IN VALLEYS communities, vigorous debates over local government reorganisation are nearly as old as the hills themselves. Indeed, to this day, in places like Blaenavon, you’ll often hear older residents lamenting the loss of the old Urban District Council, despite the fact it was abolished nearly 40 years ago.
So arguments about the size and shape of local councils are nothing new, but for me it’s vital the public have an opportunity to engage with proposals unveiled last week by the Williams Commission, which would see the current 22 local authorities reduced to between 10 and 12 ‘super councils’.
In my patch, this would see Torfaen amalgamating with Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly, and it’s proposed that Newport and Monmouthshire would also merge.
Yet despite clear political momentum building in favour of change, for me at least, there are critical questions that remain unanswered - not least the troubling lack of clarity over the likely cost of the process.
Because, like it or not, with the Welsh Government forced to pass on UK Government budget cuts to Welsh councils this year because of its own financial pressures, in Torfaen, and in civic centres and town halls up and down the country, a radical reshaping of local services is already taking place.
Indeed, with councils being forced to cut back on services people care deeply care about simply to balance the books and protect areas like education and social services, I think it’s totally understandable that some are asking searching questions about spending between £100 and £200 million of scarce resources on reorganising local government at this time.
It’s also important - given this process is supposed to reduce the complexity of public services - that we don’t end up making matters worse. So it’s concerning that the proposed merged councils will have different geographical boundaries to the regional consortia that were only recently established to drive up standards in our schools.
Meanwhile, the fact that Ceredigion is currently Wales’ best performing local authority in terms of education, yet serves one of the smallest populations, should provide food for thought to those who dogmatically insist that bigger is always better.
Whatever the outcome of the political negotiations that take place in the coming months, it increasingly seems inevitable change is on its way.
It’s vital that people in communities in Torfaen and across Wales are allowed to play a full part in shaping that transformation – I’m happy to hear from Torfaen residents and can be contacted via my office on 01495740022 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.