RATE-PAYERS could face higher council tax bills and poorer services if Wales’ councils are not re-organised, the first minister has warned.

Carwyn Jones expressed support for proposals for council mergers set by the Williams Commission, and said some councils are exploring merging early.

Under the proposals, Newport and Monmouthshire would become a single authority, with the other three Valleys councils forming a single entity.

Top Gwent Labour figures have questioned the potential cost of a council shake-up. But Mr Jones said yesterday: “There are enormous costs in not having change.

“That’s in the terms of quality service delivery, education, potentially large council tax rises, and the fact that you have some local authorities that just struggle on a yearly basis.”

Labour is in a minority in the Assembly and would need opposition support to get any mergers through.

Mr Jones said the Liberal Democrats won’t agree anything without proportional representation. The Tories are generally in agreement but have issues over some council boundaries, while Plaid had yet to form a view and is “open minded”.

But he said the chances of getting a bill through the Assembly before elections in 2016 “are very small indeed”.

“I want to be in a position before the summer where there’s a general agreement about what the map should look like,” he said.

He added: “It’s important to consider whether there are strong arguments for altering potential mergers.”