterns were all taken into account in drawing up the proposed boundaries.
Commissioners felt the new areas needed to be aligned with the current NHS health boards, and should be formed by merging existing local authorities rather than redrawing them from scratch.
There is no proposal for a Gwent-wide authority, with the commission saying that councils that serve too large an area would hamper how communities are represented democratically.
The Welsh Local Government Association said communities must have a say on the future of local government.
A joint WLGA statement from WLGA and Torfaen leader Bob Wellington, Tory WLGA group and Monmouthshire leader Cllr Peter Fox and others, said: “We live in a time of unprecedented cuts in public spending but also know that demands on public services have never been greater.
“Government must be clear whether a reorganisation will assist in alleviating these pressures or exacerbate them.”